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AGLIFF programmer curates diverse lineup for 2016 fest

The 29th annual Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival launches on Thursday with all screenings taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Film fans can choose from over 30 full-length features and a variety of short films on the schedule over the course of four days.

Film programmer Jim Brunzell spends most of the year working on the lineup. He attends other key festivals, such as Sundance, to seek out some of the best films available to introduce to Austin audiences at AGLIFF.

Diversity is a key component of this year’s selections, in both subject matter and the creative teams behind the movies. “I was very conscious of making sure that this year’s AGLIFF program was very well-balanced,” Brunzell said. Not only was he looking for a good mixture of narrative and documentary features, but he also wanted to ensure that female filmmakers and a diverse group of voices had strong representation on screen.

More than 60 visiting filmmakers are planning to attend this year, including director Cheryl Dunye with her landmark 1996 film “The Watermelon Woman.” Writer/director John Cameron Mitchell will host anniversary screenings of the beloved musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and his sexually explicit drama “Shortbus,” which is being exhibited from Mitchell’s personal 35mm print, taken out of storage and shipped in just for the screening.

Everything begins with the opening night film, “Real Boy,” at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Already an audience award winner at the Frameline Film Festival this year, “Real Boy” introduces us to a transgender teen struggling to find his place in the world while trying to catch a break as a musician. Scheduled to air on PBS’s acclaimed “Independent Lens” series next year, this is a heartwarming coming-of-age story that should launch AGLIFF with the perfect tone.

Festgoers also will want to watch for the annual secret screening, taking place at 8 p.m. Friday. The only real clue dropped so far is that it’s a movie expected to open in 2017. If you get in line early enough, you’ll have a good chance of checking something out on the big screen long before anybody else you know.

When it comes to the movies we do know about, there is a lot to recommend. “Political Animals” is a marquee feature that debuts at 6 p.m. Saturday. Co-directors Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares tell the story of four lesbian politicians from California who entered the state assembly and forever changed the landscape of gay rights in the state. One of the subjects of the documentary, Carole Migden, will attend along with the filmmakers and producer Chris Panizzon.

AGLIFF also turns the spotlight on local filmmakers with a few titles featuring Texas talent and locations, perhaps none quite like Walter Rueben’s “The Big Raincheck.” Brunzell explains: “There was a film being shot in Austin in 1981 with mostly untrained actors. Halfway through filming, they kind of ran out of money and they needed to take a break. When they went back to go and finish it, a lot of the actors and actresses had passed away due to the AIDS epidemic … so they had no way of finishing the film. Walter got ahold of this footage of 1981 and he wanted to finish the film, especially in the scenes and the script that hadn’t shot yet. He recast as many of the actors that were still alive as he could and brought in new actors to fill certain roles for the actors that had passed away. It’s kind of this experimental documentary narrative film — it’s got elements of all three of them. There is just no other film in our festival like it.”

More Texas talent is on display in Clay Liford’s remarkably funny “Slash,” which premiered earlier this year at South by Southwest, and in “Bright Shadow,” a documentary about singer-songwriter Ana Egge, a previous winner of the Best Folk and Best Singer-Songwriter categories at the Austin Music Awards. She now calls Brooklyn home and continues to make great music.

One of the key components of the titles selected for the narrative and documentary competition categories, Brunzell said, is that at the time of booking, they cannot already have U.S. distribution. This means that a film that wins in those categories could see its profile rise thanks to a strong reception at the festival.

“Growing Up Coy” is in the documentary competition this year and profiles the hot-button topic of transgender children. It introduces us to a family in Colorado raising a 6-year-old transgender girl whose school district bans her from using the girl’s restroom. The parents put their family in the spotlight to try to force change but are faced with obstacles every step of the way. You can catch it at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

If you’re a fan of international cinema, look no further than the Southwest premiere of “Being 17” from acclaimed French filmmaker André Téchiné (“Wild Reeds”), at 3:15 p.m. Sunday. “Angry Indian Goddesses” serves up a Bollywood bachelorette story at 10:15 a.m. Saturday, and “Spa Night” is an award-winning drama about a first generation Korean-American who gets caught up in the world of cruising. It plays at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

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