Amidst the sunshine, Love, Life, and Rainbows were the main themes of the recently concluded Ninth Annual Desperado LGBT Film Festival. This feature article offers an extended look at the entire weekend as well as photos from the event.
The Ninth Annual Desperado LGBT Film Festival in Phoenix, AZ came to a close Sunday evening. And, as I sit here recalling the weekend, it is raining here in Phoenix, which as most know is unusual for the Valley of the Sun. I’ll forgive you If you elect to read these recollections of a fine weekend in the sun humming The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” or Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Somewhere in the back of my mind, I want to see more rain, but this isn’t a weather report, so here goes.
Running from Friday, February 9th – Sunday, February 11th, the ninth annual Desperado LGBT Film Festival featured seven feature films, one documentary and fourteen shorts that celebrate the diversity that is the Gay Film experience.
Desperado’s Opening Day is full of “Heart, Baby!”
Under a brilliant, late winter sunset, Desperado opened with a reception for the staff of the Paradise Valley Community College and guests of the festival. Though I was unable to attend, I hear the music and the food on offer was divine. Festival goers were treated to the brilliant “Heart, Baby!’ which officially opened the Festival. The film’s director, Angela Shelton and cast member, Shawn Caulin-Young were on hand to introduce the film and to host a post-film Q&A. We’ll have a separate review, however, I can say that if you have a chance to see this award-winning film, I recommend it.
Day Two – Love, Rejection, Family Ties.
The documentary “A Year in Transition” opened the second day. I was unable to attend the screening, but I hear that the story of a 20-year-old transgendered man in his first year of transition was really well received, and I hope to have the opportunity to see it.
Short Features, part one.
I was able to catch the first set of short films which showcased three main themes of love, rejection, and family ties. The first short was “Sunset.” The short, directed by Katie Ennis and Gary Jaffe featured a young couple in World War II New York City faced with a decision about whether to deploy or stay behind. I loved the intimacy that this short, which ran 15 minutes offered. But, I also had immense respect for the decision they needed to make in the time in which the film is set. The second short, “More than God,” concerned itself with an Irish couple on the rocks. A pious doctor is confronted with the rigidity of religion as he attempts to catch his wife in an adulterous act. Though the themes were heavy, Kev Cahill’s film mixed in an awkward bit of humor to uncover the truth while strengthening family ties.
Continuing through the short program, Angela Vashti Jude’s “Prudence” is a poignant romance about capturing one last romantic dance with her beloved. If you can find this short, I highly recommend it. Brandon Kelley’s “The Real Thing” hits on many modern themes as a solider comes home to meet the daughter he has never met. The amount of love and acceptance on display in this 8- minute short was so heart-warming.
Louisa Berrman’s “Boys in the Street #PRIDE” is an animated story about the lives of a father and son. The short runs 5 minutes and the animation matches the song exceptionally well, but the song overpowered the animation. Jerell Rosales’ “Britney-holics: A Spear-tual Awakenings” was a cute look at closeted Britney Spears fans coming out in a self-help group. It reminded me of the power we have as a race to gain strength from one another through the power of a shared experience. Shelley Thompson’s “Pearls” reflects kindly on the rural family dynamic as Miranda realizes that the only way she can help Donald to become the woman she was destined to become is by defying her husband by letting Donald leave the farm. The production from Canada was one of three international productions to be included in this year’s festival and it was nice to see a take from our neighbors to the north. The final short film during the Saturday program was Linnea Ritland’s “Violet and June” which plays as a romcom about falling in love and the terror of being alive in a cold heartless universe. The short works on the premise that we are all but small specs in the infinitesimal nature of the universe and that love is the glue that binds us together. After seeing this short, I don’t feel so small any more.
The mid-afternoon film on Saturday was the campy “Signature Move” from director Jennifer Reeder. The film is as much about relationships and love as it is about cultural differences. And it features wrestling! Fawzia Mirza plays Zaynab, a Pakistani immigration lawyer. She hasn’t come out to her mom, who is very set about their cultural ways; ie: she very much wants her daughter to marry a man and have grandchildren. Zaynab meets out and proud Alma (Sari Sanchez). As their relationship blossoms, Zaynab struggles to find a way to tell her mom about herself, and it is only through the wrestling lessons from a broke client (Audrey Francis) that she can find a way to come out to her mom. The story doesn’t take itself as serious as the wrestling looked on the screen, but it was interesting to see the culture clash happen on the screen.
Here’s to “Last Season’s Shorts!” and the rule breakers!
Under clear, cool skies the Festival moved outdoors as festivalgoers were treated to short films from prior years. Bill Pierce who covers independent film for the last eight years summed up this experience best: “The short films capture every moment, from every angle, and preserve the life, love, loneliness, and excess. Short films provide the true reflection for us to look back and realize how we got here.” I couldn’t agree more.
The evening closed out with Vincent Gagliostro’s “After Louie” featuring Alan Cumming. I will have a separate review for this film, but Mr. Cumming absolutely shines as he comes to terms with himself, his past, and the future. It is a bit heady, but if you have a chance to see it, I can’t recommend it enough.
Myths, Legends and the Supernatural: Day Three
Though the winds had picked up, the sun was shining on festivalgoers as the third and final day kicked into high gear with the second set of shorts. Breaking all the rules was the common theme of these short features. Hazart’s “Haygood Eats” is part Saturday Night Live-skit, part best-of Food Network and all comedy as two hosts try to film a television commercial for a catering service. My initial reaction was that it was too over-the-top, but after some careful consideration, this short took the cake. Devi Snivley’s “Bride of Frankie” was one of the longest short films at 19 minutes, but this humorous take on the birth of Frankenstein and his future Bride are at the hands of the doctor’s assistant as she tries to teach them manners. The plot of this short leads you to the logical conclusion, but the journey was fun.
The animated “Cuddlefish” from Cheryl Briggs and Brianna Jaeger is teeming with sea-based love. I never thought that an anchor would be a love symbol, but one never can tell how a cuttlefish will react. Only now, as I’m typing this brief reaction did I catch the symbolism of this short film’s name. It only added another nuance to my experience.
The three final shorts that made up this series were probably the best reflections of life. The most touching, saddest and funniest was Robin Cloud’s “Out Again.” Cat and her partner are full of surprises for her unsuspecting parents, but one of the biggest challenges is with having her mom unable to remember one key detail. TJ Marchbank’s “Something New” touches on Jonah’s struggles to recover his composure after being cheated on in a relationship. He was so stuck in his own paranoia that he couldn’t process what was right in front of him, leading him to dismiss a potential partner. It leads to an awkward blind date, but Jonah’s recovery allows him to find Mr. Right. The final short comes from the Land Down Under, as “Mrs. McCutcheon” explores how bullying and gender identity are addressed as Mrs. McCutcheon searches for a date to the school dance. Director John Sheedy really worked his magic as he breaks all the rules, and his story tells us that love has no rules.
The mid-afternoon feature film series started off with the Norwegian supernatural thriller “Thelma” from director Joachim Trier. I’ll offer a separate, lengthier review of this amazing film, but it haunts the audience as young Thelma tries to uncover the reason for her seizures. Not everything is as it appears as the story climaxes. I’ve seen it twice and I’m still thinking about it.
Actor Max Adler, who was raised in the Phoenix area was on hand to introduce the film and answer questions about Melanie Mayron’s “Snapshots.” The story brings together three generations (Piper Laurie, Brooke Adams, Emily Baldoni) at a summer home in the Ozarks. Secrets and familial frustration run rampant through these ladies as their pasts and futures collide. It is an intimate look at how family comes together in the most difficult of circumstances. I’ll have a more formal review, but it was nice to see Ms. Laurie on the screen again. [Editor’s Note: as we were getting ready to publish this, we learned that “Snapshots” won the 2018 Desperado Audience Award.]
I unfortunately could not attend the closing film, “Saturday Church” from director Damon Cardasis. The description portrayed the coming-of-age story as something that I would have enjoyed, so I’m hopeful I can catch it soon.
Gold at the end of this Rainbow!
With that, the Ninth Annual Desperado LGBT Film Festival came to a close. There was such a diverse line-up of films that explored so many different themes that it
is difficult to express in words. I could say “rainbows flowed” and “seas parted,” but it was just a relaxed atmosphere and a good way to experience so many varied, independently made films.
Electric Bento would like to thank the Desperado staff and volunteers for their hospitality over the weekend. It was an experience we’re all too happy to share with the rest of the world. Here’s to many more annual festivals!
Full Reviews of Angela Shelton’s “Heart, Baby!,” Jennifer Reeder’s “Signature Move,” Vincent Gagliostro’s “After Louie,”Jochim Trier’s “Thelma,” and Melanie Mayron’s “Snapshots” will follow in separate articles throughout the week.