If you’ve already binge-watched everything in your Netflix queue or you’re just craving something unusual and edifying in the way of cinema, the Lone Star State has options to offer you — in the comfort and safety of your home.
Denton, Texas’s Thin Line Fest, focusing on documentaries and running through Sunday, and the Dallas VideoFest, set for April 2-5, are going online in the time of social distancing and sheltering in place, and they promise the full film festival experience, complete with filmmaker Q&A’s in real time. And there’s ample representation of LGBTQ artists and content in both fests; among other things, each features a work helmed by lesbian director Cheryl Allison.
“The day after South by Southwest [the prestigious Austin arts festival] canceled, I really had to sit down by myself and decide what to do here,” says Bart Weiss, founder, president, and artistic director of the Dallas VideoFest. He’s been running the event for 32 years, and this year it was going to be held in a theater inside the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, which opened its new building last year.
Weiss was loath to cancel the video festival, but he couldn’t stand the idea of anyone getting sick because they attended. So he and Thin Line founder-director Joshua Butler both decided to take their festivals online, with a platform where films will be shown on a set schedule, with introductions from festival hosts and Q&A’s with filmmakers. The Q&A’s will not be prerecorded; viewers can submit questions to moderators via their computers. Falcon Events, a Dallas-based event producer where Butler is COO, is providing the necessary technology.
For LGBTQ and feminist audiences, and really, anyone concerned with human rights, a must-see in the Thin Line Fest is Shatter the Silence, a documentary inspired by the #MeToo movement. Director Allison interviewed numerous Dallas-area activists, elected officials, clergy members, and others about sexual violence, rape culture, and the ongoing struggle for gender equality. She combined this with archival footage of Anita Hill, Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm, and other fighters for equality, including suffragists who’d been jailed for their activism.
Allison, who has acted onstage and in film but is equally at home behind the camera, recalls being deeply moved when the #MeToo movement gathered force in the fall of 2017, with the emergence of sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and others. She wanted to find a way to keep people talking about the subject, and then she came up with the idea for the documentary.
“I thought, What is my hometown doing?” says Allison, who was born in Dallas’s sister city of Fort Worth and settled in Dallas a few years ago with wife Natalie Murray after spending much of her career in New York and Los Angeles. The result is a film that focuses on Dallas but has universal relevance. Her interviewees include survivors of sexual harassment and/or assault, activists and politicians (including former State Sen. Wendy Davis) seeking to bring attention to the problem and find solutions, and participants in Dallas’s Women’s March. Their stories are often enraging, but their strength and resilience are inspiring.
“I was really impressed that these women — and men — wanted to lend their voices to this,” Allison says.
Shatter the Silence has screened in several festivals, but Allison is nonetheless excited about having it in Thin Line’s virtual fest. “So many festivals are having to cancel, and I think it’s absolutely wonderful that they scrambled to get this together,” she says.
The film will play at 7:45 p.m. Central time Saturday, paired with the short film Motherland, about women clearing land mines in a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A Q&A with Allison will follow via Zoom.
Allison’s entry in the Dallas VideoFest is Hiding in Daylight, a short narrative film about a dystopian near-future in which being gay has been outlawed. It focuses on four friends — two lesbians and two gay men — who have entered into opposite-sex marriages of convenience but gather once a week so each can see their true spouse and reminisce about their former out and proud lives, all while living in fear of being found out.
The screenplay is by Gregory G. Allen, a gay man who wanted someone to bring a female and lesbian perspective to the material, so he hired Allison, marking her first move into narrative films. The story is harrowing and, sadly, still timely, given the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ people, Allison notes. Allen has also developed a feature-length version of the script that he hopes to get produced.
Hiding in Daylight will screen as part of the video fest’s “Hidden Stories” short block, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Central on April 5.
For those who have scheduling conflicts with either online festival or want to watch the films more than once, both Shatter the Silence and Hiding in Daylight are available on Amazon Prime. And keep an eye out for Allison’s next project, which she’s currently editing — Pieces of Us, a documentary about survivors of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. “It’s heartbreaking but beautiful at the same time,” promises the filmmaker, who hopes to finish editing by mid-May and then will be submitting the doc to festivals and seeking a distributor.
The two festivals feature several other films of particular LGBTQ interest. At Thin Line, these include Dominique and This Is the Way We Rise.
In Dominique, the titular woman, whose mother raised three transgender daughters, invites the audience on a journey back home to a small island at the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. It’s part of the “All Around Us” shorts program, beginning Friday at 9 p.m. Central.
This Is the Way We Rise follows Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, a gay native Hawaiian slam poet, as her calling to protect sacred indigenous lands against development atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, reinvigorates her work. It’s part of the “Opening Doors” shorts program, starting Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Central.
At the video fest, whose theme is “AltFiction,” other entries with LGBTQ appeal include Song Lang, an acclaimed Vietnamese film about the relationship that develops between two men, one a folk opera performer, the other a debt collector. It marked director Leon Le’s feature film debut and will screen April 5 at 7:30 p.m. Central. The fest will also show the short Lolo, in which an 11-year-old gay boy tries to persuade his first love to go public with their relationship, at a time to be determined.
Weiss notes that the “alternative” theme of the festival includes showcasing stories that are outside the mainstream, however that’s defined, and works that use alternative means of filmmaking; for instance, it will have a block of short films shot on mobile phones (“Big D Mobile,” April 5 at noon Central time). And it definitely means highlighting the work of LGBTQ people, women, and people of color.
“There are plenty of white straight movies out there made by men,” says Weiss, himself a white straight man. “We are trying to look for things you might not otherwise come across.”
For full festival schedules, visit ThinLine.us and VideoFest.org. And to get a virtual “ticket” to any film and the Q&A’s, register at OnlineFest.us. During the Q&A’s you can type in questions you want to ask, and the moderator will choose the most popular questions to put to the filmmaker being interviewed. There is no charge, but of course the festivals would appreciate donations from anyone who can afford to make them.
See trailers for Shatter the Silence, Hiding in Daylight, and Song Lang below.