qFLIX — Philadelphia’s LGBT film festival featuring works by queer filmmakers, for queer audiences or about queer topics — runs March 14-19 in various theaters along Broad Street. Here are 10 highlights of this year’s fest.
qFLIX opens with the Philadelphia premiere of “Handsome Devil,” a sure-fire crowd-pleaser about two boarding-school roommates, the wiry, red-headed Ned (Fionn O’Shea) and the athletic Conor (Nicholas Galitzine). Ned is a music-loving outsider, marked as a “fag” by Weasel (Ruairi O’Connor), the school bully. In contrast, Conor is a star rugby player and a hero at the school who treats the sport like a religion. The roommates are odd-couple opposites, but they start to bond over music, especially when their English teacher, Dan (out actor Andrew Scott), asks them to perform a duet for a local talent show.
Although there is some palpable sexual tension between the boys during a practice session, the magic of “Handsome Devil” lies in the natural way the boys’ relationship develops and grows. It will leave viewers smiling from ear to ear.
Fans of out actor Russell Tovey won’t want to miss “The Pass,” director Ben A. Williams’ riveting adaptation of John Donnelly’s play. This intense drama has British footballers Jason (Russell Tovey) and Ade (Arinze Kene) sharing a hotel room in Romania the night before they are about to compete for a position on a pro team. The guys’ horseplay that night involves some homoerotic wrestling that culminates with a kiss — a moment they rehash when they reunite in a different hotel room in the film’s third act 10 years later.
Tovey, who is onscreen (and mostly shirtless) for the film’s entire 90 minutes, gets deep inside the insecure, troubled head of Jason. He makes viewers understand — if not sympathize with — this not-particularly nice guy whose sexuality conflicts with his image as an athlete. It is Tovey’s spellbinding performance, along with the film’s astute observations about identity and masculinity, that makes “The Pass” worthwhile.
In writer/director Ray Yeung’s fabulous “Front Cover,” Ryan (the charming Jake Choi) is an American-born Chinese fashion stylist who is assigned to work with Ning (the sexy Penn grad James Chen), an actor promoting his new film in New York. The two men are “like fire and water,” with Ning telling Ryan “not to show his homo side” and Ryan downplaying his Chinese heritage. Of course, as the guys grow closer, an attraction develops that changes both of their perspectives.
“Front Cover” may feature an obvious plot, but it provides valid messages about respect, shame and reputation. Moreover, while sexuality is at its core, and the leads are appealing, issues of nationality and identity are at the story’s forefront. This is what distinguishes Yeung’s romantic comedy-drama. Chen is expected to attend.
From Brazil comes the trans entry “Don’t Call Me Son.” Seventeen-year-old Pierre (Naomi Nero) is experimenting with his gender identity, but he keeps his penchant for lipstick and lacy things a secret from his family. One night he comes home to learn his working-class mother Aracy (Daniela Nefussi) stole Pierre from his birth mother, Glória (also played by Nefussi). When Pierre goes to live in the posh home of his biological parents, he also starts wearing dresses around the house and in public. “Don’t Call Me Son” relies on the double meaning of the title to address issues of identity and belonging. This provocative drama benefits from never sensationalizing its characters or their situations.
Another gender-bender, “Girls Lost,” is a curious fantasy about three best friends, Kim (Tuva Jagell), Bella (Wilma Holmén) and Momo (Louise Nyvall), who are being bullied at their school. However, things change when the girls discover a magic female flower that transforms them overnight into boys. Kim (Emrik Öhlander), Bella (Vilgot Ostwald Vesterlund) and Momo (Alexander Gustavsson) soon enjoy male privilege. And things get complicated when Kim becomes attracted to Tony (Mandus Berg). The film’s ideas of same- or transsexual desire vs. physical gender transformation is intriguing, and things get especially complex when Bella expresses her attraction to Kim, and wanting to be with her or him, creating a kind of love triangle that plays out over the course of the film.
For the ladies comes “Suicide Kale,” which has won many audience awards on the queer festival circuit. The low-budget comedy centers on two couples meeting for an awkward lunch. When Jasmine (writer Brittani Nichols) and her new girlfriend Penn (Lindsay Hicks) visit Billie (Jasika Nicole) and her wife Jordan (Brianna Baker), Jasmine finds a possible suicide note that Jordan has hid. The comedy and tension develop as both couples try to navigate truth and secrets. The film will resonate with viewers who like discomfiting humor, but for some folks, “Suicide Kale” will be off-putting.
Two must-see nonfiction films at QFlix feature dancers. “Kiki” is an uplifting portrait of LGBT youth of color who participate in the New York ballroom scene. Director Sara Jordenö focuses on seven subjects, including Twiggy Pucci Garçon, who co-wrote the film; Chi Chi Mizrahi, a fast-talking Latino; Gia Marie Love and Izana “Zariya Mizrahi” Vidal, two very different (and inspirational and empowered) trans women of color; and Kenneth “Symba McQueen” Soler-Rios, who is HIV-positive. Jordenö immerses viewers in the lives of her subjects, showing them dancing along the pier, subway platforms and streets of New York City, and the mix of interviews, performance footage and observational moments beautifully capture the courageous and candid moments of these inspiring young men and women.
“Strike a Pose” is a poignant documentary that reunites six of the seven backup dancers who performed alongside Madonna on her 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour and appeared in her film “Truth or Dare.” The men — all but one of whom are gay — explain in heartfelt, often teary-eyed interviews the impact the job had on their lives and the effect they hope they had as role models for gay youth. The dancers also eloquently discuss the struggles they experienced during and after the tour. From having to keep secrets because of fear to subsequent addictions, lawsuits and personal disappointments in their lives, each man comes to terms with his success and failure after a moment in the spotlight. “Strike a Pose” excels at showing the inspiration and humanity of these men whose lives were forever changed by their unique experience. Dancer Jose Gutierrez is expected to attend a Q&A at the fest.
qFLIX closes — more than 50 features, shorts and documentaries later — with the premiere of “Something Like Summer,” a musical romantic drama about out high-schooler Ben (Grant Davis) and his secret romance with the closeted Tim (Davi Santos). When a situation forces the boys apart, Ben gets involved with the adorable flight attendant Jace (Ben Baur), only to have Tim reappear in his life. This often-charming film uses musical numbers to express the characters’ emotions as Ben must decide whom he really loves.
For more information, visit qflixphilly.com.