This year, the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival celebrates 30 years of screening LGBTQ films. I’ve seen more than half of this year’s features, and Straight Up is my favorite narrative film. My favorite documentary is For They Know Not What They Do.
Most screenings, from Friday through Oct. 12, are at the Tampa Theatre (711 N Franklin St.) with some at Metro Inclusive Health (3251 Third Ave. N, St. Petersburg).
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what films to fit into your schedule, here are my quick reviews listed by date, with ratings out of four stars.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Tampa Theatre, ★★
The honeymoon is over for Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew) after five years together. Marklin has struck it rich with a fashion website, while Adam is a struggling painter, doing works in the style of a pretentious artist (Patricia Clarkson, appearing briefly) who sells them as her own. They’re part of a group of mostly 30-something New York yuppies, all of whom have their own stories. Writer-director Mike Doyle seems to have made Sell By for the characters it’s about. If you don’t fit in with their clique, and I don’t, you can feel excluded.
10 p.m. Friday, Tampa Theatre, ★★
Bit, an ambitious attempt to reinvent the teen vampire genre, bites off more than it can chew. The character of Laurel and Nicole Maines, who portrays her, are both trans women, but that’s neither obvious nor relevant. Laurel graduates high school in Oregon and heads to L.A. for a gap summer. She’s soon sucked into a group of vampires, led by Duke (Diana Hopper), who are lesbian but more importantly feminist. A lot of exposition is devoted to their history and special rules, but one gets the idea that their cure for toxic masculinity is worse than the disease.
This is Not Berlin (Esto no es Berlín)
3 p.m. Saturday, Metro Inclusive Health, ★★½
The ironic thing about This Is Not Berlin is that the film it most resembles is Cabaret, which of course was Berlin. This one takes place in Mexico City in 1986. It’s about a 17-year-old, Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de Léon), who discovers a divinely decadent world of sex, drugs and outdated music. An unrequited crush on his best friend’s sister gets Carlos admitted to a club where a sexually fluid crowd of pretentious artists hang out. Things happen fast for Carlos but a lot slower for us watching him. This nostalgic coming-of-age story could have been so much more.
The Shiny Shrimps (Les Crevettes pailletées)
8 p.m. Saturday, Tampa Theatre, ★★★
We’ve seen many movies about a reluctant coach turning a bunch of losers into champions, but the gay water polo team in this French comedy is based on a real team. Forced to train the Shiny Shrimps for the Gay Games is Matthias (Nicolas Gob), who has to redeem himself for using a homophobic word on television. The seven gay men and one trans woman on the team each have stories, some rather dramatic or melodramatic. After a funny start, the movie becomes overly serious as their stories play out, but it retains a positive energy that saves the day.
Billie & Emma
1:45 p.m. Sunday, Tampa Theatre, ★★★
Has there ever been another Filipino lesbian high school romance? Back in the ‘90s, Billie (Zar Donato), the new girl in the Catholic school where her aunt teaches, begins a romance with Emma (Gabby Padilla), one of the smartest, most popular girls. Then Emma finds out she’s pregnant. She’s hoping for a scholarship, but Catholic schools aren’t big on pregnancy or abortion (not to mention homosexuality). Writer-director-LGBT activist Samantha Lee takes on a lot of responsibility here, and it’s remarkable how smoothly she makes it all work together at a good pace without seeming rushed.
For They Know Not What They Do
6:45 p.m. Monday, Tampa Theatre, ★★★½
Several of the year’s best screen dramas are collected in, of all things, a documentary. The subjects are four good Christian couples who each learn one of their children is gay or transgender. They all had to go through a process to reach full acceptance, not to mention what their children went through. Their tales don’t all have happy endings, or even happy beginnings or middles. Director Daniel G. Karslake has found the right people to tell the right stories that show true Christianity is about loving. Bring tissues, but don’t miss it.
7 p.m. Tuesday, Tampa Theatre, ★★★½
I think I’m in love with writer-director James Sweeney, who also stars as Todd in this odd romcom. I know I’m in love with his movie. Todd, who has OCD, can’t stand bodily fluids, so he doesn’t want to have sex — with anyone, even though he’s obviously gayer than Pride. Rory (Katie Findlay) is a wannabe actress who blows every audition. Individually, they’re a mess, but together, they’re a perfect match. Is a lack of sex a dealbreaker for a young couple? Straight Up isn’t for everyone, but it sure is for me.
RELATED STORY: Tampa Bay’s LGBTQ film festival celebrates 30 years
9:15 p.m. Wednesday, Tampa Theatre, ★★
Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is an insecure gay filmmaker starring in his own film, based on his own life, about a gay man who’s incapable of love. Taking meta to another level, writer-director Simon Amstell is said to have based the character on himself. While readying his film, Benjamin meets Noah (Phénix Brossard), a young singer, and begins an affair neither is ready to commit to at the same time the other is. Billed as a comedy, Benjamin proves at least some comedy doesn’t travel well. Much of it is more depressing than amusing, as awkward people awkwardly form awkward relationships.
Changing the Game
5:15 p.m. Oct. 10, Tampa Theatre, ★★★
Should there be a “T” in Team? Michael Barnett’s documentary about three transgender high school athletes in different states (Texas, New Hampshire and Connecticut) with different rules, studies legitimate questions. It may require the wisdom of Solomon to come up with a solution that’s fair to every body because none fully resolves the issue of testosterone, natural or injected, giving one an unfair advantage over cisgender female competitors. The film’s not “fair and balanced,” but it can save lives. That and getting to know three likable young folks — Mack, Sarah and Andraya — make Changing the Game supremely worthwhile.
An Almost Ordinary Summer (Croce e delizia)
7 p.m. Oct. 10, Tampa Theatre, ★★½
This year’s Big Gay Italian Wedding isn’t as good as last year’s, but it’s not bad. Toni (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) has invited his own family and that of Carlo (Alessandro Gassmann) to his fabulous vacation home so the men can announce their engagement. Carlo’s homophobic son, Sandro, plots with Toni’s daughter, Penny, to prevent the union. The dramedy runs out of laughs about halfway through, and it’s a chore to keep track of all the characters. However, the overall story of two older men finding themselves and each other makes it worth the effort.
8:30 p.m. Oct. 10, Metro Inclusive Health, ★★★
Song Lang immerses you in Vietnamese culture, especially its opera, and you need a bit of the opera queen gene to appreciate what director and co-writer Leon Le does. Dung (Lien Binh Phat) is a collector for a greedy moneylender, a job that requires him to be nasty and violent. Among the debtors is a local opera company whose star, Linh Phung (Isaac), offers to pay their debt. Between excerpts from the opera, Phung and Dung get better acquainted. Once you think you know where it’s going, you’ll be impatient for it to get there. I liked Song Lang, but it’s too delicate for many tastes.
End of the Century (Fin de siglo)
10 p.m. Oct. 11, Tampa Theatre, ★★
Lucio Castro’s debut feature begins with vacationing Ocho (Juan Barberini) cruising Barcelona silently at length until he hooks up with Javi (Ramon Pujol). On their second date, Ocho realizes they’ve met before. An unannounced flashback of 20 years, in which the men don’t look a day younger, shows their first meeting. Then back to the present and finally — I wouldn’t spoil it if I could. Castro has some filmmaking skills and a fine cinematographer, but he’s not much of a storyteller. While I was repeatedly sucked into the tale, my ultimate takeaway is WTF?
Gay Chorus Deep South
8 p.m. Oct. 12, Tampa Theatre, ★★★
After the 2016 election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus toured five Southern states (not Florida) to start a conversation about discrimination against LGBTQ people while states were passing “religious freedom” laws. David Charles Rodrigues’ documentary includes several well-sung songs in rehearsals and performances, but it’s not a concert film. It’s more about the conversation, including personal stories of chorus members and others. A few have touching family reunions along the way. The film reminds us how much can be accomplished by leaving our bubble, getting to know the people we disagree with and letting them get to know us.
Steve Warren is a tbt* correspondent. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.