A Southern Story with a Northern Connection

The OUT North Queer Film Festival brings film lovers an American documentary with a local twist on April 9.

Southwest of Salem tells the true story of four young lesbian women accused of sexually assaulting two underage girls and using them in satanic rituals in the early 1990s in San Antonio,Texas.

They were wrongfully convicted and spent years in jail before, in 2008, befriending Yukoner Darrell Otto, a professor at the Yukon College, who set about trying to clear their name.

The documentary uses a mixture of interviews, home videos and news to reconstruct the story.

“They call it Southwest of Salem because it was pretty much a witch hunt,” says Rian Turner, the artistic coordinator for the festival. “And that’s all part of this idea (some people had) about lesbians being like witches.”

Otto first read about the case in the news and became curious enough to write to the women while they were still in prison. Eventually, he became convinced of their innocence after noting certain details of the case did not add up, Turner says, and set out to free them. Otto contacted the Innocence Program, which is an American society that fights for people who are wrongfully convicted, and lobbied to have them take up the case.

“There’s Otto in his little cabin in the woods in Mendenhall, and there’s this case all the way down there… it’s amazing the way it all came together,” Turner says.

Otto will actually be in attendance at the film, to talk about it, his involvement, and answer questions.

“It doesn’t say so in the film, because it happened after it was finished, but the women have now been completely exonerated,” Turner says. This means that they not only been freed, but have been cleared of all charges and the charges have been wiped from their records.

“That’s why it’s so great to have Otto with us, to speak to these things and update us,” she says. “Otto is really humble about everything,” Turner adds.

Turner says films like this are important reminders of the battles the LGBTQ community has faced and continues to face. “We really need films like this,” Turner says. “We need them to remind ourselves of of what happened here so that we don’t let it happen again.”

The film plays on Sunday, April 9, which is the closing night of the festival.

“It’s going to be a really great night – this is a film I’m really excited about,” says Turner.

The OUT North Queer Film Festival, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, runs April 7 to 9 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. The documentary Southwest of Salem screens on Sunday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. For more information about this film and others playing during the OUT North Queer Film Festival, check out their Facebook page, called Yukon Queer Film Alliance.

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