February 9, 2017 at 6:01 pm EST | by Brian T. Carney
Filmmaker Hunter Lee Hughes explores psyche in new film at D.C. indie festival
Hunter Lee Hughes, gay news, Washington Blade

Filmmaker Hunter Lee Hughes uses poetry as a key to the psyche in his new film. (Photo courtesy Hughes)

Known for showcasing cutting-edge features, shorts and documentaries on every subject from every country with every budget and on every subject imaginable, the 2017 D.C. Independent Film Festival runs Feb. 15-20.

The festival has also become known for the diversity of its offerings, including spotlighting LGBT themes and the work of emerging queer artists, and this year’s festival continues that commitment.

On the features side, openly gay director/writer/actor/producer Hunter Lee Hughes will be in Washington on Sunday, Feb. 19 for the screening of his stylish new movie “Guys Reading Poems.” (The screening will be at 4:15 in the Burke Theatre at the Naval Heritage Center.)

Hughes says the movie was inspired by his grandmother’s love of poetry. “When my grandmother passed away, I ended up with her poetry collection,” he says. “She used to read poetry out loud to herself to keep her mind sharp. When I finally cracked open the books, I realized that my grandmother interacted with the poems on the page. She would circle certain titles, there would be underlining, there would be notes in the margin. One of the notes said, ‘This reminds me of my friend Jenny.’ I never even knew she had a friend named Jenny.”

The poems became clues about who his grandmother was.

“I thought how interesting it would be if I made a film where the poems are clues to the psyche of the lead character,” he says.

In “Guys Reading Poems,” the poems provide insights into the wounded psyche of a young boy who has been locked in a box by his mother, a disturbed artist, as part of one of her performance pieces. Hughes says that “the film is like watching a dream where the dreamer is slowly waking up and returning to reality.”

The central story is about the Boy (Luke Judy), his abusive mother (lesbian actor Patricia Velasquez), and his father (Alexander Dreymon), who leaves the family to move to New York with an actress (Lydia Hearst). Hughes surrounds this traditional film narrative with a wide variety of poetry, around half of which comes from his grandmother’s collection. The poetry is performed by an assortment of men, including Hughes and out actor Rex Lee (”Entourage”).

Working closely with cinematographer Michael Pessah, Hughes gave the film a look he calls “neo noir.” It’s noir, Hughes explains, because its look is based on the classic crime thrillers from the 1940s and 1950s that featured tough guys and femme fatales and were shot in black and white with high contrast lighting.

Hughes’ next project (“Inside-Out, Outside-In”) is taking him in a very different direction. “It’s about a gay man and a straight man who realize they might be reincarnations of soulmates from another life.” Hughes says. “I call it a reincarnation romantic drama.”

Among the shorts are two fascinating films with gay themes. The festival will present the world premiere of “Masquerade, A Story of the Old South” directed by Andrew Hawkins. Inspired by a true story and filmed in Fairfax, Va., the period drama presents an uncommon slave narrative that explores the complicated nature of “passing” and captures the experience of both African Americans and gay people during this complicated time. Hawkins will be present when “Masquerade” screens at the Burke Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 3:15 p.m.

The stunning “Salt” by award-winning Brazilian director Diego Freitas has its U.S. premiere on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 8:45 p.m. at the Burke Theatre. Also based on a true story, it tells of a solitary computer technician who meets a sophisticated older man on a website for people who share a strange fantasy. As the festival publicity states with exemplary caution, “a date is set up, and the night will culminate in an irreversible experience for both of them.” The film is in Portuguese with English subtitles.

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