As the march toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in America advances at varying speeds, there remains a sense that the LGBT community can still be marginalized in the movies. That's what makes film festivals like Out Here Now so relevant to the LGBT communities and their staunch allies.
Out Here Now, Kansas City's 2014 LGBT Film Festival, kicked off modestly earlier this month with screenings of documentaries about Matthew Shepard and California's Proposition 8. Beginning June 26 through July 3, the festival launches a full week of foreign, independent and documentary films that tell stories that can be alternately funny and sad and ultimately human.
Here are four films that shouldn't be missed:
Among the stronger fictional films is director/writer Hong Khaou's Lilting, starring Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, I'm Not There) as Richard, a British gay man grieving the accidental death of Kai (Andrew Leung), his multi-national boyfriend of Chinese, Cambodian, and French descent. As devastated as Richard is, he remains committed to staying connected to Kai's widowed mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), who lived with them for awhile unaware they weren't just roommates yet jealous of their ambiguous bond.
The film is remarkable for the memorably stark performances and the ease with which its chronologically jumbled narrative is effortless to follow (not always the case with movies that jump back and forth and back again in time). Essential to Richard's and Junn's healing process is Vann (Naomi Christie), a young woman he hires as a translator and, by proxy, a sympathetic facilitator to breaking both parties' emotional walls.
The Way He Looks
Two teenage boys — one probably gay, one definitely not — figure at the center of a pair of foreign entries. The Way He Looks is a sweet but never cloying coming-of-age and age-of-coming-out film from Brazil. Leo (a touching Ghilherme Lobo) is a high-school kid who may be in the throes of first love with a new classmate named Gabriel (Fabio Audi), who becomes the only male peer of Leo's who doesn't bully and torment him because he happens to be blind. Like any adolescence across any sexual orientation, there are misinterpreted clues, like a first kiss fueled by alcohol, and the seductive whiff of teen spirit left on a hoodie. The movie is an honest depiction of that time of life when nothing is set in stone, most things are confusing, and everything is possible.
My Straight Son
My Straight Son is the first film from Venezuela to win Spain's Goya Award for Best Latin American Film. It chronicles the strained reunion of a gay male photographer and his 15-year-old son, the unplanned but welcome result of a youthful dalliance with the boy's mother. Though it's not completely successful at navigating its jagged shifts in tone (a gay bashing in one section, a tango event in a later one), the movie is populated with such colorful characters as a transgender choreographer that it wears the influence of Pedro Almodóvar proudly.
To Be Takei
Even viewers who've never seen one episode of the Star Trek series will be entertained by the documentary To Be Takei thanks to its savvy and charming subject, Japanese-American actor George Takei. In addition to extensive discussion (and deconstruction) of his work as Sulu on that show, there are numerous film clips of his earliest acting work - largely stereotypical roles performed with faux Asian inflections which he looks back on with disgust. He was able to reclaim his dignity with less ethnically-regressive roles in such series as Mission:Impossible and, eventually, the show that cemented that he would be appearing at Comic-Con conventions for as long as he was able.
Perhaps more substantive, though, is his journey from a child living in an internment camp with his siblings and parents following Pearl Harbor to closeted Hollywood actor to outspoken gay rights activist and proud husband to Brad Takei nee Altman, who's been in his life for 25 years. And then there's that laugh, one of the warmest and best antidotes to any of the pain in his past.
Out Here Now: The 2014 Kansas City LGBT Film Festival, June 26-July 3, Tivoli Cinema, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, MO, 816-200-2059 or firstname.lastname@example.org.