November 7, 2019 at 4:39 pm PST | by Dan Allen
Bold global queer cinema shines at AFI Fest
AFI fest, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘And Then We Danced.’ (Image courtesy of AFI)

Period lesbian romance along the dazzling French seaside. Forbidden gay desire between Georgian dancers in the closeted Caucasus. Slice-of-life immigrant tales of a Filipina transwoman and a Kazakh lesbian. Queer coming of age in small-town Argentina. It’s all just part of the especially rich global queer palette coming soon to Hollywood courtesy of AFI Fest 2019, which opens Thursday, Nov. 14 with “Queen & Slim,” fittingly written by out and Emmy-winning writer/actor/producer Lena Waithe. In all, more than 140 films from over 50 countries will be presented at this year’s festival, which runs through Nov. 21.

Anyone who caught screenings at the most recent Outfest will be familiar with AFI Fest’s main venue, the TCL Chinese Theatres at the heart of Hollywood, which served as Outfest’s temporary home base this year as the DGA Theater underwent renovations. Outfest 2019 viewers may also recognize the savvy programming stamp of Mike Dougherty, Outfest’s new director of programming, and a longtime associate programmer at the always queer-forward AFI Fest.

After a decade of issuing free public tickets to its screenings, AFI Fest returns to a paid ticketing system this year—which might on the face of it seem like a bummer for fest-goers, but those who’ve been to recent AFI Fest screenings know that the free ticket system tended to dole out more tickets than there were actual seats, sometimes leading to long lines and frustrated, turned-away ticket holders. This new system should alleviate those issues for a more seamless and stress-free festival experience.

Here’s our rundown of the LGBTQ-themed titles not to miss at this year’s fantastic AFI Fest:

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

Nov. 15 & 16

Acclaimed French queer filmmaker Céline Sciamma — writer/director of the lesbian classic “Water Lilies” and the trans classic “Tomboy,” as well as screenwriter of the 2016 gay hit “Being 17” — returns with this gorgeous tale of 18th century painter Marianne, who’s commissioned to secretly craft the wedding portrait of young Héloïse, a recent convent departee who’s reluctantly engaged to a man she’s never met. Long walks by the seaside lead to irrepressible intimacy between the young women, during what they know will be Héloïse’s last moments of independence. The film won the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

AND THEN WE DANCED

Nov. 20 & 21

In Sweden’s official Oscar entry for this year’s Best International Feature Film, Merab is a young traditional dancer training for the National Georgian Ensemble, whose sense of competition—and much more—is awakened by the arrival of the talented, alluring and irreverent Irakli. The two dancers navigate their attraction within the confines of a traditional Georgian world that’s at once strictly homophobic and deeply homoerotic.

OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE

Nov. 20 & 21

Director Ric Burns (whose credits include the excellent “Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film”) brings us the fascinating story of famed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, whose inspirational based-on-reality book “Awakenings” later became the Penny Marshall film of the same name. Shunned by his mother for being gay, Sacks became a champion weightlifter as a young man, but also developed a crippling drug habit. After getting sober and becoming celibate, Sacks turned to writing, where he was able to share the special grace he found in the lives of those with neurological disabilities (most notably in his 1985 book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”). This film, along with “Welcome to the USA,” is presented by AFI Fest community partner GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics.

SEARCHING EVA

Nov. 19 & 20

Born in a conservative small town in Italy, 25-year-old Eva Collé has now forged an utterly rules-free existence for herself in hedonistic Berlin, sharing unabashed glimpses via Tumblr and Instagram of her experiences as a fashion model, sex worker, drug taker, sexual explorer and identity shirker. Director Pia Hellenthal documents Eva’s chaotic life through a blitz of image and sound, often narrating with comments—both positive and negative—from Eva’s own social media and internet followers.

FAMILY MEMBERS (Los miembros de la familia)

Nov. 15 & 16

When siblings Gilda and Lucas head to the ocean to spread the ashes of their recently departed mother, a nationwide bus strike traps them in their quiet Argentinean coastal hometown. Here they’re forced to get intimate and deal with their grief—with both tender and subtly amusing results—as Gilda pines for (and sends nude pics to) her boyfriend back in Buenos Aires, and Lucas crushes on a hunky local martial arts enthusiast.

LINGUA FRANCA

Nov. 17 & 19

Undocumented Filipina trans woman Olivia is a home health care aide for Olga, an elderly woman with dementia in Brooklyn’s heavily Russian Brighton Beach neighborhood. When Olga’s grandson Alex returns from rehab, Olivia and Alex find themselves irresistibly drawn to one another, despite their complicated individual circumstances. Transwoman Isabel Sandoval, herself a Filipina immigrant, wrote, directs and stars in this tough but tender tale of difficult lives intertwined, which recently premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.

WELCOME TO THE USA

Nov. 20 & 21

In this world premiere from Kazakhstani director Assel Aushakimova, 36-year-old Aliya is thrilled to have won the American green card lottery, but now she must say goodbye to the people she loves the most in her hometown of Almaty, including her elderly mother and her longtime recurring girlfriend.

KNIVES AND SKIN

Nov. 15 & 16

A high school girl goes missing in an eerily quiet suburban town, shattering the social fabric and piercing the facade of normalcy in this quirky, spooky, mystical and musical take on the missing person genre— with a lesbian twist—from writer/director Jennifer Reeder.

SAINT MAUD

Nov. 15 & 16

In this spooky psychological thriller set on the dreary English seaside, Maud is a reclusive and religious home health care nurse with a traumatic past, who makes it her personal crusade to save the soul of her new patient Amanda, a cancer-stricken former dancer and socialite who also happens to be lesbian (played by the always extraordinary Jennifer Ehle).

Several shorts programs at this year’s AFI Fest will also include queer titles, including Shorts Program 2 (CARNE), Shorts Program 5 (THE BURNING BUSH and TAKE ME TO PROM), Meet the Press Selects (MACK WRESTLES), and Showcase 2 (MILLER & SON).

For further info about AFI Fest 2019 and late-breaking updates, visit fest.afi.com.

A scene from ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire.’ (Image courtesy of AFI)

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