As the year winds down, we’re taking a look back at queer stories on the big and small screen in 2019. The abundance of new filmmakers, screenwriters and performers promises even more inclusive and diverse fare in 2020.
Tu Me Manques (Bolivia & USA)
This film was written and directed by Rodrigo Bellott. It was based on a true story in Bellott’s own life. The incredibly complex choreography of the play within the film unfolds effortlessly. A father (Oscar Martinez) travels to NYC from Bolivia to talk with Sebastian (Fernando Barbosa), his son’s summer love. This is because the father is trying to understand his son’s suicide. The film is unafraid to explore what it means to be a man. To boot, the cast is chock full of amazing talents including Rossy de Palma, one of Almodovar’s own stars. It won the Outfest Award for Best Screenwriting.
A Dog Barking at the Moon
Fed up with family secrets and resentments, this film addresses some pressing questions about how society exerts widespread repression and unhappiness — and always has. It won Special Mention for Directing at Outfest for director Lisa Zi Xiang (China).
Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story
Described as a hilarious poison-pen letter on the aftermath of her ketchup-covered mask stunt. From the real-life FBI investigation of her alleged “conspiracy to assassinate” to the relentless death threats, it turns out there is indeed such a thing as bad publicity! Directed by Troy Miller. Available on demand.
This film won the Best Narrative First Feature Award at Outfest. And the end product is certainly better than any description we could give. Nevertheless, in the course of the action, straight protagonist Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) manages to surmount some long-standing barriers that keep the women in the film alienated from one another. Over the course of her journey, she morphs from grump to beloved friend of the married lesbian couple of color for whom she works as a nanny. Directed by Alex Thompson. Written by Kelly O’Sullivan. Oscilloscope Laboratories will open Saint Frances in New York’s Angelika Film Center on February 28, 2020 with Los Angeles and additional markets to follow.
When faced with the possibility of going blind, directory Rodney Evans seeks advice from blind working artists Kayla Hamilton, Ryan Knighton and John Dugdale. The disabled are the second most underrepresented group in film and TV after women. Like the upcoming Chained for Life, Vision Portraits features superb performances by differently abled actors. Vision Portraits won the Outfest Artistic Achievement Award.
This work from director by Kai Kreuser (Germany) is an insightful and masterful bit of filmmaking. It’s hard to believe: it was made by a student. In it, a Syrian migrant (who insists he’s straight) has more in common with his regular john than is apparent at first. For example, both are incredibly lonely. They soon end up baring their souls, almost against their will. Just an hour long, the film’s dialogue is super-sparse, and yet its story leaves an indelible mark.
Period Pieces that Turn Back the Hands of Time
End of the Century
This epic work of art was written/directed by Lucio Castro. It features a missed connection on the beach, a chance encounter, and a picture of perfect freedom. End of the Century beautifully captures what it was like to live and love in Barcelona in the halcyon days at the turn of the millennium. This is a love story that echoes across time. Special Mention for Best Performance went to Juan Barberini, Ramon Pujol & Mia Maestro.
Vita & Virginia
It’s worth noting that this piece from director Chanya Button follows on the heels of the success of Wild Nights with Emily, which revolved around the lesser-known lesbian love of Emily Dickinson. Whereas this sumptuously shot film is about the love affair between Virginia Woolf (Gemma Arterton) and far-better-known-at-the-time writer, Vita Sackville-West (Elizabeth Debicki). Sackville-West became the basis for Woolf’s novel Orlando.
This is Not Berlin
It’s almost Game Over when 17-year-old Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) is introduced to the underground nightlife scene of Mexico City in 1986. The characters don’t seem to be aware of how hip, creative and beautiful they all are. The varied soundtrack is magnificent. There’s so much to this film that you’ll want to see it twice.
Sid & Judy
You’ve seen Judy. But have you seen this new documentary on Judy Garland’s torrid relationship with her third husband, producer Sid Luft. Directed by Stephen Kijak, it features rare footage and personal photos. The film also explores the ever-present gay connections throughout her career. And it asks: how do straight performers like Garland gain such a cult-like gay following?
Spirituality & the Supernatural
The influence of the spirit world on human affairs, particularly in the area of sexuality, is boldly portrayed in two incredible shorts: Kiss of the Rabbit God directed by Andrew Huang. And The Desires of the Flesh directed by Rafaela Camelo (Brazil). Both films employ slow motion and eerie sound effects (like a strange ringing-chirping in the ears) to indicate the presence of negative spirits. The rabbit god is the god of secret lovers. Apparently, a lustful spirit enters a teen girl when the priest washes and kisses her feet at the altar in a foot washing ceremony, causing her to act on her impulses.
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When a gifted mind is married to an ordinary person who cannot comprehend genius, both suffer. But the brilliant one is harmed more. A young Orthodox Jewish couple is torn asunder by scientific-Biblical insights that a husband discovers are woven into the Hebrew numerical code. His conclusion: We are made of light in the image of God, male and female, mirror images of one another. And we must be willing to put ourselves in one another’s place to truly understand what this life is teaching us. This captivating short explores fascinating concepts. Directed and written by Joëlle Bentolila (UK).
For They Know Not What They Do
This film by director Daniel Karslake visibly moved screening attendees. In it, four religious families come to terms with their LGBTQ sons and daughters. One young man survived the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Two are transgender. And one young man sought God through psychedelic drug use that fatally damaged his brain. He died at age 22. His mother speaks powerfully about overcoming her fears (fears their church instilled) about having a gay son. She and her husband switched to an LGBTQ affirming church, as reported by Metrosource. They now lead a Bible study for LGBTQ youth. The documentary follows Karslake’s 2009 Outfest Documentary Prize-winning film For the Bible Tells Me So.
The Best of Generation Z
A number of very young protagonists are schooling us on why the future will be queer.
This short directed by Javier Molina, is an exciting, lyrical film. It’s about a young boy, aged 11, who proves he has the right stuff to make his dreams of being Wonder Woman for Halloween come true. It won Outfest’s Vision of Better Award.
This short directed by Julio Mas Alcaraz (Spain) features incredible flamenco dancing and a poignant plot to boot. The storyline is an example of how social workers can sometimes provide more heartache than solutions. Nonetheless, in a Spain full of pitfalls previous generations rarely confronted (divorce, opioid deaths and illegal drugs) the hand of providence seems to be looking out for these talented teens.
Carmen & Lola
Written/directed by Arantxa Echevarría (Spain), this a powerful film about the blossoming love of Gypsy teens within their suffocatingly conservative community. Even today, 90 percent of Roma adults throughout the EU are virtually illiterate. And only 50% of children attend school regularly. The entire cast is talented, but Lola’s mother (Rafaela León) gives a performance Meryl Streep might envy.
Changing the Game
Screening this film was surprisingly emotional. It’s reminiscent of Alone in the Game, which also dealt with LGBTQ athletes. Similarly, this doc focuses on the undaunted courage and resilience of transgender youths in sports. It won Best Documentary Feature at Outfest. Directed by Michael Barnett.
This year’s Award for Special Programming Award for Emerging Talent went to Pier Kids by director Elegance Bratton. Like the film Game Girls, this film brings the topic of LGBTQ homelessness to the fore. Bratton, who was once homeless himself, is a master at demonstrating the unconquerable spirit of three gay and transgender youth of color kicked out of their homes for their sexuality. Similar in tone and subject to Pose, these kids find themselves living on the same streets where the Gay Rights movement began.
Directed by Valerie Bisscheroux (Netherlands), this film is a joy to watch. Recently out of college, Anne (Hanna van Vliet) never can seem to find lasting love. Each episode features the “love of her life du jour“. Some relationships are ill-fated from the start, as with her much older and married boss. But even when things finally seem to be coming together, her girlfriend picks up and moves to Argentina. And once again, Anne is left looking for love.
Directed by Andrew J. Ceperley, this film grapples with some very interesting LGBTQ themes facing Millennials, including shame and inter-generational relationships. The final season is the best yet. Available on Dekkoo.com.
This is a new Dekko original series written and produced by Matthew Lynn. Equal parts drama, comedy and mystery, it’s about a young man who enters a passionate three-way relationship with a married male couple. The triumvirate turn some heads with their matching t-shirts and bright smiles. But will their secrets and jealousy bring things to a screeching halt? Prominently showcasing Palm Springs, the series is about writing your own rules and pondering what constitutes love.
Directed by Natalie Heltzel, this film features plucky Belle (Transparent‘s Rain Valdez). When she faces microaggressions occur — during job interviews, on blind dates, at parties – Belle fearlessly calls them out. We’ve all been there, which is what makes this show so fascinating to watch.
David Makes Man
This OWN episodic, is directed by Michael Francis Williams and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who won an Oscar for Moonlight. The highly-anticipated, hour-long series is about a gifted 14-year-old named David (Akili McDowell). He’s forced to lead a double life to navigate both his ghetto neighborhood and the school where he is bussed. It features an incredible cast, including the trans actress Trace Lysette (also from Transparent) as Femi. Catch it on OWN TV.
Directed by Jett Garrison, this web series features a non-binary character. Produced with the help of a crowdfunding campaign, this is a spirited comedy that manages to educate as well as entertain. Call it Will & Grace meets The L Word plus a jigger of Broadway for good measure.
Other Masterpiece Shorts
Director Audrey Rosenberg said she made Skin to help her heal from a painful coming out experience. It won US Narrative Short Special Mention at Outfest.
Shibari – directed by Robin Entreinger (France) – is a slow-paced film about the erotic art of Japanese shibari. Shot on location in Tokyo.
Here with You
Directed by Nona Shamus and written by Morgan Sullivan, Here with You boasts an all-trans cast and crew. This is a romantic 7-minute film with great energy and joy at the heart of it.
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Last modified: December 10, 2019