Film historian B. Ruby Rich credits the 1992 Sundance Film Festival as the cradle of New Queer Cinema, and a quick survey of this year’s festival lineup confirms that LGBT films stand an excellent chance of attracting audiences. Lesbian filmmaker Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” is one of the most talked about films of the year, trans director Yance Ford’s deeply personal “Strong Island” has been years in the making, and we may have the British “Brokeback Mountain” (but better) with Francis Lee’s “God’s Own Country.”
Perusing the slate of queer films, filmmakers, and performers at Sundance this year, 2017 is set to be the best year queer cinema has seen in a long time. Here’s 10 reasons why:
Dee Rees is About to Become the Most Successful Black Lesbian Director in Hollywood
Queer audiences have known Dee Rees since 2011, when she made an impressive debut with “Pariah,” a restrained coming-of-age film about a masculine-leaning African-American teen exploring her sexuality. Rees also racked up four Emmys, including Outstanding TV Movie, for her HBO film “Bessie,” starring Queen Latifah as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. For her latest work, Rees takes on race relations in the post-WWII South in “Mudbound.” Starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, and a career redefining turn from none other than Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound” is the kind of sweeping American tale that appeals to awards-season voters and is poised to make Rees the most successful black lesbian director Hollywood has ever seen.
Luca Guadagnino’s European Flair
As the most influential U.S. film festival, Sundance is known for prioritizing American directors, many of whom lack the stylistic abandon that often characterizes European filmmakers. For his third narrative feature, the gay teen romance gets an auteur’s treatment in “Call Me By Your Name.” Italian director Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash”) applies his lush aesthetic to a summer romance between two unexpected lovers in 1983 Northern Italy.
Isolation and Consummation in “God’s Own Country”
The rolling hills of Yorskhire provide a stunning backdrop for Francis Lee’s debut feature, “God’s Own Country.” Repressing his own aspirations and desires, 24-year-old Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) toils to keep his family farm afloat, numbing himself nightly to his bleak reality at the local pub. When the family enlists a handsome Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) to help with lambing season, whose gentle hands can breathe life into a stillborn runt, Johnny learns there is more to life.
Courtesy of Sundance
Yance Ford’s Tour de Force
In the tradition of “My Architect” (Nathaniel Kahn) and “Stories We Tell” (Sarah Polley), trans filmmaker Yance Ford opens the wounds of his own family tragedy in “Strong Island,” a stunning magnum opus about the 1992 murder of his 24-year-old brother. Tracing his family’s journey from the Jim Crow South to the illusory safety of a predominantly black Long Island suburb, Ford attempts to make sense of his transformative loss through unembellished interviews and reading his brother’s diary. After years producing documentaries at POV, “Strong Island” is the kind of film that could only be made by someone with an intimate knowledge of the genre.
Craig Johnson Adapts Daniel Clowes’ “Wilson”
Out gay director Craig Johnson made a splash at Sundance in 2014 with “The Skeleton Twins,” an offbeat comedy about siblings in crisis that introduced Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as capable dramatic actors. Three years later, he returns to Park City with another broken family comedy, this time starring Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern. Adapted from the eponymous graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World”), whose kitschy aesthetic and dirty-old-man characters have long enthralled queer readers, “Wilson” announces Johnson’s definitive arrival with John Waters-like panache.
Around The World in 80 Gays
It’s not quite 80, but queer stories abound in Sundance’s international lineup. In “The Wound,” which proves both literal and metaphorical, South African director John Trengrove uses the lens of adult circumcision in a small mountain community to challenge narrow depictions of African masculinity. A precocious teenage girl becomes obsessed with an older woman in the Berlin-set “Axolotl Overkill,” the stylish debut from young German novelist Helene Hegemann. The last two speakers of an ancient indigenous language must confront a childhood secret in Mexican director Ernesto Contreras’ “I Dream In Another Language.” All three films play in World Cinema Competition.
LGB and T Documentary Subjects
Two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple premieres her latest documentary in Park City with “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous,” a moving portrait of transgender YouTube star Gigi Gorgeous. YouTube Red’s first feature aims to align them with more highbrow competitor Netflix, and they are off to a good start by showcasing the radical self-acceptance that defines many YouTubers. In addition, two stories with themes of racial justice feature queer supporting characters: “Quest,” from Jonathan Olshefski, and “Whose Streets?,” from activists and filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis.
The Return of Rose Troche
One half of the directing duo behind “Go Fish,” the movie that changed the way independent films are bought and sold in 1994, Rose Troche returns to Sundance with a VR short inspired by the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. “If Not Love” is a deeply disturbing dive inside the mind of a repressed Christian man whose internalized homophobia erupts in a deadly mass shooting, and a seasoned filmmaker’s bold experiment with craft.
Courtesy of Sundance
The Arrival of Bridget Everett
Bridget Everett is nothing short of legendary to fans of New York’s robust cabaret scene, which is populated by alternative personalities of all predilections and attended by the city’s classiest queers. Whether she’s grinding panty-less on the lap of New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio, motor-boating an innocent baby queen, or closing out each season of “Inside Amy Schumer,” Everett has long been an ally and icon to gay audiences. Sundance viewers will soon be treated to Everett’s unique talents when they see her in Geremy Jasper’s hotly anticipated “Patti Cake$” and opposite Toni Collette in “Fun Mom Dinner.” It’s about time this generation got its own Bette Midler.
Salute Our Shorts
The legacy of Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr.’s right-hand man and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, was largely forgotten by history because he was openly gay. Premiering in the Shorts section, Matt Wolf’s “Bayard and Me” reveals another side of Rustin (who died in 1987) through the eyes of his much younger boyfriend, Walter Naegle, whom Rustin adopted in the 1980s in order to legalize their partnership. And “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway’s “I Love Dick” will premiere in the episodic storytelling section, featuring out actor Roberta Colindrez as a cowboy casanova. Other queer series playing the festival are “Strangers,” from Jesse Peretz (“Girls”), Mia Lidofsky (“Tig”), and Celia Rowlson-Hall (“Ma”), and Anna Kerrigan’s “The Chances,” a comedy about two deaf best friends, one of whom is gay.