AFI Fest 2023: Here are the LGBTQ films you need to see

Going Varsity in Mariachi will play at AFI Fest 2023

“Going Varsity in Mariachi” is one of the films with LGBTQ themes that will screen at AFI Fest 2023 in Hollywood. Photo: Provided by AFI Fest.

AFI Fest, in its 37th year, will launch Wednesday in Hollywood with a lineup of LGBTQ movies.

The five-day festival will open with the world premiere of Sam Esmail’s “Leave the World Behind” and close with Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro.”

But between those films are several LGBTQ movies and some shorts.

AFI Fest 2023 will also present panels and conversations, featuring both master filmmakers and new cinematic voices.

Here’s a rundown of the queer feature films.

20,000 Species of Bees” (“20,000 Especies de Abejas”)
In this sun-soaked, sublimely sensitive debut, an 8-year-old experiences a gender identity crisis during a summer vacation in Basque Country, where three generations of women in her family reside together.

All of Us Strangers AFI Fest 2023

Andrew Scott, left, and Paul Mescal star in “All of Us Strangers,” which will screen at AFI Fest 2023. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures.

All of Us Strangers
The latest from director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years,” “Weekend”), who identifies as gay, is eagerly  anticipated. It’s a metaphysical ghost story that explores love, loss, and memory. The film follows Adam, a gay man (played by Andrew Scott, who also is gay) in London who, after having a chance encounter with his neighbor, develops a relationship with him. At the same time, Adam visits his childhood home and meets with the ghosts of his dead parents, who appear to be living in the house as they were the day they died 30 years ago.

Going Varsity in Mariachi
In south Texas, Edinburg North High School’s prized mariachi team prepares to compete against their rivals, equipped with a mix of determined seniors and rookie musicians in this spirited documentary. One of the student musicians is a lesbian and discusses her sexuality in interviews, describing what it’s like having a lesbian relationship in a conservative community.

Orlando, My Political Biography” (“Orlando, Ma Biographie Politique”)

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando: A Biography,” director Paul B. Preciado, with 26 trans and non-binary people, constructs a manifold and beautiful image of transness, one that is both broadening and unifying, devastating and joyful.

The Summer with Carmen AFI Fest 2023

“The Summer with Carmen” will screen as part of AFI Fest 2023. Photo: Provided by AFI Fest

The Summer with Carmen” (“To Kalokairi tis Karmen”)
Best friends Demos and Nikitas spend the day on a queer nude beach soaking in the Greek summer sun as they brainstorm a script based on the lively events of last summer. 

The whirlwind romance between sex positive dancer Elena and soft-spoken sign language interpreter Dovyda unfolds as Elena attempts to understand Dovyda’s asexuality. The film is Lithuania’s Oscar submission for best international feature. 

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood
Tucked away in a forest in southern Estonia, a group of women gather seasonally in a communal smoke sauna. Their traditional practice offers a look into the healing powers of solidarity and sisterhood. The documentary is Estonia’s Oscar submission for best international feature.

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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