Arts

In Focus

The nonfiction side of this year’s Wicked Queer film festival

A scene from the documentary film “Dykes, Cameras, Action!”
The Film Collaborative
A scene from the documentary film “Dykes, Cameras, Action!”

Celebrating its 35th anniversary, Wicked Queer , the Boston LGBT film festival (March 28 to April 7 at various venues), presents several documentaries that focus on such universal themes as aging, disability, the need to be accepted, and the thrill of discovering and celebrating one’s identity through art.  

In Sue Thomson’s “The Coming Back Out Ball Movie” (March 31, 6 p.m., Paramount Center, preceded by the short “Conway Pride”), two young Australian gay activists organize the title fete to celebrate the often-forgotten older members of their community. In this way they hope to honor their elders’ struggle with oppression, a struggle that helped win the rights which their generation now enjoys. While planning the event they consult with the old-timers, who relate their stories of persecution, perseverance, and triumph while offering pointed suggestions. 

Among the vivid personalities profiled are the flinty and opinionated Ardy Tibby, who sports a gray beard and a T-shirt that reads “This Is What a Lesbian Looks Like”; the wiry rocker Nance Peck, who says she won’t attend the ball unless they supplement the disco music and show tunes with Pink Floyd; and wiry David Morris, 87, a former railway employee and model-train hobbyist who looks sharp dressed in leather.

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Gay filmmaker Rodney Evans’s success seemed assured when he won the Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize in 2004 for his debut feature, “Brother to Brother.” But not long afterward he noticed his field of vision narrowing and was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that is progressive and incurable. This did not stop him from making other films, including the documentary “Vision Portraits” (April 7, 4 p.m., Brattle Theatre, preceded by the short “Sirene”). In it Evans profiles four artists, including himself, who have coped with visual impairment and turned it into an asset. 

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They include photographer John Dugdale, who lost his sight after a stroke, at 33, and whose haunting pictures — they look like a fusion of Robert Mapplethorpe and Walker Evans — and almost mystical attitude provide a kind of spiritual center to the film; dancer Kayla Hamilton, who finds that sightlessness makes her more attuned to sound and rhythm and her own emotions; and author and teacher Ryan Knighton, who has determined that despite his disability “the world couldn’t hurt me as long as I could narrate it.”

After visiting Jordan on a whim, Jordan Bryon soon learned how privileged the filmmaker was to have an Australian passport. While living in Amman, Bryon made the acquaintance of four LGBT people who risked their rights, freedom, and lives in order to remain true to their identity . 

To help these new friends Bryon set up a safehouse in an apartment and started filming the experience in the documentary “Birds of the Borderlands” (April 3, 8 p.m., Museum of Fine Arts). Over a period of several months Bryon helps them escape violence, emigrate, or achieve reconciliation with their families and communities. These desperate efforts lurch from one crisis to another, involving suspenseful situations of genuine danger and introspective moments of self-awareness.

In Caroline Berler’s “Dykes, Cameras, Action!” (April 7, 4 p.m., MFA, preceded by the short “A Great Ride”) lesbian filmmakers, film critics, and scholars recall the thrill they felt when they first saw images on the screen that reflected their lives — and the even greater thrill when they began creating those images themselves or writing and teaching classes about them. 

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It took a while for the film industry to reach that point. With rare exceptions, the first lesbians seen on the screen, like gay characters in general, were depicted as damaged and doomed, as in films like “The Children’s Hour” (1961) and “The Killing of Sister George” (1968). But the intersection of feminism and gay rights and the rise of independent cinema in the 1970s gave rise to a movement that has endured to the present day.

Among the filmmakers Berler interviews are Barbara Hammer (who died March 16, at 79). Her gleefully transgressive “Dyketactics” (1974) is considered the first lesbian film. Other subjects include Rose Troche, whose “Go Fish” (1994) was a groundbreaking hit at Sundance; Cheryl Dunye, whose “The Watermelon Woman” (1976) was the first feature directed by an African-American lesbian; and Desiree Akhavan, the Iranian-American director of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” (2018). Just shy of an hour long, Berler’s film is breathless and encyclopedic, eye-opening and essential.

Go to www.wickedqueer.org.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.