GLAAD at Sundance: 'The Stroll', 'Kokomo City', 'Mutt', 'Persian Version', 'Theater Camp' And More Win Big At Park City Fest

GLAAD had snow boots on the ground in Park City for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. This is the first time the popular and influential film fest has been back fully in-person with events.

GLAAD hosted a party alongside Meredith Marks’ boutique located on Main Street, the epicenter of the fest. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City cast member wanted to celebrate GLAAD’s work with the queer community as she welcomed the likes of Matt Rogers, Jonathan Bennett, Jaymes Vaughn, and more.

In addition, GLAAD’s Anthony Allen Ramos and Alex Schmider welcomed filmmakers Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker for a special panel about their film The Stroll, which made its premiere at the fest. The panel titled The Stroll to Sundance: How One Documentary Came to Be and a Path to Reclaiming Transgender Narratives” was an in-depth discussion about the HBO documentary, the history of trans sex workers in NYC’s Meatpacking District, gentrification and the overlooked contributions that trans community have given to the LGBTQ community. It is set to debut later this year.

The Stroll debuted to positive reactions and went on to win a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Clarity of Vision. “It demonstrates an intimate look from the people who have the lived experience,” the jury said in an official, citation. “It shows why it is important for the people who are members of the community to be at the helm of their stories.”

D. Smith’s Kokomo City, a docu that follows four Black trans sex workers in New York, also won big at its Sundance premiere. Hillman Grad’s Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani signed on as executive producers of the docu and it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures.

Kokomo City went on to win the Audience Award in the NEXT section of the fest and also nabbed the NEXT Innovator award. The jury citation said of the film: “For taking the traditional “talking heads” documentary structure and opening it up with the use of camera, sound, editing techniques, and imagery to create a dazzling journey with a fluidity that is entirely new. For a groundbreaking presentation of the lives of black trans women sex-workers in black and white, for taking us into their bedrooms and sharing in their incredible vulnerability as we hear their stories, all the while listening with her camera in a way that is electric and alive. For examining the injustice of a world that relegates so many women to a second-class citizenship and the oppressive nature of gender roles for everyone. For making perhaps the funniest movie Sundance has ever shown, and reminding us that the life or death struggle of these women is best understood in their defiant use of humor as a weapon.”

As A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One made an impact by winning the U.S. Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic category, the Grand Jury Prize for documentary went to Joe Brewster and Michelle Stephenson’s incredible documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project which puts a well-deserved spotlight on the titular iconic poet and LGBTQ advocate and activist.

“This film focuses on a singular, unapologetic voice, and through her story it captures the experience of the collective,” said the jury in regards to Going to Mars. “The strong directorial vision illuminates the joy and the raw reality of the Black experience.”

Maryam Keshavarz, director, screenwriter, and producer of the film The Persian Version won big at the fest as well, earning The Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic competion as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting award. The off-centered and whimsical Persian Version combines a familial immigrant story with a big focus on the relationship between a mother and her writer daughter – who is estranged not because she is queer, but because she is a “disappointment” to her family.

The queer representation also won with Daniela I. Quiroz’s Going Varsity in Mariachi, a docu that follows the world of high school mariachi in South Texas. Included in the group of kids they follow are two young ladies who navigate their new relationship.

Another favorite of the festival was Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp which won a Special Jury Award in the U.S. Dramatic category for Ensemble. The film was acquired by Searchlight and stars some of the most talented members of the new guard of Hollywood including Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, and Ayo Edebiri. The film which follows the ins and outs of a theater camp after its matriarch in charge (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma and her fish-out-of-water bro-type son attempts to lead the camp of young thespians.

The much-talked about Magazine Dreams from director/writer Elijah Bynum, explores the life of a competitive body builder who struggles with human connection. Despite the closed captioning snafu, the film is quite a journey.  Jonathan Majors soars in the film and although Magazine Dreams is not blatantly queer, there is a moment that folds in the homoeroticism and toxicity of masculine body image in the most curious way possible.

Also receiving a Sundance accolade was Lío Mehiel, who won a Special Jury Award for their performance in Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s Mutt.  The film follows Feña (Mehiel) and three people from his past who are thrust back in his life after losing touch with them after he transitioned.

“We were charmed, seduced, and compelled by this fresh new performer as we watched them navigating the intimate complexities of their everyday life and relationships in his search for acceptance,” said the jury.

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, of the iconic music duo Indigo Girls finally get the mainstream spotlight they deserve in Alexandria Bombach’s docu It’s Only Life After All premiered at the fest and also scored the Sundance Institute’s Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction.

Whether it be docus about queer-adjacent icons (Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, Judy Blume Forever) or festival favorites that have shifted conversations on queerness on a global scale (Joyland), Sundance was bubbling over with queerness.

Randall Park’s feature directorial debut Shortcomings based on the graphic novel of the same name by Adrian Tomine premiered to positive ovation. The story follows three messy adults navigating life in Berkeley – one of the messy adults played by Sherry Cola. Dino-Ray Ramos moderated a panel at the Sunrise Collective House with Park, Cola and Shortcomings co-stars Justin H. Min and Ally Maki as they discussed the movie which navigates the struggle of huge life changes in one’s life while folding in real – and sometimes uncomfortable – conversations about identity issues.

Lily Gladstone shines brightly alongside Isabel Deroy-Olson in Erica Tremblay’s feature directorial debut Fancy Dance – which included a large queer crew behind the camera. Fancy Dance follows the journey of the relationship between Jax (Gladstone) and her niece Roki (Deroy-Olson) after her mom goes missing. The film gives nuanced representation for the Indigenous community but more importantly, it spotlights the underreported narrative of missing Indigenous women and how the justice system has failed the community.

Lisa Cortes’s opening night film Little Richard: I Am Everything was exactly that: everything. The documentary focusing on the late icon showed his influence in pop culture as well as queer contributions and influence in music and beyond. Other queer films that were buzzworthy at the fest include Roger Ross Williams’s Cassandro which stars Gael Garcia Bernal as a gay amateur wrestler; Andrew Durham’s father-daughter feature Fairyland set during the AIDS crisis in San Francisco; and Jacqueline Castel’s visionary fever dream of a romance My Animal starring Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Amandla Stenberg.