Every year at Outfest, which began last night in Los Angeles, the "Boys' Shorts" and "Girls' Shorts" programs are hot tickets. This year, there's a new shorts program that will have festival goers arriving early to ensure they get a good seat. "Queerer than Fiction: Documentary Shorts" offers some of the most compelling storytelling at the fest. For a single-ticket price, viewers are treated to a unique angle on the Harvey Milk story, a revealing portrait of a painter and her muse/lover, and a partially-animated look at a transgendered man trying to find his place in society. "People actively look to the doc section of any film festival knowing it's going to have some of the best stuff," notes Outfest programmer Jon Korn, "and the short doc program guarantees a variety of experiences in a short amount of time."

Outfest 2009, which runs from July 9 - 19, showcases lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film images and artistry. In addition to placing shorts in front of features, director of programming Kimberly Yutani and programmer Jon Korn grouped their short film selections into 10 official programs. Yutani and Korn, who also program for the Sundance Film Festival, delight in championing unconventional films and filmmakers with unique voices. Korn explains, "The short programs are about discovery, more than anything else."

The documentary short submissions were so strong this year that Yutani and Korn decided to create a dedicated shorts program for Outfest 2009. The most impressive of the six films in the "Queerer than Fiction" program is Amy Gebhardt's 25-minute "Heart," a fascinating all-access portrait of Australian painter Jacqui Stockdale as she reunites with her lover/muse after several years apart. Another notable doc is "Kaden Later," in which Harriet Storm takes only 9 minutes to capture her transgendered subject. The addition of animated footage is an unexpected added bonus. Also of note is "Mixed Use," in which Sabrina Alonso chooses an address as her subject matter: 575 Castro Street, where Harvey Milk lived and worked.

Asked if they noticed any trend among the shorts that they selected, Yutani and Korn note that several especially long shorts are playing the festival, "They're such good stories and beautifully made films that we figured out a way to program them," says Yutani. Tamar Glezerman's 44-minute Israli film, "The Other War," plays in the "Women on the Verge" shorts program while Christian Tafdrup's 38-minute Norwegian film, "Awakening," plays in "The Bro Job" program.

On the other end of the running time spectrum is the 2 minute-long German animation "Say Hooray to the Pope!" which screens in the "Bitches, Buttholes, and BFFs" program (and is also available on YouTube for those who can't wait to see the film in the theater).

"Short programs can be really fun for audiences because you get a chance to experience a wide range of filmmakers at once," reminds programmer Korn. Both Korn and Yutani enjoyed naming the comedy shorts program, "Bitches, Buttholes, and BFFs." "Basically those words are just taken from the films in the program," clarifies Yutani, while also pointing out that the majority of the filmmakers in that program are Los Angeles-based and will appear in person at the festival. "We expect it to be a rocking screening," predicts Korn.

The highlight of the "Bitches, Buttholes, and BFFs" program is the film that contributed the title's middle word. Kanako Wynkoop's 5-minute "Butthole Lickin'" is a simply-shot confrontation between two lesbians in bed, deep in negotiations regarding hygiene etiquette. The short also plays in the "Heavy Petting" program.

In "The Bro Job" program, which the Outfest catalogue describes as "an outrageous collection of shorts for straight and bisexual boys - and all the gays who love them," the standout dramatic short is "The Prince," German filmmaker Petra Schroeder's 15-minute tale of two school girls who are picked up by an older gentleman who claims to be gay and royal - and proves to be a master manipulator. The killer comedy in the collection is "Clearing the Air," a 4-minute piece directed by David Morgasen and produced by the legendary Los Angeles improv comedy group, the Groundlings. Producer/writer/star Mitch Silpa portrays a very nervous yet persistent office worker who asks a fellow cubicle dweller out on a date and then awkwardly backpedals while also trying to advance his suit when the object of his affection blatantly states he's heterosexual.

In the "Fusion Shorts" program, which highlights shorts from the most recent Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival while sneak previewing pieces from the 2010 fest, two films feature particularly memorable characters. While the 20-minute South Korean film "The Bath," directed by Lee Mi-rang, focuses on two siblings, their trip to the communal bath and the issues it brings up, the mother in the film is the real scene stealer. Brian Harris Krinsky's 16-minute "Dish," which plays this program and "Boys' Shorts," also features a breakout performance. Matthew Monge plays Israel, a gossipy teenager who spends an inordinate amount of time on his hairstyle. He and his best friend Louie are such engaging characters that audiences will wish that their adventures continue (perhaps a feature is in the works?).

While "coming of age/coming out" stories could be considered prototypical Outfest storylines, it's always refreshing when filmmakers twist expectations. When the titular teenage hero of "James" comes out to his teacher, the grown-up's reaction is painful to watch. Niall Wright is terrific as James, and writer/director Connor Clements smartly keeps the camera tight on that expressive freckled face. "James" plays in "Boys' Shorts."

The "Girls' Shorts" program has a strong comic bent this year, and Laura Terruso's 11-minute "Dyke Dollar" is certainly one of the most offbeat. Actress Lisa Haas gamely spends the entire film in a green foam costume as a very talkative, consciousness-raising dollar bill named Evelyn.

In the "Heavy Petting" program, Columbia University student Jen Heck delivers "Salamander," an 18-minute adolescent angst story that anyone who has ever worried that no one will come to her party can relate to. Of course, not everyone has to rescue a NASA-bound salamander as part of her rites of passage. Heck has a solid fan base from her previous Outfest short, "Airplanes."

Perhaps the most personal yet fantastical short shown at Outfest 2009 is Canadian filmmaker Trevor Anderson's 5-minute "The Island," playing the "Safe Words" program. A flight of animated fantasy about a "homo island" set against the filmmaker's lone journey across an isolated snowfield, Anderson's short is pure delight. Do not miss it.