The Berlin International Film Festival may not be flagrantly gay, but no other film fest on Earth can match it for its dedication to showcasing the newest, boldest and best international LGBT cinema.
We’ve already told you about the biggest gay headliners at the 2015 Berlinale, which opened Feb 5. Now let’s look at 12 of this year’s films that may have less exposure but offer loads of potential in boundary-pushing, creativity, enlightenment and sheer entertainment.
The “gay coming-of-age” story is extremely popular this year. And lesbians, rejoice! After a shockingly nonexistent presence at the 2014 Berlinale, girl-girl love stories are back on the roster at this year’s fest, spanning the globe from Japan to Austria.
Directed by Chico Teixeira
Ever since his father fled their São Paulo family, 15-year-old Serginho has been unexpectedly thrust into the role of man of the house just as he’s beginning to find himself. He takes comfort in his friends, in the fantasy world of the circus and in Ney, an older gay Portuguese tutor.
Directed by Étienne Faure
Maurice is a homeless French 18-year-old transplant in Brooklyn who’s drawn into an underground world at the sexually fluid club Bizarre. He grows especially close to bartender Luka, but can Maurice settle down, or will his troubled past catch up to him?
The Blue Hour (Onthakan)
Directed by Anucha Boonyawatana
Shy, young loner Tam is bullied both at home and at school, but he finds happiness — and danger — via online hookup pal Phum and the dark parallel fantasy universe he opens up to Tam as they grow ever closer.
Directed by Bitte Andersson
Russ Meyer meets John Waters meets lesbian road movie in this over-the-top campy tale of girl-band Dyke Hard, whose members decide that the best way to kick-start their flailing careers is to take part in a big-city battle of the bands. Hilarity ensues — the girls get trapped in a haunted house and are thrown in prison, only to be saved by a gay warden.
How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)
Directed by Josh Kim
Eleven-year-old Oat and his siblings are poor orphans who’ve been taken in by their aunt on the outskirts of Bangkok. To support the family, oldest brother Ek works in a bar for male prostitutes and transvestites. When Ek faces being drafted into the army, Oat tries to save him by making a bold decision with dramatic consequences.
The Last Summer of the Rich (Der Letzte Sommer der Reichen)
Directed by Peter Kern
Gorgeous and ruthless young executive Hanna has it all — money, beauty, power and even an unexpected lover in the form of the nurse for her bedridden grandfather (for whom Hanna’s hired a contract killer). But can she keep all this corruption under control?
The Sea Is Behind (Al Bahr min Ouaraikoum)
Directed by Hisham Lasri
Tarik is a h’dya, a traditional crossdressing dancer — but his dance that’s meant to exude happiness and sensuality only underscores a dangerous and poverty-stricken life in shambles.
Directed by Marcio Reolon
Now on the cusp of adulthood, childhood friends Martin and Tomaz — one gay and one ostensibly not — take a road trip to southern Brazil, where they slowly begin the dance of exploring the final frontier of their close relationship.
Stories of Our Lives
Directed by Jim Chuchu
Banned from public screening in its native Kenya for its overtly gay content, Stories of Our Lives is a collection of five tales written and performed by members of the art collective NEST after they travelled the countryside collecting harrowing firsthand accounts of LGBT life in Kenya.
The Summer of Sangailé (Sangailé)
Directed by Alanté Kavaïté
Introverted Sangailé, a 17-year-old stunt-plane fan, meets her polar opposite in assertive Auste, who helps Sangailé find her own confidence. The two grow ever closer while frolicking in the Lithuanian summer countryside.
Thanatos, Drunk (Zui Sheng Meng Si)
Directed by Chang Tso-Chi
Brothers Rat and Shanghe — one gay and one straight — are plagued with guilt over the death of their mother. Meanwhile, both young men must now find their ways in life within a Taipei society that doesn’t seem to have any use for them.
Wonderful World End
Directed by Daigo Matsui
Seventeen-year-old Shiori is a thoroughly modern Japanese girl, whose Gothic Lolita guise attracts many followers to her blog-cast. One such superfan is the introverted Ayumi, who’s so devoted to Shiori that she runs away from home to be nearer to her idol. Together, the girls grow as close as possible within the confines of a world where emotions are best expressed digitally.
Two new films are also screening at this year’s Berlinale that, while not dealing with gay themes, come from openly gay directors who’ve focused largely on LGBT themes in the past (and who’ve both won queer-focused Teddy Awards at previous Berlinales). Butterfly (Mariposa) is Brazilian director Marco Berger’s new tale of a powerful love between two siblings, while Tough Love (Härte) is German director Rosa von Praunheim’s stylized look at the troubled life of karate champ Andreas Marquardt.