• Cyrus Cohen

Queer and Trans Films Take the Top Prizes at Tribeca

On Wednesday April 29th, the awards for the now-postponed 19th annual Tribeca Film Festival were announced by jurors Chris Pine, Gretchen Mol, Joel McHale, Lukas Haas, and more. In two of three feature sections (U.S. Narrative Competition and Documentary Competition), LGBTQ+ films by queer filmmakers won the top prizes.

Alice Wu’s follow-up to her 2004 lesbian rom-com Saving Face, The Half of It, and Bo McGuire’s feature directorial debut Socks on Fire took home Best Feature distinctions. Elsewhere, Anna Kerrigan’s tale of a trans boy and his dad on the run, Cowboys, won Best Screenplay and Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative for Steve Zahn. Wonderboy by Anissa Bonnefont, which documents and honors Olivier Rousteing’s work at Balmain, received the Special Jury Mention for Documentary Competition. In the Short Film Program, Soup, Inga Sukhorukova's short about a Russian father and his gay son, was rewarded with a Special Jury Mention as well.

Although the festival was postponed and the public haven’t been able to see its selections, continuing to include jury awards was one smart way for the prestigious institution, founded in the wake of 9/11, to drum up buzz for many of the titles in its lineup as they move forward in an uncertain market. As The Half of It will soon reach viewers on Netflix, this announcement will be a major boost for the already anticipated film and its filmmaker. It’s been sixteen years since Wu last released a feature film and queer audiences and fans of her debut have been asking why.

As for many other female filmmakers, queer filmmakers, and filmmakers of color, it wasn’t easy for Wu to book subsequent jobs in film or TV. On top of that, her mom got sick, prompting her to move home and prioritize family over work. After many years living with and taking care of her mother (she’s doing much better!), performing stand-up comedy on the side, and investing money she made earlier in her career, Wu knew she wanted to return to what she loved. Although she assumed it would be hard to sell studios or producers on her queer take on Cyrano de Bergerac, her screenplay made it on The Black List and Netflix gave her a call. After initially questioning whether The Half of It made sense on their platform, she recognized the extraordinary potential of reaching viewers across the political spectrum, many of whom likely would not go see an explicitly LGBTQ+ film in theaters. The rest has been history and, in a few days, 167 million people will be able to experience her vision.

For Bo McGuire and Socks on Fire, this win is arguably even more impactful. While The Half of It went into Tribeca with a distributor, McGuire is still looking for a platform for Socks on Fire, a stranger-than-fiction documentary about his aunt and unclea homophobic woman and a drag queenas they fight over his grandmother’s estate in Hokes Bluff, Alabama. While the film’s logline certainly sells itself and Tribeca’s Documentary Competition jury—comprised of Emmy and Peabody winner Regina Scully, Oscar nominee Yance Ford, Emmy nominee Peter Deming, Captain Marvel co-director Ryan Fleck, and renowned hottie with a body Chris Pine—thought its content and form matched the unique tone of its premise (commenting, ”The film used new techniques woven into documentary filmmaking and narrative storytelling”), it seems like a riskier investment than many other selections in the NY festival's line-up. In this current climate, however, risky is great. Audiences are being bombarded by content on a variety of platforms, and it's important for new releases to stand out from everything else on the screen. McGuire's film has no problem doing so from its synopsis alone, and savvy individuals in distribution, marketing, and sales will recognize that immediately.

It has been incredibly heartening to see the industry respond to this crisis by continuing to celebrate new releases and spotlight LGBTQ+ stories in particular. Although the future of film production and exhibition looks like it might be forever changed, there are still countless films looking for sales agents, distributors, and, ultimately, platforms to premiere on. And, during this time, there are more hungry viewers looking for new, fresh, and gripping content than ever before. It's an undeniably complicated time for everyone involved in film, but I'm thankful for the bold queer visionaries who are about to keep audiences around the world enraptured, comforted, and inspired from the comfort of their own homes.