At PRISM 36, LGBTQIA+ Films Bring Chills, Classics, and Heartfelt Insight

Highlights from aGLIFF’s flagship film fest

Chasing Chasing Amy (photo by Bill Winters)

First launched in 1987, aGLIFF has rebranded a few times to reflect changing ideas about identity.

That includes rechristening its signature film fest as the PRISM Film Festival in order to “highlight the way our festival can refract a single beam of art into multiple viewpoints, showcasing all the voices in the spectrum of our LGBTQ+ community.”

Having just wrapped a five-day in-person festival and additional eight-day virtual encore, PRISM 36 provided a solid showcase of LGTBQIA+ cinema, succeeding despite a few technical issues along the way. My time at Austin’s oldest film festival was full of great discoveries, including heartfelt dramas, dystopian sci-fi mind-benders, and an insightful repertory screening.

The first film I saw at this year’s fest was the bittersweet, sensual Lie With Me, directed by Olivier Peyon. The movie follows Stéphane Belcourt (played by Guillaume de Tonquédec), an author returning to his hometown for a speaking engagement at a local distillery. Stéphane is still haunted by his first love, Thomas (Julien De Saint Jean), and so is stunned to realize that one of the workers at the distillery is Thomas’ son, Lucas (Victor Belmondo – yes, grandson to that Belmondo). The film moves between memories of Thomas and Stéphane’s time together to the present day. The result is a tender, melancholy rumination on first love, coming out, and legacy. It didn’t all hang together for me, but I still was moved by the end. Despite some initial problems with making sure the captions were visible at the beginning of Lie With Me, the screening came together and went without another hitch.

Later that evening, I settled in for my next viewing of the fest (no technical issues this time). Jezabel, a dystopian murder-mystery, has a lot on its mind. Moving back and forth between 2017 and 2033, the film centers around a debaucherous friend group. In 2017, Eli (Eliane Chipia), Cacá (Shakti Maal), Lolo (Johanna Juliethe), and Alain (Gabriel Agüero), are rich and reckless. They sleep with each other, take mountains of drugs, and share a nihilistic philosophy. Then Eli dies under sketchy circumstances, leaving Alain haunted. When Alain begins dating journalist Salvador (Erich Wildpret), they might finally get the truth. This story unravels against a backdrop of social unrest and touches on misogyny, abuse, memory, and privilege. It’s hard to watch at times, bleak, and a bit clunky in its execution, but fearless in its depiction of teenage depravity and unabashed sexuality.

After some technical issues Sunday morning with The Venus Effect, the film I’d originally gotten a ticket for, I ended up seeing When Time Got Louder. The family drama centers on a sibling relationship between Abbie (Willow Shields) and her nonverbal, autistic brother Kayden (Jonathan Simao). When Abbie leaves for college, the move is an adjustment for the once inseparable pair. Abbie finally has the freedom to express her sexuality and learn what it means to be a person outside of being a sister and caretaker to Kayden. What unfolds is a complicated, heartfelt film that can be cloying at times, but ultimately handles the subject with care and nuance.

Over the course of the weekend, Chasing Chasing Amy, a documentary from Sav Rodgers, won me over the most. What starts out as an examination of Rodgers’ love of Kevin Smith’s 1997 film Chasing Amy turns into a deeply personal, revelatory look at what representation on screen can do for someone. Even if a piece of media is “problematic” – a word that’s been applied to Chasing Amy’s depiction of queer sexuality – or imperfect, if someone sees themselves there, it can be, as Rodgers puts it in the documentary, a life raft. Even if it’s a temporary support system for a difficult time in life, seeing yourself and your story on screen can help carry you to the other side of self-discovery and survival.

My last viewing of the weekend was a 35mm screening of the queer cult classic, Jawbreaker, with director Darren Stein in attendance. Some of the movie has curdled over time (including some now-wincing casting choices). However, its colorful camp, teenage carnage, and vicious satire plays as strong and welcome as ever. During the Q&A section of the screening, Stein shared insights from the set, influences (Frankenstein and Rocky Horror were mentioned), and news of a potential return in the form of a movie musical for Columbia.

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PRISM Film Festival, aGLIFF, Lie With Me, Jezabel, The Venus Effect, When Time Got Louder, Chasing Chasing Amy, Jawbreaker, Olivier Peyon, Sav Rodgers, Kevin Smith, Chasing Amy, Darren Stein

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