Outfest :: 30 Years Young
Los Angeles’ LGBT Film Festival, Outfest turns 30 this year. If this year’s slate of LGBT themed films in the recent gay film festivals in Miami and San Francisco were anything to measure by, Outfest may just see its most mature crop of gay films to date.
Still present are gay comedies that make us laugh at onscreen versions of ourselves, and sombre documentaries that chronicle the struggles of the ongoing gay movement, but the depth of drama, both on the local and international fronts, have never been stronger.
Here’s a look at some of the titles worth catching over the festival’s run (July 11- 21) in various LA venues.
Acronym Soup :: C.O.G. and G.B.F.
Okay, it’s cute. Two films with abbreviated titles open and close the film festival. "C.O.G." is the first work of humorist David Sedaris to be made into a movie. The movie follows the journey of a Yale graduate David, who after changing his name to Samuel, seeks to find his true self by working at an apple plantation in Oregon. Surviving being abandoned by his female friend at the plantation and a sexual assault from a co-worker, Samuel leaves the plantation and finds shelter with a born-again craftsman, only to find everything is not what it seems. Jonathan Groff ("Glee") plays Samuel under Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s direction.
"G.B.F." is the antithesis to the horror of high school bullying tragedies of the gay kid in school. The Gay Best Friend is the latest accessory girls want in the high school. While planning the perfect coming out event in school, high school senior Brent falls behind while his BFF Tanner gets all the attention. Three prom queens fight for the attention of Tanner, and even bring a twist to the classic shopping-for-clothes scene by gay-ing up the teen. Gay empowering bells for teens could not have rung louder. Filmed with a sassiness reminiscent of Alicia Silverstone’s "Clueless," this is bubble gum gay pop at its best.
The Franco Connection
The two most sexually graphic movies in the gay film festival circuit this year come with the James Franco marque, and without apologies. Produced by the Hollywood ally, "kink" takes the curious behind the doors of the porn fortress in San Francisco’s Armory. The film does not shy away from showing men (gay and straight) in various states of arousal, while the female performers are subjected to innovative methods of BDSM.
By agreeing to watch this movie, the audience agrees to strip away the mystique and possibly allure behind porn.
"Interior. Leather Bar." Director Travis Mathews’ last movie, "I Want Your Love," pushed the boundaries as to what kind of graphic sex will be accepted in the cinema. This captured the attention of Franco and a partnership was born to re-imagine the "lost" footage of the William Friedkin’s thriller "Cruising."
That footage is believed to have contained graphic gay sexual content that has been cut to avoid an X rating for "Cruising." This docu-fiction follows the journey that actor Val Lauren takes to play a version of Al Pacino.
Have you ever wondered how small town gay men find each other without gay bars and internet hookup sites? Gabe keeps the ties with his ex-wife and young child, while Ernesto has a young lover heading to the big city for a new life.
"Pit Stop" paints a lonely panorama in Texas where a construction contractor and a fork lift operator doubt the prospects of finding lasting love affairs.
With the mystery and stigma surrounding AIDS in the eighties, the early days of the AIDS epidemic brought the San Francisco gay community to its knees. How do movers in modern dance navigate prejudice and walk the thin line between staying in or coming out of the closet?
With humor and sexy choreography, "Test" takes us back to the time when condom use was just woven into sex play and gays had to wait the longest two weeks of their lives for the results of the test for the AIDS virus.
Docs to Watch
"Losing a loved one is devastating enough, but to be rendered legally insignificant only makes the pain worse." This is a line quoted from the YouTube video posted by Shane Bitney, where he chronicled how, after the accident that killed his partner Tom, he was not allowed to attend the funeral or get information about the death.
In the eyes of the law, the two were just roommates. The video, titled "It Could Happen To You," has been since seen by some 4 millions viewers and has sparked the full length documentary "Bridegroom."
What happens as the trailblazers of gay rights move into the later part of their lives? "Before You Know It" features the owner of the oldest gay bar in Texas, a cross-dressing man in Florida finding courage to mingle with the younger gays, and a gay senior advocate in New York who takes in the winds of change in New York legalizing same sex marriage.
This documentary raises the question that most of us have not even begun to ask ourselves about aging, or are reluctant to do so.
Out in Africa
Two documentaries that take us into the precarious gay rights movement can be seen as companion pieces in the festival. "God Loves Uganda" details how the extreme hostility and violence toward gays in that country originated in Kansas. The film explains why leaders of Kansas City-based evangelical group, the International House of Prayer (IHOP) see Uganda -- where fifty percent of the population is younger than 15 -- as perfect for indoctrination. In short, the evangelicals believe that they were mandated by God to rule the world.
The documentary also features an interview with Ugandan gay activist David Kato shortly before he was murdered.
Further on the western African coast lies the French-speaking country of Cameroon, where being gay carries the risk of a five-year jail sentence. A resource center that advocates for gay rights and HIV treatment and prevention has since become the galvanizing point for gays and lesbians in the country.
"Born This Way" takes us into the lives of Gertrude, who keeps her faith despite being denounced by the church, and Cedric, who feels empowered by the songs of Lady Gaga.
This year’s slate of lesbian-focused movies carries sensitive character portrayals with universal themes. Winner of the Special Jury Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Awards, "Concussion" triggers the second awakening of a housewife who, despite living in the suburbs with her loving wife and children, resorts to turning tricks and getting paid for sex to secure that melange of intimacy and thrill from strangers. This is a strong character study piece ponders the question, "When does one stop looking?"
Bagging the audience award for Best Feature Film in San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival, Brazil delivers a strong entry celebrating the life of American poet Elizabeth Bishop in "Reaching for the Moon."
Bishop’s trip to Rio de Janeiro not only frees her spirit and writing, but also finds her the love of her life in the form of successful architect Lota de Macedo Soares, despite having to find her place in a three-way relationship.
Yet, as in life, this relationship poses a myriad of challenges, from Bishop’s alcoholism, to resentment within the relationship and being embroiled in the country’s political strife, the film captures the infusion of the lives of two strong women, in its wake, an unforgettable relationship with tangible monuments of love.
The lesbian memoir of Michelle Tea’s adventures in San Francisco’s Mission district receives an ambitious treatment in "Valencia." Each chapter in the iconic novel is directed by a different director with a different cast, allowing for Tea’s unique experience to be seen through a multitude of perspectives.
Discovery of the self, falling in love, having one’s heart broken... These are the days of youth where mistakes are eagerly made and lessons progressively learned.
In what’s touted as "Brokeback Mountain" set in the German riot police force, a young officer with a live-in girlfriend and a baby on the way tries to ignore the advances of a fellow cadet, to no avail. Runs in the forest lead to unexplained visits to the cadet’s apartment.
"Free Fall" examines how the liaison blossoms in a homophobic environment, while discreetly raising the question of why one even needs to try so hard to have a supposedly heterosexual male switch sides.
The undertone speaks way louder than the action in the excellent Polish offering "In The Name Of... "
Transferred to a parish in a small town, the quietly attractive Father Adam helps a group of wayward teenage boys avoid slipping into the dark side. Just as Adam is tempted in the Garden of Eden, our priest is confronted with sexual abuse of a different kind in his new parish. This elicits an emotional yearning for one soft-spoken youngster in the community.
This is the proud winner of the Best Feature Teddy Award at Berlin Film Festival, and it is easy to see why.