April 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm EDT | by Brian T. Carney
Filmfest D.C. has strong LGBT content again this year
Filmfest D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle as Emily and Lavinia Dickinson in ‘A Quiet Passion.’ (Photo courtesy Music Box Films)

Over 11 days from April 20-30, Filmfest D.C. will present 80 films from 45 countries on four screens around the city. According to founder/director Tony Gittens, “as a reflection of our times, this year’s festival has taken on a special focus on issues ripped from today’s headlines in hopes of increasing clarity and civil discourse.”

The festival kicks off with “This Is Our Land,” a political drama by Belgian director Lucas Belvaux. In this timely tale, a self-employed nurse gets embroiled in nationalist politics when she runs for the mayorship of her small town in northern France.

The festival closes with “Lost in Paris,” a charming comedy in the tradition of such great clowns as Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The film stars the husband/wife team of Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel (who also wrote and directed the movie) as an unlikely duo trying to track down a missing woman (Emmanuelle Riva from “Amour”) in the City of Lights.

“Lost in Paris” will screen at the Embassy of France. For security reasons, all tickets for this screening must be bought in advance online at filmfestdc.org; tickets for all other programs can be purchased online or at the door.

In between these two very different movies are several films that focus specifically on the international LGBT experience. Written and directed by Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, “Santa & Andres” has already generated significant international controversy. Last December, the film was pulled from the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana after it was rejected by Cuba’s state-run film institute. Earlier this year, Lechuga pulled the film from the Havana Film Festival New York after the festival organizers shifted the award-winning film from the official competition to a special non-juried presentation.

“Santa & Andres” deals with a contentious topic, the mistreatment of homosexuals and dissidents by the Castro regime. Although the film is fiction, it is inspired by the lives of several gay writers such as Reinaldo Arenas, René Aziza and Delfin Prats. Set in 1983, the film tells the story of Andres, a gay novelist who is under house arrest, and Santa, a local woman who is sent to guard him.

Set on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago during Carnival season, “Play the Devil” is an incisive coming-of-age story about Gregory, a gifted high school student who is caught up in a tumultuous relationship with a wealthy businessman. Written and directed by Bahamian Maria Govan, the film is both a gripping drama and a nuanced exploration of masculinity, privilege and sexuality.

Set right here in Washington, “Check It” is a powerful documentary about a group of LGBT youth who form a gang to protect themselves. They quickly become known as one of the fiercest gangs in the city, but a group of mentors try to steer their fierce sense of style into careers in the fashion industry.

Also set here is “The Messengers” by D.C.-based filmmaker Lucian Perkins. In this moving and thoughtful documentary, Perkins tells the stories of the patients and staff at Joseph’s House, a welcoming hospice for HIV/AIDS patients. A Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Washington Post, this is Perkins’ first full-length documentary.

In “A Quiet Passion,” maverick queer auteur Terence Davies, known for his gritty European dramas, turns his lens on a very different locale: the Dickinson household in 19th century Amherst, Mass. Cynthia Nixon (best known for playing Miranda in “Sex and the City”) gives a powerhouse performance as reclusive poet Emily Dickinson.

Some of the other festival highlights include “Family Life,” a Chilean comedy about the romantic and domestic misadventures of an untrustworthy house (and cat) sitter; “Footnotes,” a retro French musical set in a luxury show factory; “The Hippopotamus,” a wry English comedy based on the novel by openly gay author Stephen Fry; “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” a feminist satire on gender relations in India that has been banned by that country’s Central Board of Film Certification; and “The Stuff of Dreams,” a fanciful retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

There are also three programs of shorts. Short Cuts 1 and 2 focus on international themes. Lunafest shines a spotlight on short films by, for and about women.

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