By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 10, 2013 at 12:20PM
Outfest, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, is kicking off its 31st edition tomorrow night with a screening of David Sedaris adaptation "C.O.G." What will follow is 10 days showcasing the best LGBT cinema of the past year, which -- in something of a rare occasion -- isn't simply one or two great films and then countless filler.
It's been a pretty exceptional year for LGBT films, and if you're in Los Angeles, Outfest provides a great opportunity to see why. Indiewire offers 13 best bets for 2013 below, though there's also quite a bit more where that came from, so check out the festival's full program here.
"After Tiller" (directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson)
One of the best docs to debut at Sundance earlier this year, first time filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's "After Tiller" takes on the timely topic of abortion rights in America. The film's title refers to George Tiller, one of the few remaining late-term abortion doctors who was shot and killed by an anti-abortion activist in 2009 (while attending church, no less). The film itself follows the daily work and lives of the only four doctors (including one who identifies as LGBT, in case you're wondering why it's at Outfest) that still perform such abortions after Tiller's murder. It's a remarkably moving tribute to their brave work (a thought seconded by Indiewire's Eric Kohn in his Sundance rave).
One of the biggest and often ignored issues facing LGBT communities today and tomorrow is the fact that there is a rapidly aging population within them that is not properly being cared for. In the United States -- where PJ Raval’s documentary takes place -- there are an estimated 2.4 million LGBT Americans over the age of 55. As a demographic, they are five times less likely to access social services than their heterosexual counterparts, half as likely to have health insurance coverage, and 10 times less likely to have a caretaker if they fall ill. And unfortunately there is not much attention being paid to them by their younger LGBT counterparts (or anyone else, for that matter). Which is one of the reasons that PJ Raval's documentary "Before You Know It" is such a crucial new edition to the LGBT doc canon. Following three different LGBT seniors each facing a different array of issues, it affectingly personifies an increasingly forgotten generation of queer folks (and makes you want to become friends with all of them).
"Bridegroom" (directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason)
You may recall this heartbreaking viral video from early last year, in which Shane Bitney Crone detailed the beautiful relationship he had with longterm partner Tom Bridegroom before his tragic death the year prior. Bridegroom's family -- who had never accepted his sexuality or his relationship -- shut him out of the funeral. Crone decided to make a video about it, which got over 4 million hits and and attracted the attention of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. She assembled the massive amount of footage Crone and Bridegroom had filmed together into this endlessly affecting doc (which raised $384,375 on Kickstarter, becoming the most-funded documentary film project in the history of crowd-funding to date). After being introduced at the Tribeca Film Festival (where it world premiered) by none other than Bill Clinton, it heads to Outfest this weekend.
"C.O.G." (directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
Outfest's opening night film is also the very first feature-length adaptation of the work of gay literary icon David Sedaris, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s "C.O.G." manages to both do justice to Sedaris' unique voice and sense of humor while giving it a stamp of the director’s own. Based on an essay from Sedaris's 1997 collection "Naked," both the literary and cinematic versions of "C.O.G." detail the experience Sedaris himself (played by the wonderful Jonathan Groff in the film) had when he travelled to rural Oregon to work as an apple picker. Through encounters with a glorious variety of locals, the twentysomething Sedaris came to considerable revelations about his religion ("C.O.G." stands "Child of God," an acronym that one of those said locals proudly self-identifies with) and sexuality. Expanding on those two themes, Alvarez makes good on the promise of his 2009 directorial debut "Easier With Practice," keeping Sedaris fans happy in the process.
While this list is indeed largely of the male variety, Stacie Passon’s "Concussion" more than helps make up for that. The story of a suburban lesbian housewife (an amazing Robin Weigert), "Concussion" is likely to be dubbed "the lesbian hooker movie." But it’s so much more than that. While indeed Weigert’s character decides to secretly become a prostitute for women behind the back of her wife and kids, the film uses that context to explore a complex woman who implodes amidst the heteronormative lifestyle that crept up on her. Weigert plays Abby, a fortysomething lesbian who's married with two kids and lives in the New Jersey suburbia. But after being hit in the head by her son's baseball, Abby begins to unravel and through a series of events finds herself with a new double life: Lesbian housewife by night, high-end lesbian prositute by day. It's a sexy, uncomprising and unique take on the cinematic mid-life crisis that works in large part because of Weigert's performance. It also offers what will likely be the hottest lesbian sex on a big screen this year.
"Continental" (directed by Malcom Ingram)
Coming off a world premiere at SXSW, Malcolm Ingram (known best for his 2006 film "Small Town Gay Bar") is now heading to Outfest with his latest film “Continental." And no, it’s not about the airline or a certain hotel breakfast. It’s basically about the social opposite of a small town gay bar -- New York City’s revolutionary Continental Baths, which ran from 1968 to 1975 and was basically the Ritz Carlton of bathhouses from its "Olympia blue" swimming pool to its disco featuring some of the best performers the early 70s had to offer. One of them was Bette Midler, who got her break singing in the baths (with Barry Manilow -- often in just a towel -- accompanying her on piano). Though Midler is not one of the many talking heads featured in the film (unsurprising given she was quick to distance herself from the baths once she got more famous), Ingram's documentary is not simply about the many celebrities that either performed at the baths (LaBelle, The Pointer Sisters, Peter Allen, Lesley Gore and The New York Dolls among them) or passed through them at their peak (allegedly Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Johnny Carson and Alfred Hitchcock all did -- seriously). It's about a fascinating institution that beyond being a really good time, really pushed forward gay visibility.
(directed by Darren Stein)
Isn’t about time that gay boys got their own version of "Mean Girls"? That's the reductive gist of Darren Stein's "G.B.F.," a high school comedy that puts the usual second (or third) banana role of the gay best friend front and center. Tanner (the adorable Michael J. Willett, in his film debut) is accidentally outed, becoming his high school's first openly gay student. The three most popular girls at school (Sasha Pieterse, Andrea Bowen and Xosha Roquemore) -- in a clear send up of the Heathers or the Plastics -- race to snatch him up as a "the new hottest accessory," leading to Tanner's popularity skyrocketing while threatening his friendship with his own G.B.F. (and potential love interest), played by the hilarious (and also adorable) Paul Iacono. Though in large part a send-up of the genre of straight teenage romantic comedies it mirrors, "G.B.F." also stands nicely as its own (rare) entity: A sharp, sweet gay teen rom-com.
Roger Ross Williams' harrowing doc takes us to Uganda, where LGBT people are facing a terrifying situation. A group American evangelical Christians have chosen the country -- which has Africa's youngest population -- as a prominent location for their mission, joining forces with Ugandan religious leaders to fight "sexual immorality." And by fight, they mean help pass a so-called "kill the gays" bill -- which is exactly as disgusting as it sounds. Williams gains remarkable access to both the religious leaders and their communities, in addition to a few incredibly brave individuals (one of whom -- David Kato -- was suspiciously murdered during filming) who are fighting back against both the Americans trying to export their extreme beliefs to a vulnerable nation and the Ugandans who are supporting them. It’s a maddening and at times shocking experience but a wholly worthwhile one that should send you out of the theater ready to research whatever you can do to help this situation.
"Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" (directed by Nicholas Wrathall)
“I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television" was one of literally hundreds of the late Gore Vidal's quotable statements. With Nicholas Wrathall's new doc on Vidal, he'll at least get a chance to posthumously mouth off one last time. The American essayist, novelist, screenwriter, public intellectual and public homosexual passed away almost exactly a year ago after contributing hours of fabulous interviews to "The United States of Amnesia," which premiered at Tribeca earlier this year. These interviews anchor what is essentially an incredibly entertaining and educational love letter to one of the most fearless critics in recent American history.
One of the most fabulous, transgressive people to ever almost cross into mainstream American culture is at the heart of Jeffrey Schwarz's new documentary, "I Am Divine." Framed around the 1988 death of then 42-year-old Harris Glenn Milstead -- the man behind Divine -- it is mostly a loving, hilarious (nobody provides better on-camera energy than John Waters) and complex tribute to a man and his female alter-ego, both of whom lived their lives to the fullest. It takes us from Milstead's challenged Baltimore upbringing as an overweight kid (where he grew up just blocks from Waters, though the two didn't cross paths until they were both 17) to the night he died in his sleep ("of happiness," friend and manager Bernard Jay says in the film). The film must be watched by anyone who thinks, say, Lady Gaga is transgressive. Because Mother Monster has nothing on who the film rightfully proclaims "the Queen Mother of us all."
”In The Name Of” (directed by Malgorzata Szumowksa)
Winner of the Teddy Award for best LGBT narrative film at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, Malgorzata Szumowksa’s Polish drama "In the Name Of" sensitively approaches the central character of a gay priest. Father Adam (Andrzej Chyra, in a rather mesmerizing performance) is the pastor of a tiny parish in the middle of the Polish countryside. As drama begins to surround Father Adam, "In The Name Of…" -- which is the opening night film of Inside Out – develops into a thoughtful, distinctive portrait of a truly devout man struggling to come to terms with himself (notably after developing a relationship with a Jesus lookalike youth at the center for difficult boys he devotes time to). And though the film is largely a serious affair, look out for the film’s doozy of a sole comic scene, in which Adam gets ridiculously drunk and dances with a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI.
"Interior. Leather Bar." (directed by Travis Mathews and James Franco)
Actor-director-playwright-academic-etc. James Franco has collaborated with up-and-coming queer filmmaker Travis Mathews for this film that explores the idea of the two of them remaking the 40 minutes of explicit S&M material allegedly cut from William Friedkin's controversial 1980 film "Cruising" to avoid an X-rating. While that in itself is a worthwhile concept for a film (and a part of "Interior. Leather Bar." is indeed a hardcore recreation of just that), the film extends well beyond it to offer footage -- perhaps real, perhaps not -- of Franco, Mathews and their cast and crew as they attempt to pull off the feat. The result is a discussion of representations of queer sex in both Hollywood and society in general that won raves when it debuted at Sundance in January. Say what you want about Mr. Franco, but try not to admire his attempt at utilize his celebrity to push certain boundaries in this film.
Yen Tan’s quiet, moving "Pit Stop" made its world premiere at Sundance back in January, where it was largely overshadowed by more name-heavy (though also very good) queer flicks like the aforementioned James Franco co-directed "Interior. Leather Bar." and David Sedaris adaptation "C.O.G." The film depicts a series of characters living in small-town Texas, among them two lost gay men in their mid-30s (Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda). Similar in tone to 2011's queer cinema breakout "Weekend" (a staple on this circuit two years ago), "Pit Stop" has a sincerity that creeps up on you and will linger in your mind long after the credits roll.