To help everyone prepare and get the most out of this year's Festival, we asked some of our film programmers to give us an in-depth rundown of what we can look forward to in our various programs. Up first, programmer extraordinaire Aster Gilbert is here to break down all the films that are part of this year's GenreQueer program! Read her brilliant thoughts below...
Hello, there! This is Aster, the GenreQueer programmer for the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival. I’m excited to share with you the incredible selection of films on offer this year. We have a returning classic of queer cinema, Paris is Burning, and stunning debuts from the next generation of queer artists. From quirky and uplifting to harrowing and urgent, this year’s selections tackle a wide range of subjects related to LGBTQIA experiences. Each film challenges what it means to be queer in 2019, often defying labels entirely. Taken together, these films illustrate the vibrant tapestry that GenreQueer comes to represent. From topical documentaries to romcoms, arthouse dramas and uncategorizable weirdness, there is something for everybody in this year’s selection. I’m proud to have collaborated with the Milwaukee Film Festival crew to bring you these selections (shout out to Jack Feria for the clutch assist) and be sure to check out the incredible GenreQueer Short Film program! See you at the festival!
Before You Know It is a hilarious family dramedy about coming of age in your 30s. A breakout festival hit by the up-and-coming Hannah Pearl Utt, who writes, directs, and stars as the one daughter trying to keep her family of eccentric second-rate community theater players afloat. Before You Know It centers on two sisters whose world is turned upside down after a sudden death in the family reveals that their long-deceased mother is not only still alive, but a famous soap opera star! Before You Know It features real-life soap opera royalty Judith Light, along with Mandy Patinkin and Alec Baldwin as a neurotic child therapist. If you’re a fan of Noah Baumbach films, then make sure you catch this great American independent comedy.
Carmen & Lola (Carmen y Lola) is a tale of first love set in Spain’s Roma community. Two teenage girls awaken to their romantic attraction to each other within a culture that not only forbids gay love, but any disobedience to your parents. Against a backdrop of vibrant markets and gorgeous Roma weddings, Carmen and Lola must steal moments from the prying eyes of their community. Carmen & Lola is a coming-of-age story that is at once particular to its time and place and universal in its depictions of teenage first love.
Gay Chorus Deep South is an uplifting documentary that plays like a salve for these polarized political times. It follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir as they embarked on a concert tour of the deep south after a wave of anti-LGBTQ laws passed in a number of Southern states. Part concert doc with beautiful choral music, and part social issues exposé, Gay Chorus shows that when people of different backgrounds meet face to face that it’s possible to build community and overcome stereotypes. Featuring a diverse cast of south queers, this is one of the smash hit documentaries of the year and shouldn’t be missed!
The Ground Beneath My Feet (Der Boden unter den Fussen) is a corporate boardroom thriller about a secret lesbian affair. Lola has sacrificed everything to make it in the cutthroat men’s world of international corporate restructuring, but just as she’s on the brink of major deal that will secure her future, she begins to lose her grip on reality (think Up in the Air meets Michael Haneke). This taught Austrian thriller makes you question if Lola is caught in a vast conspiracy that includes her boss and lover, or if she’s suffering from the same hereditary illness as her institutionalized sister. This one will keep on the edge of your seat.
Jezebel is the feature debut of Numa Perrier, a striking new talent that shouldn’t be missed. The film is about Tiffany, a young Black woman in late 90s Las Vegas struggling to make rent with her siblings. She’s introduced to the lucrative world of cam girl sex work, and quickly becomes a top performer for her anonymous patrons. Featuring one of the most nuanced portrayals of sex work and a hypnotic, dream-like visual style, it’s no wonder that Jezebel sold out every showing at South by South West. Get your tickets early for this one-night only presentation of one of the major debuts of 2019!
Markie in Milwaukee is an incredible documentary about the journey of a local trans woman as she navigates her transition and de-transition. One of my favorite films of the festival, Markie in Milwaukee was shot over ten years and captures the triumphs and obstacles of discovering yourself and your community. An intimate character study of a personal journey, Markie in Milwaukee features a larger than life figure and her story is one for the ages. I’ve never seen a film capture the complexities of de-transitioning in the way this film has. It puts a spotlight on the unique struggles of navigating social pressures as a trans person in a human and compelling way.
Mr. Leather is an eye-popping Brazilian documentary about the second annual Brazilian Mr. Leather competition. Come take a deep dive into the wild world of gay men’s leather communities and experience one of the most visually sumptuous films in the festival. Taking its stylistic cues from Stanley Kubrick and Nicolas Winding Refn, the gay leather subculture comes to life in a series of lavish tableaux that covers everything from fetish terminology to Brazil’s recent political turmoil. Delightfully eccentric, visually sumptuous, and endlessly sexy, Mr. Leather is not your daddy’s competition doc.
No Box for Me. An Intersex Story (Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam. Une histoire intersexe) is a unique look at intersex identity from the perspectives of two young women. Intersex describes when someone is born with “ambiguous” features that are not easily categorizable as male or female. Through personal diaries, essay sequences, animation, and documentary interviews with doctors and intersex youth, No Box for Me is a fascinating “crash course” on intersex experiences and issues that never loses sight of the human experience. For decades, intersex babies were operated on to conform to male or female, which was often hidden from the children until puberty made their bodies change in unexpected ways. No Box for Me shows how intersex youth are reclaiming their identities alongside a doctor working to change the attitudes of the medical profession and let intersex people determine their identities for themselves.
Paris is Burning is a landmark of queer cinema and one of the great American documentaries of the 1990s. The film follows the lives and performances of a dynamic group of queer, trans, and non-binary people of color, such as the legendary Willi Ninja, Octavia St. Laurent, and the inimitable Venus Xtravaganza. Released nearly two decades before RuPaul’s Drag Race or the smash hit Pose, Paris is Burning introduced millions to the vibrant culture of New York City’s drag ballroom and its terms like throwing shade and the dance styles of voguing. Inspiring generations of queers, this one is not to be missed. And if you’ve gone all this time without having seen it, then what better way to experience this iconic work than with a pristine new restoration presented at the Milwaukee Film Festival!
Pier Kids is an essential companion piece to Paris is Burning. The feature debut of Elegance Bratton, it picks up where Paris left off two decades later. Following the mostly-homeless members of the New York City drag ballroom community, Pier Kids focuses on the voices of those overshadowed and left behind by the mainstream LGBTQ movement. Filmed by an actual member of the community, Pier Kids is an incredible and harrowing document that highlights the reality that the majority of homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBTQ people of color. I rank Pier Kids among the greatest films of the year, an essential and sobering portrait of the work that is left to be done for queer communities in the U.S.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street tells the never-before-seen story behind the divisive release of the cult classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Panned on release for being “too gay,” Freddy’s Revenge has gone on to become a major queer cult film celebrated for its queer and trans subtext (by people like me!). This documentary follows the star of Freddy’s Revenge, Mark Patton, whose rising star disappeared overnight in the wake of the film’s reception. Scream, Queen! covers everything from homophobia in 1980s Hollywood, the AIDs crisis, to a crash course in horror film history. Guided by the enigmatic Patton, Scream, Queen! sets the record straight on his harrowing story and celebrates the queerness that is Freddy’s Revenge!
So Pretty is my personal favorite of the festival. It defies categorization and is part fiction, part literary adaptation, part documentary, and part experimental. From the up-and-coming trans filmmaker Jessie Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli, So Pretty follows a small commune of queer and trans friends living in New York as they engage in activism, artistic projects, and romantic-sexual encounters. Think 1980s Godard film, but composed of queer Instagram stories. Fun fact, director Rovenilli edited the trailer for Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Straight Up is a charming romantic comedy about a young gay man who thinks he might be straight, so he starts dating women. Yet, everyone in his life insists that he’s 100% gay. A quirky indie comedy filled with witty dialogue, Straight Up plays like Wes Anderson meets Gilmore Girls. Straight Up marks another fabulous feature debut from a filmmaker to watch: written by, directed by, and starring James Sweeney. It’s guaranteed to endear you with its neurotic portrayal of dating, all while complicating what it means to be gay or straight.
This is Not Berlin transports you to Mexico City, 1986. Two teenage boys, Carlos and Gera, come of age in the neon glow of the underground club scene, where sex, drugs, and rock and roll converge with political protest and performance art. This is Not Berlin moves from the conformity of high school uniforms and the macho homophobia of soccer practice to the sexually fluid experimentations of the counter culture. Featuring an incredible soundtrack of post-punk and new wave deep cuts, This is Not Berlin is an exciting drama of life on the cutting edge, filled with surprises and retro pop culture.
Changing the Game is a documentary that takes on the hot-button issues of transgender athletics. Following three trans high school athletes at the top of their game, this film explores the triumphs and setbacks that trans athletes face as they battle stereotypes and ideas of fairness. Simply by playing the game, these athletes challenge perceptions of sex segregation in sports and the beliefs that maintain them. Changing the Game is about following your dreams to be the best that you can be, while facing head-on the roadblocks society throws up. Be sure not to miss this standout favorite of our screening committees!
The GenreQueer Shorts Program gathers a wide range of films that challenge perceptions of identity and ask what it means to be queer or trans today. Desires of the Flesh depicts a religious school girl’s lesbian awakening amid a sacred festival where women are included for the very first time. Fran this Summer is a delicate depiction of one of the biggest sources of anxiety for trans people: swimming at the beach. The award-winning short Lavender explores the trials and tribulations of gay polyamory. Pride Prom trains its lens on Marquette University’s first ever Pride Prom event, and the community responses to it. Miller & Son shows how a closeted life creates totally separate worlds for its protagonist: a masculine auto mechanic by day and a fabulous femme queen at night. And Sweet Sweet Kink uses animation to tell documentary stories of how BDSM provides an emotional intimacy that the stereotypes don’t tell you about.
Thank you Aster for taking the time to fill us in on all the great GenreQueer programming at this year's Festival! Look forward to more of our programmers sharing their thoughts on this year's films in the coming days and weeks and we look forward to seeing everyone at the Festival!