November 8, 2018 at 10:12 am PST | by Dan Allen
AFI Fest 2018 presents the brightest new queer cinema

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in ‘The Favourite.’ (Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox)

Last year, the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest presented the LA premiere of “A Fantastic Woman,” the trans-themed Chilean tour de force that went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Two years ago, AFI Fest hosted a conversation with the director and cast of “Moonlight,” in the lead-up to their Best Picture Oscar. So what queer delicacies might be in store for this year’s AFI Fest audiences?

In a word, plenty. In its eight days of free and open-to-the-public programming in Hollywood, AFI Fest 2018 will present major LGBTQ-themed productions like “Green Book,” starring “Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali as a gay Jamaican classical pianist being chauffeured around the Deep South by Viggo Mortensen in the 1960s; and “The Favourite,” starring Olivia Colman (Claire Foy’s replacement as Elizabeth II in season three of “The Crown”) as a different kind of British ruler—the 18th century’s lady-loving Queen Anne—with her special favorites played by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

Smaller but bolder queer-themed films from around the globe are on the AFI Fest roster too, like the Kenyan lesbian love story “Rafiki,” the Canadian coming of age story “Genesis,” and the ‘70s French gay porn-backdropped thriller “Knife + Heart.” And the festival will pay homage to two of the greatest icons of lesbian cinema, with screenings of Barbara Hammer’s “Nitrate Kisses” and Chantal Akerman’s “Meetings Of Anna.”

AFI Fest 2018 kicked off last night with the world premiere of “On the Basis of Sex,” starring Felicity Jones as young lawyer (and future Supreme Court superstar) Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The festival runs through next Thursday, Nov. 15, and in all will show 134 films from 45 countries, screened at a duo of classic Hollywood venues, the Chinese Theatres and the Egyptian Theater, with panels and other events taking place at the nearby Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

We spoke to AFI Fest Director of Programming Lane Kneedler about the esteemed festival and its exciting queer lineup this year.

Los Angeles Blade: What’s in store this year at AFI Fest in terms of LGBTQ-themed content?

Lane Kneedler: We’re thrilled to have such great LGBTQ content at AFI Fest this year, across several of our sections. We have “Green Book” in Galas, “The Favourite” in Special Screenings, and “Genesis” and “Diamantino” in World Cinema. In our New Auteurs section we have three films: “L’Animale,” “And Breathe Normally” and “Rafiki.” In our Cinema’s Legacy section we’re showing both “Meetings Of Anna” and “Nitrate Kisses,” plus “Magic ’85″ in our Short Film showcase, and the tremendous “Knife + Heart” from AFI Fest alum Yann Gonzalez in our Midnight Section. It’s turned out to be a really strong year for LGBTQ content.

Blade: Is LGBTQ inclusion something that AFI Fest consciously strives for, or is it just that more and more good LGBTQ films are being made these days, as part of the wider pool of available programming options? 

Kneedler: Both. Being in a place such as Los Angeles and understanding what the 2018 audience is responding to puts LGBTQ content foremost in our minds before we even start watching films for the year. This is also the result of us looking for filmmakers that are deserving of a larger stage to showcase their work on. We see ourselves as a necessary megaphone to help emerging artists connect with audiences who might not otherwise experience their voices. This is especially true in our New Auteurs section and applies to LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ films as well. 

Blade: Last year’s trans-themed AFI Fest selection “A Fantastic Woman” went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and the year before that, AFI Fest hosted a conversation with “Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and cast months before they received their Best Picture Oscar. Any predictions about films at this year’s AFI Fest that you think could be serious Academy Award contenders? 

Kneedler: We’re thrilled to have intimate conversations with two incredible actresses at the festival this year, Natalie Portman and Nicole Kidman, both of whom have incredible performances this year which we are proud to celebrate. More and more films every year are viewing AFI Fest as a necessary component of a successful awards season launch. I don’t know what film is going to win Best Picture, but I’m pretty sure it’s playing at AFI Fest.

Blade: What are a few of your favorite films at this year’s AFI Fest? 

Kneedler: So hard to choose, I love all my babies so much. But if I had to, I would want to put a spotlight on some films that are a little more under the radar of general audiences. When I saw “One Day” at Cannes this year, I immediately knew I wanted to program it—as a young parent it rang so true to my experience of the hectic and emotional day to day experience of having children. And of course, “Knife + Heart” was the craziest thing ever to watch. We were thrilled to have Yann’s short film “Islands” play as an official selection at the festival a few years back, and to have him return with this project is such a delight. It’s set in the gay Paris porn scene of the 1970s—what’s not to love!

Tickets for AFI Fest 2018 are available at afifest.afi.com/2018/sections. Tickets are free, so they go quickly—but they’re released over time, so keep checking for the latest updates.

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