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Today marks the start of the 39th annual Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the U.S.. Whether you plan on going or not, it’s good to know about the LGBTQ films at Sundance 2017 because you’ll likely hear about them again, either as they wind their way around the festival circuit or as they they hit at your local art house movie theatre months from now.
Our list of LGBTQ films at Sundance 2017 includes ones with openly LGBTQ actors or directors and ones that feature minor queer characters. We’ve also included shorts, TV shows, short-form episodic series and virtual reality films all premiering at the festival. As far as we know it’s a comprehensive list, though feel free to tell us if we’ve missed any.
The festival runs from January 19 to January 29, 2017. To learn more about each film (its creators or Sundance screening times), simply click on its title.
Mifti is a 16-year-old girl with a deceased mother; a wealthy, self-absorbed father; a crush on an older woman; and an awareness of her own beauty. Together with her actress friend, Ophelia, they traverse Berlin’s counter-cultural nightlife, driven by drugs and reckless abandon. The film is based on a successful novel of the same name written by the director.
We recently told you about Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King’s openly gay right hand man. But Rustin also had a boyfriend named Walter Naegle. Naegle was 30 years younger than Rustin, and in the 1980s, Rustin adopted him since to give him legal protections seeing as same-sex marriage didn’t yet exist. This short documentary tells their love story from Naegle’s point of view.
With his father dying and his mother bothering him about finding a girlfriend, Frankie spends his Brooklyn summer hanging with his aimless pals, flirting with older men online and eventually putting on webcam shows and making out with guys at the local cruising beach…. that is, until he starts dating a girl, a choice which could have dangerous consequences.
When 17-year-old Elio meets his father’s handsome 24-year-old assistant Oliver, the two begin a summertime romance on the northern Italian countryside that spans decades. Sony Picture Classics has already purchased this film, which gives you some idea just how much they liked this coming-of-age drama. Plus, it stars Armie Hammer and a soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens.
Deaf friends Kate and Michael haven’t completely adjusted to their new lives since Kate’s recent marriage and Michael’s recent split with his ex-boyfriend. Though they’re both meeting new people, none of those people seem to understand them the way they understand each other. The festival will screen five episodes of this short-form episodic series.
When Desert Hearts first premiered at Sundance in 1986, it won a Special Jury Prize. Now you can see a digitally restored version of this lesbian classic. It takes place in Reno, Nevada during 1959 and follows the blossoming relationship between Vivian, a somewhat straight-laced English professor, and Cay, a free-spirited casino worker. It may sound like a standard romance, but the women must struggle against the intolerance of small town morality during the late ’50s.
Even though Dolores Huerta worked alongside Cesar Chavez to co-found America’s first farm workers’ union, she has been largely forgotten by history, thanks in part to slander against her reputation. Huerta later went on to become an LGBTQ advocate at the intersection of immigrant and queer rights, but director Peter Bratt’s documentary re-establishes her rightful place in history as an influential civil rights pioneer.
After the conclusion of World War I, Anna visits the grave of Frantz, her German soldier fiancé, only to discover a Frenchman laying flowers upon his final resting place. As a German citizen, she’s supposed to despise the French, but in her grief, she strives to understand Frantz’s connection to the mysterious Frenchman. A homoerotic undercurrent runs throughout this acclaimed black-and-white film based loosely on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 movie Broken Lullaby.
Johnny returns to his family’s sheep farm to help his ailing father, but he hates the work and regularly drowns his frustration in booze and casual sex. Then, Johnny’s father hires Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker who seems to understand the farm and Johnny in ways they both need. Their relationship gives Johnny hope in the otherwise bleak English countryside.
Evaristo and Isauro haven’t spoken in 50 years, which is significant considering that they’re the last surviving speakers of a dying Central American language. When an ethnolinguist reunites them for research purposes, the two men reveal the true emotions behind their longstanding silence as the film plays out in a dream-like mixture of sound, cinematography and mythological metaphor.
Bisexual writer-director Jill Soloway and the creative team behind Transparent present I Love Dick, a TV dramedy about Chris, a frustrated New York filmmaker stuck in a stale marriage in the artsy Texas town of Marfa. Chris experiences an artistic reawakening after meeting Dick, a renowned scholar visiting the small town. But rather than focusing on mere romance, this series veers off into new territory as it explores female desire and art through experimental, comedic and visual storytelling.
Unbeknownst to most people, Sundance also shows virtual reality films, including this immersive six-minute drama inspired by the 2o16 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. In the downstairs area of a popular queer night spot, a shooter prepares to carry out “God’s mission”, driven by the shame following a same-sex hook-up. But what if the hook-up had gone differently? You may recognize its director Rose Troche as one-half of the creators behind the seminal lesbian film Go Fish.
Ingrid wants to be like Taylor, a seemingly perfect social media influencer living in Los Angeles. But as Ingrid lies and schemes to become Taylor’s BFF, her desire turns into an unstable (and quasi-lesbian) obsession. Gradually, her unsettling behavior provides a dark look at our social media-driven culture, where appearance is everything and true intimacy seems nowhere in sight.
You wouldn’t expect a drug-fueled sex comedy from a film set in a convent during the Middle Ages, but here it is. When a local priest hires a hunky man (Dave Franco) to serve as the convent’s laborer, “the repressed nunnery erupts in a whirlwind of pansexual horniness, substance abuse and wicked revelry.” We’re thinking that the film’s pansexuality gets played for titillation or cheap laughs, but who knows? A nuanced handling could prove a welcome surprise.
Lesbian director Dee Rees made a name for herself with her 2011 coming of age story Pariah and her 2015 HBO TV biopic about bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith. Now Rees returns with a tale of two families struggling against a failing farm and the social upheaval after World War II. When each family’s loved one returns from the war, their friendship strains the social and racial tensions threatening to boil over.
By now, everyone knows the cautionary tale of openly gay Gawker founder Nick Denton, the sex tape he published of Hulk Hogan and the resulting lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker. But even though the lawsuit against Gawker was funded by gay billionaire Peter Thiel, Thiel isn’t the only person using their wealth to shut down media outlets. Investigative documentarian Brian Knappenberger examines the influence of money on the press, and raises troubling implications, no matter how you feel about Gawker.
When 20-year-old Daniel Ashley Pierce came out to his family in 2014, they attacked and disowned him. Pierce recorded audio of the 2014 encounter and it quickly went viral. Now, artist Nonny de la Pena has incorporated the audio into a virtual reality film that puts viewers in Pierce’s shoes. But don’t worry; Pena doesn’t leave you in despair. Instead, Pierce and his LGBTQ peers share stories of how they found love and support, even after rejection by their own families.
Queer supporting characters make an appearance in this documentary about Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a (aka. “Ma Quest”), two parents who use an in-home music studio to create love in their family while living in North Philadelphia.
After Isobel cheats on her boyfriend with a woman, he moves out and she has to start renting out a room on AirBNB just to make ends meet. Thankfully, she has her supportive lesbian bestie as well as a revolving door of strangers who briefly share their lives (and sexual issues) with Isobel. These semi-autobiographic episodic shorts come from Mia Lidofsky, a director who has also worked with John Cameron Mitchell, Jill Soloway and on the queer-friendly HBO series Girls.
Black transgender filmmaker Yance Ford explores the 1992 shooting of her brother by a white mechanic. The mechanic went free thanks to an all-white jury, leaving Ford’s family to deal with a profound sense of anger and helplessness. The resulting documentary reveals a loving, intimate portrait of a family rocked by racial injustice. But despite their shared experience, they can never really know what happened or why it might happen again to someone else.
In 2008, nationally ranked Canadian diver Gregory Lazzarato stopped competing and came out as Gregory Gorgeous, a gay YouTube star known for their engaging makeup tutorials. Five years later, Lazzarato came out as transgender, changing her name to Gigi Gorgeous and going on to amass even more fame. By focusing on Gigi’s message of beauty and self-acceptance, this documentary examines identity, fame and how Gigi overcame her detractors to become one of YouTube’s most famous trans stars.
Although this film seems straight as balls—it involves a teenage boy who has to help his father survive the wintry Montana wilderness after a big game hunt goes awry—it features openly gay actor Matt Bomer as the stoic dad. Ultimately, it’s about the intimacy and expectations between a father and son, a theme that many gay and bi men can relate to, despite its stereotypically male subject matter.
The August 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri revealed longstanding tensions between the county’s police force and black residents. It also emboldened the Black Lives Matter movement, a campaign co-founded by black queer women. Several queer supporting characters join the battle for black lives in this documentary recounting the protests following Brown’s murder.
Openly gay director Craig Johnson presents a comedy about a “lonely, neurotic, and hilariously honest middle-aged” misanthrope who reconnects with his ex-wife after learning of a teenage daughter that he has never met. Woody Harrelson plays the titular father in this adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel of the same name.
Unless you’re an ethno-anthropologist, you may not know about the traditional Xhola circumcision ritual that marks a boy’s passage into manhood. Considering that the ritual has resulted in over 800 deaths, it makes sense why young Kwanda wouldn’t want to go through it. His resistance forces his mentor Xolani to reconsider the traditions and the tribal notions of manhood altogether.
As fan of female-directed horror films, we’re excited about this anthology of four horror flicks each directed by different women. One of the women is Anne Clark, better known as sexually fluid musical performer St. Vincent. Her film involves a costumed birthday party gone horribly wrong and is rumored to be the funniest of the bunch; the others include a child who decides to stop eating, campers who must outwit a werewolf-like humanoid and a cannibalistic boy who tortures others. Fun!