One of the queerest mainstream film festivals this side of Berlin, the Atlanta Film Festival begins tonight and runs through March 24 at the Plaza Theatre and 7 Stages in Little 5 Points.
LGBT content overflows the annual Pink Peach competition into other sections of the festival and features everything from the premiere of a locally made documentary to films from around the country and around the world.
A common thread this year seems to be that films are about journeys, not destinations. It takes all or most of “Pit Stop” and “Mosquita y Mari” to bring couples together for relationships that may continue for 50 years or 15 minutes.
In the documentaries “Mohammed to Maya” and “Interior. Leather Bar.” the central figures go through personal journeys that bring them to a certain point but leave us to wonder what comes next.
If these were Hollywood movies they’d be setting you up for sequels with their cliffhanger endings, but these are independent films so we can assume the filmmakers told the stories they wanted to tell.
They’re more true to life, where there are no “happily ever afters” and even our hottest dates don’t end with us riding off into the sunset while a symphony orchestra blares.
Here are the festival films that set off our gaydar, lezdar and transdar, including reviews of those we were able to preview. Films that are part of the official “Pink Peach” LGBT line-up are noted with *.
* Kiss Me (To be shown with a Pink Peach feature, 11 min)
Showing with an unspecified feature, this film packs a feature’s worth of story into 11 minutes without seeming rushed, although you may have to read some background info to pick up on the fine points of homoeroticism and homophobia, as well as the factual incident that inspired filmmaker Jules Nurrish to make this story of a boxer (Raúl Castillo) who kills his opponent in the ring.
* God Loves Uganda (Plaza, 6:30 p.m.)
Frustrated by the rapid erosion of their support in the U.S., the Christian Right spreads their missionary positions in Africa, where their counterparts and converts promote “Kill the Gays” legislation. scar-winner Roger Ross Williams had extraordinary access to the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer (yes, they call it I-HOP) and its fresh-faced young missionaries but has trouble bridging the disconnect between them and the politically influential, homophobic Ugandan megachurches that support the legislature’s “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
* Concussion (7 Stages, 7 p.m.)
When her lesbian marriage goes south, Robin Weigert starts patronizing prostitutes, then becomes one herself, servicing only hand-picked female clientele, in the first feature by Stacie Passon, who also showed it at Sundance and Berlin this year.
Wolf Plaza (9:30 p.m.)
An African-American family deals with the molestation of their teenage boy by their church’s pastor in a drama that gets some little things wrong but a lot of big things right. Carl (Jordan Cooper) has spent a lot of time with Bishop Anderson (Eugene Lee) because his father, a long distance trucker, is never home and his mother is in school earning a psychology degree. Carl is upset about having been dumped by a male lover, and when we see how he behaves in church we know who that lover is.
* Mohammed to Maya (Plaza, 7:15 p.m.)
The title sums up the transition of Maya Jafer, a devout Muslim Indian who’s been estranged from her family because of her transgender status. She’s lived in Los Angeles since 1999 and finally goes to Bangkok for sexual reassignment surgery. As if the main event weren’t enough, Maya also gets liposuction, facial reconstruction and breast augmentation in the same hospital stay. She returns to L.A. from Bangkok and finally travels to India to visit her family; but the film leaves her at their front door.
* Breaking Through (Plaza, 9:30 p.m.)
* Pit Stop (Plaza, 7 p.m.)
For fans of Nora Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle” and Claude Lelouch’s “And Now My Love,” “Pit Stop” is another film that follows the individual journeys of predestined lovers until their paths intersect. In a small Texas town Gabe (Bill Heck) maintains a family with his ex-wife and their young daughter, but they’re free to follow individual pursuits. Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) is forcing his much younger lover to leave the nest after two years. Adjust to the town’s slow pace and you can appreciate the two stories until they become one (with a gratuitous sex scene thrown in for commercial insurance). Director and co-writer Yen Tan won me over with “Ciao” and “Pit Stop” confirms him as a filmmaker overdue for a huge breakthrough.
* Interior. Leather Bar. (Plaza, 9:15 p.m.)
The mystery of James Franco deepens as the straight actor-filmmaker immerses himself in the gay scene once again. We’d all like to be the “right boy” we hope he just hasn’t met yet. “Interior. Leather Bar.” is a movie about the making of a movie about the making of a movie, William Friedkin’s controversial “Cruising.” Now it gets complicated. The central figure is a straight actor, Val Lauren, who’s conflicted about playing straight actor Al Pacino playing a straight detective who’s conflicted about going undercover in the gay leather community. Franco and his out gay co-director Travis Mathews are ostensibly recreating 40 never-seen minutes of footage Friedkin was forced to cut to get an R rating. Love it or hate it, you’ve never seen anything like this.
* Mosquita y Mari (Plaza, 7 p.m.)
Two 15-year-old Latinas form an unlikely friendship that may lead to more in Aurora Guerrero’s first feature. It’s clear from the way Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) watches the girls and ignores the boys at a party where her inclinations lie, even though the frumpy brainiac has never acted on them. When Mari (Venecia Troncoso), the traditional “bad girl,” moves in across the street she gives Yoli an instant girl-boner (and later the nickname Mosquita). Their math teacher plays Cupid by making them study partners, paving the way for nature to take its course…or not.
Submit the Documentary: the virtual reality of cyberbullying (Plaza, 4:30 p.m.)
Like last year’s “Bully,” this film includes tragic personal stories of victims of bullying – three parents tell of their teen daughters’ suicides – but here they’re not the whole story. It’s a general examination of the problems created when bullying moves from personal encounters to the Internet, where it can be anonymous – hard to track and harder to punish. A few epithets relating to race and sexual orientation are shown in quick cuts but more time is spent on sexting, calling girls “sluts” and “whores” and insulting their appearance.
Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (7 Stages, 4:30 p.m.)
I don’t know whether more lesbians or gay men have worn Wonder Woman costumes for Halloween. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary traces the history of the first superheroine and her place in a pop culture where women with any power, let alone superpowers, were once extremely rare. Interviewees include TV’s “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter and “Bionic Woman” Lindsay Wagner, and of course Gloria Steinem, the wonder of the Women’s Movement.
A day of prize winners and encore screenings to be announced, including the Pink Peach Grand Jury Winner (Plaza, 2 p.m.)