A married gay couple realize their pick-up skills are rusty in an attempt to spice up their sex life, a butch lesbian finds her adopted son dancing and wearing gowns, a lesbian’s brother considers becoming a sperm donor — just a few of the queer themes present in the 13th annual D.C. Shorts Film Festival, which runs Sept. 8-18 in venues around the city.
As always, there’s a wide variety of events for families, filmmakers and fans, but the focus is on 137 short films arrayed in over 20 themed showcases.
LGBT films and filmmakers are featured throughout the festival, but six will be spotlighted in the LGBT Showcase which premieres on Sunday, Sept. 11 and repeats twice during the following week.
One is “Seeking Jack Tripper,” a romantic comedy by New-York based filmmaker Quinlan Orear. The movie’s about Tucker and Lance, a married couple who find that their relationship is in a bit of a rut. To spice things up, they try to pick up someone in a bar for a threeway, but find that domesticity has left their pick-up game a little rusty.
Inspired by the films of Norah Ephron, Rob Reiner and Mike Nichols, Orear says he wanted to make “a charming and heartfelt romantic comedy about a married couple who happen to be gay grappling with the universal theme of monogamy.”
The film is set in a gay bar, and Orear notes that shooting on location led to some challenges. His fiancé Dustin Presley, who served as producer, casting associate and choreographer for the film, had to teach the drag queens the steps for their big number. There was no room inside the bar to rehearse, so they worked on the sidewalk outside, causing a traffic jam within seconds.
“Spunkle,” a mash-up term for “sperm donor” and “uncle,” takes audiences on a very different journey (one of the great things about D.C. Shorts). Filmmaker Lisa Donato says her film “is about a brother who contemplates fatherhood when his older sister and her free-spirited wife ask him to be their sperm donor.”
Donato got the idea for the movie from Fawzia Mirza, who stars in the movie, and whose excellent work as actor and filmmaker has been featured at both D.C. Shorts and Reel Affirmations. Donato says that “a lot of our friends who are in committed same-sex relationships are exploring more intimate and less expensive ways to start a family. I wanted to make a comedy that explores the confusion that arises when a biological parent also shares the role of uncle or aunt in a family dynamic.”
Donato initially had a hard time figuring out the brother’s character.
“When I was thinking about how I would write and direct the brother’s character,” she says, “I had a hard time connecting with his story arc. In order to research this further, I asked my partner’s brother if he would be the sperm donor of our baby. He thought this was a serious request. I watched him squirm in his chair for about 45 minutes and change his mind from yes to no to maybe until he finally said no. He felt so bad. But then I told him that this was a fake request and that I was doing research for a movie. He said no because, ‘being a dad was the greatest honor in his life.’ He couldn’t separate being a father versus a sperm donor/uncle.”
Other shorts in the LGBT program include “Pink Boy,” about a butch lesbian whose adopted son starts dancing and wearing gowns; “These Cocksucking Tears,” a documentary about Patrick Hagerty who produced the first gay-themed country album in 1973; and “Vessels,” about a young transgender woman considering dangerous black-market surgery.
Two queer filmmakers will be included in showcase no. five, “Shifting Perspectives.” “Balcony” by British filmmaker Toby Fell-Holden is about two girls who form a friendship across cultural divides. But things are not always as they seem. Fell-Holden says, “Tina, a troubled teenage girl, is attracted to Dana, an Afghani girl, whom Tina tells us is oppressively victimized by her substance-abusing father, Karim. Initially, we trust Tina and admire her protectiveness of Dana from the kids at school and on the violent estate, but as we watch their friendship blossom, we come to suspect that something is off. It’s a film about perception and the way we project onto reality.”
“On The Roof (En la azoteca),” by Spanish filmmaker and theater artist Damià Serra, is about a group of boys who gather on a rooftop to watch a woman sunbathing. Trouble arises when one of the boys discovers he’s more interested in a guy who showers nude on the roof of a nearby building than the woman sunbathing. After a recent screening in Hamburg, Serra says, “A boy around 12 years old came to me in tears, and in a really shy way, he told me that the short film touched him very much, and he said thank you. I felt so proud, realizing that all the work and the time that I put on this really meant something.”
D.C. Shorts is also a showcase for local filmmakers. Showcase no. one, for example, includes “Tallest Race on Two Wheels,” co-directed by Chris Mullen and Josh Davidsburg. Their film captures the exhilaration of the annual high-wheel “penny farthing” bicycle ride through Frederick, Md. Their next film, shot in Washington, follows drag queen Muffy Blake Stephyns as she campaigns to be empress of the Imperial Court.
This year’s festival also includes free lunchtime screenings and free family programs. The lunchtime screenings, programmed by the festival’s interns, will be held at the Landmark E Street Cinema. The family screenings will be offered at libraries through the city.
There’s also the “online festival” where viewers can watch the film at home on their small screens, as well as free workshops, including “Actor’s Day” on Saturday, Sept. 17, a screenplay competition and parties.
The festival wraps up on Sept. 17-18 with “Best of D.C. Shorts,” where jury and audience awards are presented to the festival favorites.
All venue information, times, tickets and more are online at dcshorts.com.
Festival programming has been turned over to a new team. Kimberley Bush remains in place as director, but Joe Bilancio and Derek Horne have taken over the programming reins. Festival Founder Joe Gann can now be found at Reel Plan, where he is working with film festivals around the world to develop successful and sustainable business plans.