Out of the Closet & Onto the Big Screen

Sundance introduces 11 titles starring LGBTQ themes

By Hans Pedersen, February 2017 Issue.

Each year, Echo kicks off the new year by offering our readers a sneak peak at some of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival projects that feature LGBTQ themes, along with a couple that were made by out directors and producers.

For the 2017 Festival, which takes place Jan. 19-29 in Park City, Utah, 113 feature-length films were selected, representing 32 countries and 37 first-time filmmakers, including 20 in competition, according to sundance.org. These films were selected from 13,782 submissions including 4,068 feature-length films and 8,985 short films, and 98 of the feature films will be making world premieres.

Of course, that’s far too many for us to cover. So, we’ve narrowed it down to 11 titles that we think you’ll enjoy. Here they are in no particular order:

This Is Everything: Gigi GorgeousGigi_Gorgeous_Sundance_2017
Directed by two-time Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple (American Dream, Harlan County U.S.A.), this documentary chronicles how a prominent diver from Canada became a YouTube star and transgender heroine. Gregory Lazzarato donned the name Gregory Gorgeous and earned legions of fans as he began broadcasting makeup tips from his bedroom.

But the death of his beloved mother made the entertainer determined to make the big change: a 2013 video, titled “I Am Transgender,” officially transformed the star into Gigi Gorgeous. Kopple follows this YouTube personality every step of the way in this selection in the festival’s Documentary Premiere category, shattering our assumptions about gender and family.

Beach RatsBeach_Rats_Sundance_2017
Directed by Eliza Hittman, this film in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category gives us a look at the contradictions in a wandering teenage soul named Frankie. He’s a guy who goofs off with his hoodlum friends and tries wooing a young woman, but ultimately finds himself increasingly drawn to other men online and engaging in sexual activities in front of his webcam. Soon, Frankie is cruising for guys at the beach in this narrative feature that explores that rift between one’s actual life and the online worlds that folks inhabit.

God’s Own CountryGods_Own_Country_Sundance_2017
Set in a rural area of the United Kingdom, this drama follows Johnny Saxby, a young sheepherder who lost out on college and a city career in order to run his family’s farm for his ailing pop. Johnny engages in whatever casual sex he can find in the Yorkshire area, but when another guy, Gheorghe, is hired to help out with chores around the farm, he grows resentful. And soon enough, a steamy romance develops between the farm stud and his hunky helper. Despite the gloomy skies, love is most certainly blooming in this British drama, directed by Francis Lee that will screen in the World Dramatic Competition category.

Call Me By Your NameCall_Me_By_Your_Name_Sundance_2017
Forbidden love is the subject of this English-language selection in the Premiere category, which focuses on Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old boy who’s spending the summer at his American- Italian-French parents’ villa in the Italian countryside. But sparks start to fly when 24-year-old Oliver arrives at their countryside home to help Elio’s studious father with academic work. All the simmering sexual tension between the teen and the young scholar means viewers can expect to see some skin. Last year, director Luca Guadagnino told reporters that he was including a good dollop of nudity in this drama about a scandalous seven-year age difference.

Out director Dee Rees made her feature-film debut at Sundance with the acclaimed coming-out story Pariah, following it up with the award-winning Bessie. Rees returns to the festival with Mudbound, an entry in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, about two soldiers, one black and one white, who return home to rural Mississippi after World War II. While the white soldier returns to a community that greets him with welcoming arms, the black soldier must cope with hateful neighbors and Jim Crow laws. Battling post-traumatic stress, the veterans must rely on one another for friendship, further exacerbating racial tensions. Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan star as the soldiers’ family members in this drama about small-town life, segregation friendship and heritage.

One of the most thrilling selections at this year’s Sundance is the all-female horror anthology XX, which plays at the rowdiest of screenings, the Midnight category. XX features four frightening tales, starring such female leads as Melanie Lynskey (The Intervention), directed by four filmmakers: Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), Annie Clark (also known as St. Vincent) and Jovanka Vuckovic, (former editor of the publication Rue Morgue). All four filmmakers challenge the tired horror tropes that men have been rehashing in the genre for years; it’d be surprising if we don’t see at a little same-sex action in this bewitching collection of terrifying tales.

The Little HoursThe_Little_Hours_Sundance_2017
Actress Aubrey Plaza and director Jeff Baena cracked audiences up with the horror comedy Life After Beth; now they team up for this sly comedy in the Midnight category that might be dubbed “Nuns Gone Wild.” Set in a medieval convent, the sisters pass their days with petty activities until the appearance of a new day laborer (Dave Franco) who’s secretly on the run. The hunky helper stirs up sexual energy in these repressed nuns, culminating in a romp that’s described as “pansexual horniness.” Just don’t expect these emotionally askew sisters to kiss and tell – what happens in the monastery stays in the monastery.

Sueno en Otro Idioma (I Dream in Another Language)Sueno_En_Otro_Idioma_Sundance_2017
In the World Cinema Documentary Competition category, this cryptic film by director Ernesto Contreras explores a language that only two people on the planet can speak. Yet neither of them has uttered a word to each other in half a century. They evidently share a long-standing grudge over a woman they both loved. But a deeper reason they refuse to speak to each another comes into focus in this mysterious documentary, featuring LGBTQ content that is equally mysterious.

“Out of Exile: Daniel’s Story”Out_Of_Exile_Sundance_2017
It’s not just films generating word of mouth at Sundance. Directed by Sara Ramirez, this virtual reality project in the New Frontier category has already stirred up a powerful buzz. Gay teenager Daniel Ashley Pierce came out to his homophobic family in Georgia and recorded audio of their brutal rejection of him. The audio of that horrible encounter fuels this interactive virtual reality experience that makes homophobia more than crystal-clear – it punches you in the gut. The visceral experience of abuse and hateful talk is then washed away by a different, uplifting virtual environment that was dreamed up by Pierce and three other LGBTQ youth.

“The Chances”The_Chances_Sundance_2017
Since we are living in the new golden age of television (with brand new shows popping up faster than restaurants in central Phoenix), an increasing number of screenings at Sundance include television series excerpts. This exciting new dramatic comedy series, co-starring Wilson Cruz (“My So-Called Life”), focuses on two deaf best friends who are trying to cope with changes in their lives. Kate, who is recently married, and Michael, who recently experienced a break up with his boyfriend. It’s worth noting that the writers on this project are also deaf.

“The History of Comedy”The_History_Of_Comedy_Sundance_2017
Out actor and producer Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) executive produces and stars in this CNN documentary series chronicling the history of what makes us chortle, touching on belly-achingly funny highlights from comedy history. With discussions with famous comedians and plenty of archival footage, Hayes’ guffaw-infused series touches on how comedy impacts politics and world events.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned to future issue of Echo Magazine for details on when these, and other great LGBTQ projects, are released in theaters and via streaming services.

For more information, including the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s complete lineup, visit sundance.org.