Philadelphia’s LGBTQ film festival will screen more than 100 features, documentaries and shorts during its weeklong run March 25-31. Among this year’s qFLIX offerings are several local-interest titles, as well as appearances by filmmakers.
One of the opening films is the world premiere of Philly-set-and-shot romance “From Zero to I Love You.” This glossy drama, written and directed by Doug Spearman, has the married-with-kids Jack Dickinson (Scott Bailey) unexpectedly falling for Pete Logsdon (Darryl Stephens). Their relationship, which includes sex on the down low, comes to an expected head when Pete wants Jack to leave his wife, Karla (Keili Lefkovitz).
If the plot veers into soapy melodrama, Spearman includes some poignant moments — from an intriguing scene with Jack in a pool in Palm Springs to a heart-to-heart Pete has with his father (Richard Lawson). There’s even a fairy-dust motif. (It’s corny, but it works.) Stephens is irresistible, giving a relaxed, assured performance. However, Bailey is uneven as the uptight Jack.
“From Zero to I Love You” may wear its heartfelt emotions on its sleeve, but it does induce smiles. Spearman and Stephens will attend the screening.
Also playing opening night is the inspiring short film “Going Forward,” which chronicles the openly gay Malcolm Kenyatta as he campaigns to become a Pennsylvania state representative. Even though the election results are known, this affectionate portrait will prompt tears of joy.
One of the absolute highlights of qFLIX is the world premiere of “Jack & Yaya,” a fabulous documentary that spotlights the irrepressible 30-year friendship between its title characters, who grew up together in South Jersey. As kids, Christopher liked to wear heels and dresses and Jacqueline preferred boys’ clothes. Christopher performed drag as Yaya — who was Miss Philadelphia Gay Pride in 2009 — and transitioned to become Christina, while Jacqueline underwent top surgery and became Jack.
Jack helps Christina get her legal name change while Christina helps Jack with his injections after a surgical procedure. The documentary shows them meeting and chatting, hanging out with their families, discussing the good times and sometimes their painful memories. Yaya’s speech about her dying mother is particularly moving.
Directors Jen Bagley and Mary Hewey truly captured this strong, supportive friendship to create an ingratiating, feel-great story about love and empowerment. It should not be missed.
Festival centerpiece “Evening Shadows,” a coming-out film, is a worthwhile entry in the cannon because it sheds light on attitudes about homosexuality in India.
In director and cowriter Sridhar Rangayan’s touching drama, Kartik (Devansh Doshi) returns to his rural home after four years away in Mumbai. His father, Damodar (Ananth Narayan Mahadevan), rules the house with an iron fist, demanding that his wife, Vasudha (Mona Ambegaonkar), do everything.
Damodar also insists that Kartik get married. However, Kartik hasn’t been able to tell his overbearing parents that he’s gay. He breaks the news to his mother during an excursion they take on the same day a vote is being held to legalize homosexuality.
There are some contrivances in how things play out, but “Evening Shadows” deserves to be seen because it provides a tender story of a son and his mother asserting their independence. (It’s not unlike the recent “Boy Erased” in this regard.)
On a lighter note, qFLIX presents “Steam Room Stories: The Movie,” the feature-length version of JC Calcian’s popular web series. Fans of the series may know the humor here is more sophomoronic than steamy. And the plot is downright silly.
When cosmetics tycoon Sally Fay (Traci Lords) discovers the fountain of youth is actually located in a gym’s steam room in Encino, Calif., she becomes determined to take over the property. She has her assistant, Neil (Eric D’Agostino), get undressed and go undercover in the steam room, where he meets Wade (Jacob Buckenmyer) and his bros, Beau (Paris Dylan), Balton (Chris Boudreaux), Ryan (Isaiah Lucas) and Tad (Forrest Hoffman). While Wade and Neil flirt, the guys try to raise money — through wet-undies contests and sperm donations — to save the gym from a tax collector.
The film features the buff bodies in towels and dumb humor that are hallmarks of the series but stretched out to 98 minutes, more may be less for some viewers. At least Lords has fun camping it up, and the frequently shirtless guys provide some eye candy.
Another festival centerpiece is “Making Montgomery Clift,” a tantalizing documentary by Robert Clift (Monty’s youngest nephew) and Hillary Demmon.
The film showcases fantastic clips, home movies and interviews that investigate the actor’s life, sexuality and career. Jack Larson’s story about a kiss is terrific, as is information about Clift’s insistence on working outside the studio system and playing parts he wanted — even if it meant turning down juicy roles.
But “Making Montgomery Clift” gets lost in the weeds as the Clift family tries to correct various biographers’ errors. A bit about the actor’s arrest with a “boy” is carefully parsed, and other revisions, such as Clift’s trouble with John Huston, feel belabored. Nevertheless, this documentary certainly will interest fans of the actor.
Another entry about cinema is the celebratory lesbian documentary “Dykes, Camera, Action!” which presents a women’s history of queer cinema. Director Caroline Berler interviews pioneer American lesbian filmmakers Su Friedrich and Barbara Hammer; New Queer Cinema goddesses Rose Troche and Philly native Cheryl Dunye; and a new crop of female queer filmmakers of color, including Desiree Akhavan, Vicky Du and Yoruba Richen, to show why lesbian films matter.
While not comprehensive, Berler’s film traces how activism helped these directors find their voices and combat negative queer images to make films like “Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too,” “Go Fish” and “Gaysians.” It’s enjoyable and entertaining.
The festival also is featuring the world premiere of “Snowflake,” a well-meaning drama written, directed and produced by Jack Tracy.
The film opens with the election of Republican presidential candidate Thomas Porter and his anti-LGBT vice, Andrew Price (Michael Warren Anderson). This development upsets Ethan (J.J. Bozeman), a gay man, who gets justifiably angrier as he sees his rights quickly eroding. Ethan’s boyfriend, Ryan (Tracy), tries to mollify him, but as Ethan becomes more and more extreme, he alienates everyone around him.
The too-talky “Snowflake” makes some salient points as characters gay and straight, liberal and conservative debate topical issues from gun control to marriage equality, but it feels like overkill in the era of Trump fatigue. Moreover, much of this low-budget film feels amateurish, from the acting to the editing to the direction. It wants to be a powerful condemnation of Trump but it comes across as toothless, merely preaching to the choir.
The indie film “Bathroom Stalls & Parking Lots” has Brazilian transplant Leo (writer/director Thales Corrêa) arriving in San Francisco to find a guy he’s interested in. His best friend, Donnie (cowriter and coproducer Izzy Palazzini), and Donnie’s friend Hunter (Oscar Mansky) accompany Leo on his quest, which takes the guys to the bathroom stalls and parking lots of the title.
If this film feels sloppy at first, stick with it. As Leo gains wisdom, the movie takes some interesting turns, including an underwear party that yields a nice exchange on a balcony with Ethan (Lucas Pagac). Moreover, Leo’s relationship with Donnie generates a quietly powerful climax. Corrêa’s film is slight, but it’s also thoughtful and sweet.
Also set in the City by the Bay is the inspiring documentary “50 Years of Fabulous,” which chronicles the history and achievements of the San Francisco Imperial Council, an organization that crowns an annual empress and emperor and performs charitable work.
Director Jethro Patalinghug traces the origins of the council and queer community building through interviews, archival footage and oral histories. The film shows how discrimination — from police raids in the 1950s through Harvey Milk’s assassination and the AIDS epidemic — helped create a sisterhood (and, eventually, a brotherhood) when the macho leather men ended their rivalry with the drag queens and joined forces.
The empresses are all fabulous, strutting their stuff on stage and showing how their efforts generated pride in the queer community — and the importance for it to continue.
“Two in the Bush” is an affable, independent romantic comedy that finds the bisexual Emily (Sarah Mitchell) in despair after a double whammy: She catches her girlfriend, Kate (Adriana Leonard), in bed with her best male friend and then loses her job.
When her supportive pal, Rosa (the delightful Melissa DuPrey), helps Emily get a job working for Nikki (Caitlin Aase), a dominatrix who owns a local dungeon, things start to look up. Emily even starts a romance with Nikki. But things get complicated when Emily also falls for Ben (Travis Delgado).
“Two in the Bush” shows how these three consenting adults navigate their relationship and sexuality, as well as how they treat one another with love and respect, not jealousy.
Lastly, Yen Tan’s excellent, elegiac drama, “1985,” has Adrian (out gay actor Cory Michael Smith), a closeted gay man, returning home to Texas for Christmas with his conservative family.
This remarkable feature, shot on film and in black and white, is comprised of a series of mostly two-handers that explore how Adrian both reveals and conceals his sexual identity. His interactions with his parents (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis), younger brother (Aidan Langford) and best friend, Carly (Jamie Chung), are heartfelt and affecting. It’s almost impossible not to cry by the end.
For screening locations and more information on QFlix, see http://www.qflixphilly.com/.