June 3, 2017 at 12:52 pm PDT | by Dan Allen
Whitney, Bomer and Dahmer head LGBTQ lineup at LA Film Festival

Whitney Houston in her own words. (Photo courtesy LA Film Festival)

The acclaimed Los Angeles Film Festival returns to town on June 14, with a broad nine-day slate that includes a behind-the-scenes Whitney Houston documentary, Matt Bomer as a trans sex worker in one of four LGBTQ-themed world premieres, and a controversial drama about a teenage Jeffrey Dahmer.

“We’re showing seven LGBTQ-themed feature films this year, both narratives and documentaries, and also have very strong representation of LGBTQ voices in our shorts and episodic programs this year as well,” says Jennifer Wilson, LAFF’s senior programmer. “I feel really proud of the LGBTQ films we’ve chosen. We want audiences to the come out and see themselves and their stories represented on our screens and feel empowered by that.”

Other key titles in the LAFF’s LGBTQ lineup include “Abu,” a moving first-person documentary that traces the relationship between a father and his gay son as the family migrates from Pakistan to Canada; and “Becks,” the story of a young lesbian singer-songwriter (Lena Hall) who returns to her small hometown and strikes up an unlikely friendship (with Mena Suvari). Ten short films, spread across the festival’s six shorts programs, also have LGBTQ themes.

“I’ve been a programmer at the LA Film Festival since 2008, and it’s always been important to us to showcase both LGBTQ filmmakers and films,” says Wilson. “In a world where LGBTQ people are still being persecuted every day, the importance of telling their stories and the importance of positive representation at public forums like our festival can’t be measured.”

The Los Angeles Film Festival runs from June 14-22, with screenings centered at the ArcLight Cinemas Culver City, and spread across several other locations around the city.

The seven feature-length LGBTQ-themed titles at this year’s LAFF are:

Abu: Director Arshad Khan shares his own family’s very personal story of migration from Pakistan to Canada in this world premiere, focusing especially on Arshad’s loving but tricky relationship with his father (or “abu” in Urdu), which grows increasingly strained as Arshad becomes more open about his sexuality in his new homeland, and his father retreats deeper into conservatism in a society that has little use for him. Narrated by Arshad, the tender film deftly uses a combination of family archives and animation to tell its story, and appears in LAFF’s Documentary Competition section.

Becks: Young Brooklyn singer-songwriter Becks (Lena Hall) crosses the country to LA to be with her long-distance girlfriend — but when things don’t go quite as planned, she’s forced to return to her small hometown and move in with her ultra-Catholic mother (Christine Lahti). As she slowly re-acclimates to the backward town she once fled, she forges an unexpected friendship with Elyse (Mena Suvari), the wife of her old nemesis. Directed by Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Daniel Powell, the film world premieres in LAFF’s US Fiction Competition section.

My Friend Dahmer: Fresh from its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, this quirky and creepy but compelling drama stars Disney heartthrob Ross Lynch as young Jeffrey Dahmer circa 1977-78, when he was still just a misfit teen gay loner in Ohio. Based on a graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist and actual Dahmer classmate John Backderf (aka “Derf”), the film reveals how not just nature, but also nurture (or lack thereof) helped create the monster that Dahmer later became. Anne Heche is his completely unhinged mom,

Anything: Matt Bomer costars as a trans sex worker in this tale of a Mississippi man who, after the death of his wife, moves to Los Angeles to be near to his sister (played by Maura Tierney). When he takes a low-rent apartment in Hollywood, he befriends neighbor Freda (Bomer), and despite their vast differences, the two help fill the lonely void in each other’s lives. Timothy McNeil directs this adaptation of his GLAAD-nominated play of the same name, world premiering at LAFF in the LA Muse Competition section.

Whitney: Can I Be Me: This deeply candid documentary looks behind the scenes at the conflicted life of pop legend Whitney Houston, revealing how her public life of phenomenal fame and success masked her private struggles with addiction and sexuality. Directed by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal and utilizing three decades of interviews and footage, the moving doc makes its LA premiere as part of LAFF’s Buzz section.

Replace: In this stylish horror-thriller, gorgeous young Kira is afflicted with a strange disease that makes her skin rapidly dry to the point of crumbling away, and she soon realizes that the only possible salvation is to replace it with the living skin of others. In her quest to stay young, can Kira’s murderous skin-lust evade detection by the police and her new lover Sophia? In its North American premiere, the Norbert Keil-directed film appears in LAFF’s Nightfall Competition section.

And Then There Was Eve: When San Diego photographer Alyssa’s husband goes missing, she reaches out to his colleague Eve, a talented jazz pianist, to help her find him. Surprisingly, Alyssa finds herself captivated by Eve’s flirtatious charm, and falling in love again even as she mourns the emptiness left by the husband she also loves. Directed by Savannah Bloch, the film is in its world premiere as part of LAFF’s LA Muse Competition section.

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