From Gay Arabs to Intersex Infants, Five Films Worth Seeing at the Tel Aviv Gay Film Festival

Neta Alexander
Neta Alexander
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Kiki.Credit: Courtesy
Neta Alexander
Neta Alexander

Like other LGBT events this year, the focus of the upcoming gay film festival in Tel Aviv, TLVFest, is on women in the community. The festival — which runs from May 29 to June 7— includes special guests from abroad who will speak to the audience about their films, among them, actor Alan Cumming, who is the guest of honor. There will be screenings of dozens of films, including full-length features, documentaries, short films and Israeli cinema. For those who are trying to decide what to see, below are five recommended films. Happy Pride Week to all those who are celebrating.

1. The Fits

There’s nothing more enjoyable than discovering a new female director who makes you want to keep track of her, and after watching “The Fits” you too will start repeating the name Anna Rose Holmer. This unique and original debut film blew away the viewers at the Sundance Film Festival and has since been screened at other festivals. It has garnered praise thanks to its original and unexpected script, meticulous photography and the breakthrough role by the unknown and inexperienced actress Royalty Hightower, who burns up the screen here.

The film, which you should read about as little as possible before viewing, tells the story of 11-year-old Toni (Hightower), a young black girl who is training as a boxer in a godforsaken part of Cincinnati. At a certain point she decides to give up boxing to join a dance troupe. Holmer’s direction focuses on the female body in a manner reminiscent of the power and energy of last year’s excellent “Girlhood.” The Fits” is not easy to watch, but it’s an unforgettable cinematic experience for viewers who aren’t afraid of out-of-the-box female cinema.

2. Oriented

The opening event of the festival is the Israeli debut of Jake Witzenfeld’s highly praised documentary, which has been screened in recent months at many festivals worldwide, and is finally getting an official Israeli debut. The film follows Khader, Fadi and Naim — three Arab gays in their twenties who live in Jaffa. Instead of telling a story about the difficulties of living as a gay Palestinian man in Israel, the ongoing documentation of the three young protagonists analyzes identity politics.

3. Deep inside the Chinese closet

An interesting and very depressing documentary that describes a popular phenomenon in China: Parents who find it difficult to accept their LGBT children force them into fictitious marriages in order to maintain the illusion of heteronormativity that is fundamental in conservative Chinese society. The film documents meetings designed to bring gays and lesbians together for the purpose of these fictitious marriages.

The really fascinating scenes belong to Cherry, the lesbian protagonist who already married a man in the past and divorced him. Now she is forced to find a new gay groom in order to please her parents, who suffer from incessant bullying in their small and insular community.

4. Kiki

This is an updated and fast-paced version of “Paris is Burning,” the classic queer documentary from 1990, which recorded New York’s queer party scene in the 1980s. Both films document how the outsiders of American society — transgender people, Latinos, African-Americans and LGBTs — gather in improvised places for drag competitions. “Kiki,” which was directed by Sara Jordenu, follows a number of young African-Americans who take an active part in the underground party scene called Voguing. The result is an exciting, fast-paced and touching film tha shows how music and dancing can serve as an activist tool for empowerment and political opposition.

Jordenu (who will attend the screenings as a guest of the festival) collaborated with Twiggy, Gia and other dancers who star in the film, and documented the way in which organizations and non-profit associations sponsored this marginal culture and use it to try to save young New Yorkers from a life in the street and dealing with HIV.

Of course “Kiki” is not a trailblazer like “Paris is Burning” — one of the early documentaries about AIDS and the marginal transgender culture — but it is definitely fascinating in its own right, thanks in part to its protagonists and their families, some of whom agreed to star on the screen alongside them.

5. Arianna

A feature film that deals with intersex infants, who were born with female and male sex organs. The film explores the subject in a delicate, complex and sophisticated manner, which led to two acting prizes at the latest Venice Film Festival for its leading actress, Ondina Quadri.