Life becomes so much easier if you factor out everything you can’t see or consume on the spot. Jonathan Rosenbaum
Since the pandemic began, I estimate that I’ve watched at least a hundred gay-themed shorts, many of them culled from online gay and lesbian film festivals, such as the ones from Boston and Santa Fe, and all of them torrented.
I’ve watched films about young love, coming out, suicide, break-ups, and hook-ups, and more. In general, none of the subject matter has surprised me.
What did surprise me was the paltry showing of English-language shorts, particularly ones from the United States.
Bad news for jingoists, but the best gay shorts I’ve seen haven’t been from the Land of Nothing’s Free. In fact, there are only five native English-language films represented, one by an American black male director and one from Canada, although a couple of others feature English as a bridge language between characters, one of whom is often an immigrant.
Tales of gay love, gay friendships, and sex between natives and foreigners have become something of a mini genre recently. See: A Moment in the Reeds, God’s Own Country, Bruce La Bruce’s Refugee’s Welcome, On My Way (see below), just to name a handful. A few others also deal with restive stasis, as well as social, personal, or political instability, sometimes using travel or geographic displacement as suggestion or metaphor.
While the rest of the world, or at least its filmmakers, seems to be thinking about the changes in identity happening everywhere and instantiated by diverse polities in racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and geographic flux, the characters in monolingual estadounidense [gay] films still seem unable to look away from their gay male navels (or dicks and buttholes) or to leave their Brooklyn brownstones long enough to engage different perspectives or talk to their neighbors, an attitude exemplified in but not limited to accomplished but self-absorbed offerings from Matthew Puccini (Dirty and Lavender). Puccini operates out of, where else, NYC.
Not surprisingly, Sundance is all over that shit.
Keep in mind, also, that filmmakers in the States skew left ideologically, and yet where are the shorts about this subject? And what are the reasons for this imbalance and blindness in a nation full of immigrants and multilingual speakers?
Part of it is simply good ol’ fashioned gringo parochialism. Considering that both centers of film production in the US — Los Angeles/Hollywood and New York City — exemplify this state of being, this way of not-looking at the world, you might say this particular gringo trait is overdetermined exponentially.
In addition, as gay Brazilian director Fábio Leal pointed out to me in an interview, short films in the States are often not produced for their own sakes, for their own rewards. The real reward they’re after is acceptance into the Hollywood mainstream, which has historically been even less interested in the world at large than film students or amateurs. These shorts are produced as calling cards or additions to one’s reel. If a filmmaker gets his foot in the door making a forgettable, but promising short, what’s the loss? Not for that filmmaker’s career, but it’s a loss for film culture, in general.
As a corrective to this oversight by mainstream critics, gay and not, I spent hours and hours watching and rewatching every gay-themed short I could, but obviously, I haven’t seen everything (and nobody else has either) and my tastes and affinities may well be different than yours as they obviously are from the tastes of the Stateside gatekeepers and programmers of gay film festivals. Nevertheless, I saw only a handful of films that I would consider must-sees and only a few more that I consider worth your time.
Nothing I saw from anywhere turned out to be better than Julián Hernández’s modest masterpiece, El día comenzó ayer, which as far as I know has only been in one festival — the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico, although it’s available through Amazon Prime US. MUBI featured it at one point and it had been available through Dekko, but it’s not at the moment.
Every time I watch it, despite the ostensibly gloomy subject matter (living with HIV), I’m amazed most by the sense of joy that pervades it — the joy of simple introductory human conversations that are also flirty sorties, just one reason why Hernández directs his actors to pause between lines longer than is perhaps the dramatic norm; the joy of watching other humans dance, practice gymnastics, work, skate, fuck; the joy of discovering that another gay human cares about you, and is willing to do something about it. I didn’t find that joy expressed with such simple artistry in any other film, short or not, all year.
Why haven’t you heard of El día comenzó ayer? Why aren’t English-speaking critics telling you about it? Good questions. Is it because it’s in Spanish and from Mexico? Maybe, just maybe.
I’ve mentioned many times both here and on Twitter that there seems to be clear cultural and institutional biases against Latin American cinema in general and gay Latin American films in particular, or at least ones that speak in their own voices rather than aping whatever Euro-gringo stylings the mostly white cinephile establishment sees fit to laud at the moment — just one reason why I don’t call myself a cinephile. Despite what certain overly culturally-confident film critics proclaim, from the outside where I am there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of aesthetic variation in the tastes of critics who get noticed and published.
Other than the Mexican directors who’ve made it to Hollywood (Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro G. Inarritu), the only arthouse MX director who is recognized by the usual suspects seems to be Carlos Reygadas, whose formal and stylistic concerns make him recognizable and comprehensible within a European aesthetic context.
Prolific and passionate Mexican auteurs like Hernández, as well as up and coming young queer directors like Chucho E. Quintero is a queer writer/director born and raised in Mexico. For my money, along with Julián Hernández, Chucho is the most important cin, are ignored. Quintero in particular understands and translates how real people actually talk to one another better than any queer director I can think of other than Andrew Haigh. I’ve already written what I think about Quintero’s super sex-positive short, Panquecito, and his long-form sci-fi experiment Velociraptor. His most recent feature, Los días particulares [affiliate link] demonstrates again his commitment to showing the core solidarities and contradictions revealed in conversations between friends and lovers.
Given these institutional biases and any single person’s limited ability to identify and locate them, never mind escape them, but as a lover of movies, what to do? What to watch?
See as much as you can and recognize that you have biases — we all do and not just political ones — that prevent you from enjoying, or even understanding movies differently. Some of these biases arise because of… wait for it… where you live and what language you speak.
A lot of these are hard to even recognize as biases. They seem like part of the air. But trust me — a Midwest-born American who’s lived outside the States for almost twenty years — you shed the biases; the world changes you, unless your heart is hardened already. You no longer feel like your country and its perspectives are at the center of the universe. There’s no way that change can’t affect everything you value and why.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and [movies] cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.Mark Twain
This post is an attempt to grapple with and demonstrate my changed values and perspectives and how those changes have played out in my viewing habits. I list and feature the notable films I saw, all of which I’ve watched more than once.
It’s also an expression of gratitude to the filmmakers — all of them — and to the unsung volunteer curators on torrent forums, without whom I would otherwise be far more ignorant of gay film culture worldwide. If you want to escape the myopia of mainstream film criticism which is often hard to distinguish from the marketing departments of studios, torrent forums are a good place to start.
Sometimes it takes years for shorts to get distribution or exposure, so I’ve included everything here that I first noticed during the pandemic, from as early as my somewhat arbitrary cut-off point of 2016.
Some of these shorts are available on streaming platforms or for free. I’ll link to those sources if I know them. All of them are available in my collection.
Highly recommended recent gay-themed short films
El día comenzó ayer
Directed by Along with Chucho E. Quintero, Julián Hernández is one of the world's premier chroniclers of gay male life. His gay films tend toward art-house cine More
31 mins, Mexico, 2020
Directed by Chucho E. Quintero is a queer writer/director born and raised in Mexico. For my money, along with Julián Hernández, Chucho is the most important cin
20 mins, Mexico, 2017
On My Way
Directed by Sonam Larcin
23 mins, Belgium, 2020
This short blends an African migrant’s story with that of a troubled and strained same-sex Belgian couple’s, one of whom shelters the migrant — and evokes multiple porous borders while doing so — borders between languages, between sexualities, between perceptions of national and racial identities, and of course, between countries. It suggests more with these border crossings and more convincingly in its 22-minute running time than In God’s Country did in two hours. Rather than flattering our political poses, the film plays with our prejudices — the young migrant at first sounds like, appears to be a homophobe. I hope Larcin gets a feature soon to explore these themes more fully.
Directed by Paulo Roberto
18 mins, Brazil, 2017
Of all the images I snapped and collected from this list of films, the scenes captured from Stanley are the ones I recall the most vividly: the rotating, swirling, strobing colors and projected shapes from a portable disco light system limning and the figure of a boy cruising another boy through the body of a woman on some small-town sideroad in Brazil; a teen frantically front-faced fucking another teen on a blazing sunbaked mudflat while over-amplified pants and gasps fix us to that moment; a woman slitting the throat of a chicken and the blood dropping and pooling just in front of the camera lens, eventually flooding the frame; a boy entering a room wearing camos, carrying two rifles and then proceeding to practice Nirvana riffs on guitar while the camera pans the art on his walls: color panels from Frank Miller’s Daredevil/Elektra, a Che Guevarra portrait, a Sepultura poster. This film’s world fills up elliptically with a farrago of suggestive but indeterminate juxtapositions of sound and image, but not much conversation — not until the very end when we find out who Stanley is.
How to Die Young in Manila
Directed by Petersen Vargas
12 mins, Philippines, 2020
I’ve just begun Vargas’s feature, 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, and although Carlos Mauricio’s spare but suggestive cinematography in that film — split frames and selective focus among the tactics — elevates the high-school-crush scenario somewhat, so far it can’t hold a candle to the heights of expression he reaches here in this short, in which shit-smeared and blood-streaked corpses of young beautiful men lie along the urban streets on a boy’s journey to meet a hook-up, and a doppelganger of that hookup transforms into a wounded saint. This is apparently a pitch for a longer movie which I hope Vargas will get to make. As I’ve exhorted before and as this short fulfills: Make More Weird Gay Shit.
Other Black Boys
Directed by Nyles Washington
16 mins, USA, 2020
I wrote a little about this effective short here.
Directed by Adam Baran
9 mins, USA, 2021
Adam Baran’s adroit excavation of the hidden history of the World Trade Center dialectically interrogates a sexual and capitalist playground. Which accounts of a building, a lifestyle, an activity has more valence, more longevity, more staying power? We already know which milieu gets rebuilt and which one exists only as myth and memory.
By the End of the Night
Directed by Denoal Rouaud
20 mins, France, 2108
The standout aspect of this short is Sofian Khammes’s performance as Karim, a confused and needy cabdriver who can’t figure out what he wants.
Chachó | Honest
Directed by Vitalii Havura
20 mins, Ukraine, 2020
A young, closeted, Ukrainian-Roma man spills a jug of wine on the morning of his arranged wedding with a woman and the universe lets him see the untenable consequences of his cowardice and perfidy before giving him a second chance. Except for a less-than-a-minute interlude packed with exposition and during which we meet the man’s secret, braver boyfriend, this short plops you in the middle of a culture and country you probably know little about and dares you to keep up.
Directed by Anthony Doncque
23 mins, France, 2016
Young actor Louis Duneton galvanizes the skinny-with-abs body of his adolescent character Martin — a man-chasing, acne-pocked aspiring filmmaker filled with horny, perfervid energy — as if we will never see this boy again, which we won’t unless we rewatch the film (which I did), as if who he was and who he became in this film’s fragmented moments will evanesce faster than we can register them. As such, Duneton’s performance, and in particular his face, whether Martin is listening to his dad obliquely admonish him to use condoms or whether he’s face down getting fucked for the first time, infuses this autobiographical material by director/writer Donque with even clearer eidetic urgency. That reality is invoked even more by the concluding insertion of lo-fi video footage of Donque’s real dad.
Night of Love
Directed by Gabriel Omri Loukas
23 mins, USA | Israel, 2018
A gorgeous, babyface Israeli soldier with a shaved head encounters problems with his boyfriend and must find another place to spend the night while away from the base. He goes to a sex party and gets fucked by a beefy, Palestinian poz-daddy. But he cannot stay.
Directed by Chia Meng Koo
16 mins, Singapore, 2020
Two teen boys spend the afternoon together playing video games, watching porn, and wrestling around until they’re beat. Lying together on one bed, one boy naps while the other contemplates doing something else. Director Chia Meng Koo’s minimalist, mostly black and white short efficiently, almost ruthlessly evokes the beauty and the terror of making your desires public and known, even to oneself. Watch After Noon here for free.
Demà ho deixem | Tomorrow, Then
Directed by David Moragas
15 mins, Sain, 2022
Director Moragas reconstructs a narratively minimalist series of superficially prosaic but crucially cascading moments between boyfriends, the culmination of which hit me hard all three times I’ve watched it. Everything you need to know about forgiveness between intimates is right there to be felt in the space of a few seconds — awareness slides in like a knife, like a kiss in the dark.
Directed by Antonio de la Torre
20 mins, Mexico, 2020
Two young men go on a movie date in their teens, but something gets in the way of their consummation. 40 years later, they meet again, have a slow dance, and set things almost right.
La traction des pôles
Written & Directed by Marine Levéel
23 mins, France, 2019
Organic pig farmer Mika finally finds love in this droll, colorful, visually quirky short; but don’t expect his journey to be as clear and linear as those clauses imply. One of my favorites on this list.
Directed by Gus Aronson
13 mins, USA, 2021
The sound design in Gus Aronson’s student film is even more impressive than the luminous and varicolored fragments of time we’re shown extirpated from the first encounter between a diffident photographer and his subject/muse.
Nattåget | The Night Train
Directed by Jerry Carlsson
15 mins, Sweden, 2020
Two teen boys — one shy, jejune, white cutey-patootie and one brown, gorgeous, slightly older and more experienced second-generation immigrant muslim — meet up in the toilet of a night train in Sweden, and share a dripping, oozing orange slice, among other things. This assiduously dramatized and mostly free-of-dialogue short about the fear that separates gay human beings riding straight vehicles and about the excitement of premature ejaculation also effectively conjures the saudade of fleeting connections, longings, and lusts.
Directed by Vincent Weber
38 mins, France, 2017
After watching this short for the third time, I decided to move it over to my most-loved-movies list on Letterboxd. Antonin Schopfer plays Daniel, an intense, unsmiling, mixed-race 20-something on vacation in a south-of-France beach-resort town and on a mission of some sort — to get laid, find a friend, get fit? It’s hard to say exactly, but he’s determined to get something, hence the title. The film puts this straight, lead character through a series of tests of his masculinity, including meeting a gay/bi man who wants to kiss him — he refuses but they nonetheless bond, two girls who want to kick his ass, another young woman who likes him but… It all takes place during a generically celebratory summer full of tenuous and contingent connections. It’s a fine debut and a shame that director Weber hasn’t made another film since. Schopfer’s been busy, however.
Directed by Stefan Langthaler
31 mins, Austria, 2020
An elderly, married Austrian man becomes infatuated with the young, gay Hungarian migrant worker he’s hired to help him with his slowly dying, non-responsive wife. Among other things, we learn how to take a prone immobile person and put them into a wheelchair, what the significance was of the Habsburgs’ winning the battle of Mohács, and what an old Austrian guy considers to be a happy song on guitar. But mostly what we witness is the slow reveal of two very different people meeting, changing each other, and then inevitably moving on.
Fotos Privadas | Private Photos
Directed by Marcelo Grabowsky
18 mins, Brazil, 2020
A young gay couple on the rocks invites a young man over for a threesome but it only stirs the pot rather than repair the sauce. As in all Brazilian movies I think I’ve ever seen, there’s an attentiveness in this short to the way humans navigate, use, look at, and experience space, whether it’s the urban emptiness of a deserted, sodium-lit street where two new lovers rendezvous, or the cozy familiarity of a small flat where a couple falls apart — we’re not liable to forget we’ve been there and experienced something specific.
Directed by Sophie Kargman
9 mins, USA, 2020
Already in a bromance, two dudes who have been best friends since they were eleven decide to take it to the next level after a day-long debate about whether or not the frequency and utility of same-sex sexual behavior, as opposed to orientation, is static over time or culturally contingent. Perfectly and hilariously realized by everyone involved, I hope director Sophie Kargman gets a feature stat and that I can watch Justice Smith kiss a man again ASAP. This only has 7 likes on Vimeo? WTF?
Directed by Anthony Schatteman
16 mins, Belgium, 2017
This is director Schatteman’s third film with Ezra Fieremans as beautiful but implacable gay twink Jasper and all of them are recommended viewing. In Petit Ami, Jasper is now an escort working a bathhouse in a city in Belgium. He gets a troubled client and ends up empathizing in a way that surprises himself. Cinematographer Ruben Appeltans resourcefully shoots the interior of the bathhouse, using every possible angle — Dutch, overhead, tilted, and otherwise — all while exploiting the multiplicitous geometries and colorings of rooms filled with mirrors and pools, rippling bedclothes and pulsing lights.
Watch it here.
I also recommend Schatteman’s other films featuring Fieremans as Jasper are Kus me zachtjes | Kiss Me Softly (16 mins, Belgium, 2012) and Olig Mij | Follow Me (16 mins, Belgium, 2015).
Agua | Water
Directed by Santiago Zermeño
14 mins, Mexico, 2020
I originally downgraded this naturalistic but distressing short from Mexico because of what I perceived as a deterministic fatalism (not an uncommon Mexican trait, at least in certain art forms, and one that often predisposes me to quick judgments), but on second watch, I’ve decided that it balances the paranoid, internalized homophobia of a poor working-class young man with the empty, prone-to-violence, macho posturing of his compadres. You can argue with me on that, but the filmmaking chops are undeniable: lucid editing patterns and that final zoom-in of a gay man alone at an ugly juncture of highways that could lead anywhere or nowhere.,
Antes de entrar, permita salir | Let People Exit Before Boarding
Directed by Gustavo Gamero
After meeting online, Jesús and Pablo try all day to find a place to fuck and never do, all while playing Twenty Questions on public transport for hours. Small, amateur filmmaking in the best and most immediate senses, if effectively framed by hand by cinematographer Bárbara Ramírez, this short’s script, by director Gamero, is dryly comic in a very Mexican way. If that last big smile on Jesús’s face doesn’t induce one in you, you’re dead already. Maybe these boys have actually started something.
You Will Still Be Here Tomorrow
Directed by Michael Hanley
17 mins, Canada, 2020
Writer/director Michael Hanley’s script consists of a series of conversations between a married gay man and his father who has Alzeimer’s and who’s living in an elderly care home. The film’s form mirrors the jumps in time and comprehension experienced by both men as these conversations are edited together in a non-linear fashion. Yet the narrative line eventually becomes clear, with the son accepting his father’s decline and his failures to remember his son’s husband or the reality of his sexuality. They both end the film remembering the marriage in disparate particulars but with a shared emotional resonance. Eric Peterson’s performance as the father may well be the most accomplished on this list.
HONORABLE MENTIONS WORTH SEEING
Days of Rage
Jours de rage
Directed by Eli Jean Tahchi
A Palestinian immigrant in Montreal tries to come to terms with his bisexuality, and his uncle’s terminal cancer, and his barely repressed anger about a life full of repression and, more significantly, displacement.
Watch it here.
Directed by Tung Wei Ye
19 mins, Taiwan, 2019
The Malaysian immigrant half of a gay couple in Taipei seroconverts and the two of them must deal with the consequences — a rare materialist take on a common scenario.
Jakt | Hunt
Directed by Gjertrud Bergaust
27 mins, Norway, 2018
I’m still not keen on the abrupt, unsatisfying ending, but the story that comes before — a single gay working man informally adopts a bullied young boy who’s abused by an older pedophile in a small village in Sweden — convincingly dramatizes what happens when repression and fear results in no one getting what they deserve.
Matura | Матура
Directed by Gvozden Ilić
19 mins, Serbia, 2020
A game of truth or dare among friends, a threesome. “Do you like guys?” repeated twice, answered twice affirmatively. A young girl kissed by two guys who like guys stumbles in delirium on the dance floor.
Virgin My Ass
Directed by Adar Sigler
20 mins, Israel, 2020
Feeing vilipended by the gay-male community at large, an Israeli gay man who has never been fucked asks one of his best friends, who’s visiting from Berlin where all the men “are built like horses,” if he will pop his anal cherry. (echoes of Velociraptor.) The redoubtable feat ultimately ends up too psychologically operose for the pair to handle. Competently directed and well-acted, the script isn’t quite as funny as the setup presages, but I still enjoyed it the second time as well.
Directed by Brock Cravy
11 mins, USA, 2020
More Weird Gay Shit: Burroughsian Southern grindhouse set to a Reznoresque beat and lit like Blade Runner. Incomplete but promising.
Tres Veces | Three Times
Directed by Paco Ruiz
20 mins, Spain, 2020
Even after watching it, uh, three times, I still don’t know what I think of this unsettling short about a young Spaniard who invites a rapey English-speaking German asshole over for sex and then can’t get him to leave. I’m including it on this list in case someone might find it…stimulating.
You Say Hello
Directed by Lovell Holder
22 mins, USA, 2019
Directed by Rafael Ruiz Espejo
12 mins, Mexico, 2018
Directed by Matthew Puccini
11 mins, USA, 2020
Los Cimarrones | The Fugitives
Directed by Damián Sainz Edwards
12 mins, Brazil, 2021
Heaven Reaches Down to Earth
Directed by Tebogo Malebogo
10 mins, South Africa, 2020
Directed by Alex Cardy
15 mins, Australia, 2020