By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 15, 2014 at 3:28PM
Since the Sundance Film Festival's inception 30 years ago, the vast majority of the best American independent films by and/or about queer people have screened at Sundance, including "The Times of Harvey Milk," "Longtime Companion," "Poison," "The Living End," "Swoon," "Paris is Burning," "Go Fish," "High Art," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "The Kids Are All Right," "Pariah," "How To Survive a Plague," "Keep The Lights On" and -- last year alone -- "Kill Your Darlings," "Concussion," "Interior. Leather Bar," "C.O.G." and "Pit Stop" (and we could truly go on and on and on).
This year's festival -- which kicks of tomorrow -- is primed to add a few more films to that list. Of the 115 feature films screening at Sundance, at least 15 of them feature prominent queer content and characters. Those are ratios that would please Kinsey, and collectively these films should end up becoming a sizeable portion of LGBT film festival programming for the next year (though Berlin and SXSW are likely to add a few more options in the next couple of months).
So what exactly are we going
to see that emerge in the next 11 days? From George Takei to Bill Hader to the case against Prop 8 to a gay ghost, here's 14 queer-oriented feature films screening at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. And that's not even including a half dozen queer short films, or "Stranger By The Lake" -- the erotic French thriller that premiered at Cannes last year, or the latest from queer cinema icon Gregg Araki (who directed the aforementioned "The Living End," among many other Sundance highlights), who is coming back to Park City with the not-so-queer (at least literally) "White Bird in a Blizzard." Should make for a gay old time in Utah, to say the very least.
52 Tuesdays (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenplay and story by: Matthew Cormack, Story by: Sophie Hyde
The gist: This Australian film -- which Sundance calls "an emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility, and transformation" follows a sixteen year old coming to accept her mother's unexpected plans for gender transition, which limits their time together to Tuesdays. Interestingly enough, the film itself was actually filmed over the course of a year—once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays.
Appropriate Behavior (NEXT)
Director and screenwriter: Desiree Akhavan
The gist: Desiree Akhavan is being primed to be a major breakout of Sundance, writing, directing and starring in "Appropriate Behavior," a comedy about a young woman (Akhavan) struggling to become a tall order of a trio: An ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip, young Brooklynite. "This is a fantastic debut feature by her," Sundance programmer Kim Yutani told me. "Her comedy and style is so unique. I really feel like this a big moment for her to be discovered."
Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White)
The gist: A behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage, this documentary was shot over five years and follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yutani called it "very moving," offering a "unique beyhind the scenes look at what they went through."
Director and screenwriter: Sydney Freeland
The gist: Following three young Native American -- a rebellious father-to-be, a devout Christian woman, and a promiscuous transsexual -- "Drunktown's Finest" is a coming of age drama from first time feature filmmaker Sydney Freeland. Yutani said that the "the heart and soul of this film lies in the native transsexual character."
The Foxy Merkins (NEXT)
Director: Madeleine Olnek, Screenwriters: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Madeleine Olnek
The gist: Madeleine Olnek follows up 2011 Sundance highlight "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same" with this tale of two lesbian prostitutes who work the streets of New York. One is a down-on-her-luck newbie; the other is a beautiful—and straight—grifter who's an expert on picking up women. Sundance notes that they "face bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservative women, and each other in this prostitute buddy comedy." Sounds like "Concussion" meets "The Heat," aka consider us sold.
I Love Your Work (New Frontier)
Artist: Jonathan Harris
The gist: The New Frontier program -- which showcases media installations, multimedia performances, transmedia experiences, panel discussions, among other things -- is presenting Jonathan Harris's "I Love Your Work" this year. An interactive documentary about the private lives of nine women who make lesbian porn, it impressively consists of more than two thousand 10-second video clips, taken at five-minute intervals over 10 consecutive days—around six hours of footage.
Jamie Marks is Dead (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Director and screenwriter: Carter Smith
The gist: Genre is a big part of Sundance 2014, and it gets its own queer bent with Carter Smith's "Jamie Marks Is Dead." Starring Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Judy Greer, Madisen Beaty and Liv Tyler, it sure impressed Sundance programmer Kim Yutani. "This is a film I really love," she said. "It is a film where the gay character is a ghost, and it's poetic, atomospheric look at queer longing and connection that is beautifully told."
Lilting (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Director and screenwriter: Hong Khaou
The gist: Ben Whishaw stars in this film about a Chinese mother mourning the untimely death of her son who is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger (Whishaw) who doesn't speak her language. Sundance calls it "a touching and intimate film about finding the things that bring us together," and one that could mark a breakout filmmaker in UK-based Hong Khaou.
Love is Strange (Premieres)
Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
The gist: Two years after his gay relationship drama "Keep The Lights On" broke many a heart when it premiered at Sundance, Ira Sachs is back with "Love Is Strange." Starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple who -- after 39 years together -- finally tie the knot, it deals less with their relationship troubles than their financial ones (though clearly that sometimes goes hand in hand). When one groom loses his job as a result of their marriage, and the newlyweds must sell their New York apartment and live apart, relying on friends and family to make ends meet. "I can't think of any film where I've seen an older gay couple having financial difficulty and living in New York," said Yutani. "There's something very insightful about this film, and also something very optimistic."
My Prairie Home (World Cinema Documentary Competition)
Director: Chelsea McMullan
The gist: Canadian filmmaker Chelsea McMullan takes us on a journey through landscapes both real and emotional in this documentary/musical about transgender singer Rae Spoon. Framed by stunning images of the Canadian prairies, Sundance says McMullan's "imaginative visual interpretations of Spoon’s songs" make this an "unforgettable look at a unique Canadian artist."
The Overnighters (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Director: Jesse Moss
The gist: Yutani warns it's best left unsaid why this film falls into the queer content category, but also made it quite clear it's destined to be a highlight in that regard. So let's just leave this documentary at its Sundance description and you can make your best guess: "Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor's decision to help them has extraordinary and unexpected consequences."
The Skeleton Twins (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriters: Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman
The gist: Bill Hader as Kristen Wiig's gay twin? That's right, "The Skeleton Twins" follows estranged twins Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) who both feel that they’re at the end of their ropes until unexpected reunion forces them to confront why their lives went so wrong. Yutani says the film is far more dramatic and melancholic from what were used to from the "SNL" alums, and more over "shows the range of queer characters that Bill Hader is capable of" (aka, don't expect Stefon).
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (New Frontier Films)
Director: Thomas Allen Harris, Screenwriters: Thomas Allen Harris, Don Perry, Paul Carter Harrison
The gist: Another New Frontiers film finds Thomas Allen Harris exploring how African American communities have used the camera as a tool for social change from the invention of photography to the present. Clearly epic in scale, Sundance says the film "poetically moves between the present and the past, through contemporary photographers and artists whose images and stories seek to reconcile legacies of pride and shame while giving voice to images long suppressed, forgotten, and hidden from sight." Openly queer Harris is no stranger to Sundance. His 2001 doc "É Minha Cara/That’s My Face" -- a queer mythopoetic journey through the African Diaspora -- was at he festival in 2001.
To Be Takei (Documentary Premieres)
Director: Jennifer Kroot
The gist: And we leave things off with none other than George Takei. Over seven decades, the actor and activist has journeyed from a World War II internment camp to the helm of the Starship Enterprise, and then to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. The film takes us on a "wacky and profound" journey with George and his husband, Brad, as they search for life, liberty, and love. And we couldn't be more excited to join them.
"Que(e)ries" is a column by Indiewire Senior Writer Peter Knegt. Follow him on Twitter.