Now celebrating its 31st birthday, Outfest is Los Angeles’ chief LGBT film festival. This year the prodigious lineup boasts 155 films from 28 countries spanning docs, features and shorts. Needless to say, gay civil rights have been changing rapidly, as have the films that depict LGBT issues. Gay cinema has finally stopped focusing on the coming out story and is beginning to ask questions about what happens next. This is the change of direction necessary to move the gay film genre out of the periphery of cinema culture.
According to Outfest director of programming KP Pepe, “The festival will always be a place where people can come together and witness the issues that LGBT people have been thinking about. The filmmakers are on the cutting edge, as are the stories they’re telling.”
Because of recent changes in gay attitudes and rights, “people on TV and in movies are comfortable with gay characters and gay themes,” Pepe said. “More people aren’t afraid to include these core stories where in the past people might have told more of the hardship stories.”
Take a film like “Concussion,” in which two lesbian mothers have already come out, had kids and are now dealing with what happens next. “Being gay is a central part of it, but it’s a different kind of story,” Pepe said.
Because Outfest includes so many multinational as well as domestic independent films, the festival is not exclusively for an LGBT audience. It has a broader reach, Pepe adds: “We’ve become a destination for the LGBT community in Los Angeles, but also for movie lovers and cinephiles.”
Outfest opens Thursday with Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “C.O.G.” (our review here) preceding Friday’s screening of Stacie Passon’s lesbian drama “Concussion,“ continuing to make the festival rounds. With Robin Weigert and Maggie Siff (Rachel Menken in season one of “Mad Men”), the film comes highly rated. Scott Foundas’ crowning review in Village Voice notes Weigert’s “fearless performance,” deeming the film a “happy surprise” and a riff on Bunuel’s “Belle du Jour.”
Another film screening this weekend with festival accolades is David Lambert’s “Beyond the Walls,” which premiered last year at Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar and was warmly received by jury members (myself included) for its gentle depiction of a man-on-man love, which hits the humble, socially awkward protagonist Paulo (Matila Malliarakis) like a force of nature. While Lambert’s film nary goes astray from the indie gay romance formula, as Paulo all but loses his head over debonair, dégagé foreigner Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), it remains an earnest, nicely penned feature directorial debut.
On Sunday, July 14, three strong films from Frameline screen at Outfest. “I am Divine,” Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary on John Waters’ titular muse, is a must-see for cult film fans (our TOH! capsule review here). This crowdfunded doc traces the life of Harris Glenn Milstead, whose Divine alter-ego was a day job that paved the way for a successful acting and music career before his death at age 42. Also screening is the riveting human rights doc “Born This Way.” This is an incisive examination of LGBT struggle in Cameroon. In the West African nation, where HIV/AIDS is thought to have originated, gay people are at risk of imprisonment of up to five years, often with little evidence other than local rumors (reviewed at Frameline here).
Ringo Le’s “Big Gay Love” is a sweet little romantic comedy starring Jonathan Lisecki (“Gayby”) as Bob, a big guy with small self-esteem and a domineering, larger-than-life mother. Bob is a party planner, and at one of his exuberantly orchestrated soirees he meets chef Andy (Nicholas Brendan), who fits the daddy bear complex to a T. Together they embark on an awkward romance plagued by missed connections, mixed emotions and ignored text messages. Refreshingly, this is by no means a message movie. Instead, it’s a splashy trod through gay silliness with self-image problems in tow.
Also screening Sunday on the opposite end of the genre spectrum is Michael Mayer’s “Out in the Dark,” a gay Israeli-Palestinian romance that unfurls into an antsy thriller in its last act. The film snagged the outstanding first feature prize at Frameline this summer. Nimer (Nicholas Jacobs) is a Palestinian student whose relationship with Israeli lawyer Roy (Michael Aloni) detonates explosive political consequences. Well-acted and assuredly directed, even though its tone goes off the rails, this is a solid debut that will easily find a niche audience when it secures distribution.
More Outfest reviews on TOH! are forthcoming, including one of the best docs of the festival, “Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton.” For now, head to the festival’s website for more information.