The summer film season kicked off Memorial Day Weekend, but for those of us within the queer community, our film season, punctuated by a number of LGBT film festivals, commences with San Francisco's Frameline Festival on June 19th, one day before the World Pride takes off in Toronto.
From coast to coast -- from LA's Outfest to New York's NewFest (Philly's QFest has been postponed this year) -- these festivals are vital to the community because they provide an outlet for women filmmakers overlooked by mainstream production companies, as well as for female audiences who crave content that speaks to their lives in the margins, whether it's L, B, T, I, Q, or WOC.
This season, there are a handful of films that have not only captivated critics but transformed the caliber of LGBT cinema, if in quality of content alone. Documentary dominates. Our films are moving beyond the traditional "coming out" narrative to include issues that concern our everyday living as human beings in an increasingly changing, fast-paced, global world. The primary question of these films is not "Is it ok to love another woman?" but "How does one love in a way that is ethically viable, in relation to her desires and to the culture in which she is living?"
This evolution was evident in two of last year's spectacular films: Concussion by Stacie Passon, and Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf? by Anna Margarita Albelo. In these films, like the new crop presented to us this year, a woman's sexuality is just one facet of her life.
Queer women's cinema has less to do with social acceptance than with self-enlightenment. As a result, the new cinema has a refined playfulness to it; filmmakers are playing with genre, like Madeleine Olnek in The Foxy Merkins, and with narrative style, like Sophie Hyde in 52 Tuesdays.
For their wit, intellectual acuity, and fearlessness, here are the 8 films, now popping up variously at festivals, in theaters, and on demand, that you should definitely see this summer.
If there is one film to see this year, it's Appropriate Behavior, written, directed, and starring Desiree Akhavan, the co-creator of the popular web-series The Slope and new cast member of HBO's Girls. The film follows Shirin, a Persian bisexual woman who just separated from her partner and is trying to pull her life together, both professionally and personally. Think Girls, if Hannah Horvath were Persian, bisexual, and lived in Bushwick instead of Greenpoint. The one-liners will leave you rolling in the aisles -- that is, if you're not too busy trying to scribble them down in the dark of the theater.
Check out Appropriate Behavior's website for information about upcoming screenings and showtimes.
Regarding Susan Sontag
The publication of Susan Sontag's journals -- in two volumes so far, with a third on the way -- have led to a renaissance of interest in the essayist's writings since her death from MDS (cancer of the blood) in 2004, with filmmakers and playwrights finally having textual access to the private literary icon. Last summer, Moe Angelos premiered Sontag Reborn in New York City, and this year Nancy Kates brings audiences Regarding Susan Sontag, an intimate, investigative documentary into one of the finest public intellectuals of the 20th century. The beautifully collated archival footage, including accounts from friends, family, colleagues, and lovers, make this film a must-see for anyone invested in Sontag, literature and literary studies, 20th-century American politics, or the idea of living an "intellectual life."
Check out Regarding Susan Sontag's website for information about upcoming screenings and showtimes.
Reaching for the Moon
Based on the 1995 bestseller Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares by Carmen L. Oliveira, Reaching for the Moon dramatizes the passionate, and oftentimes wildly dramatic, love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. The performances by Miranda Otto and Gloria Pires are stellar; the lush landscape of Petropolis, where Soares lived and Bishop joined her, inspiring; and the poetry divine. Director Bruno Baretto has created a moving portrait of a relationship between two successful, artistic women and the passion that united them.
Reaching for the Moon is curently available to stream on Netflix.
Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger
Borrowing from her 2012 memoir of the same name, Sam Feder's Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger brings this LGBT icon to the silver screen. The 72-minute documentary -- in which Bornstein talks about her history working for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to her life as a tattooed, Jewish, dyke, "bionic tranny" -- is sure to turn heads. It is also sure to warm hearts: Kate's charm pours out of the screen and is so affecting. Her recent cancer diagnosis, on top of her lifelong leukemia, make the production of the documentary incredibly timely and incredibly necessary.
Check out Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger's website for information about upcoming screenings and showtimes.
This Aussie drama is simply profound. The coming-of-age story follows 16-year-old Billie as she approaches adulthood in light of her mother's gender transition to becoming a man. The production of 52 Tuesdays alone is mesmerizing. Sophie Hyde's directorial debut required that the cast and crew shoot for one day -- Tuesday -- for 52 consecutive weeks. No retakes, no extended hours. The actors were only given their parts to read, one week at a time. The film almost becomes an extended series of mise-en-scenes, and where the actors, as well as the audience, arrive is anything but expected.
Check out 52 Tuesdays' website for information about upcoming screenings and showtimes.
Creative team Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz scripted a sweet comedy about a co-dependent friendship between lesbian Sasha (Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester) and her straight friend Page (Gillian Jacobs), based on their own friendship. Page vows to never get married until Sasha has the right to do so, but this changes when Page meets Tim (Adam Brody). One vow is compromised for another, and Sasha's crush on her friend has nearly irrevocable consequences. Thankfully, the lightness of the film means that you can leave the tissues at home.
Life Partners will open Outfest on July 10th. Check out Life Partners' website for information about additional screenings and showtimes.
The life of twentieth-century French writer Violette Leduc is rendered in this biopic, directed by Martin Provost. She was a writer who was able to capture the feminine erotic in such a way as to make feminist legend Simone de Beauvoir an admirer. Leduc falls in love with de Beauvoir, who only wants to act as the former's agent and editor. Provost provocatively delves into Leduc's psychology as a "bastard" child who feels abandoned by everyone and incapable of being loved. Emmanuelle Devos is extraordinary in her ability to capture the unattractive, petulant nature of Leduc, and Sandrine Kiberlain is divine in portraying the unflappable character of The Second Sex icon.
Violette is now playing in theaters. Check out Violette's website for information about where it is playing.
The Foxy Merkins
After her quirky cult comedy Codependent Lesbian Alien Seeks Same, Madeleine Olnek returns with the buddy comedy The Foxy Merkins, about two sex workers trying to make a living in the crazy world of New York City. The film, a kind of homage to male hustler flicks, follows Margaret (Lisa Haas) and Jo (Jackie Monahan) as they "hook" their way through a world of bargain-hunting housewives, shady merkin salesmen, and double-dealing conservative women, including a closeted female politician. Jo tries to coach Margaret, a shy novice with a heart of gold, on how to "lean in" and sell herself with confidence. The results are utterly hilarious.
Check out The Foxy Merkins' website for information about upcoming screenings and showtimes.