Outfest, the LGBT Film Festival in Los Angeles, kicks off this weekend, and offers a variety pack of choices. Gay and lesbian themed movies have great options in the form of features, documentaries, shorts and webisodes.
While I haven’t seen all of the movies, I have seen over 30 so I can offer a bit of insight on what you might seek out. Do keep in mind that some movies didn’t offer advanced screeners for the press so there may be a great movie that I just hadn’t seen…yet.
From the options though, like the recent Frameline Film Festival, bears seem to be sadly missing; guess there are just too many sub-cultures, as bisexual options also seemed to be very slim. But a lot of what they do have is fantastic.
Best of the Best (I’ve seen)
Five movies really stuck out as being exceptional and I am still thinking of them.
While there are several terrific documentaries, none have effected me more than “Bridegroom.” While the title isn’t really what the movie is about, it couldn’t screen at a better time right after the overturning of Prop. 8. It is an emotional rollercoaster of a film about two small town young men who met in Los Angeles to find their happy ending after getting away from the rural life of non-acceptance and ridicule. Tragedy strikes and the fact that even though they were a couple for six years, they are not allowed the same privileges that the immediate “family” have. This movie has haunted me not only for the story but the way that it uses one of the subjects own music to tell its story. It was written, directed and produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason who already had me as a fan of her TV series “Designing Women.” Talk about a range of talent – Linda, I will follow you now in anything you create.
Speaking of movies that stifle love and affection, while the young men of “Bridegroom” were at least able to find some moments of happiness, the couple in “Out in the Dark,” a narrative feature from Israel, wakes us up to how good we have it in the U.S. “Out” has a young Palestinian man who is studying in Israel and falls for a young Israel lawyer. Amidst a world in which people are murdered for being gay, our two lovers need to find dark alleys and secret locations to express their feelings, all the while keeping the Palestinian’s family in he dark, especially from his crime-spreeing brother, whose crimes to his country seems like nothing compared to the crime of being gay. This movie also drained me of my emotions as you root for the lovers all you can, but feel your heart pound every time they almost get caught simply for expressing their love.
“Test” is a wonderful period piece about a time in 1985 when AIDS started to get more attention. The movie doesn’t deal with having, surviving or dying from AIDS, as that’s a movie that’s been told before.
This story focuses on the anxiety surrounding getting the HIV test as well as one’s confidence that the test will remain confidential. In 1985, people were still calling AIDS the “gay cancer” so keeping one’s results private was more crucial then. The picture also has a lot of great dance sequences, as the story is focused around a dance troupe. It also shows San Francisco scenery in a beautiful light. The film also is fun to see some technology, that many of us still remember, which has quickly become obsolete including long, tangly phone cords and Walkman cassette players. I talked to director Chris Mason Johnson and star Scott Marlowe and you can click to that interview here.
All forms of sexuality are represented in the well crafted “Happy Sad”. The film is a hip look at young couples facing their own sexuality, commitment issues and promises. It focuses on two couples, including an interracial gay couple and a straight (?) heterosexual couple, whose lives somehow get intertwined. Add excitement, drama and bisexuality, with a bit of original music, and you have an original drama and story. Director Rodney Evans gets wonderful performances from an impressive young cast. TV fans might recognize Charlie Barnett from the hit show “Chicago Fire” or previous film fest titles “Gayby” and “Private Romeo.” We talked to Evans and a few of the actors and learned more about the making of the film. Watch here!
“Reaching for the Moon” does very well representing movies for the lesbian community. But like any good movie really, it should have universal appeal if it’s well done. And “Moon” is definitely that, with a bravura subtle performance from Miranda Otto. This period piece takes place in 1951 and almost seems like a modern version of Katharine Hepburn’s “Summertime.” But instead of going to Italy and finding straight love, our heroine Elizabeth goes to Brazil and is faced with same sex temptation. Otto’s Elizabeth is at-first a timid writer who finds confidence and love among the sexually free Brazil. Her chemistry with Brazil soap star Glória Pires is undeniable. Veteran filmmaker Bruno Barreto has painted a vivid portrait with layers and nuances that deepens one’s appreciation for storytelling.
Gay Men’s Interest
“Beyond the Walls” first gets notice from its sexy polar opposite co-stars. A young Abercrombie type young pianist meets up with a bearded brooding wanna-be musician bartender. Circumstances kind of force the two to couple up sooner than they should and they learn, to tolerate, and perhaps grow to love one another. What makes this French/Belgium movie really fascinating is “the walls.” We are left with so many interpretations and set-ups to what walls do they go beyond. Are they a physical location or some place deep insider ourselves? Only the theatre-goer can learn and likely discuss “the walls” after the movie is long over.
“Walls” bearded Guillaume Gouix might be a morsel to appeal to the bear community in a pretty barren bear festival. But to go a bit deeper for bear appeal we need to rely on the very talented Jonathan Lisecki, who had a giant hit last year with “Gayby”, and now he is almost riding solo carrying the bear flag with this year’s “Big Gay Love.” This time Lisecki takes center stage as a chubby man who sabotages his own chances for love because he can’t believe someone kind of hunky actually likes him. Sweet movie, but given so much more character thanks to Lisecki.
Bears appetite might be whet with these options and “Pit Stop.” “Pit” involves two men – with bear appeal due to beards only – who actually haven’t met, but are going through their own individual Texas dramas. Both are learning when to let go and when to move on. Quiet film that simmers to its satisfying conclusion.
For just lighter than air entertainment, consider “G.B.F“. A witty tale in which the inter-sanctum of high school royalty realize they can become even more fabulous if they have a gay best friend accessory. Told in the wrong hands, they could seem like a bad Paris Hilton movie. But director Darren Stein seems to have made this a niche market for him, always finding ways to have fun with all of the bitchiness that makes up high school clicks. Apparently, he must have been a “G.B.F.” himself. Read Editor Steve V. Rodriguez’s review from Tribeca Film Fest of G.B.F.
Sexy men are put on parade in another light entry, “The Go Doc Project.” “Go” follows a timid shy graduating college student who decides to make a documentary just so he can get next to a very hot go go boy, who he is smitten with on the internet. Actually, the nerdy filmmaker in this movie is actually really handsome and the go go boy is definitely worth tipping (his smile alone wins you over). But before dismissing as only eye candy, I must say that the four minute kissing montage showcasing a kaleidoscope of beautiful New York scenery easily propels the movie to a higher plateau.
The leather scene also makes a great impression in “Interior. Leather Bar.” This documentary from Travis Mathews and James Franco (yes the big Hollywood actor) reshoots the x-rated footage from Al Pacino’s “Cruising” film from the 1980s. What really makes this film interesting is not only to see how tamer this material appears to a modern audience (or I am just more jaded), but how they got a straight actor to play this gay character just like Pacino, and it shows how uncomfortable he is re-creating the scenes as straight Pacino likely was in 1980.
In addition to “Moon” there’s a cute, quirky and odd film with a great title “Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?” It starts off just a little too off-beat for its own good (like it was trying to hard), but director/star Anna Margarita Albelo soon won me over in her tale of a slacker who seems to never be able to achieve any of the goals on her list. Well, at least she has a job dressed as a vagina. See it to understand!
The lesbian movies seem to have the best titles this year as the festival also includes “The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had with My Pants On.” This road trip film from actress/director/writer Drew Denny takes lesbian Drew on a road trip with her seemingly straight (queer and questioning?) best friend on a trip from LA to Texas to spread her father’s ashes. The great mix of different medias and the breezy songs that play throughout make this comedy less dark than perhaps intended. But most fascinating is the Dorian Gray nature of Denny herself who seems ageless, and yet has amassed an impressive career.
“Valencia” really wouldn’t be on this list if it was based solely on plot. The story is okay enough, but what elevates this film is the way it was made. It has about 20 directors and actresses (some actors!) who all play the part of Michelle. It seems the directors were all given the task to create five minutes of a movie, and the next director has to pick up where the last director left off, changing the plot how ever they wanted, while recasting the part of Michelle and her friends, to whoever they envisioned. Color and black & white, live action and clamation or female Michelle or male, the movie keeps transforming, and you almost want to guess when the transition’s occur.
“Born This Way” is a beautiful documentary about gay life in Cameroon. Or, NO gay life in Cameroon. Two women in silhouette tell of how everything pertaining to their sexual identity must remain a secret as the lightest of punishments is five years in jail. Juxtapose that with a gay rights advocate group, fighting for equality in their pursuit of love, and you have 85 gripping minutes at the movies.
“Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton” teaches us so much about (and from) poet and activist Broughton who paved the way for many queer artists, and whose story is as fascinating as it is enriching. It’s kind of an avant garde San Francisco version of New York’s Algonquin Round Table, of famed and subversive writers.
One of the most talked about films of the festival, “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” is as smart a documentary as the man himself. Vidal, an outspoken early advocate for gay rights, was never afraid to fight for equality. And with his acid tongue and intelligent ammunition, Vidal often won the war on words.
Also a standout is “I Am Divine“, which gives a rare look into the world of premiere drag queen Divine, including rare interviews with his family and shows how he wanted a career outside of drag. Divine has become such an icon and we thought we knew all there was. Apparently not. The movie is a master class to the world that is Divine.
Webisodes and TV Series:
Interesting to see a couple of webisodes featured this year. First I was kind of mad at “The DL Chronicles” because they are named after men, but I wanted to go back to the beginning so it took me awhile to find episode one. I did watch the first one, and then I watched the collection for Outfest. And, you know, it doesn’t matter if you watch the first or the latest, or any in between. Each webisode is self-contained with a new cast every time, except for narrator Chadwick, who introduces the men who seek love on the down low. The webisodes I watched, including the spinoff “The Chadwick Journals“, which seems to feature Chadwick as the main character instead of the Rod Serling of the other webisodes, were well crafted, acted and quite frankly great to watch. (It doesn’t hurt that I happen to like black men and am intrigued by the DL lifestyle.)
More lesbian oriented (but actually does feature gay men as well), “Second Shot” is a really cute Midwestern gay Cheers in which a pro soccer player inherits the only gay bar in three counties, which comes complete with an oddball staff. Throw in a little “Newhart” and “Northern Exposure,” and you have a show worth a second look, and hopefully a series coming soon to a TV near you.
I must say I haven’t seen many of these even though the collections of “LOL” and “Scary/Sexy/Shorts” looks fantastic.
I did see “Housebroken“, which will show in the collection of “Boys Shorts.” But since it deals, in a hilarious way, with a couple exploring bi-sexuality, perhaps it shouldn’t be in “Boys Shorts,” especially since bi titles are very limited.
The best short film, of the few I’ve seen, is “Summer Vacation” which is so compelling that I wished it was longer. The intrigue and suspense is heightened simply by a ring tone. See it and find out what I mean. A lot unfolds to the audience after one phone call in the film. This too seems more a bi-sexual choice, so it’s perplexing that it’s in the “Boys Shorts” set as well.
There are many movies I haven’t seen. But for those I have, these are the best options and definitely make this year’s Outfest an exciting festival, running through July 21 at several Los Angeles venues.
Get tickets, schedules and more information at www.outfest.org.