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Starting today, Austin’s most senior festival (29 years and counting) aGLIFF, the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, returns to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar with 19 feature narratives, 16 feature docs, retrospectives, shorts, parties and a whole lot of momentum.  After a year of packed houses at year round events, and a program director (Jim Brunzell III) who is entering his third year, aGLIFF has achieved something pretty remarkable in the festival world, consistency.  I had a chance to check in with Brunzell only days before the festival to chat about the program.
BEARS: Approaching your third year, did you have any goals or new ideas or things you were sure you wanted to do again?
Jim Brunzell III: I wanted to make sure the line-up was equally balanced and to have the entire LGBTQIA represented. I also wanted to make sure we had more female filmmakers represented (which is the case) and that we also had more minorities and ethnicities represented which is the case too. After the controversy of this year’s Oscar nominations being mostly white people across the board, I wanted to have our line-up balanced with everyone represented.
BEARS: Year 2 after the monumental legal decision (Obergefell v. Hodges), did you notice anything different on the festival circuit this year?
Brunzell: Yes.   We definitely received more films (long and short forms) on Transgender and Same-Sex Marriage Equality stories for sure. I saw quite a few at Sundance and Frameline that did end up being in aGLIFF29.
BEARS: Any films you are especially excited about bringing to Austin this year?
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The Big Raincheck

Brunzell: I think all of them really have a lot to say about current issues and historical facts on LGBTQ subjects, so it is always hard for me to select a few.  Still, I am excited for our three main films. REAL BOY, POLITICAL ANIMALS and KIKI are all documentaries and directed or co-directed by women. Having notable filmmakers such as Cheryl Dunye with THE WATERMELON WOMAN and John Cameron Mitchell with SHORTBUS and HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH attend the festival is really wonderful. Our shorts programs are really strong this year and there are some remarkable short films we’ll be screening that I’m excited about. To have a great friend in Bob Hawk attend with FILM HAWK (based on his life as a consultant, producer, and advocate in the independent film world for close to 40 years) will be a blast too. He has some of the most incredible stories. If you see Bob at the festival, you should try to make a point and talk to him for a few minutes. And it will be great showing some Austin based films too in SLASH, BRIGHT SHADOW and the world premiere of Walter Reuben’s grand bazaar, THE BIG RAINCHECK.
BEARS: Every year you’ve treated the audience to a really fantastic, but challenging, secret screening and I see one on the schedule again. Any clues or preparation you want to give us for this year?
Brunzell: It’s a narrative and it will be released in 2017, that’s all I’m saying.
The festival runs September 8th – 11th at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.  Festival passes & memberships are now on sale at agliff.org/badgesandtickets. “After traveling the festival circuit over the past nine months, going from Sundance, Tribeca, True/False, Newport Beach and Frameline in San Francisco and going through over 375+ submissions, we have the highest quality and most important LGBTQ films from around the world and from Austin, showcased in our 29th anniversary festival,” Brunzell says, adding, “this will be a festival filled with plenty of conversation, intrigue, laughter, tears, and moments of joy, and I’m thrilled to have all these films shown along with the close to 50+ filmmakers joining us for our four-day festival.”
As Brunzell mentioned, writer/director/performer John Cameron Mitchell will be in attendance for a 15th anniversary screening of his ferocious transsexual punk rock musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, as well as the 10th anniversary screening of his sexually provocative, sneaky sleeper hit SHORTBUS.  Cheryl Dunye comes to aGLIFF to celebrate the 20th anniversary of THE WATERMELON WOMAN, the first feature film directed by a black lesbian. Centered on a young black lesbian working a day job in a video store while trying to make a film about a black actress from the 1930s known for playing the stereotypical “mammy” roles of the time, the film took home the ‘Teddy Award’ at the 1996 Berlinale. Not only is the film fantastic, and received festival awards and critical acclaim everywhere it played, but it also stirred up a bit of controversy when a few uptight conservative assholes questioned the use of NEA funds to make a film that “a majority of Americans would find offensive.”
As for that secret screening, Brunzell has in the past been able to use his strong festival connections and aGLIFF’s relationship with the Alamo and Drafthouse Films to snag some high profile films, long before they see their release. What I’ve enjoyed the most is that these have, in both years, been films that clearly contained LGBTQ content, but that many LGBTQ Fests might steer clear of programming because of tone. Not every film has to leave you with a smile on your face, sometimes it’s nice to get slapped and think about it afterwards.  That’s all I say, taking my cue from Brunzell (I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to put in print what the secret screenings were or if that breaks some sort of covenant he has with distributors that I would not want to endanger).

A couple of other highlights from this year’s packed program:

 

POLITICAL ANIMALS (The Centerpiece Film)

Dir. Jonah Markowitz & Tracy Wares | 2016 | U.S.A. |  85 min. | Texas Premiere | Documentary
Saturday, September 10 at 6:00 p.m.
Co-Directors Jonah Markowitz & Tracy Wares, Producer Chris Panizzon and former California Legislator Carole Migden will be in attendance.

The inspiring story of some of the unsung heroes of the gay rights movement, this film follows four visionary lesbian politicians who started and fought for the legal rights of the LGBT community, paving the way for the freedoms we have today. Lauded as “The must-see documentary of 2016 for every feminist” (bustle.com) and described as “engrossing… white-hot political theater” (Variety) “Political Animals” is a must-see for anyone who cares about political change for the LGBT community. Winner of both the jury award and the audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival, POLITICAL ANIMALS continues aGLIFF’s tradition of delivering the best eyes on the pulse of the world for the LGBTQA community, where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. A mix of talking heads, archival footage, and candid, often rabble-rousing rhetoric, the film comes across as not only fiery and important, but also deeply personal.

 

KIKI (The Closing Night Film)

Dir. Sara Jordeno | 2016 | Sweden | 94 min | Austin Premiere | Documentary
Sunday, September 11 at 5:30 p.m.
Co-Writer & Subject Twiggy Pucci Garcon will be in attendance.

The spiritual daughter of the New York City Ballroom scene – made popular by Madonna’s music video, “Vogue” – is Kiki. As a dance form, “Kiki” is a fierce and fluid expression of gender and sexuality. As a community, it is a safe haven for young people of color whose sexuality carries with it the threat of violence even in this day and age. Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair describes the film as “a spirited, funny, touching portrait of some seriously smart, creative, and defiant young people. The film makes you feel good about the future, which is pretty hard to do these days.” When was the last time you got to see a living legend? Twiggy went from ‘Homeless to Hero’ according to The Advocate, and is an community activist, a runway trainer, and has been featured in major media publications like Paper Mag, NY Mag, The METRO Weekly, and The Huffington Post, among others. He was also a featured subject in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ and HBO’s documentary feature film, The OUT List.

 

HEARTLAND (Narrative Competition)

Dir. Maura Anderson | 2016 | U.S.A. | 96 min. | Texas Premiere | Romance
Friday, September 9 at 2:35 p.m.

Lauren, struggling over a recent death, returns home to Oklahoma where she finds solace in an erotic affair with her brother’s girlfriend, Carrie. Played by the hauntingly beautiful Laura Spencer (Big Bang Theory), Carrie is as impossible to take your eyes off of as the expansive, brooding landscape of the Oklahoma prairie. Tense, sexy, and foreboding, this is a film that will get under your skin and take your breath away. See why After Ellen named it “the next big lesbian indie film.” I’ll only add that this is my FAVORITE film in the program this year, and that’s saying quite a bit because the program is the 2016 aGLIFF program is the strongest I’ve seen in my 6 years attending.

 

RETAKE (Narrative Competition)

Dir. Nick Corporon | 2016 | U.S.A. | 98 min. | Southwest Premiere | Drama
Thursday, September 8 at 9:50 p.m.
Writer/Director Nick Corporon will be in attendance

A man, seeking some comfort, hires a male prostitute to role play a road trip he once took with his ex-lover. But the further they go, the greater lengths are taken to turn the young hustler into someone else. Is it comfort, love, or dangerous obsession? Tuc Watson (Desperate Housewives) gives a chilling performance in this Hitchcockian drama. I first profiled this movie when it was in its Kickstarter phase. I fell in love with Corporon’s short BARBIE BOY when I was programming Austin Film Festival and I’m sort of shocked as an alumni his film is playing at aGLIFF rather than AFF, but this is the film’s obvious audience.  Part drama, part thriller, RETAKE has been one gems of the LGBT fest circuit since it’s premiere at Frameline in San Francisco.

 

GROWING UP COY (Documentary Competition)

Dir. Eric Juhola | 2016 | U.S.A. | 83 min. | Texas Premiere
Saturday, September 10 at 2:30 p.m.
Director/Producer Eric Juhola & Producer/Editor Jeremy Stulberg will be in attendance.

A six-year old from Colorado is at the center of a media frenzy – and a lawsuit for being transgender. The parents of Coy Mathis choose to publicly fight to defend their daughter against an unfriendly school board and opponents who claim that Coy is too young to decide who she is. But where do they draw the line between fighting for their daughter’s rights and protecting her from the public spotlight? With one of the central issues in the upcoming election being bathroom use, this film arrives right on time to put a (very young) face to the controversy.

 

TWO SOFT THINGS, TWO HARD THINGS (Documentary Competition)

Dir. Mark Kenneth Woods & Michael Yerxa | 2016 | Canada | 71 min. | Texas Premiere
Saturday, September 10 at 3:20 p.m.
Director Mark Kenneth Woods will be in attendance.

What are the words for lesbian and gay in the Inuit language? And what happens to those words when the Native American culture starts to vanish? Part history lesson and part travel documentary, Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things takes us on a journey to the beautiful and isolated arctic region of Nunavut, where an unlikely Pride celebration is being prepared by a new generation of Inuit who are working to unearth their culture’s forgotten celebration of LGBTQ people. The film takes its name from the Inuktitut language words for lesbian and gay, which literally translate as “two soft things rubbing together” and “two hard things rubbing together”, respectively.

 

FIRST GIRL I LOVED

Dir. Kerem Sanga | 2016 I U.S.A. | 91 min. | Austin Premiere | Coming of Age
Sunday, September 11 at 10:00 a..m.

Seventeen-year-old Anne just fell in love with Sasha, the most popular girl at her LA public high school. But when Anne tells her best friend Clifton – who has always harbored a secret crush – he does his best to get in the way. The romance between Sasha and Anne is sweet and genuine without falling into common tropes, earning writer/director Kerem Sanga the NEXT Audience Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. This was one of my absolute favorite films at Sundance this year. ALSO – producer Seth Caplin is ex-Austin…

 

GIRLS LOST

Dir. Alexandra-Therese Keining | 2015 | Sweden & Finland, In Swedish w/English subtitles | 106 min. | Austin Premiere | Fantasy
Sunday, September 11 at 6:00 p..m.

Three outcast girls perform a magic ritual that turns their lives upside down, transforming them from girls into boys. Suddenly, they’re able to see their lives, their school, and their peers from a completely new perspective, but will their friendship stay strong? One of the most unusual films at the festival this year, this haunting supernatural drama explores the fluidity of gender and sexuality and defies our expectations of human relationships. Caught this film after it played TIFF last year, and it plays with its subject matter in such a fun way, that you almost forget you are in an LGBT film, it has playfulness rarely achieved on the fest circuit.

 

BRIGHT SHADOW

Dir. Jesse Lyda | 2015 I U.S.A. | 74 min. | Austin Premiere
Sunday, September 11 at 3:10 p.m.
Director Jesse Luda, Producer Jason Wehling & subject/musician Ana Egge will be in attendance.

“Bright Shadow” is a documentary film from director Jesse Lyda that offers an intimate window into the artistic journey of singer/songwriter Ana Egge. Another film with Austin connections, Bright Shadow tries to capture the enigmatic folk artist who constantly defies any attempt to be compartmentalized.  How do you sum up a musician who doesn’t really want to be summed up?  The film is as much a battle with that question as Egge’s own career has been in reaching her audience.

 

FILM HAWK

Dir. JJ Garvine & Tai Parquet | 2016 | U.S.A. | 75 min. | Texas Premiere
Friday, September 9 at 7:15 p.m.
Subject Bob Hawk will be in attendance.

Behind many great movies is one man: Bob Hawk. Hawk launched the careers of many indie filmmakers like Kevin Smith and Edward Burns, and has produced or consulted on some of the best known indie gay movies including “Trick,” “The Celluloid Closet,” “Small Town Gay Bar” and “Interior. Leather Bar.” However, the most unique story this man brings to us may be his own. Truly an underground presence, Bob Hawk is a deep root in the film community. A film for film aficionados. Have you seen Kevin Smith cry?  Wow, if Bob Hawk can elicit that reaction (several times in this film) he must be someone truly important in the indie film world, and you probably didn’t even know he existed.

 

For mor information see www.agliff.org, or just come on down to the festival at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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