Roll Out the Rainbow Carpet

By Tuesday Mahrle, October 2018 Issue.

In 1970, Myra Breckinridge graced the big screen. In 1980, Dear Boys hit theaters. In 1990, Paris Is Burning premiered. In 2000, If These Walls Could Talk 2 debuted. And, in 2010, the Desperado LGBT Film Festival rolled out the red carpet for the first time and, at the end of the weekend, named Big Gay Musical its first-ever Audience Award winner.

As LGBTQ narratives continue to evolve – both on and off screen – Desperado continues to bring relevant storylines to Phoenix audiences.

This year, the 10th annual Desperado Film Festival will showcase eight feature-length films and eight mixed shorts from Sept. 28 to 30 at Paradise Valley Community College.

Spoiler alert: Festival organizers recently announced that permanently moving the event from February to September has been in the works for a while now.

“This positions us to be in a great spot at the end of September, especially having more access to films while they are still on the festival circuit,” said Alan East, the festival’s programmer.

A committee of mostly LGBTQ community members and Maricopa County Community College District faculty determines the titles that will make it to the festival screens each year.

According to East, this is done while trying to be mindful of all represented cultures within the LGBTQ community.

“We especially look for authenticity in film roles,” he added, “that aspect is very important to us.”

While attendees may notice that the 10th annual film festival is set to be smaller (it’s the second one this year, after all), East said Desperado isn’t going anywhere.

“We want to continue to offer and support [this] unique platform for these special stories to be told, heard and acknowledged,” he said. “Especially, providing our festivalgoers content they can connect with on many levels. We are excited to continue to bring these powerful and engaging films to the LGBTQ market here in Arizona.”

What to Watch

Once again, Desperado weekend will kick off with an opening reception followed by the opening night film, Riot. Based on real people and events, Riot shines a spotlight on Australia’s 1970s Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement and the passionate individuals who, facing ever-present adversity, conceived a celebration of diversity.

The festival will resume Saturday with TransMilitary, To a More Perfect Union, Bitter Melon and Wild Nights with Emily.

TransMilitary, the 2018 South By Southwest Audience Award-winning feature film, follows several of the 15,500 transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military who must conceal their gender identity based on current military policies. The documentary follows these service members as they put their careers and their families’ livelihoods on the line by coming out to some of the Pentagon’s top officials in hopes of attaining equal rights to serve. (For Echo's review of TransMilitary, click here, and to meet the directors of TransMilitary, click here.)

TransMilitary will be followed by a meetup hosted by Trans Spectrum of Arizona.

To a More Perfect Union: United States v. Windsor is a documentary that follows Edie Windsor and attorney Roberta Kaplan in their quest for justice. After 40 years together, Edie is forced to pay a large estate tax bill after her partner passes away. Edie decides to challenge the U.S. government – and wins. (For Echo's review of To a More Perfect Union: United States v. Windsor, click here.)

Bitter Melon is a dark comedy about a Filipino-American family who reunites for a Christmas party at the family’s San Francisco home. When the siblings find that Troy, the second-oldest child, has been ruling the home and abusing their mother and his wife, the family holiday quickly turns into a plot to murder.

Staring Molly Shannon, Wild Nights with Emily imagines what Emily Dickinson’s 19th century life was like. This film breaks down the reclusive spinster persona to reveal a lively, funny and romantic woman.

Tucked is a tender and comedic drama about an 80-year-old drag queen who forms an unlikely friendship with a young and emerging queen as they both struggle with gender, identity and mortality. (For Echo's review of Tucked, click here.)

Sunday begins with a lineup of mixed shorts and concludes with My Big Gay Italian Wedding and Lez Bomb.

My Big Gay Italian Wedding visits Desperado from the European film scene. Happily engaged Antonio brings his fiancé, Paulo, back to his old, Italian village to reveal his sexuality to his headstrong parents. The film underscores the homophobia that still prevents same-sex marriage from being recognized in Italy.

The closing night film, Lez Bomb is a hilarious coming-out story from director Jenna Laurenzo and executive producer Bobby Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary). The story follows a closeted lesbian who brings her girlfriend along for Thanksgiving with her family. The eccentric cast of characters that make up her extended family have their own stirring surprises, preventing her reveal from going as planned. (Scroll to the end for complete screening schedule.)

LGBTQ Representation

Since the ninth annual Desperado Film Festival, which took place Feb. 9-11, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) released its sixth annual report on LGBTQ inclusion on screen.

Despite the success of a handful of mainstream films with LGBTQ storylines – Love, Simon, A Fantastic Woman and Call Me By Your Name – the 2018 Studio Responsibility Index revealed that of the 109 major releases surveyed from 2017, only 14 (12.8 percent) included LGBTQ characters, down from 18.4 percent the previous year.

Among the 2017 films that include LGBTQ characters, gay men were most present (64 percent) followed by lesbians (36 percent) and bisexuals (14 percent). No major releases included transgender or non-binary characters.

“Hollywood is at a tipping point. The past year has seen the rise of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, which have transformed the conversation in the industry and among the movie-going public, and are driving change behind the scenes and in the media,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s president, in the study. “On screen, record-breaking films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman prove that not only does inclusion make for great stories – inclusion is good for the bottom line. It is time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer stories to be included in this conversation and in this movement.”

Community platforms, like Desperado, continue to be important outlets for LGBTQ actors, directors, writers and producers, and critical for community members who aren’t seeing a reflection of themselves in mainstream titles.

“We need our images, our stories, our drama, our laughter, everything up there on the screen,” East said.

Following the Desperado LGBT Film Festival, the above-mentioned films will contend for the Jury, Audience, Best Short Film and Best Student Short awards.

Proceeds from the event fund the festival and LGBTQ scholarships through the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation. For more information, visit

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