Two upcoming film festivals offer some exciting LGBTQ films during Pride Month. The Philadelphia Film Society is hosting an in-theater (only) “Springfest” at the newly reopened PFS Bourse Theater, June 11-17.
On June 13, the fest will screen “Ailey” a joyful documentary on the gay choreographer and founder of the American Dance Theater, Alvin Ailey. Director Jamila Wignot may skimp on the biographical details — there are only a few brief discussions of Ailey’s sexuality — but the film more than compensates as a showcase for dance. Performance clips from productions of his key works, “Blues Suit,” “Revelations,” “Cry,” and more illustrate the fluid, sensuous dances. Moreover, Wignot presents a rehearsal of a piece honoring the company’s 60th anniversary. In between, there are discussions of the impact of Ailey’s work and life from Judith Jamison, George Faison, and Bill T. Jones and other luminaries. Alvin Ailey explains in the film that as a youth, “dancing started to pull at me,” and this celebratory documentary, which honors his remarkable legacy, gracefully pulls viewers into his world.
On June 15, the fest will show “Werewolves Within,” a fun horror-comedy-mystery in which a handful of residents, including a gay couple (out actors Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén) are trapped in an inn during a storm. Oh, and a werewolf is on the loose, killing people and pets. But don’t fear — the film, which is being released June 25, is more amusing than scary.
Closing out Springfest is “Swan Song,” the third entry in out gay director Todd Stephens’ “Sandusky” trilogy. Mr. Pat (Udo Kier) is a retired hairdresser barely eking out life in a nursing home. When he is asked to style a dead woman (Linda Evans) for her funeral, he escapes and travels across town, reflecting on his life as he meets various folks. This poignant film costars Jennifer Coolidge and out gay actor Michael Urie, and features cameos by Stephens’ regulars, Stephanie McVay and Jonah Blechman. But the reason to see this film, which will be released August 6, is Kier, who gives a phenomenal performance.
For folks still reluctant to go out to a theater, the Tribeca Film Festival is offering many LGBTQ films for streaming, including the aforementioned “Ailey” (Friday June 18 at 6:00 pm) during its festival, June 9-20.
The affectionate documentary, “No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics” (June 13, 6:00 pm) traces the careers of five groundbreaking gay and lesbian comic book artists. Director Vivian Kleiman show how these artists defined themselves and took risks to create a queer comics scene that is in full bloom today. There are charming anecdotes by the pioneering Mary Wings, who responded to reading the comic “Sandy Comes Out” by creating “Come Out Comix.” The late Howard Cruse describes how the underground comics scene allowed for queer and envelope-pushing work since the Comics Code restricted any mention of homosexuality. Rupert Kinnard explains how his work in college, creating the Brown Bomber — the first gay superhero in comic strips — was “cathartic” as it enabled him to come out too. Jennifer Camper gets emotional talking about the AIDS epidemic, and Alison Bechdel talks about destigmatizing the LGBT community through realistic illustrations and stories.
As “No Straight Lines” shows, these artists “drew themselves as they wanted to be represented,” and in doing so changed the landscape and formed a strong sense of community. Kleiman employs comic panel formats to allow the next generation of queer comic book writers, which include Carlos Quispe, Ajuan Mance, and Maia Kobabe, among others. This is a fun and at times touching film that should inspire viewers to seek out these artists’ work.
The provocative documentary, “North by Current” (June 14, 6:00 pm), opens by asking, “How did you become who you became?” Trans filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax takes a reflective approach to answering this question about identity-formation by investigating his own family, who are still reeling from the death of his niece, Kalla. Both Madsen’s sister, Jesse, and her partner David, are suspected of child abuse in a case that was initially ruled a tragic accident. But “North by Current” is not a true crime story; instead, the film parses out information — about the case, and about the family history — to examine the truth and lies people tell in order to cope with a difficult reality. Madsen grapples with some painful remarks regarding his transition. But it is Jesse’s relationship with Madsen that forms the core of the film. Scenes of them talking honestly and openly about events in their lives, or recreating a scene from their childhood, are affecting. This is an intimate, personal, and quietly powerful film.
“Perfume de Gardenias” (June 14, 6:00 pm) is writer, director and Afroqueer artist Macha Colon’s intimate bittersweet film about Isabel (Luz María Rondón), a feisty octogenarian who loses her husband of 53 years in the pre-credit sequence. During his wake, she is approached by Toña (Sharon Riley) to help design funeral decorations for others in their Puerto Rican community. Isabel reluctantly agrees, but comes to enjoy the work, finding purpose in creating inventive displays — such as one for a local carpenter. But Isabel gets concerned when she realizes what Toña is really up to. And when her queer neighbor, Julia (Blanca Rosa Rovira Burset), starts having serious health issues, Isabel takes it upon herself to care for Julia, despite her neighbor’s stubbornness. “Perfume de Gardenias” is leisurely paced but charming, and Isabel is an engaging heroine who can handle her bratty adult children and create fabulous designs. When a gay man calls Isabel a “fierce bitch” during one of the funerals, his compliment is dead on.