This weekend, Reel Affirmations, the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s annual film festival, will celebrate its 26th year with a slate of eight feature-length films and 18 short films over three days.
The festival’s director Kimberley Bush, who’s also currently the interim executive director of the DC Center, says that arts and culture is one of the center’s four core areas where it attempts “to educate, empower, celebrate, and definitely connect the LGBTQ community.” And the festival is clear about that mission: “Once you can see things outside of yourself and see someone that’s just like you, sometimes that makes coming out easier or accepting your gender identity easier,” Bush says.
But the films don’t sugarcoat the realities of LGBTQ life. Many of them tell stories about the challenging and emotionally debilitating chapters in people’s lives; some discuss threats of violence, abandonment, and criminalization. These films need to be seen by everyone, says Bush.
The festival also works to represent the entire span of LGBTQ life, across genders, sexualities, races, and nationalities. Reel Affirmations films come from almost a dozen countries and depict polyamory, bisexuality, and transgender narratives—not just the lives of white, cisgender, gay people.
After years of putting the festival together, Bush says she’s convinced film can change lives. “I’ve seen people walk out completely different in a most positive and glorious way,” she says. “I think the film festival is so vital and important, even though we have Netflix and Hulu and all these other streaming opportunities. I still think it’s important to physically bring community together to actually see our life stories on screen.”
Below are five films screening this weekend that are especially worth your time. The full schedule and ticket links are available on The DC Center’s website, and all films screen at the GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. $14–$40.
Queen of the CapitalThis documentary, directed by Josh Davidsburg, premiered in June as part of the Newseum’s Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement exhibition. It follows Muffy Blake Stephyns, a D.C. drag queen with a Department of Labor day job who’s campaigning for the Imperial Court of Washington’s highest honor, Empress.Oct. 25 at 5:30 p.m. 80 minutes.
Ek AashaIn Ek Aasha, an Indian drama premiering in D.C. for the first time, Aasha, an aspiring teacher, leaves home to join a traditional community of hijras—a legally and socially recognized third gender category in India—but her gender brings social and family pressure that threatens to derail her dream. Oct. 26 at 5:30 p.m. 120 minutes.
Daughters of the FireThis Argentinian feature follows a polyamorous group as they plan a road trip through Patagonia, picking up other queer women along the way, that becomes a journey toward sexual liberation and a new understanding of themselves and the world. “It turns into this whole sexual exploration of all of them that is really riveting and eye-opening,” Bush says.Oct. 26 at 9:15 pm. 105 minutes.
Jonathan Agassi Saved My LifeJonathan Agassi is one of the world’s most successful gay porn stars. This documentary, filmed over eight years, follows the Israeli star’s rise to fame, the pressures of his career, and his complicated, close relationship with his mother.Oct. 26 at 11 p.m. 106 minutes.
Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave BirthJeanie Finlay’s documentary follows a gay transgender man, Freddy, as he decides to start his own family by carrying his own baby—while dealing with friends, family, and a medical establishment that constantly misgender and misunderstand him. Bush calls Seahorse “absolutely extraordinary.”Oct. 27 at 12:30 p.m. 90 minutes.