The Highlight Reel

By Hans Pedersen, February 2017 Issue.

The eighth annual Desperado LGBT Film Festival, Arizona’s biggest showcase of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning cinema, (b-) rolls into town from Jan. 27-29 at Paradise Valley Community College’s Center for the Performing Arts.

Each year, proceeds from the festival helps fund scholarships and events for the school’s LGBTQ community.

“For 2017, our tremendous film committee has come up with an exciting lineup that covers a broad range of topics,” said Alan East, Desperado LGBT Film Festival organizer. “Filmmakers always surprise us with their wildly different outlook on the world and we love bringing these stories to Phoenix.”

With the goal of offering “something for everyone in the LGBTQ community,” East explained that the Desperado team selected nine feature-length films and several shorts out of more than 200 options.

“Films are more than entertainment, they come from life, fantasy and the art of our social culture,” said Maryanne Marttini, a Valley-based stand-up comic and one of the selection committee members.

In addition to the screenings, this year’s festival entertainment will include artist Tricky Burns with a live painting demonstration at 3 p.m. Jan. 28 and a live performance by Phoenix-based jazz, soul, pop, and funk band House of Stairs at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 29. (Read Echo’s interview with House of Stars lead vocalist Holly Pyle at

“We have always tried to add some visual art [and] music to the event [as a way] to feature artists from PVCC and add to the atmosphere of the festival,” Marttini said.

In Marttini’s estimation, Desperado, as well as the Maricopa Community Colleges, are among the most diverse and LGBTQ-welcoming spaces in the country, which is why this event is such an ideal opportunity to come together and celebrate LGBTQ cinema.

“Since the end of last year our film selection committee has taken the time to review and bring the best and newest LGBT films to our festival,” she added. “We believe this is our best line up ever.”

A Million Happy Nows.

Roll Credits

The opening night selection, A Million Happy Nows, is the story of two women whose world slowly changes after one of them is diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Lainey (Crystal Chappell) is a soap opera actress who is losing her memory, and she and her partner, Eva (Jessica Leccia), must make the most of their life before the disease takes its toll. This tearjerker screens at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27.

Real Boy. Bennett Wallace (right) and Joe Stevens. Photo courtesy of Shaleece Haas.

The compelling documentary Real Boy, by director Shaleece Haas, on two dates, follows singer Bennett Wallace for three and a half years as he undergoes the steps toward gender reassignment surgery. Audiences bear witness to the support Wallace receives from his friends and watch his mother grasp only a fleeting comprehension that her daughter has already become her son. (Read Echo's review of Real Boy here.)

Real Boy earned the Audience Award at the Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival, along with 15 other accolades, and with good reason: the insightful documentary methodically follows a transgender singer.

Real Boy screens on both Jan. 27 and 28, the first screening of which is free and takes place as part of the Diversity Leadership Alliance Workshop, which will focus on the transgender community in the workplace (the workshop begins at 8 a.m. and requires advance registration) the ticketed screening, which is open to the public, takes place at noon Jan. 28.

Strike a Pose.

Next up, Madonna fans are invited on a trip down memory lane in the much-anticipated Strike a Pose, a documentary that reunites the dancers from the 1990 doumentary Madonna: Truth or Dare as well as the Queen of Pop’s “Blonde Ambition” tour. (Read Echo's review of Strike a Pose here.)

Strike a Pose may be a tough sell for folks unfamiliar with the material girl’s original documentary. Yet, full of insights and inspiring stories, this selection epitomizes the impact one movie can have on an entire community’s identity and self-perception. Strike a Pose screens Jan. 28 at 3:30 p.m.


Two other full-length films screen Jan. 28: AWOL at 5:30 p.m. and Do You Take This Man at 8:15 p.m.

AWOL, a drama that was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Tribeca Festival, focuses on a woman named Joey, who lives in a small town and finds direction in life once she considers enlisting in the U.S. Army, but her plan changes when she meets Rayna, an alluring married woman.

New this year, PVCC Student Life will sponsor a free outdoor screening of the best shorts from previous festivals beginning at 7:05 p.m. Jan. 28. According to Marttini, attendees are advised to bring blankets and lawn chairs.

Do You Take This Man.

The final Jan. 28 screening will be Do You Take This Man, a the narrative feature starring Anthony Rapp (Rent), is about two guys who are preparing to tie the knot when, on the night before their wedding, they endure a series of trials that test their strength.

El Canto del Colibri.

A free screening of El Canto del Colibri, an acclaimed Spanish-language documentary, kicks off the Jan. 29 lineup at 12:15 p.m. The documentary will be followed by a discussion with Alberto Olivas from Arizona State University’s Center for Public Policy.

“It’s an excellent documentary that we’re following a 30-minute discussion,” East explained, adding that El Canto del Colibri “takes a look at Latino fathers and their LGBTQ children.”

Another standout Desperado selection showing thereafter is Heartland, a skillfully directed film by Maura Anderson. The drama follows Lauren, an artist, as she moves in with her homophobic mom while coping with the death of her girlfriend. When Lauren’s brother and his girlfriend drop by for a few days, the newcomer to the family grows intrigued by the mourning lesbian. The self-assured director wisely avoids painting conservative characters with broad strokes, which strengthens this film. (Read Echo's review of Heartland here.)


Next up is the German-language movie Jonathan, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best New Feature at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. The story centers on a young man who’s helping his father out on the family farm, as his dad’s secret gay past comes to light.

Fair Haven.

Finally, closing out this year’s festival is Fair Haven, an award-winning drama about a gifted young piano player named James who has returned home from ex-gay conversion therapy. James tries ignoring his ex-lover while coping with his abusive dad, played by Tom Wopat (TV’s “Dukes of Hazzard”). In flashbacks, we see how the facility operates as Dr. Gallagher, played by ’80s star Gregory Harrison, tries to brainwash the patient. (Read Echo's review of Fair Haven here.)


Following the screening of this emotional and potent reminder of the abusive practices and the agenda of the radical right, Phoenix Pride will sponsor a related discussion and Q& with Harrison.

“Desperado LGBT Film Festival is not only an event to see great films,” Marttini said, “but also a place to meet up with friends and make new ones.”

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