An Arkansas town with a passion play and a tight-knit gay community, a slam poetry team, a glimpse at the life of designer Alexander McQueen. These are just a few of the gay highlights and themes in this year’s AFI Docs Film Festival (June 13-17; venues vary).
“The 2018 slate of films showcases an exceptional diversity of perspectives,” Michael Lumpkin, the (gay) director of AFI Festivals, says. “This year’s festival takes us around and beyond the world, each film telling a story that shares a moment of the human experience.”
One of the most interesting LGBT-themed films in the festival (afi.com/afidocs) is “Alone in the Game,” which reveals how a new generation of queer and transgender athletes are scoring victories on and off the field by standing up for their rights.
In “Don’t Be Nice,” director Max Powers follows the diverse Bowery Slam Poetry Team as they mine their feelings and personal experiences about race, sexuality, gender and popular culture to craft poems for a national competition.
“The Gospel of Eureka” is an amazing portrait of a tiny town in Arkansas that is home to both an annual live-action Passion Play and a tight-knit gay community. By embracing the values of tolerance, love and inclusion, the residents maintain a peaceful coexistence between two divergent groups.
“McQueen” is a stunning and intimate portrait of the openly gay British fashion designer Alexander McQueen who was known for his exquisite and strikingly original clothes and his legendary runway shows — theatrical spectacles influenced by contemporary art, theater and photography.
The fascinating “This One’s for the Ladies” dives into an unusual subculture in Newark, N.J., where a group of African-American women throw weekly underground parties with male exotic dancers. The film boldly explores the sexual and social identity of contemporary black America through interviews with the women and men who find love and community in these weekly gatherings.
Directors Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson make their feature documentary debut with “Transmilitary” which follows four servicemembers who come out as transgender to top officials at the Pentagon — a brave move that puts their military careers in jeopardy and shows that the struggle for equality that is more relevant than ever.
According to director Michael Sparaga, “United We Fan” follows the history and evolution of fan campaigns to save beloved TV shows from cancellation. The film includes interviews with fans, stars, creators and even network executives. One of the shows featured was about a young lesbian whose favorite character will killed off in a prime time show in what has become known as the “dead lesbian trope.”
Beyond these queer films, some of the other great documentaries that will screen include “Love Gilda” about the pioneering female comedian Gilda Radner (of “Roseanne Roseannadanna/SNL fame); “Studio 54” about the rise and fall of the infamous New York nightclub; “Charm City” about attempts to reduce the soaring rates of violence in Baltimore; “Hesburgh” about social justice activist Rev. Theodore Hesburgh; and “Bathtubs over Broadway” about the wacky productions commissioned by companies to celebrate their products at corporate conventions. In addition, “Dark Money” by transgender director Kimberly Reed explores the hidden role of big money in contemporary American politics.
The festival also includes the AFI DOCS Forum, a slate of networking and professional development events, and the VR Showcase, which allows viewers to immerse themselves in a wide-ranging selection of virtual reality experiences. On Saturday, June 16 there will also be a free “Conversation with Chuck Todd and Ann Hornaday” about whether documentaries are “Journalism or Art.”
AFI DOCS 2018 will feature 92 films exploring the remarkable people and complicated issues that are shaping our world. No matter how outrageous some of the stories may seem, it’s helpful to remember the festival’s tagline, “You can’t make this stuff up.”