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For the 2nd year, Austin's aGLIFF pulls off a big queer movie party in a pandemic

Eric Webb
Austin 360
"Blitzed: The 80s Blitz Kids Story" will open up aGLIFF's 2021 film festival.

As the pandemic first darkened Austin’s door last year, the organizers of aGLIFF — the All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival — made an early decision to go virtual. They’d hoped to present a hybrid edition of their annual Prism festival this year, with vaccines finally in the world. 

That's still the plan, mostly — but the fest announced last week that it would scale back in-person gatherings due to the surge of coronavirus hospitalizations in the area. 

Gone are the planned in-person parties and a grand opening at the historic Paramount Theatre, which would have celebrated the resilience of both Austin’s LGBTQ community and the city’s oldest film festival, founded in 1987. Now: More flicks, like opener "Blitzed: The 80s Blitz Kids Story," have added virtual screenings. Physical screenings will be consolidated at the Galaxy Highland in North Austin, except for a drive-in drag-and-film event out at Pioneer Farms. (Truly, who could have guessed that a historical reenactment village on the outskirts of town would save the city’s film events?) 

From 2020:Austin LGBTQ havens try to keep family together in pandemic

"I've missed the most, in the last year, being with a group of people where I can feel comfortable, and be myself," says Bears Rebecca Fonté, aGLIFF’s artistic director. "For someone who's trans, so much of who I am is wanting to be out, and be visible. That's been very impossible, except for Zoom. ... I feel like we're all ready to come back out into the public and see each other, even if it's just for a little while, and even if we have to take extra measures to be together."

Fonté promises LGBTQ-focused stories that you can't find scrolling through streaming platforms. 

"Hopefully, when you go to a festival, you get to see challenging material, and there's things that you like, and there's things that you don't like, and if you don't see anything that you don't like, then I don't think I did a good job,” Fonté says. 

Among those challenging features: “Nimby,” a Finnish film about a lesbian couple fighting a home invasion that Fonté likens to the movie “Green Room,” and “The Films of Fred Halsted,” a trio of restored works by that gay pornography auteur (really). And then there’s closing feature “(Expletive) & Champagne,” featuring a cast of drag performers. 

“It is off-the-chain outrageous," says Todd Hogan-Sanchez, aGLIFF’s board president.

The drag-centric film "(Expletive) & Champagne" will screen as a drive-in event for aGLIFF's 2021 festival.

We caught up with Fonté and Hogan-Sanchez ahead of the festival, which runs Aug. 26-Sept. 6. Go to agliff.org to see the full lineup and purchase badges.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

American-Statesman: Some of your event plans have changed. Walk me through your decision process as you've been monitoring an ever-shifting situation.  

Todd Hogan-Sanchez: We, of course, have been monitoring everything. ... We were scheduled to be a part of the Pride Parade, and you know, until they canceled. That did feel like a big domino to fall. We've been watching what other venues and events are doing. I will say that I am really proud of our board for making a decision early on to maintain a strong virtual component of the festival. I am so happy we did, because we really had a discussion about wanting to make sure whatever the future held, that we were a festival that could be accessible to the entire community, regardless of where we were. ...

It's been heartbreaking. We've been working on all of this in-person stuff for six or eight months. To watch it unravel in the way that it is, is heartbreaking to us, because we were really hopeful to have this grand festival and get everybody back together this year in a big way. Over the last couple of weeks, what's happened is we just feel like it is the responsible thing to do to not be getting super large groups together.   

Bears Rebecca, this is your first year as artistic director. What did you want to bring to this year's fest that might be different than past years? 

Bears Rebecca Fonté: I like to find talented directors who have something to say, and sometimes those stories are maybe smaller, with smaller budgets, or are a little oddball. Definitely there's some films that are, I would say, troublesome. They are not simple films, which I want — I want people to have to go home and talk about something or think about it.  

My background is in genre film. We've always had maybe one or two genre films a year, but I definitely wanted to create a whole section for that. There's really a lot of great queer genre film being made — I mean, it's like the outsiders of the outsiders. Those are two different renegade groups: queer people and people who like genre film. ... 

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There's definitely a little bit — I'm going to call it sensuality. It could also be called a little sleazy. But I didn't want to steer away from the sexual element to the queer life. I wanted — especially when we knew we were gonna have virtual as part of the festival — to give some films that would be enjoyable to watch in the comfort of your own home, and not have to, like, have somebody sitting next to you as you're watching something pretty provocative.   

I like what you said about the "outsiders of the outsiders." That’s the sort of tension that we see in a lot of queer cultural events: between embracing that outsider perspective, not trying to conform, and then trying to adapt to a mainstream sensibility. 

Hogan-Sanchez: I think that's the whole spirit of the name Prism, and why we've gone that direction. The gay community is not one type of person. To be able to take the collective and sort of create this beam of community is what it's all about.   

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I’m going to ask a really annoying question. Obviously, mounting this year’s festival is an undertaking. Have you already started talking about next year? 

Fonté: I think the virtual stuff is great. People love the ability to watch a bunch of films on their own at 2 o’clock in the morning. ... I think that we will still find a way to come together. Because, you know, one of the things I'm super excited for this year with the in-person screenings is, we get to share the films with the filmmakers. We have many filmmakers coming in, and as a filmmaker myself, I can't explain how important it is to see your film on a screen with other people around reacting. I mean, it's just a different experience. This last year and a half has just been really depressing for filmmakers. … That's what makes a film festival so exciting. I just don't think you can do that virtually.  

I think that next year will be hopefully the festival we planned for this year, with new movies and maybe one or two extra events. Because we know how to do the festival that we were going to do this year. We just didn't get to do it.