Last month, the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival took over the much-loved Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a weekend of excellent queer films. With subjects ranging from blind teenagers clumsy over love to a gang of “killer lesbians” punished for a crime they didn’t commit, aGLIFF presented a variety of viewpoints and perspectives with rapturous full-length features, eye-opening documentaries and silly, sexy, to-the-point shorts.
And of course, a gay film festival program wouldn’t be complete without a handful of adult gay film stars looking to get their big acting break. Here are some of my personal favorites.
Kate Bornstein Is a Queer & Pleasant Danger
Director: Sam Feder
To Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Amos Mac, Rocco Kayiatos and pretty much every gender outlaw living today, Kate Bornstein is the iconic queer grandma. This documentary follows the eccentric but charismatic writer as she struggles with defeating cancer and having to put up with her fair share of Internet haters. Watch the film trailer here.
Director: Desiree Akhavan
A cinematic gem first discovered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the funny and poignant Appropriate Behavior has writer, director and star Desiree Akhavan trying to reconcile her Persian-American identity with her bisexual longings. After her brother gets engaged, Akhavan’s character beings to rebel, testing both society’s boundaries and her own emotional limitations as she tries to decipher why her relationship with her ex-girlfriend ultimately failed. This is what The L Word would have been if it had been created by Lena Dunham. Watch a clip from the film here.
Dior and I
Director: Frédéric Tchengc
Following the outstanding fashion documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, filmmaker Frédéric Tchengc takes us inside another iconic fashion institution, the House of Dior. Viewers get an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the pivotal, career-defining moments right before Raf Simons’ highly-anticipated debut collection as Dior’s artistic director. As in his previous Valentino film, Tchengc captures both the surreal, often loony, day-to-day of the fashion elite and the stress-filled job of continuing a revered legacy, all while documenting the disappearing art of the atelier. Watch a clip from the film here.
The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho)
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Fresh off winning big awards at prestigious festivals such as Berlinale, San Francisco’s Frameline and Los Angeles’ Outfest, The Way He Looks is a tender coming of age story that manages to pack an emotional punch without relying too heavily on sappy sentimentality (a rare feat for a film in the “coming out” subgenre). Leonardo, a blind teenager living in Sao Paulo, yearns to see the world, but manages to fall in love with a happy-go-lucky new boy in school instead. This unexpected but charming love story does not sit too well with Leonardo’s best friend, Giovanna, who gets her first lesson in unrequited love. Watch the film trailer here.
Director: Dan Sickles & Antonio Santini
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at aGLIFF, Mala Mala presents an unflinching portrayal of the trans community in Puerto Rico. The diverse cast of characters in the film all work together to prove that the personal is political as trans activists, drag queens and sex workers fight for their right to be while undergoing radical self-awakenings. Both tragic and uplifting, the documentary is an eye-opener for privileged viewers, and an inspiration for persevering over adversity, even when you can’t always tell the difference between glitter and shattered glass. Watch the film trailer here.
Eternity: The Movie
Director: Ian Thorpe
An ode to 80’s homoeroticism and a surprisingly apt take on the music industry then and now, Eternity is one giant double entendre with sexual innuendos and the total ridiculosity of 80’s campy sensibilities, from the wardrobe to the music. Watch the film trailer here.
I Am Happiness on Earth (Yo Soy la Felicidad de Este Mundo)
Director: Julián Hernández
The term “contains explicit sexual content” may be a bit of an understatement when it comes to this masterful Mexican film. I Am Happiness on Earth is sexually-charged from beginning to end, but the truly explicit content is part of an experimental, meta-narrative that may catch some viewers off-guard. The primary story is the age-old tale of boy meets boy, boy loses boy because he’s addicted to online escorts. Director Julián Hernández has created a beautiful, almost suspenseful, rendition of a modern-day urban fairy tale, where ballet and modern dance are used as conduits to admire the beauty of the male body. Watch the film trailer here.
Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn
Director: Ethan Reid
If Kate Bornstein is our iconic queer grandma, then Peter de Rome is our granddaddy of porn. A successful Hollywood cinematographer with an affinity for attractive men of color, Peter de Rome made sexually explicit films from the 1950s until the 70s, and he did so in a refreshingly unapologetic way, especially for a time when gay sex was not only taboo but actually illegal. Smut aficionados will get a kick out of seeing many of de Rome’s ambitious works, including Greta Garbo’s final film appearance. Watch the trailer here.
Director: Andrew Putschoegl
A lesbian romantic comedy that acknowledges the twist element of embarking on a same-sex relationship but doesn’t dwell on it, BFFs features actors well-versed in comedic timing to make it truly a standout. The conflict comes from the two main characters negotiating a fruitful way of going from best friends to partners in crime to fully-committed lovers and realizing the trust that true love really requires. Watch the film trailer here.
When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and The Theremin
Director: Robert Nazar Arjoyan
This documentary about cheeky concert performer and “high society gender illusionist” Armen Ra takes viewers to another time and place: Iran right after the revolution, New York in the golden age of nightclubs. Through the highs and lows, Armen Ra never loses his bejeweled spirit in this hyper-real documentary, the only way this larger-than-life character could be accurately captured on film. Watch the film trailer here.
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk
From the creator of the gay soap, Noah’s Arc, Blackbird is a compelling drama about an African-American high school senior struggling with coming out in the small religiously conservative Mississippi town. Academy Award winner Mo’Nique plays his emotionally unstable mother who has to deal with an absentee husband, an abducted daughter and — what should seem like the least of her problems — a gay teenage son. Watch the film trailer here.
Out in the Night
Director: Blair Doroshwalther
To activists they are collectively known as the New Jersey 4, to the mainstream media, however, they were basically a “Gang of Killer Lesbians.” Out in the Night traces back the horrific events that brought seven young African-American lesbians to prison after an act of self-defense. Charged with gang assault and attempted murder, the New Jersey 4 were victims of a racist, sexist and homophobic system that looked down upon them from the day they were born. Watch the film trailer here.