Stories on Screen

By Megan Wadding, February 2018 Issue.

This year, Desperado LGBT Film Festival presents its ninth annual event Feb. 9 to 11 at Paradise Valley Community College.

The weekend-long event will showcase titles that range from international and animated films to documentaries and shorts – all with an LGBTQ element – before equally diverse audiences.

“Our goal is to create a balance of LGBTQ content,” said Alan East, the festival’s programmer, adding that the films are decided by the festival’s six-member film selection committee. “Once the films have been narrowed down, I program those which were most highly recommended by the team.”

According to East, coming together and celebrate the stories of our community on screen is important, and a lot of fun.

“Being together at an LGBTQ film festival starts conversations, and that’s always good,” East said. “Our selected films represent many aspects of life – some are fun, but some are really hard to watch. That’s the brilliance of what film is as a medium.”

Heart, Baby! and A Year In Transition.

Roll Credits

This year’s festival will kick off Feb. 9 with an opening reception and a screening of Heart, Baby! followed by a Q&A session with Shawn Caulin-Young, the actor who portrays Crystal in the film, will lead a Q&A session. (For Echo's review of Heart, Baby!, and an interview with director Angela Shelton, click here.)

The Feb. 10 screenings will begin with the world premiere of A Year In Transition, followed by the first collection of mixed shorts, Against The Law, Signature Move, the second collection of mixed shorts (free outdoor screening) and After Louie.

A Year In Transition is a documentary written and directed by Lorne Clarkson that follows a 20-year-old Arab-American trans man in his first year of transition.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act which decriminalized homosexual acts in England and Wales between adult males in private. Against The Law, directed by Fergus O’Brien, is a drama that revisits the dramatic events that led to this act.

Directed by Jennifer Reeder, Signature Move is a comedy that examines modern families and the complexities of love in its many forms while celebrating the many faces of this country at a time when stories of diversity and acceptance are needed more than ever.

Against The Law and Signature Move.

After Louie makes sense of contemporary gay life through the story of Sam (Alan Cumming), who must take a step back to understand how he – and his community – got to where they are today. This portrait of what happened to the generation of people who were young activists during the AIDS epidemic is directed by Vincent Gagliostro.

The Feb. 11 screenings will kick off with the third collection of mixed shorts followed by Thelma, Snapshots and Saturday Church.

After Louie and Thelma.

A supernatural drama directed by Joachim Trier, Thelma follows a shy young student as she leaves her religious, small-town family to study at a university in Oslo where discovers feelings for a female friend who’s in love with her which causes her subconsciously-controlled psychokinetic powers which emerge as extreme seizures with devastating results.

Snapshots brings together a matriarch with a secret past, her daughter with an angry present and her granddaughter with a secret future and asks the question, “can the love of three generations be enough to accept decades of deceit?” Directed by Melanie Mayron, this film co-stars Phoenix native Max Adler (“Glee,” “Switched at Birth”). Following the screening, Adler will participate in a Q&A with festivalgoers.

Closing out the festival is Saturday Church, directed Damon Cardasis. Set In New York City, this coming of age story offers viewers everything from choreographed musical numbers to a little religious conflict while taking a closer look at why acceptance and support is so critical for LGBTQ youth. (For Echo's review of Saturday Church, click here.)

Snapshots and Saturday Church.

Importance of LGBTQ Films

LGBTQ filmmakers, East believes, have a unique job, which is essentially to “keep a diary of the LGBTQ experience” through their storytelling.

“If you look at films over a period of years, you can see that the topics covered have evolved dramatically,” he said. “Our LGBTQ family suffers and succeeds along with many other culturally diverse families, so films recording our lives must be supported. Due to LGBTQ films, our community’s history and wide-ranging culture will be preserved.”

East believes that the tradition of storytelling and representation are vital to any community, adding that it is necessary for current and future generations to understand LGBTQ history and how far we have come.

One of the biggest shifts in the representation of the LGBTQ community in the media, according to East, is the visibility of LGBTQ actors as a result of their ability and willingness to out themselves, and having the safe space to do so.

“LGBTQ actors – in many cases, younger actors – have made the commitment to not hide their sexual orientation,” East said. “This is a huge shift from just 20 years ago when coming out would end a career.”

For many years, LGBTQ actors were denied roles based on their orientation. Oftentimes their straight counterparts would portray LGBTQ characters, instead of giving the roles to LGBTQ actors who would have arguably been able to play the same role with more authenticity – an issue the transgender community is still facing today.

East believes that it can be preferable, although not entirely necessary, to cast LGBTQ characters in LGBTQ roles.

“When [an LGBTQ actor is portraying] an [LGBTQ] character is onscreen, there’s a natural truth to their performance,” East said.

While LGBTQ actors are having an easier time getting roles and the portrayal LGBTQ characters on the screen has greatly evolved in recent years, East said that support for LGBTQ filmmakers and writers remains crucial.

“Our community has to support our filmmakers,” he said. “We need our images, our stories, our drama, our laughter, everything up there on the screen,” East said. “Life is better, film … is better, but we’re a niche and will always be. Full-blown stories committed to our LGBTQ family will always be important.”

Most who have attended a movie screening, a live concert or an art show would agree that the experience of partaking in these mediums in the company of others is quite different than experiencing them solitarily.

“Watching [a film] in a theater, experiencing the reaction of those around you, then spending time in the lobby discussing what you’ve just seen is the very definition of a film festival,” East said. “If we’ve changed just a few hearts and broadened a few minds, then the Desperado LGBTQ Film Festival has been a success.”

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

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