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What to See at ReelQ, Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Film Festival

Thursday Oct 12, 2017
What to See at ReelQ, Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Film Festival

ReelQ, Pittsburgh's LGBTQ film festival, returns for its 32nd edition on October 13 for a nine-day celebration of the best in queer cinema. Its diverse programming opens on October 13 with two films: the cross-cultural drama "Signature Moves" and the biopic "Tom of Finland," which chronicles the life of the iconic gay artist.

"We have a real mixture of films running so there is something for everyone," said Mitchell Leib, president and programming director of the Pittsburgh Lesbian and Gay Film Society, which presents the festival, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week.

Amongst the films to be screened include the highly praised British drama "God's Own Country," which has been favorably compared to "Brokeback Mountain"; the acclaimed documentary "Chavela," about the gun-toting, hard-drinking lesbian singer from Mexico; "The Untold Tales Of Armistead Maupin," a documentary about the San Francisco-based writer; and "Like Foam," a sexy, ensemble rom-com about a sex party at a luxurious villa.

The festival closes with "Cherry Pop" on October 21, a raucous comedy about a night in the life of a drag club that features numerous alumni from "RuPaul's Drag Race."

For more information visit the film festival's website.

"Signature Move"
October 13, 2017, 7:00 p.m.

Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza), a closeted Muslim Pakistani lawyer, has allowed her widowed mother (Shabana Azmi) to move into her Chicago home with her. But as an obedient daughter, she feels she must hide her love for women, as well as her training in Mexican-style wrestling.

It's not long before she begins to chafe at her mother's incessant quest to find her a proper husband. That pressure intensifies when she meets a beautiful, free-spirited Latina (Sari Sanchez of television's "Empire"), who's more experienced at love and living life out, loud and proud.

As their casual affair progresses to a more serious relationship, the two are confronted with their cultural differences and challenged to find a middle ground.

While the film never takes itself too seriously, it does shine a light on the love between multi-dimensional Middle Eastern and Latina characters -- something queer audiences rarely see. Referring to a style of Mexican wrestling characterized by colorful masks and rapid maneuvers, "Signature Move" is an honest and funny look at modern romance, as well as a testament to female empowerment.

"Tom Of Finland"
October 13, 2017, 9:30pm, p.m.

The '50s in America was an age of conformity and life in the closet. With laws against homosexuality, members of the LGBT community feared arrest as well as the loss of their jobs and families.

In spite of that -- or perhaps because of that -- while gay porn was still illegal, the fetishistic art of "Tom of Finland" exploded in popularity. Sales were booming, even though these works had to be bought surreptitiously under the counter. These pieces brought a queer fantasy world to life, which included muscle-bound bikers, cops, and leathermen whose endowments were too massive to be contained by tight uniforms.

The one place Touko finds refuge from his homophobic home town of Helsinki is with his art. Once his work is published in America, he begins signing it as Tom of Finland. Still closeted at home, he becomes an international cult figure. Eventually his hypersexual drawings become a symbol of freedom and expression for generations of gay men.

Now the Finnish illustrator (aka Touko Laaksonen) is the subject of a beautifully filmed biopic, covering major events in his life including his wartime combat, his brushes with the police for the crime of cruising, his love affair with a young male dancer, and his sudden rise to fame for his homoerotic art.

Spanning over five decades, Pekka Strang leaves a lasting impression as the artist surprised by the success of his secret illustrations. From a World War II soldier to an icon of the leather scene, "Tom of Finland" (directed by Dome Karukoski) is an uplifting story of a courageous man standing at the forefront of the emerging gay revolution.

"Princess Cyd"
Saturday, October 14, 12:00 p.m.

This intimate coming-of-age story (directed by Stephen Cone) follows two strong-willed (and polar-opposite) women. 16-year-old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) and her Aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spencer) spend a summer's visit together. By the end both will have learned more about themselves as they travel on different paths of self-discovery

After one too many fights with her depressed father, Cyd is forced to spend two weeks of her summer vacation at her aunt's home in the suburbs of Chicago. Since the pair haven't seen each other in ten years, neither is quite sure how to cope with the other. In fact, both niece and aunt are awkward and uncomfortable around each other.

Miranda, a famous author set in her ways, lets the teenager know that she's satisfied living a solitary life, with sex no longer a priority. Cyd, on the other hand, is anxious to begin exploring her sexuality.

Once Cyd meets Katie, a tough, tomboyish barista (Malic White) at a local coffee house, it's obvious both girls are attracted to each other. They soon begin a budding relationship, but at a party, Cyd makes out with the son of a lesbian couple, Miranda's best friend. The teen's journey realistically showcases the confusing nature of adolescence.

The two central female characters, Cyd and Miranda, are equally charming, awkward, and lost. By summer's end, will one reclaim her well-ordered life and will the other finally take charge of hers?

"Saturday Church"
Saturday, October 14, 2:30 p.m.

Life is not easy for Ulysses (Luka Kain), who is a shy teen struggling with gender identity and being bullied at school. After the unexpected death of his father, his home life becomes difficult as well when his strict, religious Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor) arrives to take charge of the family. Rose won't tolerate disobedience and certainly not crossdressing, after she discovers Ulysses trying on his mother's stockings and red high heels.

Fortunately, Ulysses finds sanctuary on the piers of New York's West Village when he meets a trio of transgender women: Ebony (Mj Rodriguez), Dijon (Indya Moore), and Heaven (Alexia Garcia). This queer "family" includes the sensitive -- and cute -- Raymond (Marquis Rodriguez), who eyes Ulysses with appreciation. Saturday Church is the drop-in center they frequent, an inclusive gathering space, which also hosts the fiercest voguing event in town.

As Ulysses' life begins to change, the tone of "Saturday Church" (directed by Damon Cardasis) transforms as well. While embracing his newfound identity, he will have to confront the closed-mindedness of his family at home.

Compared to a cross between "Moonlight" and "La La Land," "Saturday Church" is a queer coming-of-age story that celebrates the Trans community of color.

"A Million Happy Nows"
Saturday, October 14, 5 p.m.

To the surprise of soap opera fans, longtime star Lainey Allen (Crystal Chappell) has retired to her California beach house at a relatively young age. Sure, up-and-coming actors are getting bigger parts, but could there be other reasons for her decision?

It's not long before her younger partner Eva (Jessica Leccia) realizes something's not quite right. A medical diagnosis confirms it: Lainey is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Even though there is no doubt about the eventual outcome, the journey these two women take is beautifully told.

Chappell and Leccia have great chemistry, not surprising since the real-life actors have starred in several soaps -- Chappell in "Days of Our Lives," Leccia in "One Life to Live," and together as a lesbian couple on "Guiding Light."

"A Million Happy Nows" (directed by Albert Alarr) is a heartfelt story about losing old memories and creating new ones. You won't weep just for the loss of the loved one, but also for the one left behind.

"B&B"
Saturday, October 14, 9 p.m.

An arrogant queer guest staying at a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere, which is owned by a homophobic "Christian," is not exactly the recipe for a peaceful weekend. Combine the owner's sexually confused son, the activist's good-looking husband, and a menacing foreigner and you have the ingredients for a Hitchcockian tale of suspense, which leads to murder.

To celebrate winning their court case against Josh (Paul McGann), the owner of St. Jude B&B, husbands Marc (Tom Bateman) and Fred (Sean Teale) have returned for a weekend at the guesthouse. However, what begins as a battle of wits with Josh takes a darker turn after his teenage son Paul (Callum Woodhouse) surprises Fred with his passion. Rebuffed, Paul turns his focus on the Russian guest (James Tratas), a silent, muscular leatherman. Tension builds to a deadly encounter at a local cruising spot, and it's not the outcome you'd expect.

Winner of "Best LGBT Feature" at the 2016 London Independent Film Festival, "B&B" (directed by Joe Ahearne) is a twisty thriller that keeps you guessing, leaving you on the edge of your seat.

"Heartstone"
Sunday, October 15, 12:00 p.m.

Set against the brooding backdrop of a remote fishing village in Iceland, "Heartstone" (directed by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson) focuses on teens Christian (Blaer Hinriksson) and Thor (Baldur Einarsson), best friends with difficult home lives. Christian's alcoholic father is abusive; Thor's single mother often leaves him in the custody of his two bullying older sisters.

During one turbulent summer, one tries to win the heart of a local girl while the other discovers latent feelings toward his best friend. The interactions between the boys soon blur the line between homoerotic play fighting and an acknowledged attraction.

Grounded by two outstanding performances by the young leads, "Heartstone" offers an understated glimpse into the awkward, often painful promise of youth -- a tale both fresh and universal.

Guðmundsson's feature debut is a beautifully rendered and sensitive story of how the two boys deal with the realities of growing up in a small town and the possibility that the burgeoning feelings of one friend may be unwittingly requited by the other. When summer ends, their friendship will have been irrevocably changed.

Chavela
Sunday. October 15. 5:00pm

"Chavela" (directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi) is an engrossing portrait of Chavela Vargas, the gun-toting, hard-drinking lesbian singer whose renditions of soulful Mexican ranchera songs make even the coldest hearts melt.

The documentary explores Vargas's life from her birth in Costa Rica to her rise and fall and ultimate triumph as a singer in her adopted homeland of Mexico. Although beloved, her refusal to conform to female gender norms cost her dearly.

Making this story more compelling is that Vargas was just as famous for her appetite for beautiful women and tequila, both of which she consumed in large quantities.

Using interviews with former lovers and archival footage of performances and interviews with Vargas herself, "Chavela" portrays a complicated woman, whose voice captured heartbreak and defiance and whose performances packed an emotional wallop. The documentary also reveals her struggles with alcoholism; Vargas's heavy drinking often left her unreliable, directly affecting the trajectory of her career.

Although she never openly discussed her homosexuality until she came out publicly at the age of 81, Vargas made no attempt to hide her sexuality along the way. The many clips of her performances throughout her career capture the essence of why this legendary singer was so adored. To her loyal underground fans, and now the world, she was - and remains - a star.

"The Untold Tales Of Armistead Maupin"
October 15, 7:30 p.m.

"The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin" (directed by Jennifer Kroot) is a celebration of one of San Francisco's most beloved figures. Discussed topics range from Maupin's conservative upbringing in North Carolina to the sexual freedom of San Francisco in the '70s, where Maupin captured the rapidly changing socio-political scene in his Tales of the City newspaper column.

Maupin recounts personal stories such as how he worked for the homophobic politician Jesse Helms, remained a virgin through most of his 20s, and made up for lost time in his 30s with numerous sexual encounters, including one with closeted Hollywood hunk, Rock Hudson.

His columns eventually became the "Tales of the City" novels, which shared San Francisco's free-spirited sensation with the world. The novels also touched upon darker subjects, including the onslaught of AIDS, which decimated the city's LGBT community.

Maupin notes that all of his novels' main characters (Mary Anne, Mouse, Mona, Mrs. Madrigal) are autobiographical "in one way or another," and the documentary shows him to be as funny and endearing as each of these ladies.

While the documentary takes a pretty straightforward approach to Maupin's life, it does include fun clips from the TV episodes of his "Tales," as well as Q&A sessions with enraptured audiences. Also in the film sharing their own Maupin tales are his more famous fans including Sir Ian McKellen, Margaret Cho, author Amy Tan, Olympia Dukakis, and Laura Linney, share their own Maupin tales.

As effervescent as his writing, this documentary is as much about Maupin's life as it is a love letter to the City by the Bay.

"Sisterhood"
Thursday, October 19, 7:30 p.m.

The past is always with us. But revisiting the past doesn't always bring about insight and healing. "Sisterhood" focuses on one woman's return to her past life to make sense of a friendship and to discover the truth about why that relationship ended.

When Sei (Gigi Leung), an innkeeper in Taiwan, learns about the death of her ex-best friend Ling, she revisits Macau for the first time in nearly 20 years to reconnect with her past.

The flashbacks relive the friendship between the teenage Sei (Fish Liew) and Ling (Jennifer Yu), an older woman at work. Sei reminisces about the home they built together and raising Ling's son. However, the friendship ends after a fight during a New Year's Eve party, in which the pair never speak to each other again.

While searching for Ling's son, Sei finds Macau so completely transformed that she no longer recognizes her hometown. Gradually, she pieces together the truth behind their relationship and its break-up, even though the past can never quite be reclaimed.

While the intimacy between the two young women can be interpreted in several ways, Tracy Choi's "Sisterhood" is a beautiful portrait of female friendship and love in a homophobic environment.

"God's Own Country"
Friday, October 20, 2017, 9:30 p.m.

Dubbed "Best Film" at the Edinburgh, Frameline San Francisco, and Berlin international film festivals, Francis Lee's debut feature tells the story of a hard-drinking Yorkshire lad whose tedious life is changed forever when a handsome, migrant worker arrives.

Preferring the pub to his grueling work on the family farm, 24-year-old Johnny (Josh O'Connor) numbs his frustration by binge drinking and having impersonal sex with young strangers in toilet stalls or the back of his van.

As lambing season approaches, a skilled Romanian worker (Alec Secareanu) is hired. When Johnny is forced to camp with him for several nights near the flock, the pair become physically intimate. Unlike Johnny's quick encounters, the older man slowly takes control of their lovemaking, showing Johnny more affection than he's ever known before.

Much of the credit for the movie's success is due to the intense chemistry between the two male leads. Their nudity is casual and natural, and yet their love scenes are graphic and sizzling hot.

As the film progresses, the viewer is left wondering if these two men's budding romance can overcome such a harsh environment. "God's Own Country" is a haunting meditation on love and intimacy that offers hope.

"Like Foam"
Saturday, October 21, 2017, 12:00 p.m.

Par-tay! Gay, straight, bi, trans -- you're all welcome.

Milo (Carlo D'Ursi) seemed to have it all: he's handsome, rich, and has a hot boyfriend, Mario (Daniel Muriel). But that was over a decade ago, before his lover walked out on him. Now he's bitter and lonely after a serious accident confines him to a wheelchair.

Milo's best friend is determined to make Milo's birthday a special one. However, when his trans girlfriend helps him throw a wild party for Milo, things get a bit out of control. Soon, Milo's mansion becomes the setting for an orgy, filled with a variety of naked and near-naked bodies. Never have the twosomes, threesomes, and moresomes been so sexy and so much fun. The party-goers include a gigolo, a trans drug dealer, cheating Latin lovers, and relationships in crisis. Sooner or later, everyone converges at the pool where a foam cannon delivers the film's title. Oh, and isn't that Milo's ex Mario over there?

Writer and Director Roberto Pérez Toledo brings a smart and witty script to this Spanish rom-com. Like Foam is about young people hoping to mend broken hearts and to find lasting relationships. It's a funny, emotional film where the cast is stripped bare in more ways than one.

"Sensitivity Training"
Saturday, October 21, 2:30 p.m.

Opposites attract, and you can't get any more opposite than acerbic Serena Wolfe (Anna Lise Phillips) and perky Caroline (Jill E. Alexander, of HBO's "Silicon Valley").

Microbiologist Serena Wolfe treats germs better than people and she would rather be right than liked. After one outburst too many, her employer delivers an ultimatum: adjust the attitude or update your resume.

Enter life coach Caroline, so sweet she could cause diabetic shock. She's ready for a challenge, but it will take a lot of instruction plus late-night glasses of wine to fine-tune Serena's attitude.

Once an unlikely friendship sparks between this mismatched duo, Serena begins to question her feelings for Caroline, who has a wife and a child. Is it friendship or something more?

Much of the appeal of writer/director Elissa Finell's debut feature is in the comedic chemistry between the two leads. Also charming are the witty one-liners and the deadpan comedic timing of Quinn Marcus, who plays Serena's beleaguered assistant. Overall, "Sensitivity Training" is a touching and funny film boosted by its strong cast and script.

"Center Of My World"
Saturday, October 21, 5:00 p.m.

In this sexy adaptation of a German young-adult bestseller (directed by Jakob Erwa), "Center of My World" explores a teenager's first love -- and lust -- while exposing long-hidden family secrets.

Raised by a free-spirited single mother, Phil (Louis Hoffman) is an out 17-year-old who is growing up in a small German town with his twin sister. When the school year starts, a handsome newcomer, Nicholas (Jannik Shümann), joins Phil's class. The pair's skyrocketing attraction is mutual, which finally combusts in the school showers.

Blinded by his infatuation, it never occurs to Phil that the object of his desire may be anything less than perfect. When he introduces Nicholas to his best friend Kat (Svenja Jung) she at first finds something "not quite right" about the good-looking athlete, but soon the three become inseparable. As the relationship between the two teens heats up, Phil's life at home begins to unravel.

With strong performances by the young cast, "Center of My World" is a dreamlike coming-of-age tale that is beautifully filmed with a sex-positive depiction of first love and lust. The good-looking cast members are all very convincing in their roles -- in and out of their clothes.

"Cherry Pop"
Saturday, October 21, 7:30 p.m.

Cherry Pop has seen better days. This shabby, small-town gay bar is home to a bevy of glittering - although somewhat disheveled -- drag queens who perform weekly. However, these queens typically outnumber the audience members.

The drama largely occurs backstage after Cherry Pop's aging and embittered headliner, Lady Zaza (Tempest Dujour), refuses to leave her dressing room. It's time for Zaza to take stock of her life, on and off the stage.

That leaves the other ladies dealing with problems of their own -- mainly the fact that they can't stand one another. What can you expect from a cast of back-stabbing divas?

Also featured is a cute newcomer (Lars Berge) who's hiding a huge secret while getting ready for his debut performance. When it's eventually exposed, all the drag queens will be shrieking.

With a large lineup that includes several of RuPaul's Drag Race alumni, "Cherry Pop" (directed by Assaud Yacoub) allows the queens play bitchier versions of their regular stage personas. Featured queens include Bob the Drag Queen, Detox, and even Latrice Royale, who are out of drag -- and out of sorts -- in the audience.

As Bob tells the befuddled audience, "Girl, I don't know how long this night has felt for y'all, but let me tell you, backstage this is one hell of a night." You'd better be strapped up, tucked in, and ready for your close-up!

For more information, including the complete schedule of films, visit the film festival's website.

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