Two of the region’s most popular film festivals return this week. As usual, both feature thought-provoking and entertaining programming including several features with strong LGBT content.
Running May 2-6, the Maryland Film Festival is celebrating “20 years of film for everyone.” The festival includes 40 feature films and 10 programs of shorts that span all cinematic genres with works from all over the world. Movies will be screened throughout the Baltimore’s Station North Arts and Entertainment District with the award-winning SNF Parkway serving as the artistic and social hub.
As always, the festival will feature a film selected and introduced by legendary Baltimore filmmaker, artist and visionary John Waters. This year Waters has selected “I, Olga Hepnarova” which he describes as “a hypnotic black-and-white docudrama based on the case of a pretty, 22-year-old, chain-smoking lesbian from Prague who in 1973 hopped in a truck and mowed down 20 pedestrians on a sidewalk. Deadpan indeed.”
The LGBT feature films include “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” already a hit on the festival circuit, and “We the Animals” based on the award-winning semi-autobiographical novel by openly gay author Junot Diaz. Directed by Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior’), “Cameron Post” stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a high school girl who is caught in the back seat of a car on prom night with another girl. She is quickly shipped off to a conversion therapy center where she is subjected to outlandish discipline and earnest Christian rock songs, but where she also finds an unlikely gay community.
“We the Animals” stars Evan Rosado as Jonah, the youngest child in a dysfunctional Puerto Rican family who is slowly discovering that his love of art and literature and his sexuality are dividing him from his family. Raúl Castillo (“Looking”) plays Jonah’s abusive macho father.
Two documentaries also examine diverse elements of the LGBT community. The moving Dutch documentary “Genderbende” follows five genderqueer youth as they proudly define and defend their identity. Distilled from 400 hours of raw footage, “Shakedown” looks at the clientele and culture of the Los Angeles urban lesbian strip club scene in the early 2000s.
The festival opens with a program of innovate shorts, including “The Jump Off,” about a young man and his closeted lover and closes on May 6 with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” a charming documentary by Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville about beloved TV host Fred Rogers.
And for the 16th year, the Alloy Orchestra comes to the festival to perform a live, original score to accompany “A Page of Madness,” a masterpiece of the Japanese silent cinema. Full details at mdfilmfest.com.
Running May 2-13, the Washington Jewish Film Festival is an international exhibition of cinema that celebrates the diversity of Jewish history, culture and experience through the moving image. One of the highlights of the festival is the RATED LGBTQ strand, movies screened throughout the festival that explore the intersection of faith and sexuality.
One of its Spotlight features (and part of RATED LGBTQ) is “The Cakemaker.” After his Israeli lover dies, German baker Tomas travels to Jerusalem and finds work with his lover’s widow, but decides to keep his identity a secret. Both mourning the same man, the survivors stave off loneliness by finding common cause in the kitchen, but their fragile friendship is threatened by suspicions, jealousies and cultural differences.
RATED LGBTQ also includes: “Saving Neta,” about four women whose lives are changed by a chance encounter with a mysterious drifter named Neta; “The Strangest Stranger” about the mysterious relationship between Joni Waka, a Jewish man living in Tokyo and a new arrival named Johnnie Walker; and “Summer” and “Sunset,” two tender shorts about sexual awakening.
Other highlights of the Festival include the opening night film “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” a new documentary about the ground-breaking African American performer who converted to Judaism, and the closing night film “The Invisibles,” about the 7,000 Jews who remained in Berlin after the Nazis declared the city Judenfrei (“free of Jews”). Other Spotlight movies include “RBG” about the amazing career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “An Act of Defiance” about Nelson Mandela, and “Shelter,” an international espionage thriller.
The Jewish festival will screen movies at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, the AFI Silver and the Bethesda Row Cinema.