qFLIX, Philadelphia’s LGBTQ film festival, returns March 22-29 offering dozens of features, shorts, and documentaries, as well as new media programs, talkbacks, parties, and more. The festival opens with the Philadelphia premiere of “Straight Up,” out gay writer, director, and star James Sweeney’s funny, talky romantic comedy about a gay man (Sweeney) who falls non-sexually in love with Rory (Katie Findlay), a straight woman.
The fest closes with the East Coast premiere of out gay writer/director Mike Mosallam’s sweet, smart, and enjoyably corny romcom, “Breaking Fast.” Out actor Haaz Sleiman exudes charisma and displays palpable comic anxiety as Mo, a heartbroken gay Muslim who meets — and eats with — Kal (Michael Cassidy) during Ramadan. Because the Holy Month forbids impure thoughts and activities, Mo is forced to practice self-control. Mosallam’s clever conceit allows Mo and Kal to fall in love as their relationship develops over numerous romantic meals and dates. Both Sleiman and Mosallam will be honored for their work at the fest, and Mosallam’s original 20-minute version of “Breaking Fast” will also screen in the fest’s “Sex and Dating” shorts program.
Another award will be given to director Matt Tyrnauer for his career achievements in documentary filmmaking. The festival will screen his films, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” (2017) about the late Scott Bowers, a “pimp” (for lack of a better word) for closeted celebrities, and “Studio 54” (2018), about the heyday of the famed nightclub.
qFLIX also offers moviegoers another opportunity to see “Latter Day Jew,” Philly native producer Todd Shotz’s documentary about out gay comedian H. Alan Scott converting to Judaism, and “End of the Century,” Lucio Castro’s magical queer romance. Both Shotz and Castro are expected to attend the festival.
Other anticipated guests include Mike Doyle, the out gay actor-turned-writer/director of “Sell By,” a comedy-drama about gay and straight friends grappling with issues of trust and jealousy, intimacy, and communication.
Another festival attendee is Mark Patton, the subject of the terrific documentary, “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” which recounts the actor’s career practically ending after he was positioned as the sensitive male lead — i.e., the gay equivalent of the “final girl” — in the horror film franchise, “Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.” A screening of the “Nightmare” film, which has some not-so-subtle queer content, will proceed “Scream, Queen!,” but one can appreciate the documentary without being a horror film fan.
Not to be missed is “Disclosure,” out trans director Sam Feder’s engaging, affirming documentary that evaluates how transgender characters are presented and consumed by both trans and non-trans viewers. Laverne Cox, Jen Richards, and dozens of other trans actors, filmmakers, and writers, discuss representation on screen. Often trans characters were seen as the butt of jokes, or they caused straight (male) characters to vomit (see “The Crying Game,” or “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”). Trans characters were psychopaths (“Dressed to Kill,” “Silence of the Lambs”) or playing victims and/or sex workers in ratings-grabbing police and medical shows on TV. Trans people were also exploited on talk shows where they were meant to educate audiences. “Disclosure” also addresses the whitewashing of black trans people (specifically in the 2005 film “Stonewall” and the Oscar-winning “Boys Don’t Cry”). In addition, Feder validates the strives being made, especially on TV with “Pose,” Chaz Bono’s appearance on “Dancing with the Stars,” and even Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show that gave positive visibility to accepting parents of trans youth. “Disclosure” provides a critical awareness about how we are defined by what we watch.
Three other documentaries worth seeing are “One Taxi Ride,” an emotional story of Erick, a young gay Mexican man who works up the nerve to tell his partner about a traumatic incident from his past; “The Blue Rose of Novalis,” about Marcelo Diorio, a HIV-positive gay poet in São Paulo, who talks openly, and at length, about, well, his ass; and “Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life,” out gay filmmaker Tomer Heymann’s fascinating and unflinching profile of Agassi, the Israeli porn star whose addiction and family issues take a toll on his life and his career.
One the best features screening at qFLIX is the Bolivian import, “Tu Me Manques,” by out gay director Rodrigo Bellott. This multi-layered drama about at-risk queer youth concerns a father (Oscar Martinez) coming to terms with the death — and possible suicide — of his gay son (played by three actors, Jose Duran, Ben Lukovski, and Quim del Rio).
“Tow of Us”
qFLIX also offers audiences a sneak preview of “Two of Us,” director Filippo Meneghetti’s poignant drama (forthcoming this summer) about a pair of aging neighbors, Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), who are secretly a couple. Seeing these women exchange looks over breakfast, or dance together, shows how deeply, thoroughly in love they are. They have plans to move to Rome — where they first met — and “be who we want to be,” but Madeleine is reluctant to tell her adult children about the extent of their relationship. When an unforeseen snag occurs, separating the women, Nina lies in wait, contriving ways of (re)connecting with Madeline. Meneghetti, making his feature debut, shoots many scenes in close-up, and this intimacy showcases Sukowa’s deeply moving performance as a determined woman in love. Chevallier is heartbreaking, expressing her emotions, sometimes just with her eyes.
The low-key Canadian feature, “Writing Kim,” has Annie (Destee Klyne), an aspiring writer, moving away from her boyfriend, Luke (Thomas Nicholson), and in with her friend Kim (writer and co-director Alison Lynne Ward), Kim’s husband, Carey (Stevie Jay), and their young son, Jake (Jett Klyne). As Kim and Annie drink wine and talk, Annie finds her writing muse. There is also a potential romance brewing between these young women in this slight, slow-burning drama. If the film is a bit earnest (and chaste), it still delivers nice messages about freedom and acting out of character.
Speaking of Canada, qFLIX will screen the vibrant documentary, “Our Dance of Revolution,” which chronicles the history of Toronto’s queer black community. The feature-length film will be preceded by the locally-made short, “Legendary: 30 Years of Philly Ballroom,” an affectionate, entertaining portrait of the local ballroom community made by staff members at the Philadelphia Inquirer. The short’s interviewees are all engaging, and the imagery and costumes are fabulous.
Another crowd-pleasing documentary, “Gay Chorus Deep South,” chronicles the week-long goodwill tour the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarked on in five southern states with strong anti-LGBT laws. The music, of course, is wonderful, but it is the how the chorus changes the minds of the people they meet — and how the people change the minds of the chorus — that reverberates. One showstopping moment has chorus member Ashlé, who is transitioning from male to female, perform “I am Changing,” from “Dreamgirls” at a nightclub.
qFLIX will also host the U.S. premiere of out, gay actor, writer, and director Laurent Maria’s work, including his shorts, “Anita,” and “Sunday,” along with his latest feature, “Nina.” And qFLIX favorite Ben Baur will receive the festival’s “Rising Star” award for the various short films and webseries he has written and starred in over the past few years. [Full disclosure: I will be hosting these two events].
See you at the movies!
For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit http://www.qflixphilly.com/