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A preview of some of the offerings in the 2021 Damn These Heels Queer Film Festival

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STRAND RELEASING
  • Strand Releasing

The end of June doesn't mean the end of interesting programming based around LGBTQ issues. The Utah Film Center's Damn These Heels Queer Film Festival launches July 9 with 25 features and three short film programs, highlighting the queer experience in documentaries and narrative features. Here's a look at a few of the entries available for preview at press time; while most titles are available for streaming ticket purchase, some screenings are in-person. Check damntheseheels.org/film-program for full schedule and ticketing information.

Cicada: Co-writer/co-director/star Matt Fifer's semi-autobiographical romantic drama tries to pack a lot of issues in 95 minutes, but works best as a story about two people navigating new relationship territory. Ben (Fifer) is a young man living and working in New York City, his nights spent in a succession of male (and occasionally female) one-night hook-ups. Then he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), and the two begin a tentative romance. Each of them is affected by the aftermath of traumatic events—Sam's related to anti-gay violence, Ben's initially just hinted at and underlined by a high-profile news story that plays in the background—and it is a bit dizzying watching Fifer try to address so many topics, including Sam being closeted to his religious father, and the fact that the relationship is interracial. But Cicada mostly hits the marks in its low-key way, notwithstanding Cobie Smulders' cameo as Ben's slightly out-there therapist feeling like it belongs in a completely different movie. The title metaphor for emerging at just the right moment is bit on-the-nose; there's otherwise a solid sense for the tensions that can pull love apart.

STORY CENTER FILMS
  • Story Center Films

Cured: One of the most contentious battlefields of the gay rights movement—the fight to have homosexuality removed as a mental disorder from the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association—gets a terrifically comprehensive treatment in Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer's documentary. After laying the foundation for what it was like to be gay and subjected to the threat of institutionalization or electroshock therapy for your "disease" in the 1950s and 1960s, the filmmakers spend time on the activists like Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny who led the charge from the outside, as well as closeted gay psychiatrists who worked for change from the inside. Inevitably, there are detours about the broader post-Stonewall gay rights movement that are going to feel fairly familiar, but Sammon and Singer are wise enough to let those who were in the trenches tell their own stories of making "good trouble" like disrupting the 1970 APA convention in San Francisco. The archival footage of news broadcasts and interview shows make it clear just how much these people were fighting against, and how monumental it would be not to have institutional medicine define them as sick.

COMPADRE MEDIA GROUP
  • Compadre Media Group

No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics: What at first glance seems like an interesting pop-culture footnote quickly turns into a portrait of some true pioneers, as well as the power of representation. Director Vivian Kleiman visits with some of the landmark creators of gay-themed underground comics in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, including Rupert Kinnard (The Brown Bomber), Mary Wings (Come Out Comix), Howard Cruse (Gay Comix) and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home). Individually, the profiles are moderately satisfying, both in the tales of how they didn't see their experience in the traditional comics of the time, and occasionally about their artistic process and the shifting landscape of publishing into the early 21st century. But the strongest material involves a sense of community, as these creators begin working together on projects, and as a younger generation of creators pays their groundbreaking forebears their proper respect. The occasionally fragmented narrative adds up to a big picture about refusing to allow yourself to be invisible in the world.

DWECK PRODUCTIONS
  • Dweck Productions

We're All Going to the World's Fair: There's an almost deliberate provocation in the way Jane Schoenbrun's debut feature feints and dodges about what kind of genre its working in—and it wouldn't be playing fair to spoil it. The set-up involves teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) taking "the World's Fair Challenge," an online creepypasta horror narrative; as she begins to post videos about how she thinks she might be changing, a stranger identifying himself as JLB (Michael J. Rodgers) reaches out to Casey. Schoenbrun teases with the circumstances of Casey's life—her parents are never seen—as well as why JLB might investing himself so much in her fate. And while there are a few genuinely disturbing images sprinkled throughout the narrative, it's never entirely clear whether there's an actual supernatural component to World's Fair. It's more unsettling as a portrait of how lonely, isolated people get sucked down Internet rabbit holes, seeking ways to connect with people, even if those ways seem disturbing or unhealthy. There's scary stuff going on here, but the scariest thing might be Cobb's committed performance as a kid who has no idea how becoming part of this world might be affecting her.

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