I’ve got a romantic soft spot for Cuba – rum, tobacco, sweltering beaches, grandiose machismo – but I also have a deep love and appreciation for drag queens which is why I was thrilled to attend the aGLIFF screening of Viva as a part of their 2016 monthly film seriesViva is the story of a young man living in Havana who does hair for the performers of a local drag nightclub, and what happens when his estranged father returns to live with him. The film got heavy at times, but between the richly textured visuals of the Havana slums and the powerful performances of Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García, and Hector Medina, this movie had me captivated from start to finish.

We start by meeting Jesus, played by Hector Medina in a quiet, sensitive, and introspective way. He is an orphan – or, rather, his mother has passed and his father is good as dead, they say. Jesus is a hairdresser, and in addition fixes the wigs of the drag queens at the local cabaret. He is just dipping his toes into drag performance himself, mentored by the rough and passionate matron of the club, Mama (Luis Alberto García). The meager income he earns from hairdressing and performing at the nightclub are all that keep him from prostituting on the streets to survive. However, everything changes when his father (Jorge Perugorría), a respected boxer named Angel who has been in prison for killing a man, returns. Angel insists that he stop performing, and although you expect Jesus to try and break away from his father the two develop a deep, often painful, but ultimately touching relationship.

My favorite part of the movie was Mama. García fully embodies the grit, toughness, and emotional passion of the seasoned drag performer who has certainly seen her fair share of rough situations. She is the only character willing to stand up to Angel – an intimidating man clearly capable of deadly violence – never once breaking eye contact as she fiercely defends Jesus. That scene gave me chills. García’s passion translated on stage as well – I’d love to see a drag show as intense as the one that Mama gives.

Although the movie was shot in Havana with an all-Cuban cast, it’s actually an Irish film, produced by the Irish Film Board and RTE, along with Magnolia Pictures. An odd choice? Maybe. But director Paddy Breathnach’s talent spans many genres – he is known not only as an award-winning documentarian, but also as a cult horror filmmaker as well. Viva only adds to his repertoire and, in my opinion, might be his crowning achievement to date.

Viva will premiere in theaters April 29th, 2016.

See what’s next on aGLIFF’s monthly screening roster by visiting agliff.org/events.


This Year at Tribecca

Starting this Wednesday April 13 through Sunday April 24, the 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival, one of the most prolific U.S. film festivals, begins. Opening with the American documentary, “First Monday in May,” follows the creation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “China: Through the Looking Glass,” exhibition, by curator Andrew Bolton and is directed by New Yorker, Andrew Rossi (“Page One: Inside the New York Times”) should be a grand kick-off for the festival.

I’ll be attending Tribeca for a week looking for some of the newer LGBTQ titles premiering at the festival for their World or North American premiere. There are quite a few hot titles we’ll be looking at including the documentary, “Strike a Pose” about Madonna’s seven male dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour and the narrative feature, “King Cobra” covering the early porn years of Sean Paul Lockhart (aka Brent Corrigan) and his involvement with film producers and murder. It stars James Franco, Christian Slater, Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald.

king cobra

Here is a look at some of the other LGBTQ related titles screening at Tribeca, which we will be looking to bring back to Austin this September: (all synopsis’ provided by Tribeca Film Festival)

“Check It”
 directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. Fed up with being abused and harassed on the brutal inner-city streets of Washington D.C., a group of gay and trans teens form a gang to fight back. This raw and intimate portrait follows four Check It members as they struggle to find a way out of gang life through an unlikely avenue: fashion.  

Strike a Pose” directed and written by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan. (Netherlands) – North American Premiere, Documentary. To the fans, they were the unforgettably talented men who supported the career of one of the world’s most beloved and controversial music artists: Madonna. Behind the scenes they were an impressionable group of young dancers whose lives were forever changed by her influence. Strike a Pose reunites the men 25 years later, providing the chance to learn about the emotional truth behind the glamorous facade.  

King Cobra” directed and written by Justin Kelly. (USA) – World Premiere, Narrative. This ripped-from-the-headlines drama covers the early rise of gay porn headliner Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton), aka Brent Corrigan, before his falling out with the producer (Christian Slater) who made him famous. When Sean decides he’d be better off a free agent, a cash-strapped pair of rival producers (James Franco and Keegan Allen) aim to cash in by any means possible. With Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald

Reset (Relève) directed and written by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai. (France) – International Premiere, Documentary.Stunningly gorgeous and delicate in both subject and treatment, Reset depicts renowned choreographer and dancer Benjamin Millepied (also known for choreographing the dance sequences in Black Swan) as he attempts to rejuvenate the Paris Opera Ballet in his new position as director. With appearances by composer Nico Muhly, Opera alumna Aurélie Dupont, and designer Iris van Herpen, Reset is a delightfully aesthetic affair. In French with subtitles.

AWOL” directed by Deb Shoval, written by Deb Shoval and Karolina Waclawiak. (USA) – World Premiere. Joey (Lola Kirke) is a young woman in search of direction in her small town. A visit to an army recruiting office appears to provide a path, but when she meets and falls in love with Rayna (Breeda Wool) that path diverges in ways that neither woman anticipates. Building on the award-winning short of the same name, director Deb Shoval crafts a clear-eyed love story, and an impressive feature film debut.

Women Who Kill” directed and written by Ingrid Jungermann. (USA) – World Premiere. Morgan and Jean work well together as true crime podcasters because they didn’t work well, at all, as a couple. When Morgan strikes up a new relationship with the mysterious Simone, their shared interest turns into suspicion, paranoia, and fear. Ingrid Jungermann’s whip smart feature debut is an adept and wry comedy on modern romance’s hollow results, set in an LGBTQ Brooklyn. With Ingrid Jungermann, Ann Carr, Sheila Vand, Shannon O’Neill, Annette O’Toole, Grace Rex

Memories of a Penitent Heart” directed by Cecilia Aldarondo. (USA, Puerto Rico) – World Premiere. Like many gay men in the 1980s, Miguel moved from Puerto Rico to New York City; he found a career in theater and a rewarding relationship. Yet, on his deathbed he grappled to reconcile his homosexuality with his Catholic upbringing. Now, decades after his death, his niece Cecilia locates Miguel’s estranged lover to understand the truth, and in the process opens up long-dormant family secrets. In English, Spanish with subtitles.

California” directed by Marina Person (Brazil) – North American Premiere. Narrative. The year is 1984, and Brazil is on the cusp of massive political change. Estela is a high school woman preparing to travel to California to visit her uncle, who is a music journalist and pop-culture connoisseur. She focuses on keeping up her grades to go on her trip while navigating romance, sex and social pressures. But when Estela’s uncle suddenly returns to Brazil sickly thin and pale, intending to get his things in order, the family’s quiet mourning hints at the nascent AIDS epidemic of the ’80s. Set to the musical and cultural touchstones of the era—Bowie, the Cure, Kerouac’s On the RoadCalifórnia tells a nostalgic coming-of-age story very much of a moment in time, but also speaking to universal experiences of family, love and growing up.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi. (USA) – World Premiere, Documentary. In 1994, four women were tried and convicted of a heinous assault on two young girls in a court case that was infused with homophobic prejudice and the Satanic Panic sweeping the nation at that time. Southwest of Salem is a fascinating true crime story that puts the trial of the San Antonio Four in context of their ongoing search for exoneration.


Spring Festival Season

bluebonnetSpring has sprung no question here in the heart of Texas, but, also around the world, where April seems to be the month where film festivals are blooming just like our bluebonnets. Why is April a prime month for a film festival? Many reasons could be a factor; IMO, the yearly festival cycle starts over every year when Cannes Film Festival launches in mid-May, and with some two-dozen festivals in April, they might still be premiering films in there city or state from the 2015 Cannes festival slate. Another major festival in September, Toronto Int’l Film Festival hosts some 300+ films and many of the films do not find American theatrical distribution or find a VOD home, and continue to play festivals throughout the year. So again like Cannes, many of the TIFF films are just now coming to a city or state for the first time, this spring.
Once a new calendar year hits, you have the likes of the Sundance Film Festival kicking things off in January, followed by Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Sweden’s Goteborg, Berlinale, True/False in Columbia, Missouri, New Directors/New Films in New York and Austin’s very own, SXSW. All these festivals leave their mark on every festival throughout the world. To have a film, which premiered or played at one of these festivals is a major score, if you are able to screen films from these festivals, given the accolades and prestige these festivals carry, they are respected and programmers at these festivals, seem to find a little bit of everything in the films they select.
So why is April a crazy busy month on the festival circuit? After all these festivals are over, many of the April festivals “cherry-pick” select films from these various festivals and bring them to their festival. Some undoubtedly, probably do not want to host a festival during the winter months. (I know that was the case, when I worked at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Int’l Festival, or MSPIFF, where you only a have a couple of nice months of weather and outdoors.) They have also seen the programs from earlier festivals and can reach out to obtain these films, as films premiering at Sundance and Berlinale are considered “newer “ films on the festival circuit.
As aGLIFF approaches this September, I’ll be keeping a close eye on these April festivals, for any and all LGBTQIA titles screening and/or premiering in hopes of bringing them to aGLIFF as part of our annual festival or perhaps as a monthly screening, later on.
The first to kick-off the “spring” festival bloom, Cleveland Int’l Film Festival starts today and runs for 12 days. CIFF always has a nice LGBTQIA program called, “10% Cinema” and includes a few past aGLIFF titles, “Desert Migration” and “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party.”

After Cleveland, the floodgates really open up with the following festivals in April: MSPIFF, Wisconsin, Chicago International Music & Movies, RiverRun in Winston-Salem North Carolina, the Florida Film Festival, Sarasota, Full Frame documentary film festival in Dunham, North Carolina, Tribeca, Washington D.C Nashville, Atlanta, Phoenix, Sonoma, Annapolis, Newport Beach, Dallas, San Francisco and the Louisiana Film Festival located in Baton Rouge. And those are only in the United States, and the ones, which I have been following for years, in fact, there could be more. Festivals internationally include Hot Docs in Toronto, Hong Kong International Film Festival, Istanbul and Vision du Reel in Switzerland.

So yes, part of being the program director is watching all of the film submissions that get submitted to aGLIFF, but also keeping track of as many festival program slates as possible, looking for stand out LGBTQIA titles to bring back to Austin for the 29th annual, or to attend the festival(s). In April, I will be traveling to Minneapolis, New York and Newport Beach to attend three different festivals. A huge part of this job is tons and tons of research to know what other festivals are playing and if multiple festivals are playing the same films, or if they are playing only world premieres titles, or if they want to top films from every country and every state. Every programmer(s), taste can vary but there is never a short supply of films out in the festival circuit.
Some festivals may only showcase a few LGBTQIA titles, but sometimes they have some top-tier films, and the films are strong in content, story/subject matter, technically made, and offer a new perspective, or a new voice, it is all the reason to seek the film out to try to include in our program.
So let’s hope this promising spring bloom on the festival circuit carries over to the 29th annual aGLIFF this September.
-Jim Brunzell III