QFlix, Philadelphia’s LGBTQ film festival, screens nearly 100 shorts, features and documentaries each year. The fifth-annual event will feature various films in Center City venues March 19-25.
Several filmmakers are attending with centerpiece screenings, including the Asian auteur Scud, who will present his terrific anthology film “Voyage,” 7:15 p.m. March 23 at Plays and Players Theater. Additionally, out actor/producer Charlie David will premiere his new paranormal series, “Shadowlands,” 7:15 p.m. March 22 at P&P, and gay actor/writer Jeffrey A. Johns will bring his showbiz musical sequel, “Still Waiting in the Wings,” to P&P 7:15 p.m. March 24.
This year’s opening-night film is “Hello Again,” screening 7 p.m. March 19 at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. Director Tom Gustafson will present his ambitious screen adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s off-Broadway musical, adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s play “La Ronde.” The film is a roundelay of romantic relationships as Leocadia (an enchanting and sexy Sam Underwood) meets Les (Nolan Gerard Funk), a soldier, who later meets Marie (Jenna Ushkowitz), a nurse, who continues the cycle. Ten episodes take place during different decades of the 20th century and are told out of sequence. The result is somewhat uneven, with some episodes working better than others. The ensemble cast includes gay actors Cheyenne Jackson and T.R. Knight, as well as Martha Plimpton and Audra McDonald as lovers.
QFlix closes with the Philadelphia premiere of the absorbing drama “After Louie,” 8 p.m. March 25 at Perelman. Director/cowriter Vincent Gagliostro’s film has Sam Cooper (Alan Cumming), a former AIDS activist, facing a stalled artistic career. One night, Sam pays Braeden (Zachary Booth) to sleep with him. However, Braeden is not a hustler. As Sam and Braeden continue to meet for sex, Sam imparts his activist views on the younger man. “After Louie” creates an important conversation on how things have shifted over the decades for the gay community. Cumming, who will attend the festival, gives a poignant turn as Sam, and Booth provides fine support as Braeden.
Booth also costars in the nifty little sleeper “The Revival,” screening noon March 24 at P&P. Booth plays Daniel, an alluring and seductive drifter who turns up at the Southern Baptist church where Eli (David Rysdahl) is a preacher. The men quickly initiate a clandestine relationship. However, their taboo fling becomes increasingly more problematic — especially when Eli’s wife, June (Lucy Faust), discovers her husband’s affair. Booth makes the mysterious Daniel a terrific foil for Eli, who is grappling with his forbidden desires. This intense indie packs an unexpected wallop. Don’t miss it.
On the lighter side, the lesbian comedy-drama “The Feels,” screening 2:30 p.m. March 25 at University of the Arts, is a breezy film that takes place at a weekend bachelorette party held for Andi (Costance Wu) and Lu (Angela Trimbur). Five friends join the couple to celebrate the impending nuptials by eating, drinking, taking drugs and dancing. When Lu reveals she’s never had an orgasm, it causes tension with Andi. “The Feels” gets its heart by stressing the importance of honesty and communication in relationships. It gets its humor from the hilariously unfiltered butch character Regular Helen (Ever Mainard). The entire ensemble cast interacts well in this fun, affecting film. And don’t leave until after the end credits.
Another worthwhile lesbian entry is “Blindsided,” noon March 24 at UArts, an hour-long documentary about Patricia Livingstone, a profoundly deaf and blind woman who wants to create art. After she becomes romantically involved with Karen, their relationship changes and Patricia suffers domestic abuse. Years later, Patricia falls in love with Bella and hopes to find happiness — but there are concerns the abuse will repeat. The inspirational “Blindsided” mixes observational footage and interviews to show how Patricia learns to love herself and gain the independence she seeks.
“Blindsided” screens with “Not Throwing in the Towel,” a half-hour documentary short about Ginny and Debbie, a young lesbian couple living in Kentucky. The film recounts the homophobia and discrimination they face and includes quotes from famous queer voices ranging from Harvey Milk to Ellen Page to flesh out the importance of living one’s truth. Although the doc is a bit amateurish in its presentation, the message still resonates.
Other documentaries screening at this year’s qFlix include the fabulous “Dream Boat,” 5 p.m. March 25 at P&P. This nonfiction film by out director Tristan Ferland Milewski chronicles the experiences of a handful of men on a weeklong gay cruise in the Mediterranean. There is a fun drag event and a neon-themed party, as well as plenty of skin and sex (there’s even a brief felatio scene). Milewski follows five men who reveal their dreams and anxieties about being single and gay. These ingratiating guys are all looking for a connection while basking in the safe space of being on a gay cruise. As their stories unfold, a “Greek chorus” consisting of various passengers provides insights on topics such as youth, aging, beauty, gay stereotypes and stigmas about HIV.
Another doc, by gay actor/filmmaker Gerald McCullouch, is “All Male, All Nude,” screening 9:30 p.m. March 24 at P&P. The filmmaker, who is expected to attend qFlix, profiles six guys who work at Swinging Richards, an all-male, all-nude strip club in Atlanta. The attractive dancers talk about why they take it all off: Pierce needs money for school; Sean is trying to support his kid; and Steven is working on his music career. Other guys, like Matt and Dallas, seem to be doing it for thrills. McCullouch humanizes the guys, presenting them as more than handsome naked bodies, but he also showcases enough skin to keep voyeurs satisfied.
McCullouch will also screen his compelling film “Daddy,” which he stars in and directs, 5 p.m. March 24 at P&P. McCullouch plays an older man who gets involved in a complicated relationship with the much younger Tee (Jaime Cepero), much to the chagrin of his best friend Stewart (Dan Via, who wrote the film). Drama — that is best for audiences to discover — ensues.
Speaking of older/younger-men films, Travis Mathews’ “Discreet,” showing 5 p.m. March 22 at P&P, has Alex (Jonny Mars) returning home to Texas where his mother (Joy Cunningham) informs him that John (Bob Swaffar), a man Alex thought was dead, is actually still alive. Alex claims he is John’s grandson so he can keep company with the old, enfeebled man. The real relationship between these characters eventually becomes clear. Until then, a succession of characters, images and scenes — some featuring gay sex — unfold without much impact. Mathews’ pretentious film may reward viewers who put the puzzle pieces together, but most audiences will be bored by this frustrating muddle.
“Body Electric,” 9:30 p.m. March 22 at UArts, is Brazilian writer-director Marcelo Caetano’s lovely, low-key character study about Elias (Kelner Macêdo), an attractive 23-year-old gay man who works in a clothing factory. The film captures the rhythms of his life as it ebbs and flows. Elias sleeps with various guys including his ex, Arthur (Ronaldo Serruya), and his coworker, Wellington (Lucas Andrade), a budding drag queen. Elias is also seen getting drunk with his colleagues at the factory and spending a few private moments alone that belie his search for meaning and purpose in life. Caetano’s leisurely film does not pivot on big dramatic moments, but it is often poignant and quietly moving.
The Canadian import “1:54,” screening 5 p.m. March 23 at P&P, depicts the closeted Tim (Antoine-Oliver Pilon) trying to defeat Jeff (Lou-Pascal Tremblay) on the track team to respond to bullying that caused Tim’s gay best friend to commit suicide. Writer/director Yan England’s film does an important issue a disservice not just by straining credulity throughout, but also for making Tim a self-hating gay man.
In contrast, the French made-for-TV movie, “Hidden Kisses,” screening 7:30 p.m. March 21 at UArts, is an enjoyable romance about gay teens. Nathan (Bérenger Anceaux) has just matriculated into a new school and is outed when a photo of him kissing another boy at a party surfaces on the Internet. “Hidden Kisses” follows Nathan and his secret boyfriend Louis (Jules Houplain) as they navigate bullying and finding the courage to be themselves. If “Hidden Kisses” plays up the pressures and intolerance gay teens face, and contrives some of the situations, this modest film nevertheless remains satisfying because of its heartfelt messages of acceptance and understanding.
For more information, including the complete schedule and tickets, visit http://www.qFlixphilly.com/.