Flee, the true story of a gay Afghan refugee that’s told mainly through stealth interviews, animation, and archival footage, will screen this Friday through Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, after making history this week by winning Oscar nominations in three categories: animation, documentary, and international feature film.
The 90-minute movie by Danish director Jonah Poher Rasmussen closed the 2021 NewFest, New York City’s LGBTQ film festival, and won a number of critics’ prizes in the run-up to the Academy Awards.
Flee stands alongside three other LGBTQ nominations: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s film based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about repressed homosexuality; Best Actress finalist Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in Spencer; and Best Supporting Actress front-runner Ariana DeBose as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story.
Also this week, MFAH is showing Drive My Car, which is nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Ryúsuke Hamaguchi), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film as Japan’s entry in the category.
In coming weeks, MFAH will be screening the short films that were nominated by the Academy this year. Winners will be announced Sunday, March 27, at the 94th Academy Awards in a star-studded ceremony that will be broadcast on ABC-TV.
Flee examines the plight of Amin Nawabi (not his real name), who sought asylum from Afghanistan after Mujahideen communists seized power in Afghanistan in 1979, allegedly killing Amin’s father during their government takeover.
It wasn’t until many years later that Amin felt comfortable enough to tell his story to filmmaker Jonah Poher Rasmussen. Even now, the film protects his identity by using extended animated sequences.
“It hurts to think back on it,” says Amin. “I couldn’t be myself. Most people can’t even begin to imagine how fleeing like that affects you—what it means to your relationships with other people, how much it destroys you.”
Amin also feared that his family would reject him for being gay, something he knew “without knowing what it meant” when he enjoyed secretly dressing in his younger sister’s nightgown and “stanning” Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Flee reveals how repressing one’s identity prevents people from blossoming into their true, authentic selves and enjoying open relationships with others.
Marion Luntz, who curates films at MFAH, agrees. “Amin is very guarded,” she says. “You think about how long it takes for him to tell his story, how devastating and traumatic his life was before he came to trust his partner. Much of his story is told in flashbacks, so one of the most uplifting aspects of the film is how he comes to bare his soul to another person.”
Luntz, who toured the world attending film festivals in pre-pandemic times, saw Flee on a computer screen in Houston, so she is looking forward to watching it again on the big screen in MFAH’s Brown Auditorium.
“It will look and sound amazing,” she says. “In the pandemic, we all got comfortable watching movies from home, but [MFAH has successfully reopened] and we look forward to watching films together in a theater.”
What: Flee screening at MFAH
When: February 11 and 12 at 7:00 p.m., and February 13 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Brown Auditorium, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet