Thursday, October 14, 2021

Reverend's Preview: Festivals of the Fall

We might all have cooler temperatures, pumpkin lattes and Halloween celebrations on our mind, but there are still major film festivals happening in Southern California this autumn. And there is plenty of LGBTQ content featured at two of this month’s most prominent events!

Now celebrating its 20th year, the San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF) is the region’s premiere film festival and one of the leading stops on the annual film fest circuit. This year’s lineup includes at least 155 films: 24 Narrative Competition films, 14 Documentary Competition films and 117 Short films.

SDIFF’s 20th anniversary event starts today and  will run through October 24th. Produced by the San Diego Film Foundation, festival attendees will enjoy a hybrid of in-person and virtual events. In-person festival events and screenings will take place in some of the oceanfront city’s most beautiful locations including Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa on Mission Bay, and even on board the USS Midway! Patrons can also access over 150 films On Demand in the festival’s Virtual Village as well as Q&As with filmmakers from around the world.

C’mon C’mon, the opening night film, stars Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann and Woody Norman. The latest from writer-director Mike Mills (who previously made 2010’s Oscar-winning, gay-themed film Beginners) is a deeply moving meditation on the connections between adults and children and the importance of family. SDIFF 2021 will close with actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial feature debut The Lost Daughter, a psychological drama based on the novel of the same name.

Presented in between these will be two major gay-interest Spotlight features. The Power of the Dog is the first film in 12 years by acclaimed writer-director Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, In the Cut). Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a sadistic 19th century rancher struggling with repressed sexual yearnings. The actor is already receiving major Oscar buzz for his performance. Meanwhile, the unique animated documentary Flee follows Amin, a gay man on the verge of marrying his husband, as he shares his story for the first time about his hidden past of fleeing his country as a refugee. Flee won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Other Spotlight features will include Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as the late Princess Diana; Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical Belfast; uber-quirky filmmaker Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch; and Stephen Karam’s The Humans, adapted from his award-winning Broadway play.

Tonya Mantooth, CEO/Artistic Director of the San Diego International Film Festival recently said: “As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I have really reflected on the great strides that have been made within the film industry. There has been a significant increase in female filmmakers as well as a larger examination of global social topics. We are thrilled to provide a platform to showcase that change. This year, the festival received over 3,000 film submissions representing over 65 countries. We are excited to curate one of the strongest film lineups in our 20-year history including both independent films and studio premieres."

Passes to attend live screenings at multiple locations throughout San Diego or Virtual Fest Passes can be purchased at the SDIFF website or by calling 619-818-2221.

Then there is the 22nd annual Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF), to be held October 21st -28th at various Orange County locations. Tickets are now on sale on their website. Several LGBTQ+ feature films as well as short films will be screened. Among these are:

My Father Mary Anne (Min pappa Marianne)
: After breaking up with her boyfriend, 28-year-old Hanna returns to her hometown for a temporary position at the local news station. Her world is soon turned even more upside down when her beloved father, the local priest with the big beard, reveals that his greatest desire is to be Mary Anne. From this point on there is no going back for Father Mary Anne, who insists on being her true self. It's a tumultuous journey for Hanna, who didn't know herself or her father as well as she thought she did.

Yes I Am - The Ric Weiland Story: An openly gay software pioneer, Ric Weiland found early wealth as the second employee at Microsoft in 1975. He was an integral and valued part of their early successes and helped shape the company into what it is today. Ric retired at 35 to quiet nagging doubts and to create impactful and meaningful change in the world around him. His generosity and influence helped shape modern HIV/AIDS research, marriage equality and legal protections for LGBTQ employees at some of the biggest names in the business. Through this documentary (narrated by Zachary Quinto) and the personal diaries Ric left behind, we gain a clearer picture of the beloved, talented and troubled man.

Pieces of Us: An intimate look at the personal journeys of LGBTQ+ hate crime survivors who, by choosing to take their recovery public, inspire the survivor in all of us. The film juxtaposes the inspirational stories of recovery each of its subjects (including transgender activist and Stonewall Riots survivor Victoria Cruz and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of India) have experienced with the powerful connections their public actions have produced. Their stories take us to New York City, Denver and India to witness how intersectionality and speaking one’s truth can build a supportive community and even spark global change.

Someone Like Me: Leaving everything he knows behind, Drake -- a vibrant 22-year-old gay man from Uganda -- aspires to the universal freedoms everyone deserves: to be whom he is and love whomever he chooses without fear of discrimination, persecution or violence. Tasked with a year-long commitment as Drake’s primary support network, a group of strangers from Vancouver’s queer community unite under the banner of Rainbow Refugee, a non-profit that connects LGBTQ+ asylum claimants with sponsors. Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ feature documentary takes a verité approach to the generous and rough-edged nuances of what it means to sponsor an asylum seeker. Chronicling the complexities of the journey taken by Drake and his sponsors, the filmmakers illuminate how survival itself becomes a victory in a world where one must constantly fight for the right to exist.

Several LGBTQ+ short films will also be screened under the program title “Short, Sweet and Queer.” These will include Adrift in Sunset, Falling In, ITCH, Liminal, Satan's Tears, That Girl, Peugeot and The Lonely Prince.

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.