Film festivals do a heft amount of grandstanding about representing diverse perspectives and expanding the definition of cinema. But when it comes to LGBT characters and so-called queer cinema, the festival circuit has a mixed track record. Sure, the winning flick at this year's Cannes Film Festival -- the creme de la creme of the festival circuit -- was about a lesbian romance. But films depicting same-sex relationships often get swept into their own awards categories or themed sidebars, making them unlikely to get the exposure necessary to jump into American theaters.
That's why events like the Charm City LGBT Film Festival are so important. Starting Friday, Baltimore audiences will have a chance to see seven movies examining the queer experience. These are films that represent diverse lives and perspectives (unlike the LGBT-oriented fare at the Maryland Film Festival, which focused on gay men) and that will likely struggle to find larger theatrical releases.
The festival kicks off on Thursday night with performances by local performer Sabrina Chap, gay cabaret group the Charm City Kitty Club and magician David London.
Baltimore drag queen Divine again gets the spotlight on Friday night, with documentary "I Am Divine" screening as the second film in the night's double bill. We've talked about the movie before, but it's worth mentioning that it is the LGBT Film Festival's only Baltimore-focused film and is worth seeing with a home-grown audience.
But don't skip Friday's earlier film, "Cloudburst." In a lively comedy, Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker play a lesbian couple escaping to Canada in order to be legally wed. The women's romance manages to be heartfelt without being maudlin, boosted in large part by Dukakis' striking performance.
Saturday kicks off with a free screening of "Difficult Love," a documentary looking at the lives of black lesbians in South Africa. While the country was the first nation in the world to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, a large disparity exists between South Africa's laws and the attitudes of its residents. Co-director Zanele Muholi documents lesbian couples in photographs, and this cinematic look at inequality is a natural extension of her work.
Following "Difficult Love" is "Stud Life," which explores the friendship of a lesbian and a gay man as they look for love in London's "stud" subculture. Closing the night is gay rom-com "Love or Whatever," the story of a tightly-wound therapist who finds love on Grindr ("Welcome to the 21st century," one character says without a hint of irony) after his boyfriend leaves him for a woman.
The festival wraps up on Sunday with two more films. The first, "TRANS," focuses on the gender transition of seven-year-old Danon. In telling her story, director Chris Arnold weaves together the stories of several other transgender individuals to offer a complex look at the struggles faced by the transgender community. In the face of the violence and harassment that older transgender individuals describe, Danon's confidence -- she tells filmmakers "I don't wanna ever be a boy again" -- is all the more striking.
Closing the festival is indie dramedy "Elliot Loves," a witty coming-of-age story following one Dominican man's search for love. Drawing on flashbacks, animation and a well-composed soundtrack, director Terracino imbues a typical quest for romance with refreshing new energy.