Metro Weekly

Reel Affirmations 2022: All The Shorts Reviewed

Our critics review all 23 short films playing virtually in the 29th Reel Affirmations LGBTQ Film Festival.

Brutal

All of the Reel Affirmations 2022 shorts are playing throughout the weekend in the virtual festival. They’re available through Sunday, Oct. 23, at 11:59 p.m.

Click here for details on how to purchase a virtual pass.

BIGGER IS BETTER

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Larry Tung’s documentary about bear culture in Asia might lack the high-budget sheen of some other films in this festival, but, as his film is keen to stress, looks aren’t everything. Tung and his subjects delve into the stereotypes of what exactly a “bear” is — be they cuddly or butch, larger or muscular, hairy or smooth, or every variation in between — and the ultimately fluid interpretation of the term across Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. A fascinating (and often eye-catching) insight into body politics, Western influence, and the lengths some go to in order to “conform,” for better or worse. —Rhuaridh Marr

BODY LANGUAGE

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A powerful exploration of body image among Black gay, queer, and same-gender-loving men, and the damage entrenched stereotypes can wreak. Odu Adamu’s 10-minute film challenges the systemic racism that can dictate how Black men perceive themselves and are perceived, as well as the entrenched racism in the gay community and the sometimes long road to self-acceptance and self-love. —RM

BRUTAL

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CRITIC’S PICK

Brutal is the amusing tale of a cable network news host in need of a ratings bump. He finds one in a leaked video that features a conservative Senator, a roomful of orgiastic men, and a goat. As the host, Cheyenne Jackson spends much of the film’s 13-minute running time with his eyes shut (he’s vainly getting his eyelashes dyed). He’s supported by a sterling cast that includes Johnny Sibilly, Drew Droege, Rachael Harris, and tart scene-stealer Angelica Ross. The movie has a “brutal,” if not entirely surprising twist, and the writing by Nicholas Citton and direction by Sam McConnell couldn’t be more on point. —Randy Shulman

CLARISA

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CRITIC’S PICK

Philip Knowlton’s 18-minute character study of a young Black woman from the Bronx’s Patterson Houses project in “the poorest congressional district in the country,” is rife with detail and full-throttled, genuine emotion. Clarisa Alayeto tackles her weight problem, confronting her diabetes head-on and taking control of her destiny in an empowering way. She also watches helplessly as her grandmother — a woman who radiates a special kind of joy — slowly wastes away. The movie is a little too complex for its own good, and occasionally becomes disjointed and unfocused as it leapfrogs between moments in Clarissa’s life without much structure. Still, it’s a stunner of a portrait, a transcendent slice-of-life thanks to a main subject who is comprised of charisma, determination, heart, and hope. —RS

Do This for Me

DO THIS FOR ME

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CRITIC’S PICK

Following a group of childhood friends making a video for their friend Molly, this masterful short wastes no time playing with perception, as the camera deftly follows the anxious movements of the characters’ trying to put on a smile. Beautifully shot, edited, and directed, the terrific, large cast gives just what you need. As the friends each record anecdotes of drunken memories, sadness in their tone takes center stage, but still only lingering long enough to keep you on your toes. The guessing game of Do This for Me‘s plot holds our interest, yet its 20 minutes pass by far too quickly. It leaves you wanting even more. —Mark Young

FARAWAY

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CRITIC’S PICK

Aside from a few close-up shots on his face, during anguished moments when trying to reach his mother by phone, we mostly see Omar only from a distance in Faraway. Director Aziz Zoromba captures the young gay Arab Canadian through the windows of his apartment and car and from adjoining spaces of a bar and a park in his affecting and evocative documentary short, told in intimate, unembellished, cinema veritΓ© style. Zoromba drops in on Omar periodically over the course of four seasons in Montreal, where he’s far from his small hometown and the unaccepting family left behind. The Audience Award winner as Best Documentary Short at Chicago’s 2021 Reeling film festival, Faraway perfectly captures the gloomy energy and gritty beauty of Montreal as well as the liberating yet lonely vibe of being new and on your own in a bustling metropolis. –Doug Rule

Fierceness Served

FIERCENESS SERVED

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CRITIC’S PICK

This masterpiece by local filmmaker Michelle Parkerson should be required viewing for all LGBTQ people living in the District — and beyond. A powerful, deeply felt 35-minute documentary, Fierceness Served charts the history of the Enikalley Coffeehouse, a carriage house in northeast D.C. that served as a cultural and activism touchstone for the Black LGBTQ community in the ’80s and ’90s. Illuminating and enriching, the film overflows with rich grace notes, such as a stroll taken through the space as it exists today by two former patrons. As though working a cinematic loom, Parkerson expertly weaves talking head recollections — bright, funny, poignant — with archival photographs and rare footage of Coffeehouse performances, including a stunner from the swanky singing group, The Four of Us. The most arresting moments in Fierceness Served, however, are its stylized poetry breaks, in which performers recite works by esteemed Enikalley alumni, including Essex Hemphill. (The poem “Brass Rail” is a highlight.) The film’s most affecting moment arrives unexpectedly, during the final credits, in which Parkerson includes a massive list of Coffeehouse patrons lost to HIV/AIDS. The sense of cultural loss makes for a heartbreaking and profound coda. —RS

FIRSTS

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A closeted Chinese international student living in New Zealand wants to lose his virginity to a stranger. What follows in Jesse Ung’s mildly NSFW short is a series of literal firsts, as Cheung (Kelvin Ta) and Andrew (David Shi) explore family pressures, each other’s bodies, and the implications of doing what feels right when it also seems so wrong. Ung could have gone deeper — no pun intended — with his spare dialogue, but Firsts makes an impact nonetheless. —RM

Hard

HARD

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A familiar tale that succeeds on the sheer charisma of its lead, Xavier Clyde, Hard follows teenager Mikeyas through his sexual awakening after trying — and hilariously failing — to have sex with a woman (Nia Sondaya). Director Robin Takao D’Oench and writer Corey Dashaun have crafted a gem of a comedy short that hits almost every beat, from an all-too familiar gay malware mishap to an adorable, if curiously comfortable, best friend (Christopher Pearson) who helps Mikey to realize a hard truth. —RM

I’M STILL YOUR FAG

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Intimate, erotic, and altogether unclear, Izzy Johnson’s film is more of a palate-cleanser between other shorts. Bodies writhe together, hair is caressed, a flower is touched against bare skin, all to a gentle soundtrack. Johnson’s purpose with the film is unknown, particularly sitting amidst deeper or more impactful fare. It neither offends nor delights, but instead leaves us eager to try something else. —RM

JOIUSSANCE

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A gay couple is haunted by the ghost of an ex — literally — in Sadeq Es-Haqi’s 22-minute short. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into this film, but something doesn’t quite connect. That could be due to the poor translation of the subtitling, or it could be that the film teeters dangerously between serious and farcical by the time the twist ending comes. —RM

KISS ME

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In this Mexican short, a teen (Jonathan Andrade) wanders into an lavish beach house and creates tiny bits of mischief, such as placing dolls in carnal positions and leaving a trail of pistachio-nut shells. His antics are caught on security tape, which is leveraged by the home’s resident teenager (Victor Hugo Villanueva) to exact a penalty. Director David Barba’s film is cohesive, yet the narrative is mostly interpretive, leaving us to fill in the blanks of why the boy is even doing this. Is it random? Is he a stalker? (Probably a stalker.) The story pulls everything together in a final scene that is both tender and satisfying. —RS

Queen Mab

QUEEN MAB

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Queen Mab is the fairies’ midwife referred to by Mercutio during a speech in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Elizabeth McAnulty Quilter sets that speech against a curious mix of live-action and stop-motion imagery — think tarot cards, insects, a woman walking through the woods — for a short that is equal parts fascinating and film school project. —RM

ROOTED OUT

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CRITIC’S PICK

We’ve all read stories of Kim Davis-types denying gay couples marriage licenses in the South, but what if we told you it also happened in New York? Julie Casper Roth’s documentary spotlights Dylan Toften and Thomas Hurd, who fought not only against the religious bigotry of a town clerk, but against attempts to minimize and erase their plight from the town’s public record. In today’s political climate, Rooted Out makes for tough but essential viewing. —RM

SAY IT

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“The greatest vaccine against AIDS is solidarity,” actor/filmmaker Evandro Manchini says toward the end of Say It, his stylishly abstract yet pretentiously obtuse short film. The quote stems from a celebrated speech by Herbert Daniel, a famous gay Brazilian writer who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992. Manchini intersperses video and audio footage of Daniel speaking with the actor’s own reenactment of the same Portuguese text in Say It, described as a work of autofiction that features real, autobiographical elements embellished or distorted and intentionally blurred with those that are fictional. Manchini portrays himself as having become an activist in Brazil in the years since his HIV-positive diagnosis. “The prejudices kill more than the virus,” says Manchini, echoing Daniel and the writer’s long and winding monologue, recited in full. Manchini seems to be saying quite a lot — very little of it new or original, though, to say nothing of being clear. Or for that matter, compelling. –DR

SERVICE

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CRITIC’S PICK

An example of perfect narrative short. To describe the narrative in detail, other than to say it charts an awkward encounter between a younger man on leave from the military and an older gentleman would rob viewers of its layers of complexity. Finnish director Mikko Makela expertly unpeels the layers of this onion, ending with a kicker that is fulfilling and surprising. Teijo Eloranta and, especially, Otto Rokka give finely-honed, restrained performances, falling into a realm between tenderness and chilly discomfort. —RS

SEQUIN

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Sometimes a filmmaker has a good idea for a short, but has no real clue how to effectively pull it off. In Sequin, a sweet-natured child tries to befriend a purple-haired drag queen who’s an identical match the doll she’s clutching, but is harshly reprimanded by her homophobic guardian. Averi Israel’s film attempts to express how intolerance is learned behavior, but does so in a clumsy way. Still, the production design poured into the film is gorgeous, considering its sole setting is a bus stop. And it’s only four minutes, so no real harm is done by watching it if you’ve bought a virtual pass. —RS

TAKING THE LONG ROAD HOME

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CRITIC’S PICK

“Jesus lived in a way that embodied Blackness and queerness,” the Reverend Naomi Washington-Leapheart says at the start of Taking the Long Road Home, a provocative and perfectly realized cold open. Qiydaar Foster was motivated to make this documentary short in the early lockdown phase of the pandemic after he lost his grandmother and caught himself repeatedly stooping to prayer for the first time in years. Foster, who grew up in Queens going to church “all the time” on account of his godfather being a pastor, had given up on the church and all its homophobic rhetoric as well as religious rituals “for my own sanity” at the age of 16. Just as he began contemplating “whether there was any room in the Black church of today for a queer Afro-Latino like me,” PFLAG National contacted him about making a film along similar lines. The result, timed in part to coincide with this year’s 50th anniversary of the organization, is an incredibly moving, positively inspirational documentary that profiles a half-dozen Black spiritual leaders, all deserving of the limelight, from across the LGBTQ spectrum. The pastors are incredibly frank and eloquent in sharing their queer and faith journeys and exploring various related issues in depth. Foster remarkably pulls off the trick of paring it all down to a concisely packed 35 minutes. Chances are, you’ll feel compelled to watch it again. –DR

THE FUNNEL

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Charlene Carruthers’ short film packs a lot of ideas into its short runtime. Trina, a Black woman living in Chicago’s Southside, falls asleep while writing poetry and wakes up to find she’s reliving the experiences of a queer ancestor in the same building. Touching on generational housing inequity, systemic racism, and those ancestors and relatives with “friends” rather than lovers, there’s a lot more to be said than The Funnel can fully convey — but with what’s here is certainly compelling. —RM

The Girl Behind the Mirror

THE GIRL BEHIND THE MIRROR

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CRITIC’S PICK

This fetching, brightly-hued animated film by Brazilian director Iuri Moreno is filled with whimsey, wonder, and visual vibrance. It’s a tale of transformation, as a young boy embraces his authentic self and transforms from a sad, frightened boy into a confident, happy girl in the most lovely way possible. He’s aided by the girl in the mirror — Helena — who takes him on a journey of self-expression and self-acceptance. The animation is joyful, the message, profound, and the ultimate conclusion, sweetly satisfying. A gem. —RS

THE LOVE

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In this 13-minute short, Venezuelan director Camilo Pineda asks how far we would (or should) go for the ones we love. Pineda introduces us to a trans man named AndrΓ©s, who receives shocking news and must decide whether he is willing to compromise his own self as a result. Much of the first half of the film is dedicated to erotic scenes exploring AndrΓ©s’ desire for his lover Lucia. Soon though, his idyll is interrupted by news that his mother has received a terminal diagnosis. AndrΓ©s openly wonders whether he is somehow responsible, and is shaken by his mother’s desire for him to pause his transition. For his mother’s sake and with Lucia’s help, AndrΓ©s adopts a feminine presentation and prepares for an emotionally devastating video call. Andrea RodrΓ­guez portrays AndrΓ©s’ complicated and fraught emotions with grace and sympathy, going a long way towards making The Love a thought-provoking and emotionally taxing short film. —Sean Maunier

THE MAN OF MY DREAMS

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A beautifully poetic short about queer love and longing, filled with captivating imagery as two lovers dance and delight their way across a city at night, reveling in one another’s company and embrace. Writer-director Tristan Scott-Behrends’ script ruminates on beauty and desire as leads Henry Bae and Dj Reed revel in their gorgeously queer romance. —RM

TOGETHER APART

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A trippy, animated short about the after-effects of a brutal homophobic attack, in which one half of a couple literally falls to pieces while reliving the trauma of that day. David Amberg’s unpacks a lot in six minutes, handling a sensitive topic in surprising ways — not least an escaped eyeball doing everything possible to cause havoc at breakfast. —RM

Read our interview with Reel Affirmations Executive Director Kimberley Bush here.

Read our feature: 20 Gay Short Films Everyone Should See

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