The Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival brings two extended weekends of films devoted to gay, lesbian and queer culture, along with a series of parties, to town with a festive schedule that begins Thursday.
There’s plenty to celebrate.
“It’s our big 3-0,” said Brent Anbe, director of the festival — the festival’s 30th year.
Anbe explained that the festival was founded three decades ago by Jack Law, longtime operator of the gay-friendly gathering place Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand.
“The first couple of years, it was just shown at the bar,” Anbe said. “Since then, we’ve grown into one of the longest-lasting LGBT film festivals in the world.”
The Rainbow Film Festival will present 22 screenings, for a total of 58 films ranging from features to documentaries to shorts,.
There will also be plenty of parties, filmmaker appearances and, for the first time, an actor’s workshop where actors, writers and directors will discuss their craft.
THIS YEAR’S programming is particularly international in scope, with films from Europe, Africa, South Korea, Canada and the Pacific on the bill.
France is represented in opening film “Les Crevettes Pailletees” (“The Shiny Shrimps,” 7:30 p.m. today), about a champion swimmer who is forced to coach a gay men’s water polo team after making a slur against homosexuals.
The men’s centerpiece film is Canada’s “Giant Little Ones,” (7:15 p.m. Sunday) about a budding relationship between two high school swimming teammmates.
Other films blend cultural and sexual preference issues, such as “Luciernagas” (“Fireflies,” 3:15 Saturday), about a Turkish man who is a stowaway on a cargo ship and winds up in Mexico, and “The Garden Left Behind,” (noon Sunday) about a young trans woman from Mexico who comes to America with her grandmother.
Such diversity does not come at the cost of presenting good films, Anbe said. “We try to specialize in having quality vs. quantity,” he said.
Programming director Richard Kuwada said there’s been a significant shift among film festivals throughout the world that has given rise to quality films telling stories about diverse communities.
Earlier this year, an organization known as POC2 (People of Color Collective) was formed, serving as a “watchdog” for film festival programming. “They look at lineups at film festivals throughout the world,” Kuwada said. “They want to ensure that film festivals are inclusive and diverse.”
POC2 is also focusing on making sure that women filmmakers and women’s stories get exposure.
Nearly half of the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival films to be screened this year, both features and shorts, were made by women.
One of the films in that category is “Before You Know It,” (7:30 p.m. Aug. 15) a drama about two sisters who have to confront their codependent relationship after they discover that their mother, unbeknownst to them, is alive and acting in a soap opera. Filmmakers Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock and Mallory Schwartz will attend the screening.
Some of the other women-centered films include “Vita & Virginia,” (5 p.m. Sunday) British filmmaker Chanya Button’s feature about the relationship between writer Virginia Woolf and socialite Vita Sackville-West, and “Tell It To the Bees,” (noon Aug. 16) a period film set in 1950s Britain.
“I think the focus is diversity this year,” Kuwada said, adding that about a quarter of the film festival’s offerings feature people of color.
“Hollywood is finally shifting, for the better and with integrity,” said Anbe, who works in casting in the film and television industry and has seen some of the changes. “With the #MeToo movement, everything in Hollywood is becoming more transparent, and on the up and up. It’s diversity, diversity, diversity.”
The Rainbow Film Festival collaborates with an organization called the Asian Pacific Queer Film Festival Alliance, a Taiwan-based organization representing film festivals throughout the Pacific rim. Through that connection, the festival is bringing a program of shorts and the feature “House of Hummingbird,” (7:15 Friday) a coming-of-age fim about a South Korean girl.
WITH A team of co-screeners, Kuwada reviewed nearly 350 films – 143 features and 204 shorts – to develop the festival program. It was inevitable that some of the films he saw would overlap in style or content, and two in particular addressed similar themes in similar ways, he notes. One was set amidst the Roma community in Spain, another in Kenya.
Kuwada chose the Kenyan film, “Rafiki” (2:15 Aug. 18).
“LGBT films are banned in Kenya,” Kuwada said. “(‘Rafiki’) was initially banned in its home country, but there was a reversal of the decision by the Kenyan Supreme Court, which allowed the film to be screened in Kenya. The film is quite important.”
In the film, love blossoms between two young Kenyan girls, who must defy family pressures and convention to be together.
Also of import: The closing night screening of “Shangela is Shook” (7 p.m. Aug. 18), with an appearance by Shangela, the drag queen, standup comedian and three-time contestant on “Rupaul’s Drag Race.”
Taped live from Shangela’s comedy tour of Australia, the film is getting its world premiere here.
Shangela made history as the first drag queen ever to walk the red carpet at the Academy Awards, an opportunity afforded her as a costar in the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga vehicle “A Star Is Born.”
Kuwada has no qualms about screening “Shangela Is Shook,” sight-unseen.
“I know she’s funny and sassy and fierce,” he said.
HONOLULU RAINBOW FILM FESTIVAL 2019
>> Where: Film screenings at Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
>> When: Thursday through Aug. 18
>> Cost: $12-$15 per screening; all-access pass (includes parties and films) $150
>> Info: hglcf.org (visit honolulumuseum.org for complete schedule of screenings)
>> 7:30 p.m. Thursday: Dane Neves, Cheyne Gallarde, “Outside the Lines”; Alexandra Livingston, Angela DeVida, CaraMel Flava/Mel Mariano, Dan Paul Roberts/ Candi Shell, Jason Victorino and Gdolce, Shazzy Springs, “Dungeons & Drag Queens”
>> 7:30 p.m. Saturday: Tim Seelig, “Gay Chorus Deep South”
>> 2:15 p.m. Sunday: George Roberson, “Jose”
>> 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15: Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock, Mallory Schwartz, “Before You Know It”
>> 5 p.m. Aug. 16: Gia Gunn, “Follow Me”
>> 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16: Nick Neon, “Zero One”
>> 7 p.m. Aug. 18: Shangela, “Shangela Is Shook”
>> Kickoff Party: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, ‘Alohilani Resort pool deck, 2490 Kalakaua Ave. $30; 4-8 p.m. “Mystery at the Grand,” Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, 134 Kapahulu Ave. No cover.
>> After Party with Gia Gunn: 11 p.m. Aug. 16, Scarlet Honolulu, 80 S. Pauahi St.
>> Red Carpet Gala: 6 p.m. Aug. 17, ‘Alohilani Resort, emceed by Alec Mapa (“Ugly Betty”), with appearances by Shangela and Gia Gunn, drag queen performances and photo ops
>> After Party with Shangela: 11 p.m. Aug. 17, Scarlet Honolulu
>> Festival Finale Party: 10 p.m. Aug. 18, Hula’s
>> 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 17: Actors Dennis Chun (“Hawaii Five-0”), Amy Hill (“Magnum PI”), comedian Alex Mapa, filmmakers Hannah Pearl Utt and Jenn Tullock (“Before You Know It”) and filmmaker/actor Nick Neon (“Zero One”) discuss their craft. Macy’s special event room, Ala Moana Center.