October 18, 2020 at 8:26 pm PDT | by Dan Allen
AFI Fest Goes Virtual for 2020, Bringing Buzzy LGBTQ Cinema Right to Your TV

Pandemic life notoriously doesn’t come with a whole lot of perks, but here’s a big one for LA movie lovers: Since the excellent AFI Fest has been forced like most of the world’s film festivals to go virtual this year, you’ll have the unique chance over the coming week to watch some of 2020’s most exciting and awards-buzzy global cinema, all from the comfort and pants-optionality of your own home. 

AFI Fest’s roster always includes strong LGBTQ representation—and this year is no exception, from an epic gay immigrant love story to the profile of a famed trans jazzman to a lesbian cinema classic. In all, this year’s festival lineup includes more than 120 titles, all screening virtually in limited scheduling windows running anywhere from a few hours to several days through the end of the festival on October 22. Screening access can be purchased individual films, or with festival-wide passes starting at $100.

Here are the LGBTQ-themed films not to miss at AFI Fest 2020:

I CARRY YOU WITH ME

Deftly merging narrative and documentary elements, this sweeping, tender and timely film follows the decades-long real-life love story of Ivan and Geraldo as they meet in Pueblo, Mexico, emigrate to the United States, and settle into New York City life, facing the enormous challenges and dangers of homophobia, racism and injustice along the way. A conversation with director Heidi Ewing and actor Armando Espitia follows the film.

Screening Tuesday, October 20 at 12pm to Thursday, October 22 at 11:59pm

NO ORDINARY MAN

Billy Tipton may have had five wives, but he led a relatively tame life by jazz musician standards, settling down in Spokane and even adopting three children. It wasn’t until he passed away in 1989 and it was revealed that he was a trans man that his name was splashed across national tabloid headlines. This thoughtful documentary—seen here in its American premiere, fresh from the Toronto International Film Festival—looks back on Tipton’s life with the help of keen insights from several trans men.

Screening Sunday, October 18 at 12pm to Thursday, October 22 at 11:59pm

UNCLE FRANK

South Carolina native Beth shares a special relationship with her “different” Uncle Frank, which only grows stronger when college brings her close to him in New York. Just as Beth is discovering Frank’s just-post-Stonewall gay world of the early 1970s, a death in the family sets them off on a road trip back to South Carolina and a reckoning with their family and their pasts. A talk with director Alan Ball and actors Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi and Sophia Lillis follows the film.

Screening Sunday, October 18 at 12pm to Thursday, October 22 at 11:59pm

WHIRLYBIRD

Anyone who lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s and ‘90s remembers Zoey Tur, then known as Bob, who pioneered TV helicopter journalism from high above the city alongside wife and fellow journalist Marika Gerrard, and brought us iconic footage like the start of the 1992 riots and the slow-speed chase of O.J. Simpson. This fascinating documentary looks back on the couple’s insatiable journalistic drive, which unfortunately also took a harsh toll on their marriage and family life. Following the film, their daughter Katy Tur (now a renowned correspondent and anchor herself) leads a conversation between director Matt Yoka and subject Marika Gerrard.

Screening Friday, October 16 at 12pm to Thursday, October 22 at 11:59pm

MY LITTLE SISTER

Switzerland’s official entry for this year’s International Feature Film Oscar, this graceful drama (here in its American premier) tells the story of two twins, former playwright Lisa who’s now a stay-at-home mom in a small Swiss town, and Berlin-based stage actor Sven, who’s suddenly stricken with leukemia. As they navigate the fallout from Sven’s disease, their shared passion for theater draws them even closer together.
Screening Tuesday, October 20 at 12pm to Thursday, October 22 at 11:59pm

SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS

Electronic music owes an enormous debt to its female pioneers, as revealed in this celebration of unsung innovators in technological sound like Clara Rockmore, Bebe Barron, Eliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros, the last of whom also came out as a lesbian in the 1950s. Iconic avant-garde composer Laurie Anderson delivers the poetic narration.
Screening Saturday, October 17 at 12pm to Thursday, October 22 at 11:59pm

THE WATERMELON WOMAN

This lesbian movie classic from 1996 appears here as part of AFI Fest’s annual Cinema’s Legacy series, chosen by guest curator Racquel Gates this year as a film that also reframes the notion of “classic” through a Black perspective. Aspiring filmmaker Cheryl (played self-referentially by writer/director Cheryl Dunye) embarks on a documentary project about an unidentified Black actress from the 1930s and ‘40s, as she meanwhile embarks on a romance with a white woman, Diana (Guinevere Turner).

Screening Friday, October 16 ONLY from 12pm to 11:59pm; FREE

A number of LGBTQ-themed shorts are also part of this year’s AFI Fest, including CHILD OF THE LAND (about a queer 16-year-old girl navigating life on the streets after suffering abuse from her stepfather) and IN FRANCE MICHELLE IS A MAN’S NAME (about a young trans man’s return home to the rural American West following years of estrangement from his parents), both screening as part of SHORTS PROGRAM 3; as well as French trans-themed DUSTIN and lesbian coming-of-age tale PILLARS, both part of SHORTS PROGRAM 2.

2020’s AFI Fest also features a partnership with NBC’s Meet the Press that showcases a series of short documentaries, two of which have queer subjects: VOTE NEIL, which follows openly gay Marine veteran Neil Rafferty as he runs for Alabama’s State Legislature, and TALL TALES WITH TRUE QUEENS, which examines the power and controversy of drag queen story hour events.

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