7. “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”
Director: David France
Release date: Fall, 2017
As the number of tragic murders of black trans women continues to rise, David France’s documentary about transgender rights activist Marsha P. Johnson is an invaluable record of queer history. Legend has it that Marsha threw the first brick at the historic Stonewall uprising, now commemorated every year during Pride celebrations around the country. She was a transgender woman before the language was established, using both she and he pronouns. The film tells the story of her activism through the lens of her mysterious death, which was ruled a suicide by the NYPD although those her knew her suspect foul play. France saved precious archival footage from the trash bin, sending researchers around the country to uncover never-before-seen film of Marsha and her comrades. Following the activist Victoria Cruz as she attempts to uncover the truth behind Marsha’s cruel fate even while her organization is barraged with fresh tragedies, this film is couldn’t be more urgent.
8. “After Louie”
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Director: Vincent Gagliostro
Alan Cumming plays a troubled artist stuck in the past in this moving drama from Vincent Gagliostro. An artist and activist himself, Gagliostro based Cumming’s character on himself, which is what makes the film so vulnerable. Through the May/December relationship between Max and Braeden (Zachary Booth), Gagliostro explores the juicy territory of intergenerational bitterness and reverence in the gay community. The AIDS epidemic remains fresh in Max’s mind, while Braeden is happy to sleep around town with hardly a care in the world. Questions of aging, activism, sexuality, and queer history abound in this ambitious work from a vital gay voice.
9. “Susanne Bartsch: On Top”
Renowned gay nightlife impresario Susanne Bartsch gets a fittingly fabulous tribute in this documentary from filmmaking duo Anthony&Alex. For decades, Bartsch has ruled New York’s club scene with a latex-clad fist, bringing the closest approximation of Studio 54 realness that remains in this rapidly changing city. Through interviews with RuPaul, Michael Musto, Amanda Lepore, and archival footage from her wedding to gym steward David Barton, the film goes behind the scenes with the fabled figure. Through sheer force of will, the filmmakers gained unparalleled access to Bartsch’s world, revealing how she has managed to stay “Susanne Bartsch: On Top.”
10. “Beach Rats”
Courtesy of Sundance
Director: Eliza Hittman
Release Date: August 25th
Following her debut feature, “It Felt Like Love,” which concerned a young girl’s sexual exploration, Sundance regular Eliza Hittman applies the same urgent intimacy to a teenage boy’s bodily yearnings in her impressive sophomore effort. Hailing from Brooklyn, Hittman is known for casting a wide net when searching for actors, imbuing her films with the kind of bristling authenticity for which her hometown is known. With a star-turn performance by newcomer Harris Dickinson, “Beach Rats” fulfills the promise of “It Felt Like Love,” and then some.
11. “Bayard and Me” (Short film)
Director: Matt Wolf
Distributor: Super Deluxe
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. For a comprehensive history of Rustin’s legacy, be sure to watch 2003 documentary by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer, “Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin.” This year, Matt Wolf’s “Bayard and Me” reveals another side of Rustin (who died in 1987). The moving short is told through the eyes of Rustin’s much younger boyfriend, Walter Naegle, whom Rustin adopted in the 1980s in order to legalize their partnership. It’s a beautiful love letter to this seminal figure, and a compelling reminder of the hard-earned rights LGBTQ people enjoy today.