GALA Hispanic Theatre/Tivoli Theatre
3333 14th St., N.W.
Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.
Full schedule, tickets and more at reelaffirmations.org
Reel Affirmations returns Oct. 13-16. Billed as Washington’s only international LGBT film festival, this year’s schedule includes about 40 new queer features, shorts and documentaries from across the country and around the world.
The festival kicks off with a VIP preview of “Retake” by filmmaker Nick Corporon. The director of the award-winning short “Barbie Boy” says his latest film is, “a suspenseful love story about Jonathan (Tuc Watkins), a mysterious and lonely guy, who hires a young male hustler to help him recreate a road trip from his past.”
Corporon says the movie rises from two very different personal interests: people who live in the past and the desert.
“I’m obsessed with characters who are stuck in the past, always looking backward, pining over what was and what could have been,” he says. ”And, being a Mid-Western boy, I love the iconography of the desert. So, I took those ideas and mashed them together into a road trip love story. Thankfully, two-person road trip movies are less expensive and easier to shoot.”
What proved to be a challenge on the set was controlling his lead actor.
“Tuc Watkins just turned 50 years old recently, but on set he ate like a 15-year-old,” the director says. “I just don’t understand how he has the body he does because we’d always catch him sneaking off to eat cheeseburgers in between set ups. I’d catch him with a bag of fries and say, ‘You realize we’re shooting your nude scenes in two days, right?’ He responded with ‘I know my body, we’ll be fine.’ And we were.”
On Friday night, the festival features “LOEV” a film that Festival Director Kimberley Bush has been pursuing for more than a year. Bush describes it as a “glorious film” and sadly notes that lead actor Dhruv Ganesh died of tuberculosis shortly after filming.
Indian filmmaker Sudhanshu Saria says that his movie, “is an honest, fragile film about a road-trip between men where they examine the boundaries between friendship and love. It’s set in India so the politics of the place become important given our government’s recent re-criminalization of homosexuality, making it punishable by life imprisonment.”
Saria says the impulse to make this movie came out of personal circumstances and his frustration with the Indian movie industry.
“Honestly, it came from heartbreak,” he says. “I fell for someone who didn’t like me back and instead of going to a therapist or a strip club, I decided to write about it. And I was only able to write about it honestly because I knew there was no shot in hell of this gay-themed, no-stars film finding any financing or actors in India. I could just be brutally honest.”
To his surprise, he was able to locate both money and actors: “Oh well. Two years later, here we are, but if you ask me why I became a filmmaker, well, that credit would go squarely to writer and director Mira Nair. I was perfectly happy sitting on a couch and watching films until I heard her manifesto on, ‘If we don’t tell our stories, no one will.’ So here I am, telling my stories.”
On Saturday, Reel Affirmations turns to three exciting selections of shorts, each loosely grouped around a common theme. The first, called Spectrum, takes a look at LGBT folk who don’t fit neatly into conventional ideas of gender, aging or identity. It kicks off with “Dawn,” the latest film from filmmaker Jake Graf, a transgender man living in London.
“The film is a simple story, set at dawn on a bench on the outskirts of London,” Graf says. “The lead is a trans woman who has been told all her life that she is ugly, too tall, not pretty or womanly enough, so I thought it would be interesting to pair her with a blind man. Unable to judge her by her appearance, he simply takes her for the woman that she is inside, without the stereotypical ideas and perceptions of beauty.”
The second slate of shorts is called Swipe Right, with films dedicated to new beginnings and sudden transformations. The films include the comedy “Spunkle.” If you don’t know what the title means, director Lisa Donato says you may need to consult the Urban Dictionary.
The third slate is called So Long and Farewell, because as Bush notes, “this selection of short films plays on the theme of how everything — even love — comes to an end.”
The Saturday centerpiece feature is the powerful documentary “Free Cece!,” the story of CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman who was unfairly jailed after fighting back against an attacker. Director Jacqueline Garas, known for her work on the PBS series “In the Life,” had a life-changing moment when she heard trans activist Laverne Cox speak about McDonald’s story at the 2013 GLAAD Awards.
“I was shocked that no one had actually covered her story,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘Why haven’t you done something?’ I felt compelled. I think as white people when we see racial injustice, we need to do all we can to make a difference. This was my way of doing what I could.”
The adults-only Saturday after-hours feature takes audiences on a decidedly different journey. According to German filmmaker Hendrik Schäfer, “I wanted to make a film that asks what intimacy means and whether our exposed genitals or our personal stories are more intimate.” The ensuing film, “Seducing Mr. Bluefrog: NSFW” is “a portrait of an online exhibitionist who goes by the name of Bluefrog and who doesn’t want to reveal anything personal but his nudity. He gets to direct his own porn scene and it turns out to be a much different experience than expected for both the subject and the filmmaker.”
The line-up on Sunday, the closing day of the Festival, starts with “Suicide Kale,” an intense dark mumblecore comedy written by Brittani Nichols and directed by Carly Usdin. Nichols says that she and her friends were looking for a project to work on together and that her screenplay was sparked by a chance conversation with Lindsay Hicks, who became one of the film’s stars.
“Emotional chaos ensues over the course of one lunch when a new couple, Jasmine and Penn, find an anonymous suicide note at the home of Billie and Jordan, the happiest couple they know,” she says.
Friends and colleagues are also at the core of “Strike a Pose,” a new documentary that tells the stories of the seven male dancers who performed with Madonna on the ground-breaking “Blond Ambition Tour” and who appeared with her in the infamous documentary “Truth or Dare.”
Co-directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan tracked down the six surviving dancers to tell the world their stories. (Gabriel Trupin died in 1995, but is represented in the movie by his mother.) Zwaan says that the movie is “the dramatic story of these seven fierce male dancers who showed the world how to vogue. At its core, our film focuses on a paradox: onstage, the dancers were paragons of pride and self-expression, but in reality their lives were clouded by compromise and secrecy. “Strike a Pose” is a film about overcoming shame and the courage it takes to be who you are.” It screens Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m.
Each of these filmmakers is excited to be part of the Reel Affirmation Film Festival. They are thrilled to find new audiences for their work and they are grateful for the camaraderie of their fellow artists. But even more importantly, they rely on Bush and her stalwart band of volunteers to take a risk on independent queer filmmakers and their quirky visionary films.
As Sudhanshu Saria says, “LOEV is unusual, I know that. We worked hard to make it that way. It resists the obvious stereotyping and classifications people seek: there’s no shower scenes, no nubile twinks, no coming-out-to-dad or suicides and it doesn’t fit the clichés of Indian art-house films either: no musical numbers and no poverty porn. Films like this will always require champions who see the intent in there and who understand it for what it is and who showcase it for audiences to discover.”