Though it may be screening movies virtually, this year’s Damn These Heels Queer Film Festival is digging into some real stories — including two documentaries of LGBTQ stories in Utah.
The festival, in its 17th year, will happen online from July 10 to 19, showcasing 18 films from the United States, Chile, Mexico, Singapore, Brazil, Japan, Vietnam, Iceland, Israel, Australia and Portugal. The lineup was announced Wednesday by the Utah Film Center, the nonprofit that presents the festival.
The list, said Davey Davis, the festival’s director of programming, “covers new ground in compassionate, entertaining, insightful and remarkable ways.”
One of the documentaries set in Utah is “Dog Valley,” directed by Dave Lindsay. The film recalls the 1988 murder of Gordon Church, a gay student at Southern Utah State College (now Southern Utah University) in Cedar City — who was kidnapped, beaten, raped, tortured and killed by two recent parolees. The movie, according to the filmmakers’ synopsis, “explores the horrific events of his death, the lives and minds of his killers, and how [the case] has helped shape modern hate crimes legislation in Utah.”
The other documentary made in Utah is “Same-Sex Attracted,” directed by Maddy Purves and Zoie Young. This film follows several students through a year at Brigham Young University in Provo. The students are LGBTQ and SSA — “same-sex attracted,” the phrase often preferred by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, to describe being gay.
Except for one film — “Holy Trinity,” which will have a special one-time screening — all the movies selected for Damn These Heels will be available for streaming during the entire run of the festival. Tickets and passes are available at DamnTheseHeels.org.
Here are the 18 films — not counting short films, which will be announced later — screening at Damn These Heels. (All are made in the United States, unless otherwise noted):
“Breaking Fast” • In director-writer Mike Mosallam’s comedy-drama, Haaz Sleiman (“The Visitor”) plays Mo, a practicing Muslim in West Hollywood, who’s navigating a breakup when he meets all-American Kal (Michael Cassidy), who offers to break fast with Mo during Ramadan.
“Dog Valley” • Directed by Dave Lindsay; see description above.
“Ema” (Chile) • Pablo Larraín (“No,” “Jackie”) directs this fiery, dance-filled drama about a couple (Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal) whose household falls apart after an adoption ends with tragic consequences. “Ema” played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, in the Spotlight section.
“Holy Trinity” • Trinity (played by the film’s writer-director, Molly Hewitt) is a Chicago sex-positive dominatrix who huffs a magic aerosol can that gives her the ability to talk to the dead.
“Jules of Light and Dark” • In writer-director Daniel Laabs’s drama, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest last year, a woman (Tallie Medel) breaks up with her girlfriend (Betsy Holt) in rehab, and forms a bond with the guy (Robert Longstreet) who rescued the couple from a car crash.
“Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story” • In this documentary, director Posy Dixon profiles a black trans musician whose 1986 album is rediscovered by fans decades later.
“One Taxi Ride” (Mexico/Singapore) • Director Mak CK’s documentary follows a young man who was raped at 17, by a taxi driver and two accomplices, and never told anyone about it — until 10 years later, when he tries to reclaim his life.
“Pier Kids: The Life” • Director Elegance Bratton spends three years following three gay and transgender youth of color who are homeless — as Bratton once was — on the street where the gay rights movement began.
“The Prince” (Chile) • Jaime (Juan Carlos Maldonado) is the title character — a 20-something narcissist who kills his best friend in the 1970s — in this homoerotic prison story based on a little-known pulp novel, directed by Sebastián Muñoz.
“Queen of Lapa” (Brazil) • Luana Muniz, arguably one of Brazil’s best-known transgender personalities, is a larger-than-life actress, cabaret performer, activist, and proud sex professional since the age of 11. Directors Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat tell Muniz’s story, and those of the transgender sex workers living in the hostel Muniz runs as their sanctuary.
“Queer Japan” (Japan) • A kaleidoscopic look at LGBTQ+ culture in Japan, focusing on the trailblazing artists, activists and everyday people across the spectrum of gender and sexuality. The documentary is directed by Graham Kolbeins.
“Same-Sex Attracted” • Directed by Maddy Purves and Zoie Young; see description above.
“Song Lang” (Vietnam) • In director Leon Le’s romantic drama, set in Saigon in the 1990s, an underground debt collector and a cai luong, or “Vietnamese opera,” performer form an unlikely bond.
“The Surrogate” • Jasmine Batchelor plays Jess, who agrees to become the surrogate to donate her eggs and carry a baby for her best friend and his husband. But when a prenatal test produces unexpected results, a moral dilemma emerges in writer-director Jeremy Hersh’s drama.
“Thirst” (Iceland) • A drug-addicted woman accused of murder meets a 1,000-year-old gay vampire, in this comedy horror film directed by Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson and Gaukur Úlfarsson.
“Transkids” (Israel) • Four Israeli teens go through transition — in a country where military service is mandatory and religion is inextricably linked to the government — in director Hilla Medalla’s documentary.
“Unsound” (Australia) • A disillusioned musician meets a young trans man, and together they work to save his community nightclub for the deaf, in this drama by director Ian Watson.
“Variações: Guardian Angel” (Portugal) • João Maia directs this biopic of Portuguese pop-rock singer António Variações, who died from AIDS-related complications in 1984.
Editor’s note: Sean P. Means is married to an employee of the Utah Film Center.