Only six of the 82 feature films set to play the Sundance Film Festival are listed on its site as “LGBTQ Stories,” with no regard for who made or wrote those stories. Queer culture still has a long way to go in being recognized even at a festival as progressive as Sundance, which starts on Thursday and is, in wake of the Omicron surge, being held virtually, meaning that anyone with an internet connection and money for a ticket can see its films online.
That said, the queer films on that very short list look promising. Sirens, Rita Baghdadi’s documentary about an all-woman thrash metal band in Lebanon (produced by Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne’s Animal Pictures, which also produced Russian Doll) focuses on the band’s queer guitarist Lilas Mayassi and also captures the political turmoil that continues in the country with mass protests as people chafe against economic instability and a misogynistic, homophobic government, which will seem very familiar to anyone who had been in the US these past five years. Sirens premieres on Jan. 23.
Teresa Sánchez, a scene-stealing supporting actor in two recent underseen (and excellent) Mexican movies written and directed by (and about) women, Lila Avilés’s The Chambermaid, and Tatiana Huezo’s Prayers for the Stolen, plays the gender-nonconforming lead in Juan Pablo González’s Dos Estaciones. Hollywood has made audiences expect an actress who has her first starring role in a film to be young and slender, and Sánchez is neither. She plays María García, the owner of a family-run tequila factory in rural Jalisco struggling in the face of rampant corporate competition (often affiliated with rich US celebrities) and takeovers of other artisanal tequila factories in the country. González is from Jalisco and is the son of tequila ranchers. Most of the cast are also from that area, including Tatín Vera, a trans woman whose supporting role is based on her own life as the owner of a successful hairdressing salon with strong ties to the community and to her family, fracturing preconceived notions of how trans people in the parts of Mexico far from big cities live their lives. Dos Estaciones premieres on Jan. 24.
Am I Okay? co-directed by married couple Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro (who also worked together on the acclaimed TV series One Mississipi), from a script by Lauren Pomerantz (who in the past wrote for Ellen DeGeneres and Saturday Night Live) stars Dakota Johnson as Lucy and Sonoya Mizuno as Jane, best friends whose relationship is rocked when Lucy comes out and Jane moves to London. Am I Okay? premieres Jan 24.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Framing Agnes a new documentary from No Ordinary Man’s Chase Joynt, co-directed by Kristen Schilt (and featuring The Lady and the Dale’s Zackary Drucker) about a trans woman in the 1950s. Framing Agnes premieres Jan. 22.
Gabriel Martins’s Mars One (Marte Um) focuses on a working-class Black family, including their grown queer daughter, Eunice (Camilla Damião) in a Brazilian city dealing with the fallout just after the election of Jair Bolsonaro (think: Brazil’s Trump). It fills the void of movies made in these past few years that have touched on the rise of right-wing government leaders, though most audiences–and filmmakers–are still feeling the effects of their reign and face an uncertain future: the government grant that made this film possible, specifically for Black filmmakers making films about Black Brazilians, no longer exists under Bolsonaro. Mars One premieres Jan 20.
Finnish director Alli Haapasalo’s Girl Picture, produced by Citizen Jane, a woman-run and focused company, follows the adventures of two hard-partying, teen, best friends who work in a smoothie shop, one of whom falls in love with another girl, a driven, champion figure skater. Girl Picture premieres on Jan. 24.
Not on the “LGBTQ Stories” list but made by a queer filmmaker is Call Jane, the second film directed by playwright and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy (who was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Carol in 2016–but lost to The Big Short) about a housewife in the ’60s who joins the real-life underground collective that provided abortions before they were legal in the US. Call Jane shouldn’t be confused with the documentary, The Janes about the same underground network of feminist abortion providers co-directed by Tia Lessin (who co-directed the superb Hurricane Katrina documentary Trouble the Water) and Emma Pildes. This film is of interest to anyone– including all queer and trans people– concerned about the threats to bodily autonomy for which recent anti-abortion laws and rulings set precedent. Call Jane premieres on Jan 21. The Janes premieres on Jan. 24.
Lastly, Kathryn Ferguson’s documentary Nothing Compares about queer artist and icon Sinéad O’Connor, who changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat after converting to Islam in 2018 (but still uses her old name professionally), and whose meteroic rise to stardom stopped at age 25, after she presciently denounced, and tore in half a photo of, the Pope on Saturday Night Live. O’Connor has been open about her struggles with mental health issues, thanking the staff of a hospital in the acknowledgments of her recent memoir Rememberings and her mental health continues to hold sway over her life (she was just hospitalized after her son’s death), but let’s hope, especially after the media rethinking its coverage of Britney Spears, who also became famous at a very young age, O’Connor’s history and talent can be newly appreciated. Nothing Compares premieres Jan. 21.♦