If there’s a theme to 2011’s crop of films featuring lesbian/bi women, it’s that this was a very good year for emerging voices. First time and younger filmmakers made a mark in huge ways this year, providing everything from spellbinding documentaries (No Look Pass), heart-wrenching drama (Pariah, Break My Fall, Circumstance), and fresh comedy (Jamie and Jessie are Not Together, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same). Pair that with the quality coming from established filmmakers like Celine Sciamma (Tomboy), and you have a year marked by the presence of strong, unique voices.
Nowhere is that strength of vision more prominent than in the year’s dramas. Well-meaning (but tired) melodramas were drowned out by clear-eyed, nuanced filmmaking, most evident in Pariah, the story of a young African-American woman struggling with her identity, and Circumstance, which features the romance between two teenaged girls in Iran.
As AfterEllen.com writer Grace Chu noted in her review of Pariah, both movies share a few common threads — not the least of which is the fact they were both Sundance films selected for distribution.
Both films are about young women coming of age and exploring their sexual identity in less than welcoming conditions. Both protagonists encounter acute trauma as a result of expressing themselves in a repressive environment, such as imprisonment (Circumstance) and violence (Pariah). Both women have sympathetic fathers who try to protect them from the darker side of religious influences. Both women find solace in underground youth culture.
They also happen to both be stunning pieces of filmmaking, with unflinching performances from both casts and the sort of emotional weight that ensures that each respective story stays with you a long, long time.
Three Veils also tackled similar subject matter, featuring two Middle Eastern American women (one of whom was played by Sheetal Sheth, of The World Unseen fame) struggling with their own sexuality and identity issues. While lighter in tone and less hard-hitting than Pariah and Circumstance, Sheetal Sheth and Angela Zahra as queer middle eastern/Arab women are wonderful to watch.
Also strong was Purple Sea (Viola di Mare), an Italian period piece (based on a true story), of two women who fall in love in the repressive 1800s. With strong acting and a refreshingly unpredictable plot, it threw tired clichés right out the window.