There’s nothing harder for a filmmaker than being concise. Telling a compelling narrative in a fraction of the time afforded a feature-length film is no easy task. It is this time-constrained brilliance that DC Shorts Film Festival celebrates. As in years past, the 131 short films run the gamut from drama to comedy, documentary to surreal fiction. And, once again, LGBT shorts are featured in a special showcase.
The program’s six films offer a unique glimpse into a specific aspect of the LGBT experience. Transgender, cisgender, young, old, single, partnered, married, and preparing to have children — it’s all here. Each is a microcosm of a microcosm, a brief glimpse not only into the minds of their creators, but into the LGBT community — our hopes, our fears, our daily struggles, our forgotten heroes, from a trans child taking their first steps into a world still wary of embracing them, to a septuagenarian discovering a new lease on life.
A timely short, Eric Rockey’s Pink Boy () follows Jeffrey, a 6-year-old living in rural Tallahassee, Florida, with his lesbian great aunt BJ. The documentary doesn’t bombard with information or exposition, but instead offers a glimpse into Jeffrey’s female-focused identity, such as his desire to be a princess for Halloween. BJ’s narration is a sobering reminder that his free spirit is restrained by their conservative neighbors. When Jeffrey first wanted to wear a dress, she refused, “because I was concerned for his safety.” But there’s no bad reactions to Jeffrey in Pink Boy, no awkward moments. It’s perhaps slightly idealized, but Rockey’s compelling direction almost overcomes that. And regardless of outside forces, Jeffrey knows who he is. “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” BJ asks. “A girl,” is the response.
Quinlan Orear’s rom-com gets off on rocky footing, as married couple Tucker (Brian McManamon) and Lance (Clayton Dean Smith) scout a gay bar for a “third.” It’s an attempt to break the rut in their marriage, and about as cliched a scenario as it sounds, but Seeking: Jack Tripper () transforms into something rather sweet — albeit obvious — towards the end, as Tucker and Lance mingle with the dashing Goldie (Jared Q. Miller). Well-acted and often amusing, overcome the brutally unfunny and awkward first minute and you’ll be hooked on Tucker and Lance’s story by the end.
Utterly surreal and utterly charming in equal measure, Spoilers () is a British short that follows two strangers after a chance meeting on a plane. From satnav that talks back, to homophobic lobsters, to impolite gargoyles, Brendon McDonall’s film is sure to surprise, as Leon (James Peake) and Felix (Tom Mumford) battle between letting their hearts or their heads decide whether to see if there’s anything more between them.
McDonall won the Iris Prize in 2014 for a previous short, and used his winnings to help produce the 21-minute Spoilers. It exudes quality, with strong direction, engaging cinematography, and a script that crackles with wit. It’ll leave you bewildered as you’re dragged through its fast-paced story, but — no spoilers — Spoilers is definitely worth seeing. (Just be prepared for some strong Welsh accents.)
A bawdy comedy that doesn’t shy from sex, Spunkle () deals with that most modern of concerns for the LGBT community: parenting. In Lisa Donato’s film, Saira (Fawzia Mirza) asks her younger brother Matt (Jake Matthews) to be a sperm donor for her wife Maggie (Laura Zak). Not a father, but an uncle. A “spunkle,” as Saira coins it. It’s one of several laugh out loud moments in a film brimming with them. Strong characterization, good quality production and great acting belie the fact that this is the shortest film here — a breezy 11 minutes.
You might be aware of The Saint of Dry Creek, an animated short from a couple of years ago. It’s an inspiring little video, as Pat Haggerty relays his father’s acceptance of his homosexuality in the ’50s. As it transpires, the rest of Haggerty’s life is even more incredible. These C*cksucking Tears () isn’t just an amusing title, it’s also the name of a song from Lavender Country, the first gay-themed album in country music history, released by Haggerty and his bandmates in 1973. They were subsequently shut out of Nashville and he became an activist, fighting for equality. Dan Taberski’s fascinating documentary catches up with Haggerty as Lavender Country enjoys a resurgence in popularity, offering a compelling glimpse into the septuagenarian’s life as he heads out on tour for the first time in 40 years.
Breathtaking, horrifying, compelling and gut-wrenching in equal measures, Vessels () is a powerful short about the lengths some trans women have to go to in order to achieve a more feminine body. Diamond (Diamond Cruz) prepares to be injected with an unknown substance that will give her the breasts she desires, urged by her friend (Hope Smith) and manipulated by the “doctor” (Maria Roman), despite her fears. Arkasha Stevenson’s direction, her use of imagery, and the acting skills of the core trio make for an incredible short. If you’re not on the edge of your seat by the end, as the surgery gets underway, you’re not human.
DC Shorts’ LGBT program is screened at the E Street Cinema on Sept. 11 at noon, Sept. 13 at 9 p.m., and Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Tickets to the festival are $12 to $15, with all-access passes available for $125. For more details, visit dcshorts.com.
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