The Seattle Queer Film Festival returns this week and organizers have curated their most exciting lineup ever, featuring everything from a romantic musical to an absurdist superhero satire to an outstanding drama with local ties. (Did you know Lily Gladstone went to high school in Mountlake Terrace? It's true!)

The fest begins today, October 12, and offers both in-person and virtual screenings through October 22. Passes and a full schedule are available here.

Here are five highlights you definitely don't want to miss. 

The People’s Joker

USA, 2022, 92 min., dir. Vera Drew

Starting things off is one of the most talked about and yet still largely underseen films, The People's Joker. The film stirred up a lot of buzz at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival as most of its screenings were canceled due to rights issues. The reason? It’s a sharply silly satire of certain iconic superheroes that go on a deeply personal journey through life, art, and comedy. Written and directed by Vera Drew, who also stars, The People's Joker follows an aspiring clown who wants to make it in the bizarro world of comedy in Gotham City. However, this is only the initial hook, as Drew goes beyond just riffing on the standard superhero beats and reshapes the narrative into a trans coming-of-age story. It is absurd and chaotic with a visual presentation that feels like it was born out of Adult Swim shows such as Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. To be fair, it kind of is—Drew has worked for Abso Lutely Productions. However, the film still has its own uniquely weird and wonderful fever dream of a vision that is worth getting lost in. Not only is it damn funny, with each of the lines delivered by a dynamic Drew landing perfectly, but it’s a genuinely incisive work of cinematic reflection that's the exact type of kick in the pants the often empty genre could use. It deserves to be seen. I guess I’m saying is #FREETHEPEOPLESJOKER!

Showing in person Saturday, October 14 at 9 pm at Broadway Performance Hall. Not available as a virtual screening.

This Place

Canada, 2022, 86 min., dir. V.T. Nayani

For those who were sad to see the end of Reservation Dogs, be sad no more and go see V.T. Nayani’s This Place, which co-stars Devery Jacobs in yet another great role (which she is credited as co-writer for). Another film that played at TIFF last year, This Place centers on two women living in Toronto who meet via happenstance. Kawenniióhstha (Jacobs) is a writer who has moved away from her community of Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) to attend university. Malai (Priya Guns) is a Tamal woman whose family left Sri Lanka. Each is now contemplating their futures together while also looking to their respective pasts for answers that may not be so easy to grapple with. It is a story of first love, where the chemistry between the spectacular duo of Jacobs and Guns is off the charts, just as it is one of familial contemplation. The film is grounded yet also soaring, as it traces the pains and joys of each of their lives. The fault lines of history become intertwined with the more personal as we see how choices made by parents who often try their best eventually get carried by their children. It doesn’t offer easy answers and instead uncovers the way two lives, distinct yet similar, can beautifully intersect at the right time. 

Screening Sunday, October 15 at 4 pm at Northwest Film Forum. Not available as a virtual screening.

Glitter and Doom

USA, 2023, 113 min., dir. Tom Gustafson

Move over Barbie, you’re not the only movie this year that rightly loves the Indigo Girls. Glitter & Doom, the latest film from Tom Gustafson, is a musical about two artists whose views of the world and their craft could not be more different. On the one hand, there is the moody musician Doom (Alan Cammish) who never met a song that he couldn't put his own angsty spin on. On the other, there is Glitter (Alex Diaz), a circus performer who just seems to love life and the act of performing itself. When the two meet and begin to form a relationship, they find themselves drawn together while still wanting to pursue their dreams. The film isn't the most original, wearing its cinematic and musical references on its sleeves, but it makes up for it in sheer charm. Cammish and Diaz are delightful, fully getting you wrapped up in the central relationship when they leap into action. For all the ways it can drag a bit here and there, there is still something lovely about a musical that often looks as good as this one does.  

Screening Sunday, October 15 at 7 pm at Broadway Performance Hall. Not available as a virtual screening.

Big Boys

USA, 2023, 90 min., dir. Corey Sherman

Corey Sherman’s Big Boys is a film where any limitations stemming from its low budget soon melt away as you get swept up in the world of 14-year-old Jamie. Played by a superb Isaac Krasner in his feature debut, Jamie is trying to figure out a lot about himself while on a camping trip with his favorite cousin. This becomes complicated when she brings along her new boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III) and Jamie soon finds himself developing a bit of a first crush. As Jamie tries to make a good impression, the film finds plenty of relatable humor that it then crosses with a heartfelt character study that overflows with sincerity. The awkwardness Jamie feels is juxtaposed with the caring and supportive Dan, who offers the teenager more support than he himself may have realized. When things escalate ever so slightly, the story smartly remains focused on its complicated central character and his struggles rather than letting the more conventional story elements take center stage. It is a gentle tale that unfolds with understated pacing, effectively conveying the sense that this small trip will have lasting implications.

Screening Sunday, October 22 at 12:45 pm at Northwest Film Forum. Not available as a virtual screening. 

Fancy Dance

USA, 2023, 90 min., dir. Erica Tremblay

Last, but definitely not least, is one of the best films of this festival and any other it's shown at. Director Erica Tremblay’s Fancy Dance, which she co-wrote with Washington-based writer Miciana Alise, has been on my mind ever since seeing it back at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it has only gotten better with time. The recent winner of the best narrative feature film at the Tacoma Film Festival, Fancy Dance centers on a Native American hustler, Jax, who has taken on the responsibility of looking after her young niece.

While Jax—who is played by the magnificent Lily Gladstone of the sublime Kelly Reichardt film Certain Women and another certain upcoming film by Martin Scorsese that you may have heard of—puts pressure on local law enforcement to look for her missing sister, she's also trying to keep Roki (the great Isabel Deroy-Olson making her feature debut) insulated from the grim possibility that something terrible may have happened to her mother.

When circumstance threatens to separate the two, Jax takes Roki on the road in search of answers. Without tipping off anything about how the story develops, the grace with which this story is written, directed, and acted makes it truly something special. There is a love for little details just as there is a sense of necessary outrage at injustices that take and take and take until there is nothing left. Through it all, Gladstone proves once more that she is one of the most incredible actors of her generation, or any other, as she disappears into the character. The work done by Tremblay and Alise must not go unrecognized either. The film is a stunning testament to the work of these artists all operating in perfect synchronicity. As it builds to a series of fitting final moments, it never misses a single step before laying you flat.

Screening Sunday, October 22 at 3 pm at Northwest Film Forum. Not available as a virtual screening.