By Hans Pedersen, Jan. 29, 2015.
Each year, an amazing slate of films are unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Several movies with LGBTQ themes emerged from last year’s fest, including gems like The Skeleton Twins, To Be Takei, The Foxy Merkins and Love Is Strange.
And, following the 2015 festival, which runs through Feb. 1, there will be a new roster of movies that will be heading to theatres and Netflix queues.
Nearly 120 feature films are screening at Sundance, but here are 12 titles that are already generating a lot of LGBTQ interest:
Slated to air on HBO in June, this movie in the US documentary competition profiles 78-year-old activist and writer Larry Kramer. After he wrote about his life for the stage, Kramer’s story became a Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning dramatic feature, The Normal Heart, which aired on the network last year. His friend, filmmaker Jean Carlomusto, directs this profile of the inspirational and controversial man who has been heroically fighting for the gay community and stirring things up for decades.
Ernestine, Edith and Violet Newstead (9 to 5) are just a few of the affable characters Lily Tomlin has played who tickled our funny bone over the years. Here the talented performer plays angry woman Elle Reid, who’s mourning the loss of her life partner of 38 years. Elle is forced to confront the past when she teams up with her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage, for a day trip. Trans actress Laverne Cox co-stars, and Paul Weitz directs this heartbreaker that premieres at the festival.
Sebastian Silva (The Maid, Crystal Fairy), a Chilean director who’s out of the closet, also co-stars in his movie about a gay couple who are eager to have a baby. Living in the diverse neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the frustrated pair ultimately looks for help from their pal Polly, (Kristen Wiig) and her boyfriend (Tunde Adebimpe). But, a low sperm count and a strange area man known as “The Bishop” derail their plans.
In this 16mm movie, LGBTQ film historian Jenni Olson weaves together her musings on topics like the forgotten the history of Mexican-American War, Hitchock’s Vertigo and butch identity. Her film consists of landscape shots of urban California settings, framed like postcards, accompanied by the sound of her voice. Sharing insights and intimate stories, Olson hypnotizes the audience with her own unique filmmaking style, which was praised after her previous Sundance feature The Joy of Life. The screening includes remarks by Tony Kushner.
In this film, based on a controversial true story, James Franco portrays Michael Glatze, the editor of a gay magazine who became a Christian pastor and wound up denying his attraction to the same gender. Gus Van Sant serves as executive producer on this project, which is based on the article “My Ex-Gay Friend” by out New York Times Magazine writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis. Gay actor Zachary Quinto lends extra queer credibility to this film directed by Justin Kelly.
This feature-film debut by Matt Sobel tells the story of a West Coast teenager, Ryder (played by Logan Miller), who’s about to come out of the closet during a family reunion in Nebraska. His young cousin idolizes him, following him around so she can bask in his California style. But when it appears the young girl may have been the victim of abuse,Ryder is thrown into the spotlight in unexpected ways in this family drama.
Cult figure Udo Kier played a gay john in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, popped up in an orgy Madonna’s Sex book, not to mention that notorious gall bladder scene in Flesh for Frankenstein. The German actor joins Geraldine Chaplin and Charlotte Rampling in the latest film from Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World), a Canadian filmmaker with a knack for nostalgia and a passion for manipulating celluloid. Maddin filters this fantastic tale thru his own experimental aesthetic of damaged nitrate prints, expanding the language of cinema.
Two 17-year-old girls, Auste and Sangaile, meet near a lakeside villa one summer during an air show. As Sangaile reveals her love for flying, along with other secret passions, soon the two are stealing moments together in this sun-dappled love story. Alante Kavaite writes and directs this film, produced in the Netherlands, France and Lithuania, as it makes its world premiere at Sundance.
Comedian Tig Notaro recently came out, but she also dropped a bombshell on audiences when she told them about her cancer diagnosis during a standup routine. At Sundance, directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York premiere their doc chronicling the brave comedian as she pursues a comedy career, battles a life-threatening condition and falls in love with a new woman in her life – all at the same time.
In this unique doc, a Canadian woman falls for a blogger known as Amina, who writes about life as a lesbian in Syria during the tumultuous Arab Spring. But their six-month online relationship is disrupted when Amina seems to vanish, and the woman who loves her must unlock the truth behind this disappearance, revealing an even more shocking secret. Directed by Sophie Deraspe, this film in the World Documentary competition takes unexpected turns in that hall of mirrors known as the web.
Also premiering at the festival is this movie tackling society’s representations of masculinity. Filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom directed Miss Representation (2011) about sexism and images of women in the media, and here she gives men the similar treatment. When boys are told not to cry and guys ought to “man up,” overall society is harmed, the doc argues, as it examines our world’s limited idea of “what makes a man.”
The debates between archconservative William F. Buckley and outspoken gay liberal Gore Vidal are considered by many to be one of the highlights of television history. In this film in the U.S. documentary competition, Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) and co-director Robert Gordon delve behind the scenes of the legendary debates that unfolded at the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention. The opinionated men touch on topics like the Vietnam War, sex and religion during the explosive culture wars that were threatening to rip the country apart.
Hans Pedersen is a freelance writer based in Phoenix.