The selection committee for the 2018 edition of the festival started working on July 1 to find the best films to showcase. But other arrangements were made up to 18 months in advance.
Now, the programming team is finishing up last-minute tasks like printing posters and making sure the collection of selected Blu-rays are working flawlessly. The festival takes place from Friday through Sunday, February 9 through 11, at the Center for Performing Arts at Paradise Valley Community College.
And soon, the ninth year of the ever-growing festival will be on the books.
The programmers know that, for many Desperado attendees, this could be the only opportunity they get to see most of the featured movies. It’s rare for independent films with queer themes to get distribution, according to Maryanne Milano, a programmer for the festival.
“There’s still a lot of LGBT bias in film distribution,” Milano says. This year, they want to see some of their films get picked up and released theatrically. “We like when we get a film and lead it to success."
Milano thinks the film with the best chance of reaching a wider audience down the line is Heart, Baby!, which is screening on the festival's opening night.
“This film is a gay, transgender period piece that takes place in prisons in the '80s,” Milano says. “It’s an absolutely true story and the people that the story is about are still alive today. I think it is one of the best films we’ve ever had.”
Heart, Baby! plays at 7:30 p.m. on February 9, with a reception preceding the film. After, director Angela Shelton and actor Shawn-Caulin Young will lead a Q&A on the film, which has won recognition for its ensemble cast at previous festivals.
When programming the festival, founder and director Alan East says he attempts to create a program that represents the entire LGBTQ+ community. Film festivals serve as a way to share stories that are under-seen, to show films that most people won’t be able to see at a megaplex. This year, transgender issues were a theme in many of the submissions, according to East.
“Transgender issues have been in the media and filmmakers are taking those stories and putting them out there in feature films and documentaries,” East says.
At the forefront of this theme is A Year in Transition, a feature-length documentary playing on February 10 at 11:30 a.m. The film follows the first year of 20-year-old trans man as he takes hormones and undergoes gender-confirmation surgery.
East is especially excited for Snapshots (playing on February 11 at 4:15), because local actor Max Adler – of Glee fame – will be in attendance.
“We have an actor coming out who, in my opinion, is an up-and-coming actor who’s been in a lot of television shows,” East says. “His name is Max Adler and he’s from Phoenix and grew up near Paradise Valley Community College, so that’s exciting to have a local actor be doing so well and then to be able to tell us his experiences.”
Thelma from acclaimed Norwegian director Joachim Trier. For those interested in more variety, three short film programs are scheduled that feature a variety of different narratives.
Throughout the festival, local painter Dawn Bowman’s work will be on display in the lobby of the Center for Performing Arts. PVCC faculty member and festival programmer Dale Heuser says that's one of the ways the festival stands out and gives back to its community.
“We showcase an LGBT artist during the film festival,” Heuser says. “On the Saturday at 3 o’clock of the festival, we are going to have a “meet the artist” gathering where you can ask questions. Bowman’s work will go up a week before the festival and stay up throughout February.”
Milano says that engaging with the community is the most important thing Desperado can do, which is why the festival aims to give back to LGBTQ youth.
“All of our net proceeds from the films go to scholarship funds in Maricopa Community College foundation under rainbow scholarships,” Milano says. “Those scholarships are available to any LGBT person, or their ally or supporter. That’s why this festival was originally started, to build this scholarship.”
The Desperado LGBT Film Festival runs from February 9 through 11 at Paradise Valley Community College. General admission tickets are $10 per film. An all-access pass is available for $80, and grants admission to all festival events.