By Josh Bell
After two years as a promising new local film festival, the Las Vegas Queer Arts Film Festival took 2020 off, and it briefly looked like it might be one more casualty of the pandemic. But LVQAFF returned this year with a virtual edition, providing a valuable showcase of films by and/or about the LGBTQ+ community. The festival was scaled back a bit, with only one feature film alongside its programs of shorts, and no discussions or Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Still, it was filled with entertaining and ambitious short films, including a spotlight program for local talent, plus dedicated animation and music video programs that festival founder Kris Manzano said he was especially proud to include.
Among the local shorts, my favorite was the tender family drama “Novenario,” by longtime local filmmaker Alberto Triana. “Novenario” follows Adrianna (Amanda Guardado), a Hispanic woman who feels disconnected from her family and her culture, as she travels for her grandfather’s funeral. Triana explores the potential disconnect between immigrants and their American-born children, as Adrianna never learned Spanish growing up and resents her father for denying her what she sees as part of her heritage. She’s also a lesbian, but the movie isn’t about the intolerance of an older generation. Triana handles the conflicts in a low-key, measured way, with realistic character interactions that never tip into melodrama.
Indie rock band Indigo Kidd’s music video “Better Off,” directed by Joel Martinez, was another highlight of the local program. It features a simple story about a woman being dumped and then attempting to show off for her now-ex-girlfriend, but it’s delivered with energy and charm. Martinez showcases local roller skaters, alongside comedian and actor Roberto Raad goofing off in a pink flamingo costume, plus Indigo Kidd’s catchy song.
The animation program was full of amusing and experimental vignettes, although many of them were too short to make much of an impression. The festival’s award winner for best animated short, “DracuDate,” is a cute, colorful story about a nervous vampire on a date with a human, as she’s being pursued by a monster hunter. Director Rhael McGregor employs a bubbly visual style drenched in pink and makes her monsters cuddly and harmless, with a simple metaphor for any aspect of identity that people are afraid will be revealed.
Barbara E. Guertin’s “Love in Transit” is similarly cute, although a bit more grounded and much less pink. It depicts a simple daydream of a woman standing on a subway platform, wondering about the romantic possibilities with someone she spots nearby. Likewise, Josh Boehnke and Jeff Dempsey’s “Laundry Night” uses animation to express its characters’ inner longings, as two shy guys eye each other at a laundromat. Their clothes come to life via stop motion to express what the wearers can’t.
Elsewhere in the festival, award winners “Memoirs of the (Non)Existent Me” (best screenplay) and “Roadkill” (best performance) stood out for their smart, sensitive storytelling and understated style. Thiago Kistenmacker’s “Memoirs of the (Non)Existent Me” looks at the aftermath of the death of a transgender woman as her judgmental father and her supportive friends mourn her in different ways. It celebrates a journey of self-discovery while facing harsh truths, without getting maudlin. Aliza Brugger’s “Roadkill” is a brief but memorable character study about a small-town loner who works as a municipal roadkill collector and emerges from her insular shell when she hooks up with an outgoing visitor stranded in town for the night.
There were plenty of bold avant-garde pieces as well, but the simple stories were the most resonant. LVQAFF has always demonstrated the range of filmmaking from the LGBTQ+ community, and this year’s festival was a welcome return for an event that will hopefully remain a vital part of the local cinematic landscape.