Queer cinema reached peak visibility at the 89th Academy Awards when Barry Jenkins' film Moonlight won for Best Picture. The film, which details the adolescent and adult lives of a young, black gay man, carries the distinction of being the first LGBT movie to win Best Picture and is clearly a turning point for more LGBT filmmakers to find wider representation in Hollywood.
Of course, Moonlight is far from being the first movie in history that presented complex LGBT characters onscreen. If it weren't for indie auteurs such as Greg Araki, Cheryl Dunye, Pedro Almodóvar, Kenneth Anger and Marlon Riggs, LGBT characters would still be relegated to minor roles and stereotypes, while filmmakers would still be working closeted, behind-the-scenes jobs instead of telling their own stories. But what those filmmakers knew was that cinema could be a safe space for queer and LGBT films to explore dynamic, experimental and powerful storytelling—liberation through celluloid art.
Which is why filmic institutions such as the upcoming Qfilms Long Beach are so important. Beginning in 1993, the festival has been the ultimate safe space for queer documentaries, shorts and features to find their audience, and to date, it is the longest-running film festival in Long Beach. Whether we see another Moonlight nab a Best Picture Oscar in the years to come, it's already apparent that Hollywood and major studios are now aware of the positive audience reception of queer characters, and the Qfilms Long Beach LGBTQ Film Festival is the best place to find them. Here's what to look out for Sept. 7-10:
Four short-film blocks will be screened: on Saturday, Latinx Shorts Spotlight and Queer and Trans Shorts, and on Sunday, Men In Brief and Women In Shorts. The first presents a melange of comedic and dramatic films that intersect cultural identity and gender, with U.S. based and foreign offerings including Primavera Rosa En Mexico (Pink Spring In Mexico), on the high murder rate of LGBT individuals in Mexico; Panquecito, a comedy about a failed one-night stand between a shy nerd and a young man he meets through a dating app; and the documentary Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies & Feminism, about the writer and activist.
As its title suggests, Queer and Trans Shorts features stories and documentaries with queer and trans people as the main protagonists. Look out for the 12-minute drama Get the Life, about a transgender youth name Alex who struggles with his secret pregnancy and how to tell his live-in boyfriend, as well as the interesting documentary Umbrella, about four transgender people across the U.S. and how they are each fighting for rights in their own areas.
The Men In Briefs showcase promises to be as entertaining as ever, with tongue-in-cheek comedies Secret Santa Sex Party, Playing Straight and According to My Mother, as well as poignant love stories such as Bayard & Me, about Walter Naegle and Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin. Women In Shorts includes fascinating tales such as Bride of Frankie, a comedic retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and the Philippines import Swirl, about two young women falling in love and moving through the city of Manila.
The opening-night feature is the documentary The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, focusing on the novelist behind the best-selling Tales of the City series that tells separate vignettes on various characters living and drifting through San Francisco. The film charts Maupin's life from his upbringing in a Southern conservative household to his work as a journalist and writer, as well as one of the most beloved gay-rights pioneers in literary history.
The Lavender Scare (which also screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival earlier this year) chronicles the Cold War-era suspicion of homosexuals as security risks and Communist sympathizers, plus Dwight D. Eisenhower's campaign to rid gays and lesbians from holding government positions. This documentary highlights the extent and severity of the witch-hunts and the individuals who publicly protested against discrimination.
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The always-wonderful Constance Wu (ABC's Fresh Off the Boat) stars in The Feels, directed by Jeneé Lamarque. Wu plays Andi, a woman celebrating her upcoming marriage to Lu (Angela Trimbur) with a joint bachelorette party, where revelations and truths come to light that lead to both having to work out their deeper trust issues. In Extra Terrestrials, Teresa returns to Puerto Rico to invite her conservative family to her wedding. Teresa's family owns a poultry-processing plant that begins to go under, and by the time Teresa's fiancée, Daniela, follows her home, the family's secret identity as extraterrestrials has begun to be revealed. Sunday's closing-night film, Alaska Is a Drag, was written and directed by Shaz Bennett. It concerns a young man named Leo stuck in a dead-end cannery job in Alaska who has bigger ambitions to be a drag queen. A fistfight at work catches the attention of an amateur boxer, who offers to be Leo's trainer. Leo's worlds begin to collide when a drag queen audition and the qualifying round for a boxing match happen on the same day, forcing him to confront his personal truths.
Qfilms Long Beach LGBTQ Film Festival at Art Theatre, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 438-5435; www.arttheatrelongbeach.org. Sept. 7-10. For a full schedule and ticket prices, visit qfilmslongbeach.com.