As a city, Berlin is renowned for its inclusivity, so it’s no wonder that filmmaking on the fringe has found a home at the Berlinale. In fact, long before Cannes and Venice recently decided to finally create their own queer-centric prizes, the Berlin film festival has consistently recognised the very best LGBT movies for over three decades now, awarding a Teddy to films that shine a light on every colour in the rainbow.
Past winners like Pedro Almodóvar’s “Law of Desire” and the groundbreaking documentary “Paris Is Burning” stand tall alongside recent Teddy recipients such as Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman”, which has since become a contender at the Oscars. This year, the Berlinale is playing host to a whole new spectrum of queer cinema that spans the globe, promising to dive deep into the sexual politics of both mind and body across a range of cultures. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss any of these future LGBT classics when they hit a cinema near you!
“Dressed For Pleasure (Je fais où tu me dis)”
Amongst all of the Hollywood heavyweights and future indie classics vying for your attention, it’s often easy to miss the exceptional short films that also compete at the Berlinale each year. In 2018 alone, there are a host of LGBT picks that stand out, most of which are being screened together in the “Queer Mix”. One movie in particular that audiences should definitely add to their watchlist is “Dressed for Pleasure”. It’s a French short that follows a girl called Sarah who is bound by both her parent’s restrictive views on sexuality and a condition that confines her to a wheelchair. Sexuality and disability are rarely explored in tandem, let alone sexuality that transcends heteronormativity, so it’s refreshing to see director Marie de Maricourt tackle both in a running time of just 17 minutes.
“The Silk And The Flame”
Like “Dressed for Pleasure”, “The Silk And The Flame” also explores the weight of parental pressure on younger generations who desire nothing more than to explore their own sexuality without fear of judgement. In this documentary, audiences meet a man called Yao who travels back from Beijing to his family’s village so that they can celebrate Chinese New Year together. While Jordan Schiele’s camera captures everyday life in rural China with fascinating insight, what stays with audiences long after the credits roll is how Yao selflessly puts aside his own needs to support his family, all while fending off their relentless need to see him settle down with a nice woman.
New Yorker Leilah Weinraub also returned to her hometown to film a documentary, but ended up capturing a whole different experience. As a former member of the Shakedown Angels, Weinraub had almost unlimited access to archive footage of these dancers who fought to celebrate lesbian sexuality in underground L.A. clubs. Despite attracting unwarranted police reprisals, this fierce community became a relatively safe space for queer women of colour back in the ‘90s who danced and stripped to a throbbing soundtrack of grinding hip-hop beats. However, among the flashing lights and topless shots, “Shakedown” also depicts a surprisingly personal story of how important counterculture can be for those who live on the fringe.
Director Alina Skrzeszewska provides another necessary yet totally different perspective on lesbian life in LA for her documentary “Game Girls”, which provides a tough look at the homeless capital of the USA. Filmed on the edges of society, this story of a lesbian couple Teri and Tiahna is transformative, using intimate camerawork to frame their growth as people. Unfortunately, the struggles that these Afro-American women face are all too common in “The Land of the Free”, turning both their lives and their happiness into a potentially tragic game of chance that can sometimes be difficult to watch.
Freedom is something that also eludes the protagonist of “Marilyn”, who feels trapped by the traditional gender roles that his family enforce in the countryside of Argentina. When Marco puts on make-up in private moments, you too will long for him to live his true self and embrace the fluidity he yearns to explore. Based on a true story, “Marilyn” could have followed the well-worn path trod by countless other queer coming-of-age movies, but some surprising twists and a beautiful performance from lead actor Walter Rodríguez elevate this drama into something greater and ultimately far more tragic.
“Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta)”
Across the border from Argentina, Brazilian directors Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher shine a neon light on virtual sexuality in Hard Paint, a coming-of-age story divided into three parts. While Pedro may find freedom of sorts by stripping for clients in chat rooms, our endearing protagonist faces struggles of a different kind when he leaves the relative safety of his webcam and ventures out into the real world. Between the fluorescent colors and gloriously hedonistic soundtrack, “Hard Paint” is anything but a hard sell, building on the promise that Reolon and Matzembacher demonstrated in Seaside with a more personal take on gay love.
“Tranny Fag (Bixa Travesty)”
The protagonist of “Hard Paint” might be fictional, it’s hard not to imagine him yearning to perform alongside Linn da Quebrada, a hypnotic trans musician who takes centre stage in the documentary “Tranny Fag”. Among the dazzling concert clips and extravagant costumes lie quieter moments that reveal Quebrada’s convictions with strength and poise. Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman’s portrait of the star is engrossing from start to finish, providing a welcome counterpoint to the transphobia and machismo that continues to dominate various regions of Brazil.
“Escape from Rented Island: The Lost Paradise Of Jack Smith”
Linn da Quebrada and other modern drag stars owe a huge debt to Jack Smith, an American filmmaker who helped create the aesthetic of camp and trash performance art with both his photography and controversial films like “Flaming Creatures”. “Escape from Rented Island: The Lost Paradise Of Jack Smith” unpacks the work of this queer legend, analysing his legacy in a cinematic film essay that avoids dealing with the specificities of his life in order to focus on the art. It should come as no surprise that a documentary which explores the life of such an avant-garde figure would itself defy convention, making this a challenging but vital film that demands to be added to your watchlist.
“The Happy Prince”
From one queer legend to another, “The Happy Prince” takes a look back at the final days of Oscar Wilde, the openly homosexual aristocrat who dared to defy societal norms and create a legacy that would go on to inspire each of the filmmakers on this list. It’s rather ironic that Rupert Everett has managed to resuscitate his career by directing and starring in a film about Wilde’s fall from grace, but it’s also encouraging to see him realise the potential that was never fully realised after he came out to Hollywood back in 1989.