In just six years, the Annapolis Film Festival has become an important part of the region’s active film festival circuit. Running through Sunday, this year’s festival spotlights about 70 films from 28 countries, including narrative and documentary feature films, slates of themed short films and several panels and presentations by industry professionals.
Under the powerful theme of “Voices Strong, Minds Open,” the festival includes several fascinating LGBT films. One of the most intriguing is a documentary called “Stumped” about openly gay filmmaker Will Lautzenheiser. When Lautzenheiser became a quadruple amputee, he turned to stand-up comedy as therapy. With the support of his boyfriend Angel, he agrees to undergo an experimental double-arm transplant in the hope of reclaiming his independence.
“Kiss Me” (Embrasse-moi!) is a delightful French comedy about the tumultuous affair between Oćeanerosemarie (played by writer/director Oćeane Michel) and Cécile (Alice Pol). It screens on Saturday night at 9 p.m.
A.B. Troen’s timely feature-length documentary “Finding Home” follows three LGBT people who have come to the United States to find a safe place, only to have their hopes dashed by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Brandon, an attorney from Shangai, gives up everything to move to the U.S. to live as an openly gay man. Stacy is a transgender refugee who fled El Salvador and is working as a housekeeper in downtown Los Angeles while she fights for asylum. Elaheh fled from Iran to live safely as a lesbian and to pursue her dreams of becoming a bodybuilder.
Based on an episode of “This American Life,” “Come Sunday” is a fascinating biopic of Pentecostal bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who lost both his congregation and his pulpit when he publicly questioned the church’s teachings on hell and damnation. One of his steadfast supporters is the church’s closeted HIV-positive music director Reggie (played by Lakeith Stanfield). Reggie has tried to “pray away the gay,” but the awakened bishop finally tells the tortured musician that he will go to heaven.
One of the best LGBT shorts screening at the Annapolis Film Festival is “The Whole World” (El Mundo entero) by Spanish filmmaker Julián Quintanilla. Starring Quintanilla and Loles León (featured in several Pedro Almodóvar movies including “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”), the moving movie is about a young man who learns something new when he makes his annual visit to his mother’s grave.
“The Whole World” is included in “Shorts Program #1: FAQ. This program includes several powerful short films that deal with deal with issues of equality and discrimination around gender, race and sexual orientation The program also features the films “Game” about a new kid in town who disrupts the tryouts for the high school basketball team, and “The Right Choice” about a husband and wife who must answer three seemingly harmless questions to create their perfect designer baby.
The “Friday Night Comedy Shorts Program: LOL includes the provocative comedy “Men Don’t Whisper” by Jordan Firstman. When gay couple Reese and Payton (played by writers Firstman and Charles Rogers) are humiliated at a conference, they decide to prove their masculinity by sleeping with women. The film, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, also includes an appearance by former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cheri Oteri.
LOL also features “Humbug,” a Christmas comedy that includes steamy lesbian kiss under the mistletoe.
Finally, the “Documentary Shorts Program IRL (In Real Life)” includes the inventive “Little Potato” by Wes Hurley. Hurley grew up gay in Soviet Russia; he and his mother (a mail order bride) escaped to Seattle, only to face a whole new form of oppression from his new Christian fundamentalist American dad.
LGBT fans of the wildly popular British series “Downton Abbey” (which featured a gay character) will have the chance to meet one of its stars. Joanne Froggatt, who played the kind-hearted and long-suffering lady’s maid Anna Bates, plays a very different role in “A Crooked Somebody,” directed by Trevor White; like many of the filmmakers at the festival, White has deep ties to the Annapolis community. White’s character-driven thriller stars Michael Vaughn as a conscience-stricken con man. Froggatt plays Chelsea, his level-headed accomplice and veteran Ed Harris plays his disapproving pastor father. The film screens on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Dedicated fans will also have the chance to attend a special spotlight event, “Conversation with Joanne Froggatt,” on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. The conversation will be moderated by New York-based film critic Joe Neumaier, a member of AFF’s Advisory Board. For her work on all six seasons of the period drama, Froggatt received three Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress on Television in 2014.
This year the festival will also include an African-American showcase, which will include “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me;” “Before the West Coast,” about an all-black high school basketball team that fought to desegregate the all-white Catholic High School Sports Association; “Chasing Trane” about jazz pioneer John Coltrane; “Flock of Four,” about the African-American roots of jazz; “Check It,” about the gang formed by queer youth in Washington; and several shorts. There are also showcases on the environment and the Jewish experience.
The festival will also include the U.S. Premiere of “The Miracle Season,” which stars Helen Hunt as a high-school volleyball coach who is forced to rally her team after the unexpected death of her star player.
Films will be presented at various venues in Annapolis; check the website for tickets, screening times and locations.