LA’s Outfest Celebrates 30 Years With Progressive and Quirky Films by Kevin M.Thomas

“I Do”

A cavalcade of diversity brings fresh life to Outfest, Los Angeles’s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, celebrating its 30th anniversary July 12-22, 2012.

The festival has been a staple in LA for quite some time, offering progressive films along side pioneering productions for the GLBT community.

This year, several of the standout films have already had successful appearances at other film festivals. Some of my fest favorites include Elliot Loves,”(Read Separate Review) “I Want Your Love,” “Gayby,” “Morgan” and “Facing Mirrors,” which should seriously be considered for a Best Actress Oscar.

Other holdovers from San Francisco’s Frameline are also great to be able to see in Los Angeles, especially since I missed them in the City by the Bay.

“Cloudburst”

“Cloudburst” was the closing film in San Francisco and plays a very important role in Los Angeles. While it takes plays mostly in Canada, this truly seems like a big Hollywood film since it has two Oscar winning stars: Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker. Perhaps their Oscars bring more attention to the movie and in a way could hurt the film, taking attention from the intimate story of two aging lesbians being torn apart by family over health issues. But it doesn’t matter how big a star either actress is as they totally make us believe they are Stella and Dot and take us on a beautiful, poignant and often funny road trip, sometimes taking us on familiar detours but winding up on a surprising (albeit not completely satisfying) final destination. Both actresses have a chance to meet Oscar again, especially Dukakis. “Cloudburst” screens July 21 at 8:30pm at John Anson Ford Amphitheatre.

“Sassy Pants”

“Sassy Pants” is also a film festival favorite that I didn’t see until now. It is an extremely satisfying quirky comedy that has a big heart. At its core, “Sassy” is really the story of June Pruitt, who has been so hurt by her husband leaving her for a man that she’s afraid to even allow her children to leave the house. Afraid of being alone, the wonderful Anna Gunn’s June even forces her daughter to be home schooled when it’s time to go off to college. Most of the movie follows the comical sardonic adventures of daughter Bethany’s escape from her mother’s prison, including an interest in boys, fashion and meeting her trailer trash father and his younger bar back partner (played by “The Sixth Sense’s” Haley Joel Osment). Take notice of writer/director Coley Sohn who makes a very impressive feature film debut. This movie plays July 14 at 7pm at Director’s Guild of America.

“Wildness”

“I Do” is also a film I have been trying to catch up with and now that I have, I am completely satisfied. On its surface, writer/star David W. Ross seems to offer your typical green card movie – friends trying to get together to keep their gay friend in the US. But Ross adds some interesting complications when his character actually falls in love with a man from another country in which he can legally marry out of love and not citizenship. But he’d be leaving his US “family”  behind. “I Do” is the perfect movie to show that family is more than blood – it’s more often a group of people we choose to love and respect. The handsome Ross is well supported by the wonderful Alicia Witt and Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Catch “I Do” on July 18 at 8:30pm at the Ford theatre.

Some fresh movies to Outfest include “Wildness.” One of the best documentaries (along with “Mississippi: I Am”), we easily befriend the trans people who congregate at LA’s Silver Platter club in MacArthur Park. Amidst gun fire and deportations, the ladies who are welcomed to the club’s Tuesday night Wildness event prove once again that family is not made of just blood. But while a family of friends keep the club strong it turns out family by blood is the force that starts to pull the club apart. It’s a beautiful piece of filmmaking. It screens July 21 at 7:30pm at DGA. There’s an after party that will feature two DJs from Wildness at a club to be announced. Wouldn’t it be great if it was at Silver Platter?

“Famous Joe Project”

“Famous Joe Project,” filmed in first person, seems like a documentary but, like many people who turn to the internet, is about a man who tries to make himself famous simply by posting daily video blogs. Joe does develop a following and the movie seems real and honest. And it reaches its peak with the characters Joe meets who want to use him in order for them to use his blog to make themselves famous. Almost seems like it’s not a feature film and succeeds in making us believe Joe is real. Eli Rarey has done a wonderful job at expanding his short film of the same name. “Joe” screens July 21 at 9:45pm at DGA.

“Sunset Stories” fully utilizes Los Angeles as a character as a nurse tries to chase down a medical cooler, stolen from one person to the next. It takes her on a journey meeting a drag chanteuse (the wonderful Justin Vivian Bond), an ex-boyfriend (“Fast & Furious” star Sung Kang), a street artist and an androgynous mechanic as well as many famous and semi-famous cameos. Co-director/co-writer Ernesto Foronda seems to have his hands in many pots as he’s also involved with “Wildness” and has written a previous film festival favorite “Better Luck Tomorrow” and worked in many aspects of the lesbian movie “The Owls.” Am looking forward to more of his stories. “Sunset” screens July 14 at 9:30pm at Redcat.

“Bear City 2”

I’ve yet to see “BearCity 2: The Proposal” but am happy to see more bear stories and that many of the original cast has returned. I hear after this festival appearances, a brief theatrical run is very likely. Check out the bears on July 20 at 8:30pm at the Ford theatre. I also think “Struck by Lightning,” the festival’s closing night film, which features “Glee” star Chris Colfer, who also wrote the screenplay. It screens July 22 at 8pm at the Ford theatre. And, one of my favorite actors, Alan Cumming, makes me want to see “Any Day Now,” a love story period piece that flashes back to 1970s Los Angeles. This screens July 21 at 11:30am at DGA.

Another movie to look forward to is “Jobriath A.D.,”a perfect movie

“Jobriath”

for this year’s festival which delves a lot into the past. The documentary is a rare look at openly gay glam rock performer who may have opened the door for the likes of stars like David Bowie. It is proceeded by a tribute concert/show from actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson. The movie screens July 20 at 10pm at Redcat – but arrive before 8pm for the preshow festivities.

The festival also pays tribute to its 30 year history. It features two diverse movies that opened in theatres in 1981, the first year of the festival.

“Making Love” was turned down by most studios and stars. It finally found a studio and stars primarily TV stars Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin as most Hollywood actors were afraid to take on a gay part (or perhaps it was partly due to the average script). Average or not and mild by today’s standards, “Making Love” took a brave stance and helped pave the way for true gay cinema. So in respect of our elders, we should all give “Making Love” a chance and join in its screening July 14 at 7:30pm at Harmony Gold.

“Taxi Zum Klo”

On the other end of the spectrum, “Taxi Zum Klo,” an explicit and graphic German film about seedy public sex with full male frontal nudity, definitely opened doors for progressive filmmakers. Perhaps director Travis Mathews of the festival’s “I Want Your Love” can join in thanking “Taxi” director/writer/star Frank Ripploh for creating quality queer cinema with an edge. Film screens July 21 at 7:30pm at Redcat.

Check out these films and others and to get tickets at www.outfest.org.

Read separate review of “Elliot Loves” here.