Queering Sundance: What’s Gay At This Year’s Sundance Film Festival?

Over the next week, Evan Mulvihill will be reporting on the best gay-interest screenings, parties and panels at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (PS: Check in on our sister site, GayCities, if you’re going!)  This year, there are more than 200 feature films screening at the Sundance Film Festival—and that’s not even counting the shorts! Many address LGBT themes, are helmed by gay directors or feature out actors and actresses. One film getting a lot of advance notice, Ira Sachs’ Keep The Lights On (above) is drawing comparisons to last year’s critical hit Weekend: It also details a drug-fueled, sex-filled gay love story—though over the course of ten years, not 48 hours. In the documentary corner, David France’s How to Survive a Plague details the emergence of groundbreaking AIDS activism, while Love Free Or Die (left) follows the story of gay bishop Gene Robinson, whose ordination is still causing shockwaves through the Episcopal church. There’s a bunch of films with gay co-stars or queer undertones, from Young and Wild—lesbian director Marialy Rivas‘s look at a repressed young woman’s sexual evolution—to The Thing, an unconventional road-trip flick involving a transgender man’s journey to a strange roadside attraction. If there’s any justice, these and many other Sundance films will appear at your local moviehouse—or at least in your NetFlix queue. Are you eagerly awaiting one of these flicks or another Sundance selection? Unleash your inner Ebert in the comments.   Click through for a preview of some of the top gay-interest films coming to the Sundance Film Festival this year.  
Keep The Lights On The newest film from out director Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue, Married Life) chronicles the evolution of the dynamic relationship between gay filmmaker Erik and closeted lawyer Paul over the course of a decade. Even as the men try to define their connection, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries and to be true to himself.

How To Survive a Plague Faced with their own mortality, an improbable group of mostly HIV+ young men and women took on Washington and the medical establishment at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. How to Survive a Plague is the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation helped bring attention to an epidemic much of America was happy to ignore. Filmmaker David France brings much-deserved attention to these brave activists who, despite having no scientific training, infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With access to never-before-seen archival footage, he drops us into the middle of the controversial actions, heated meetings, heartbreaking failures and uplifting breakthroughs that defined these men and women.  
Love Free Or Die In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church—a move so unpopular he even wore a bulletproof vest to his consecration. Love Free follows him in the years that followed, as his home state of New Hampshire passed gay marriage, more out clergy were ordained and a rift formed within the church. With Robinson retiring in 2013, the film serves as a heartfelt homage to a true pioneer.  

Me @ The Zoo Love him or hate him, Chris Crocker was one of the first YouTube posters to command the nation’s attention. A queer vlogger from small-town Tennessee (and now a incipient porn star) Crocker uploaded homemade confessionals—including his infamous “Leave Britney Alone!” clip—that have been watched millions of times worldwide. With Me @ The Zoo (the name comes from the first clip ever uploaded on YouTube) directors Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch weave together web comments, response videos, and messages from Crocker fans and haters alike to bring us a surprisingly captivating portrait of a young man who may be a star, a fad, or a harbinger of what lies ahead.
The Thing In hopes that she and her trans boyfriend Tristan will reconnect, Zooey has planned an elaborate road trip to a mysterious roadside attraction (the titluar “Thing”) On the road, both Tristan and his fluffy grey cat, Steven, struggle to find places to comfortably pee, while Zooey learns hitting the open road doesn’t mean you’ve left your troubles behind.  Yes, The Thing highlights the specific experiences of one FTM (and his oddball companions) but trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst—who started the movie as his MFA thesis—manages to tell a story with universal appeal.

“Tampa” In this short film from director Kyle Henry, twenty-something Louis stops into the mall to grab lunch in the food court—and a quickie in the public restroom. He scouts for possible partners but lets imagination get the better of him: the bathroom’s clientele morph into fictional characters, historical figures and even world leaders. Louis is overwhelmed: Will his sexual savior ever materialize? FYI: “Tampa” is part of Fourplay, a compilation of four sexual adventurous shorts co-produced by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. (Each is named after the town it takes place in.) See the NSFW trailer here.
  “Dol/First Birthday” (short) Nick, a gay Korean-American living with his boyfriend in L.A. attends his nephew’s dol, a traditional Korean first birthday party, he finds himself yearning for a life just out of reach. “I made this film to come out to my parents,” says writer/director Andrew Ahn. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell them, to say the words, ‘I’m gay.’ So I cast my family in the film, but never told them that it was about a gay Korean-American man. The filmmaking process both distracted from and prepared me for the inevitable—that I would eventually have to show my parents the finished film.” That’s a pretty ballsy move—but we guess it’d be hard for his parents to flip out with cameras rolling, right?

Mosquita Y Mari Aurora Guerrero’s coming of age story focuses on the complexities of a budding friendship between high-school girls in L.A.’s Huntington Park. Yolanda is the perfect daughter and student, while Mari,  who’s just moved to town with her illegal-immigrant family, naturally feels like an outsider. After a rocky start on the first day of school, the girls form a deep connection—one that confuses them at times.  


My Best Day Lesbian repairwoman Megan must decide between the stability of her longtime girlfriend and the thrill of a new love,  While young Ray fends off bullies and organized sports to woo the girl he likes. Meanwhile, Karen is stuck working on the Fourth of July when a call from her long-lost father sets off a crazy chain of events that will change this small town forever. In this less-than-six-degrees comedy, writer/director Erin Greenwell  juggles multiple plotlines to serve up a sweet and and satirical slide of American pie.  

  Your Sister’s Sister A year after his brother Tom’s death, Jack (Mark Duplass) is still a mess. When Jack makes a scene at the memorial, his late brother’s ex-girlfriend Iris (Emily Blunt) offers her family cabin for him to find solace—and maybe some closure. Once there, however, he runs into Iris’ sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), a lesbian reeling from the abrupt end of a seven-year relationship. Hannah finds comfort in affable Jack’s unexpected presence and the two bond over a long night of drinking and an awkward sexual encounter.  Worry not—this is ain’t your typical lesbian-goes-straight rom-com.


Young and Wild Daniela comes from a well-to-do evangelical family in Santiago, Chile, but, at 17, her hormones are racing—so she reaches out to other horny teenagers through her sexually charged blog. Even as she prays for absolution, Daniela is online recounting her adventures as a pansexual fornicator. Young and Wild is based on a true story, and the real-life blogger at its center will be attending Sundance with Alicia Rodríguez, the actress who plays her on screen.

Celeste and Jesse Forever TV talents Andy Samberg (SNL) and Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) play the titular couple going through a divorce that seems to be devastating their friends—including Elijah Wood as a gay member of their inner circle—more than them.

About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now

Portrait photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s lush film explores popular concepts of beauty over the past five decades, weaving interviews with magazine mainstays like Carol Alt, Stephanie Seymour, Naomi Campbell and even Janice Dickinson with  archival footage featuring gay designer Calvin Klein and modeling mogul Eileen Ford.


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  • Interesting

    The gay content seems disconnected from our times versus what is being described as looking at America in decline for the rest of the movies in screening.

  • Lefty

    @Interesting: Or the Sundance programmers think representations of gay themes are intrinsically tied up with the decline of (American) society?

    That’s an interesting thing: maybe the direction of gay rights/representation runs counter to most people’s perception of the direction of society as a whole? We’re making progress bit by bit, while society is declining bit by bit – and that’s why some people see a correlation between the two? I was joking about Sundance buying into this and clearly only idiots/bigots would see such a correlation – but it is an interesting difference. Maybe straight society is burning out and we’re the optimists/catalysts of the bright future/ 😀

  • Interesting

    @Lefty: No, I think its a representation of the limited amount (a) movies made about gays (b) the fact that the people making them have a limited range of subject matter they want to cover (that’s why I was stunned to see low income gays in a movie like Brokeback Mountain- I mean in gayville low income gays don’t exist), (c) The straights aren’t going to cover if we don’t and (d) gay rights is in vogue so “edgy” and “hip” remains including something gay even if its out of step.

    The reality of course is that we are just as burnt out as the rest of society. Ever try having a discussion about non-gay issues with a bunch of gays? Ask them about economic issues? If anything, they are worst than the heterosexual majority.

    Its just a disappointment that no one has made grade movies about a wide range of gay experiences. Its like when i see movies about African-Americans, and they are all in an urban setting. Its like black people don’t live anywhere else.

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