AFI Festival 2020 to feature several LGBTQ films

A Latino love story that spans decades; a documentary about Billy Tipton, the influential jazz musician who was revealed after his death to have been transgender; and the groundbreaking directorial debut from one of the pioneers of the New Queer Cinema are among the seven LGBTQ films that will be featured at the AFI Fest 2020.

The AFI Fest event is the American Film Institute’s annual film festival that celebrates artistic excellence.

The 34th annual AFI Festival will pivot to a virtual event and run from Thursday to October 22.

The festival also will showcase five queer shorts: “Child of the Land,” “In France Michelle Is a Man’s Name,” “A 1984 Period Piece Set in Present Day,” “Dustin,” and “Pillars.”

Tickets range from $8 to $15, and festival passes are $100 and $140.

Here’s a roundup of the LGBTQ feature films that will be screened at the AFI Festival.

“I Carry You with Me”

This Spanish drama tells the true story of an undocumented gay couple from Mexico who risk it all for love, freedom, and the American dream in New Yok City. Documentary filmmaker Heidi Ewing, making her feature film directorial debut,  follows the real-life men in present day and has two actors portray them during re-enactments when they were kids and when they met and fell in love.

“My Little Sister”

Berlin-born twin siblings Lisa (Nina Hoss) and Sven (Lars Eidinger) have a lifelong shared passion for theater. When Sven, who is gay and a celebrated actor, is diagnosed with leukemia, Lisa begins to dramatically re-evaluate her life. She focuses her attention on helping nurse Sven back to health and puts the other parts of her life on hold.

‘The Lavender Scare’ documentary shows gay witch hunt by US government

“No Ordinary Man”

This documentary by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt takes an in-depth look at the life of musician Billy Tipton, who was transgender. Raised in Kansas City, Kansas, Tipton began his career as a radio bandleader in 1936. He spent the next 15 years touring the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, and eventually shared the stage with many jazz greats. In 1957, the Billy Tipton Trio released two albums. Shortly thereafter, Tipton decided to start a family.

Tipton’s transgender identity might have remained secret, but was revealed when paramedics arrived to help Tipton during a health emergency in 1989. He died shortly thereafter. Tipton was 74.

“Sisters with Transistors”

Here is the untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers and composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies. “Sisters with Transistors” is director Lisa Rovner’s glorious homage to the women who helped shape electronic music and the contemporary soundscape, including Pauline Oliveros, the composer and accordionist who expanded the audience’s understanding and perception of sound. Laurie Anderson narrates the film. Oliveros, who identified as a lesbian, often said her work was inspired by and deeply committed to the women’s movement. In 1974, Oliveros, who died in 2016 at the age of 84, and Alison Knowles collaborated on “Beethoven Was a Lesbian.” That work addressed women’s outsider status in the music world.

’81 Words’ series from ‘Pose’ co-creator Steven Canals to explore queer history

“Uncle Frank”

Accompanied by Beth (Sophia Lillis), his teenage niece, Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), a gay literature professor who reluctantly returns home to South Carolina to attend his father’s funeral. Set in the 1970s, this comedy-drama from Alan Ball follows Frank who has fled his family and the South for the safety of teaching at NYU. He also has been living with his boyfriend many years. Of course, Frank’s family knows none of this and he has remained in the closet. Though the family does disapprove of him being “different.”

Uncle Frank movie

Paul Bettany, left, as Frank, Sophia Lillis, center, as Beth, and Peter Macdissi as Wally star in “Uncle Frank.”
Photo: Brownie Harris/Amazon Studios


In the 1980s and 90s, Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur (who was known then as Bob Tur) circled the Los Angeles skies in their own news helicopter and redefined “action” journalism, but at a huge personal cost. They were on the scene at some of the biggest news stories of the past 30 years, including witnessing an attempted murder during the Rodney King riots and being the first camera crew to find O.J. Simpson’s white Ford bronco cruising along an L.A. freeway. Tur, however, was a volatile person, and archival footage in the documentary shows his verbal abuse and cruelty toward Gerrard. The couple divorced in 2003, and 10 years later, Tur came out as transgender. “Whirlybird” is a complicated look at a part of Los Angeles’ journalism history.

“The Watermelon Woman”

Filmmaker-writer Cheryl Dunye made her directorial debut with this 1996 film. She was instantly placed among a group of transformational queer independent filmmakers in the 1990s and part of the movement known as New Queer Cinema. Dunye plays the lead character, Cheryl, an aspiring filmmaker and video store clerk. She embarks on a documentary project tracing the unwritten history of an unidentified Black actress spotted in a number of films from the 1930s and 40s. As Cheryl learns more about this mysterious “Watermelon Woman,” and as a budding romantic relationship with a white woman, Diana (Guinevere Turner), intensifies, Cheryl’s life begins to mirror the one she’s researching. This charming and engaging romance incorporates insights on politics, race, sexuality and history.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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