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By T.T. Stern-Enzi


Based on the advance word found on the festival website, the vibe at the 11th annual Dayton LGBT Film Festival will be raucous. With a weekend screening program chiseled from the highlights of “over 100 international selections” and a guest list of artists flying in to support their films, the planners guarantee “an awesome party” from Friday through Sunday Oct. 7-9, at The Neon and throughout the Oregon District.

The film slate offers something for all discerning audiences, opening with “Retake,” a feature from director Nick Corporon (making his feature debut here after a string of short films including “Empire” and “Barbie Boy”) about a middle-aged man named Jonathan (Tuc Watkins) traveling to San Francisco in search of a companion to accompany him on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. The chosen prostitute (Devon Graye) soon discovers that the journey is a carefully constructed recreation of a pivotal moment from Jonathan’s past. The obvious question is “Can the long, lonely road of romantic desperation point to a brighter future for either Jonathan or his idealized pawn?”

Each feature presentation gets paired with a short shot to get the party started right, and Andrew Keegan-Bolger’s “Sign” precedes “Retake.” The 15-minute intro details the relationship between two men—one deaf, one hearing—which unfolds over the course of a series of vignettes utilizing sign language and music. As seen recently in “Controlada,” one of the episodes in the Joe Swanberg Netflix original anthology series Easy, so much more can be revealed when viewers focus extends beyond spoken language, setting “Sign” up to be a challenging treat for festival-goers.

Day two shines the spotlight exclusively on shorts with the “Top Drawer Shorts,” slate of seven narratives under 25-minutes that cover a myriad of experiences. “Oh-Be-Joyful” (Susan Jacobson) centers on a spirited grandmother who takes it upon herself to teach her shy granddaughter a thing or two about shoplifting and attracting the attention of young women, while directors Monica Petruzelli and Gabe Schimmel, in “Alzheimers: A Love Story,” chronicle a 40-plus year relationship confronting the impact of this debilitating disease.

Later in the afternoon, audiences can settle down to “Real Boy,” the story of a Pasadena teenage singer-songwriter seeking to rise above his family’s response to his decision to transition. Balancing the support found via a network of “chosen” family versus the honest confusion of a mother who cannot wrap her head around the identity issues her son faces, “Real Boy” serves as a snapshot of our times, and it is wisely set up with the Seith Mann short “Veracity,” written by Janaya Greene, a high school senior from the South Side of Chicago, that captures the harsh experiences of a gay black teen. “Veracity” will likely be a welcome precursor to the Toronto International Film Festival favorite “Moonlight” from director Barry Jenkins, which will unspool later this year.

Not content to walk strictly on the more obscure indie side, the program also includes “King Cobra,” an independent feature from Justin Kelly (writer-director of “I Am Michael”), which reunites the filmmaker with James Franco (famously noted for commenting that he is straight in real life, but gay in his performative life). Besides, Franco, Kelly enlisted Christian Slater, Molly Ringwald, and Alicia Silverstone to capture this account of the early life of Sean Paul Lockhart / Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton, a Disney Channel alum), a gay porn star, seeking to break free of the producer who made him famous.

Each year, the Dayton LGBT Film Festival offers further proof of the erosion of society’s anti-normative lifestyle agenda. I would argue it is these very stories and the glimpse into lives lived that illustrate the humanity uniting us all. This kind of celebration needs to last throughout the year.

Dayton LGBT Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday, Oct. 7-9, at The Neon, 130 E. Fifth St. in downtown Dayton. Festival passes are $40, individual shows $8. For more information about the festival, please visit DaytonLGBT.com.