In just a few days, Outfest, Los Angeles' LGBT Film Festival, the oldest film festival still running in the city, has succeeded in showing, that despite any doom and gloom reports in the independent film market, good queer film is still coming down the pipeline.
From the gorgeously shot "Children of God" by Kareem Mortimer to the lesbian period piece, "The Secret Diary of Miss Anne Lister" (the ladies were just gushing about it afterwards!) to Jake Yuzna's Teddy-winner "Open" (a part of the 4 in Focus here at Outfest) the narrative features programming has been widely praised. As for the docs, Andy Blubaugh's "Adults in the Room" (profiled on iW here) was formally ambitious and, for me, really paid off. Big buzz formed around Michelle Lawler's portrait of an aging drag queen, "Forever's Gonna Start Tonight," and audiences eagerly await Thursday's outdoor screening at the Ford Amphitheater of Kerthy Fix's "Le Tigre: On Tour."
The Outfest 2010 opening night film, "Howl," from prolific documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, packed the Orpheum downtown fairly well. The filmmakers, who were Outfest Achievement Award honorees in 2000, are best known for their work as directors of the seminal LGBT docs "The Celluloid Closet," "The Times of Harvey Milk," and "Paragraph 175." Last night, Cheryl Dunye took the stage with her parliament of owls (or cast and crew, as the case may be) to chat about her U.S. Centerpiece film "The Owls."
"Humanizing Transgressive Sex: the "Fourplay" Series"
Outfest's standout world premiere is not a feature (yet); it is the 27-minute short film "Fourplay: San Francisco," which centers on a transvestite prostitute who is hired to have sex with a paralyzed man. Though they're headed to Chicago soon, Kyle Henry and the people behind the "Fourplay" series still consider themselves Austin filmmakers. Working with a mostly Austin crew, Henry and team are in the process of finishing the four short films that make up their "Fourplay" series. Each short is set in a different U.S. city (San Francisco, Tampa, Austin, New Haven), and features a different transgressive sex act as the scene on which the characters' arcs hinge.
Henry and his partner/co-writer Carlos Treviño were inspired by stories their friends and acquaintances told them about their sexual experiences. In the San Francisco installment, the couple was delighted to create a transvestite character based on their friend, the sex-positive sex worker activist Chloe, staying away from any trans-cliché. When writing the character of Aliya (played by Paul Soileau, who moonlights as performance artist Christeene), the couple was intent not to create another asexual transvestite, so they gave Aliya a very intimate sex scene.
After gaining funding and executive producing support from Jim McKay and Michael Stipe, who saw cuts of "San Francisco," Henry and his team are finished with the second short, cutting the third, and prepping for a shoot on the fourth. Henry is releasing the four short films online via IndiePix ("San Francisco" is available today...Watch it now!) after they get a festival premiere. The unique online plan was perfect for his "hard R"/NC-17 content. His films, after all, necessitate "a minor titillating [sexually explicit] moment that is a truly meaningful turning point." Henry called the serialized release a test case for this distribution plan. He plans to recut the four together as a feature film and then hit the fest circuit. The next three stories chronicle: a straight couple engaging in public sex, a "gangbang bathroom farce," and a closeted lesbian who dog-sits for her priest and uses peanut butter to.... According to the filmmakers, Chloe is probably the only inspiration for the stories who will help them promote their film.
Outfest Honors Jane Lynch
This year's Outfest Achievement Award recipient was "Glee" star Jane Lynch. Lynch, who - in my opinion - makes a splash in every film she's in, from "Best in Show" to "Julie and Julia," "Role Models" and "A Mighty Wind," was gracious and hilarious in accepting her award from "Glee" co-star Chris Colfer and the show's director Paris Barclay on opening night. The next afternoon, in an onstage interview moderated by Variety's lead critic Peter DeBruge, Lynch detailed her career and its highs and the lows.
Starting from the time her mother told her she would never be an actress (later: "My family isn't very funny."), Lynch recounted her long road to success, which didn't come until she was in her late thirties/early forties. A role as a doctor in "The Fugitive" convinced her to move to LA, where she starred as Carol Brady in a stage show that recreated episodes of "The Brady Bunch," with embellishments ("We would make the relationships between the siblings incestuous."). As she transitioned from a sketch comedienne on stage to a Hollywood character actor, Lynch said her "best acting work was in therapy." During this period, she also learned that she didn't have to rely on "hackety hack" jokes and grab her crotch for a laugh. Before her "Glee" star shone so bright, she was most frequently noticed for her work on Christopher Guest films, work which she says requires more preparation than any of the other roles she has had, which distinguishes her from such off-the-cuff guest co-stars as Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy. As for the Sue Sylvester character? Ryan Murphy did indeed (she claims) say in the series' development meetings, "Her name will be Sue Sylvester and she will be played by Jane Lynch." Oh, and "SNL," if you call and she can work it around her "Glee" schedule, she's there.
Bryce J. Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for Newfest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.