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Theatrical bon mots abound at this weekend’s shorts festival

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Editor’s note — “Today” in this article refers to Friday, Jan. 28, the Blade’s “street date.”

‘Rewind: The Best of DC Shorts’
7 and 9:30 p.m. in Theatre 1
7:30 and 10 p.m. in Theatre 2
Today and Saturday

Films are also shown on Saturday beginning at noon
including a free show of animation, comedy and drama
at noon for families and kids over 8.

Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H St. N.E.

$50 all-access pass for all screening
or $12 per show. Available online
at rewind.dcshorts.com/tickets
or at the Atlas box office.

The “Celebrating Diversity” block of LGBT films is at 7:30 tonight in Theatre 2,
while other blocks, including films defined as local, foreign, comedy, and
documentary, are at different times — see website for details.

'Gayby' (Still courtesy of D.C. Film Alliance)

The long and the short of it is that no one can really agree on what’s a film short.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, annual purveyor of the coveted Oscars and arbiter of film in general, draws the boundary line between feature length and short films at 40 minutes. The Internet Movie Database draws the line at 45 minutes.

The only rough consensus today is that short films are not seen as commercial, that they are typically the first stage for young filmmakers and that the main venue to see them is at film festivals and on Internet sites like YouTube.

But some of the edgiest and most creative film work today is in these short subjects. And the D.C. Film Alliance brings a batch of them for viewing in clusters, tonight and Saturday night, in the D.C. Shorts Film Festival at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, on D.C.’s H Street N.E. corridor. Some of the best from the past seven years of the festival are being billed as “Rewind” and some of those, grouped together under the heading of “Diversity,” focus on LGBT issues. Four of those films are shown tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Short films were the norm until the 1920s and short comedies especially were the norm for early film fare — with a total of 220 shorts alone filmed by the Hal Roach Studio for the “Our Gang” series (otherwise known as “The Little Rascals”), from the 1920s through 1944. Many of Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp’ comedies were shorts and so were the early films of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy.

In the 1930s, the system of distributing film to movie houses changed radically as studios began to insist on sending out a package — take it or leave it — consisting of a main and supporting feature and a cartoon and newsreel. The so-called “two-reel shorts” promptly went into commercial decline and even Hal Roach moved Laurel and Hardy full-time into feature-length films after 1935.

“The magic of making a short film is in reducing a story line to the bare essentials, getting to the heart fast and cutting out all the fluff,” says D.C. Shorts festival sponsor Jon Gann, director of the D.C. Film Alliance. He acknowledges, however, that “the sad part is that nearly all short films go unseen by audiences and we’re here to change that. Where else can you see around 10 films in two hours?”

He’s glad that with the surge of new interest in filming shorts has also come a spurt of interest in viewing them. One pay TV channel, ShortsTV, is the first channel wholly dedicated to them, and the BBC Film Network also showcases curated shorts. And every year, London-based Shorts International, which in addition to ShortsTV also offers an HD channel of shorts on the Dish satellite network, arranges for the release in movie theaters of the current crop of Oscar-nominated shorts — to be shown this year for one week beginning Feb. 11 at the Landmark E Street Cinema in D.C.

Gann expects the D.C. upsurge of interest in film shorts to continue with a sizable audience turnout for this weekend’s festival. He also hopes that people will be interested enough to ask to join the selection committee for the 2011 festival to be held here in September. This weekend there are specialty blocks planned for foreign films, local films, documentaries and animation, as well as those pitched to LGBT tastes. Free films for the family are also offered at noon at Saturday.

Four of the LGBT themed shorts are shown under the rubric of “Celebrating Diversity” tonight at 7:30. Another two — 13-minute-long “signage” (by local writer-director and actor Rick Hammerly and featuring gay D.C. actor Jeffrey Johnson) and and seven-minute-long “Little Hands” (about a gender change dilemma) — are shown respectively Saturday at 3 and 4 p.m. in the blocks for local D.C. and documentary films.

‘Diva’

A seven-minute short from France, this film (in French with subtitles) from the D.C. Shorts 2007 festival is about middle-aged Vincent, a cross-dresser leaving behind home and a failed romance. His heart is broken when his lover breaks off their 12-year relationship, telling him bluntly on the phone, “I’m not a faggot and I never want to see you again.”

Vincent blurts out that he will leave “this little shit town forever” and move to Paris. Portrayed with poignant grace by Thomas Courcoul, we see him arrive at his Paris hotel ready now for a new life, but still sobbing, sniffling away his tears, until finally relief comes with his sudden laugh at how pathetic he feels. He begins to finger fondly a pink feather boa and then shaves his chest (but only at the bra-line) and applies makeup, lipstick and wig. Next he is strolling a Paris park in a dress and pink pumps and matching pink hat and handbag, conveying a touch of further glamour (as well as to conceal any lingering tears) with Jackie-O dark glasses.

After a park carousel ride in a private reverie feeling so free, a young tough suddenly snatches Vincent’s purse, and the chase is on. Swiftly doffing wig, hat and pumps, Vincent pursues the purse snatcher with preternatural feline grace and in a muscular showdown retrieves her purse, and then stands over him, burly and strong. As the would-be thief slinks away, Vincent looks at first triumphant but then sobs and retraces her steps, until finally she sits alone, her face a mask of feelings but with pride as well as resolve and determination taking first place.

Writer-director Josephine MacKerras, a filmmaker living now in both Paris and London, but with a childhood spent in Australia and China, studied filmmaking at New York University. “Diva” is a work of real cinema skill, a simple story that whets your appetite to see more, leaving you wondering about what came before and about what might happen next.

‘Freedom on the Rocks’

The only gay bar in Jerusalem, Shushan, is a melting pot for LGBT Jews and Palestinian Arabs alike. In this 10-minute documentary by Yun Suh, Korean-American Buddhist and bisexual, a TV journalist and documentarian based in Berkeley, Calif., we hear from the bar owner, 35-year-old Sa’ar Netanel, that “Jerusalem is really a city of borders — there is a border between Jews and Palestinians, between secular and ultra-Orthodox, between straight and gay.” Netanel, a secular Jew, opened the bar in 2003, the same year he won election as Jerusalem’s first openly gay city council member. He admit that “when I read in the Bible that I could be killed for being gay, I understood what it was like to be Palestinian.”

The film features interwoven stories of the daily fight for dignity by five Israelis — three Jews and two Arabs — who navigate the minefield of politics, religion and discrimination to live and love openly, set against the construction by Israel of the separation wall and the struggle for a gay pride parade in the city.

“Everyone comes from  their own ghetto,” says Sa’ar, “and meets at Shushan.” Yun Suh says, of the five, “here’s a group that has been cast away by both sides but is modeling for the larger society what tolerance and co-existence can look like.” But it begins as trouble squared, for each of them is breaking two of the biggest taboos of Middle eastern society — same-sex relations and intimacy between Jews and Arabs.

“It’s hard to be gay in Ramallah,” says one of them, 19-year-old Boody, a nickname for the devout Muslim Palestinian who is shown on his prayer rug but also dancing at Shushan as a drag queen — the self-styled “Queen of Palestine.” With Yun Suh’s camera crew behind him, we also follow the slender and attractive Boody making his way at night from Ramallah, the Palestinian city divided from Jerusalem by the wall which he easily scales, also crawling through razor-wire and dodging Israeli Defense Force border patrols to reach the sanctuary of Shushan. The film ends when Boody decides he must leave home — where his mother cannot accept that he is gay and stills hope he will marry — for the U.S., his eventual refuge, and he now lives in a small town near Cleveland.

The other four profiled also have real stories to tell — in addition to bar-owner Netanel; Adam Russo, a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish settler in the West Bank near Jerusalem, former soldier and now a gay rights activist; and a lesbian couple in their early 30s, an Israeli Arab nurse, Samira Saraya, and a Jewish Israeli doctor, Ravit Geva, lovers for four years who work at the same hospital, who embrace each other but also face tension between them over ethnicity and the Intifada.

‘Gayby’

This 2010 comedy is 12 minutes of droll social commentary and pure film farce about the wish of Jenna, a permanently single woman, to persuade her gay best friend to help her make a baby, the old-fashioned way, not in a test-tube or with a turkey baster. It’s a comedy but it’s well enough written and directed by Jonathan Lisecki that the meeting of the two old friends to discuss this awkward topic and then in the bedroom to consummate it moves beyond the merely topical to the truly human.

Actor Matthew Wilkas portrays the disbelief at first and then the growing discomfort Jenn’s friend feels as the action moves swiftly towards the coital encounter. Yes, he concedes, that they had done it before, in college, but insists that “we were really, really drunk when we did it” then. But when she asks him if he thinks he can still “do it,” his male bravado immediately asserts itself — “What is this, a dare? Yes, I can do it, I can put it in anything. I’m a guy.”

Lisecki shows a sure hand with this short look at a real-life dilemma that could almost be credible, between two old friends each playing on a different team. He lives in New York City among those in the milieu of “Jenn” (well acted by Jenn Harris) and her friend Matthew, and is married to New Yorker magazine music critic Alex Ross.

‘The Queen’

'The Queen' (Still courtesy of D.C. Film Alliance)

This clever-but-touching eight-minute comedy, from the D.C. Shorts festival in 2009, is by another Korean-American writer-director, Christina Choe, based now in Brooklyn where she’s an master’s of film art candidate for writing-directing at Columbia University.  She calls “The Queen” — which was selected as “Best of Fest” at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival” and has also made the rounds of LGBT film festivals — a film about a nerdy Korean-American teenage boy, Bobby, stuck working at his family dry-cleaning business on prom night.

Instead of doing his algebra, Bobby is doodling a sketch of a superhero, outlining the crotch with hungry relish, while being bothered by his mother (played by Choe’s own mother) who wants only to know about his plans for college and lecturing him that his grades aren’t good enough. When she departs, leaving Bobby to clear the register and lock up, he relents and opens the door when the high school prom queen begs to be let in, claiming a “fashion emergency” with her dress. But he only agrees to admit her after hours when he sees her hunky boyfriend, played by actor Tamir Kapelian.

This leads to a fantasy interlude that’s both poignant and funny. Bobby is well played by 19-year-old Sean Tarjyoto.

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Gender expression is fluid in captivating ‘Paul & Trisha’ doc

Exploring what’s possible when you allow yourself to become who you truly are

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Paul Whitehead and Trisha van Cleef in ‘Paul & Trisha.’ (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Given the polarizing controversies surrounding the subject of gender in today’s world, it might feel as if challenges to the conventional “norms” around the way we understand it were a product of the modern age. They’re not, of course; artists have been exploring the boundaries of gender  – both its presentation and its perception – since long before the language we use to discuss the topic today was ever developed. After all, gender is a universal experience, and isn’t art, ultimately, meant to be about the sharing of universal experiences in a way that bypasses, or at least overcomes, the limitations of language?

We know, we know; debate about the “purpose” of art is almost as fraught with controversy as the one about gender identity, but it’s still undeniable that art has always been the place to find ideas that contradict or question conventional ways of viewing the world. Thanks to the heavy expectation of conformity to society’s comfortable “norms”  in our relationship with gender, it’s inevitable that artists might chafe at such restrictive assumptions enough to challenge them – and few have committed quite so completely to doing so as Paul Whitehead, the focus of “Paul & Trisha: The Art of Fluidity,” a new documentary from filmmaker Fia Perera which enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit and is now available for pre-order on iTunes and Apple TV ahead of a VOD/streaming release on July 9.

Whitehead, who first gained attention and found success in London’s fertile art-and-fashion scene of the mid 1960s, might not be a household name, but he has worked closely with many people who are. A job as an in-house illustrator at a record company led to his hiring as the first art director for the UK Magazine Time Out, which opened the door for even more prominent commissions for album art – including a series of iconic covers for Genesis, Van der Graaf, Generator, and Peter Hammill, which helped to shape the visual aesthetic of the Progressive Rock movement with his bold, surrealistic pop aesthetic, and worked as an art director for John Lennon for a time. Moving to Los Angeles in 1973, his continuing work in the music industry expanded to encompass a wide variety of commercial art and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records as painter of the largest indoor mural in the world inside the now-demolished Vegas World Casino in Las Vegas. As a founder of the Eyes and Ears Foundation, he conceived and organized the “Artboard Festival”, which turned a stretch of L.A. roadway into a “drive-through art gallery” with donated billboards painted by participating artists.

Perera’s film catches up with Whitehead in the relatively low-profile city of Ventura, Calif., where the globally renowned visual artist now operates from a combination studio and gallery in a strip mall storefront. Still prolific and producing striking artworks (many of them influenced and inspired by his self-described “closet Hinduism”), the film reveals a man who, far from coming off as elderly, seems ageless; possessed of a rare mix of spiritual insight and worldly wisdom, he is left by the filmmaker to tell his own story by himself, and he embraces the task with the effortless verve of a seasoned raconteur. For roughly the first half of the film, we are treated to the chronicle of his early career provided straight from the source, without “talking head” commentaries or interview footage culled from entertainment news archives, and laced with anecdotes and observations that reveal a clear-headedness, along with a remarkable sense of self-knowledge and an inspiring freedom of thought, that makes his observations feel like deep wisdom. He’s a fascinating host, taking us on a tour of the life he has lived so far, and it’s like spending time with the most interesting guy at the party.

It’s when “Art of Fluidity” introduces its second subject, however, that things really begin to get interesting, because as Whitehead was pushing boundaries as an in-demand artist, he was also pushing boundaries in other parts of his life. Experimenting with his gender identity through cross-dressing since the 1960s, what began tentatively as an “in the bedroom” fetish became a long-term process of self-discovery that resulted in the emergence of “converged artist” Trisha Van Cleef, a feminine manifestation of Whitehead’s persona who has been creating art of her own since 2004. Neither dissociated “alter ego” nor performative character, Trisha might be a conceptual construct, in some ways, but she’s also a very authentic expression of personal gender perception who exists just as definitively as Paul Whitehead. They are, like the seeming opposites of yin and yang, two sides of the same fundamental and united nature.

Naturally, the bold process of redefining one’s personal relationship with gender is not an easy one, and part of what makes Trisha so compelling is the challenge she represents to Paul – and, by extension, the audience – by co-existing with him in his own life. She pushes him to step beyond his fears – such as his concerns about the hostile attitude of the shopkeeper next door and the danger of bullying, brutality, and worse when Trisha goes out in public – and embrace both sides of his nature instead of trying to force himself to be one or the other alone. And while the film doesn’t shy away from addressing the brutal reality about the risk of violence against non-gender-conforming people in our culture, it also highlights what is possible when you choose to allow yourself to become who you truly are.

As a sort of disclaimer, it must be acknowledged that some viewers may take issue with some of Whitehead’s personal beliefs about gender identity, which might not quite mesh with prevailing ideas and could be perceived as “problematic” within certain perspectives. Similarly, the depth of his engagement with Hindu cosmology might be off-putting to audiences geared toward skepticism around any spiritually inspired outlook on the world. However, it’s clear within the larger context of the documentary that both Paul and Trisha speak only for themselves, expressing a personal truth that does not nullify or deny the personal truth of anyone else. Further, one of the facets that gives “Art of Fluidity” its mesmerizing, upbeat charm is the sense that we are watching an ongoing evolution, a work in progress in which an artist is still discovering the way forward. There’s no insinuation that any aspect of Paul or Trisha’s shared life is definitive, rather we come to see them as a united pair, in constant flux, moving through the world together, as one, and becoming more like themselves every step of the way.

That’s something toward which we all would be wise to aspire; the acceptance of all of our parts and the understanding that we are always in the process of becoming something else would certainly go a long way toward making a happier, friendlier world.

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New Cyndi Lauper doc brings overdue spotlight to queer ally

‘Let the Canary Sing’ captures a unique, era-defining star

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Cyndi Lauper’s remarkable career is revisited in ‘Let the Canary Sing.’ (Photo courtesy of Paramount Plus)

Every era in our cultural memory has given rise to popular artists that helped to define them, but few can be said to have made as definitive an impact as Cyndi Lauper in the early ‘80s. Splashing onto our airwaves and across our television screens (courtesy of the newly minted MTV) with a defiantly upbeat and colorful blast of society-shifting energy, her proclamation that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” caught the world off guard with a feminist anthem disguised as a good-time party song, and her sense of quirky punk style became an iconic influence over the “look” of an entire decade. In some ways, you could almost say Cyndi Lauper was the ‘80s.

For many people who grew up or came of age during her rise from unknown girl singer to pop music phenomenon, that might be the extent of their knowledge of her life and career. Despite the success (and Grammy Award) she achieved with her first few hits, the ever-roving eye of public attention inevitably moved on to the next new superstar, and her later efforts – while not exactly ignored – never managed to garner as much attention.

That doesn’t mean she has been inactive, though, as her die-hard fans (and there are many) well know; this is especially true in the queer community, where she has long been recognized and celebrated as a staunch ally – which is why it seems apt that Pride month should coincide with the release of “Let the Canary Sing,” a new documentary profile of Lauper that premieres on Paramount Plus this week.

Directed by Emmy-winning documentarian Alison Ellwood, “Canary” takes its name from a comment made by the judge in a legal case that opened the door for Lauper’s stardom – no spoilers here, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out more. It undertakes the telling of a well-rounded and comprehensive life story to cast that stardom in a new light. Maintaining a comfortable sense of chronology, it begins with Lauper’s childhood, growing up in Brooklyn (and later, Queens) in a close-knit family as the middle child of three with a divorced single mother, and follows the trajectory of her life – rebellious, risk-taking teen to driven, passionate artist and activist – through her love of music, her rise to fame, her struggle to evolve in an industry that rewards predictable familiarity, her emergence as an LGBTQ advocate, and her expansion into a genre-leaping artist whose reach has extended beyond pop culture to earn her renown for her versatility. It also covers her accomplishment as the first woman to win a Tony Award as sole composer of the music and lyrics of “Kinky Boots,” the Harvey Fierstein-scripted drag-themed Broadway musical which made a star of Billy Porter – and nabbed her another Grammy (for its Original Cast Recording), to boot. Bolstered by extensive current interview footage with Lauper herself, as well as elder sister Elen, younger brother Fred, and other important figures from her personal and professional life, it finds an arc that reveals its subject as an authentic and uncompromising visionary dedicated to “lifting up” the entire human race.

That would sound hyperbolic – and probably more than a little disingenuous – if Lauper did not come across so palpably on camera. Whether it’s footage from a decades-old Letterman show or newly filmed commentary shot specifically for the film, her “true colors” come shining through (forgive us for that one, we couldn’t resist) to provide ample evidence that, even if she didn’t always know where she was going, she always knew it would be the direction of her own choosing. Indeed, as the movie makes clear, much of the reason behind Lauper’s fade from the pop spotlight was the result of her refusal to repeat herself, to compromise her own path by delivering pale copies of the formula that had made her an “overnight success” after 15 years of trying. Although the documentary doesn’t insinuate this, it’s impossible for us not to suspect that homophobic backlash following her public embrace and advocacy of the queer community – something surely intertwined with her close bond to sister Elen, an out lesbian who is positioned in Ellwood’s film as a key pillar of both emotional and artistic support in Lauper’s life – may have had something to do with the mainstream music industry’s ambivalence toward her as she pursued her artistic impulses beyond the flashy appeal of her debut album. 

In any case, “She’s So Unusual,” as a debut album title, proved to be an ironic foreshadowing of the very reasons she was unable to “stay in her own lane” well enough to remain in the good graces of a public (or, perhaps more truthfully, of record executives) that only wanted more of the same. Lauper has never been one to conform, and it’s made her vulnerable, like so many other unrelenting female voices both before and after her, to the mainstream insistence on reinforcement of the comfortable over the breaking down of boundaries.

“Let the Canary Sing” captures all of this succinctly, yet with layered and sophisticated nuance, as it pays its tribute to a pop icon whose seminal work has continued to resonate after more than 40 years. Unavoidably, perhaps, it sometimes feels like a “Behind the Music” episode or a “puff piece” for an artist about to launch a new project – indeed, Lauper announced a “farewell tour” of 23 cities, as well as a “companion piece” greatest hits album release, on the eve of the movie’s streaming debut – but it pushes past such irrelevant comparisons thanks to the palpable sincerity conveyed onscreen, not only from her, but from all the people in her orbit whose comments about her are included in the film.

Of course, it must be said that anyone who’s not a “Cyndi Lauper fan”, whether by virtue of generational gaps or personal tastes, will probably not be drawn to watch a filmic love letter to her, and that’s a shame. It (and she) has the power to make viewers into true believers not only in her talent, but in her message of acceptance, inclusion, and unconditional love. Part of that, hinges on Ellwood’s skill as a filmmaker and teller of real-life stories, but the lasting impact rests on the persona of the star herself, who exudes a genuine air of transcendence and makes us not only feel instantly comfortable, but completely “seen” and validated, no matter who we are or which spectrum we might be on.

It’s hard to fake the kind of sincerity that makes that possible, and nothing about “Canary” suggests that Cyndi Lauper has any interest in being fake, anyway.

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Lesbian, bi, trans stories dominate queer crop of summer movies

Comic book adaption, horror thrillers, and more on the way

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Megan Stalter stars in ‘Cora Bora. (Photo courtesy Brainstorm Media)

Summer is almost upon us, and that means it’s time to look ahead toward another season of movies – but for queer movie fans, the typical “popular” summer escapist fare might not have quite the right appeal. Not to worry: the Blade is here to offer up our usual list of titles to watch for.

Backspot (May 31, in theaters) Helmed by nonbinary Toronto filmmaker D.W. Waterson in their feature directorial debut, this Elliot Page-produced sports drama has been described as “Whiplash” for competitive cheerleaders. Focusing on ambitious cheerleader Riley (Devery Jacobs of “Reservation Dogs”), it’s a heavily queer-themed coming-of-age tale that weaves romance with hard-hitting “behind-the-scenes” as she and her girlfriend, selected for an all-star squad, square off against a hard-edged head coach (out queer “Westworld” star Evan Rachel Wood) who demands a drive toward perfection – forcing Riley to confront her own crippling anxiety to keep her dreams from crumbling into dust. Also starring Shannyn Sossamon (“A Knight’s Tale”), Kudakwashe Rutendo, Thomas Antony Olajide, and Wendy Crewson

Let the Canary Sing (June 4, Paramount Plus) Billed as “the story of music’s most authentic superstar,” this career-spanning profile of queer-adjacent pop icon Cyndi Lauper from award-winning documentarian Alison Ellwood delivers a chronicle of her ascent to stardom and an exploration of her impact and the legacy that she has bestowed through her beloved music, iconic style, unapologetic feminism and fearless advocacy. There’s not much we can say about this one except that it’s a perfect treat for fans – and an enticing invitation for future fans – to get a close-up look at a legend who has truly earned her status.

Queendom (June 14, in theaters/on demand) Filmmaker Agniia Galdanova is behind this award-winning SXSW documentary, which follows queer Russian performance artist Jenna Marvin as she takes to the streets of Moscow to stage theatrical protests against the country’s Putin-led authoritarian regime – all while working behind the scenes to escape her homeland and flee to a place where her queer identity isn’t a crime. Coming in the middle of Pride month, it’s a potent reminder that – in many parts of the world – queer people still live in fear of homophobic suppression, but it’s also an inspiring story about the risky business of speaking truth to power.

Summer Solstice (June 14, in theaters) It should go without saying that telling trans stories is important right now, and this film from Brooklyn-based director Noah Schamus is exactly the kind we need. Following trans man Leo (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) as he hustles his way through a life of auditions, acting classes, barista jobs, and “situationships,” it segues into a thoughtful exploration of interpersonal gender politics when an old friend – cisgender and straight Eleanor (Marianne Rendón), takes her on an impromptu weekend getaway in upstate New York. Dealing with the new dynamics (and old emotions) of relationships after transition, it’s a movie which goes a long way toward revealing both the commonalities and the unique complications that ultimately make any trans story, told authentically, into a human story.

Cora Bora (June 15) If you’re a fan of Max’s queer-friendly queer-favorite series “Hacks,” you’ll need no introduction to the comedic personality at the center of this “dramedy” from director Hannah Pearl Utt. Out bisexual comedian and actress Megan Stalter stars as a “failed girl musician” who sets out not just to revitalize her career prospects but to win back the affections of her ex-girlfriend – and forges a new life path for herself in the process. Stalter, known mostly for her endearingly painful, over-the-top comedic portrayals of deluded-but-inextinguishable confidence, gets an opportunity to show a much wider range of layers here than she’s been allowed to explore before – but don’t worry: she’s still hilarious! Jojo T. Gibbs, Manny Jacinto, Ayden Mayeri, Thomas Mann, Chelsea Peretti, and queer comedy icon Margaret Cho also star.

Fancy Dance (June 21, in theaters/AppleTV) This debut feature from filmmaker Erica Tremblay is also the eagerly awaited return to the big screen of Indigenous American actor Lily Gladstone, whose Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” not only made history but made them into a star. Here, they play a queer hustler who becomes the guardian of her niece (Isabel DeRoy-Olson) when her sister disappears. Trying to stay one step ahead of a deadbeat dad (Shea Wigham, “White Lotus”) and an American justice system that is weighted against the rights of Indigenous women, they hit the road into the backcountry of their Oklahoma reservation on a quest to find the missing mother. The “buzz” is already predicting another Oscar nod for Gladstone, but whether or not that’s just Hollywood hyperbole, it’s sure to be one of the summer’s must-see picks.

Sing Sing (July 12, limited theaters/August 2, wide release) Speaking of last year’s Oscar nominees, powerhouse out-gay-thespian-of-color Colman Domingo is the lynchpin of this based-on-a-true-story prison drama about a wrongly convicted inmate at the notorious correctional facility who finds solace in a rehabilitation theater program, mounting productions with fellow prisoners and rising above the crushing isolation of incarcerated life. Intense and topical, yet also inspirational and uplifting, it debuted at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival alongside Domingo’s other starring vehicle, “Rustin” – and his performance in it was praised as superior, Oscar nod notwithstanding. Consider that alone a recommendation to add this Greg Kwedar-directed real-life tale to your watchlist.

Deadpool & Wolverine (July 26, in theaters) It’s rare for us to include a big-ticket comic book film in our list of upcoming queer titles, but we can’t ignore the appeal of this new Marvel entry in which the two title characters are thrown together for a mission that will rewrite the history of the “MCU” forever. Sure, it sounds like a convenient way to hit the “reset” button and take the blockbuster franchise in a new direction – but it’s also the irresistible culmination of a longstanding “man-crush” held by the “canonically pansexual” Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) for X-Man MVP Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), fueled enthusiastically by both stars since long before this clever concept vehicle ever got greenlit. Directed by Shawn Levy, and also starring nonbinary actor Emma Corrin in their first “villainous” role, it features Morena Baccarin, Rob Delaney, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, and Matthew Macfadyen, too – and while it may not be highbrow cinema, based on the irreverent, borderline absurdist tone of both the “Deadpool” comics and the previous film installments made from them, it’s likely to be a lot of fun.

Cuckoo (Aug. 9, in theaters) Last but not least, this German-American co-production – a “Shining”-esque horror tale about a family vacationing in the Alps that find themselves endangered after discovering the resort town in which they are staying harbors a web of disturbing secrets – will undoubtedly draw the attention of hardcore horror fans. But it also has strong, built-in queer appeal in the form of its transgender star, Hunter Schafer (“Euphoria”), who takes on her first starring film role as the movie’s “final girl.” Dan Stevens, Jessica Henwick, Jan Bluthardt, and Martin Csokas also star, with direction and screenplay both coming from Tilman Singer.

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