Reel Affirmations LGBT Film Festival
Gala Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th St., N.W.
Showtimes, ticket prices and more at thedccenter.org/reelaffirmatio
A Pakistani lesbian trying to keep her girlfriend away from her live-in mother; a farmer’s son entranced with a hot Romanian migrant worker; a betrothed lesbian who admits she’s never had an orgasm and a genderqueer kid trapped in a conservative school. At the risk of sounding like we’re about to hand out an Oscar, these are some of the subject’s at this year’s Reel Affirmations.
The festival returns to the Gala Hispanic Theatre Oct. 19-22 (bumped a week from the initially announced dates) for an exciting celebration of queer films from around the world. A complete schedule can be found at thedccenter.org/reelaffirmatio
The Festival’s smack-down opening night feature is “Signature Move,” a heartfelt comedy directed by Jennifer Reeder and written by Lisa Donato and Fawzia Mizra, whose short film “Spunkle” was a crowd favorite at last year’s festival. The film stars Mizra as Zaynab, a lesbian Pakistani Muslim lawyer living in Chicago. Her recently widowed mother has moved in; Parveen (Shabana Azni) has two obsessions in life: watching Pakistani television dramas and finding a husband for her only daughter.
Zaynab has just started dating Alma (Sari Sanchez), a confident Mexican-American woman whose mother was a Luchadora wrestler. Zaynab is fascinated by the sport, but tries to keep her new girlfriend and her new hobby a secret from her mother.
The other half of the festival’s opening night double feature is “God’s Own Country” an atmospheric romance set in the rolling fields of rural Yorkshire. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), the son of an ailing farmer, tries to drown his frustrations with booze and casual sex. Things change when Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a handsome Romanian migrant laborer arrives to work on the farm.
The Friday night double feature includes “The Feels” and “I Dream in Another Language.” “The Feels” is a sprightly comedy about orgasms. Andi (Constance Wu) and Lu (Angela Trimbur) are celebrating their upcoming wedding with a bachelorette weekend in wine country. On the first night, Lu shocks everyone, especially Andi, by revealing that she has never had an orgasm. Her unexpected disclosure inspires their collected friends (gay and straight) to talk about their first orgasms and the challenges of love, lust and trust and to indulge in some shenanigans of their own.
“I Dream in Another Language” is a mystery about language and love. A young linguist travels to the jungle of Mexico to research a language on the verge of disappearing. Once there, he discoverers its last two speakers clashed 50 years ago and have refused to speak to each other since. Attempting to reunite them, the researcher discovers a secret past and a forbidden gay love story.
Appropriately enough, Saturday’s program opens with “Saturday Church,” a moving portrait of Ulysses (a breakout performance by Luka Kain), a shy and effeminate 14-year old boy living with his family in New York City. In the wake of his father’s death, he’s struggling with additional family responsibilities. He’s also struggling with his gender and sexual identities under the intense scrutiny of his suspicious conservative aunt.
He withdraws into a fantasy world of music and dance until he discovers “Saturday Church,” a support group for LGBT teens and finds a supportive community in the downtown ballroom scene. “Saturday Church” was written and directed by Damon Cardasis and also stars actress and playwright Regina Taylor (“I’ll Fly Away) as Aunt Rose.
Saturday continues with two sessions of delightfully diverse short films (“Fun in Boys Shorts” and “Fun in Girls Shorts”) and concludes with “Cinema, Cocktails and Conversations,” a chance to meet and mingle with some of the filmmakers.
The final day opens with a third collection of short films, “Fun in Trans/Genderqueer Shorts.”
The International Centerpiece film is “Apricot Groves,” written and directed by Armenian filmmaker Pouria Heidary Oureh. The award-winning film stars Narve Vartan as Aram, an Iranian Armenian transman who has lived in American since childhood, but returns to Armenia to meet’s his girlfriend’s conservative family. The film is in Persian with English subtitles.
In the finale slot is “Freak Show.” Based on the novel of the same name by former club kid James St. James, the movie was helmed by first-time feature film director Trudie Styler, wife of Sting.
In a blazing performance, the movie stars Alex Lawther (the searing “Shut Up and Dance” episode of “Black Mirror”) as Billy Bloom, a fierce genderqueer kid from Connecticut who is forced to attend a conservative school in Florida. Billy becomes friends with the high school quarterback Flip (Ian Nelson), but is brutally attacked by the cheerleaders and jocks, led by Lynette (Abigail Breslin from “Little Miss Sunshine”); he decides to get his revenge by running for homecoming queen. Bette Midler and Larry Pine play Billy’s supportive parents and the supporting cast includes Celia Weston (“Alice”) and Laverne Cox.