18th Outfest Diversifies and Conquers
by Matthew Breen
The most immediately noticeable addition to Outfest 2000, the 18th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (July 6-17), was the adoption of eight animated mascots. It seems no event is truly complete these days without a mascot, from Taco Bell to the Olympic Games. But a film festival? Outfest's "Super 8" -- Flame, Fairy, Tongue, Butch, Gaydar, Lipstick, Circuit, and Baby Dyke -- are meant to represent the various aspects of the gay community. Unfortunately, the pre-film trailers starring each of these ill-conceived Disney-fied mascots met with an overwhelmingly unenthusiastic response.
One could argue that the offensive mascots -- and yes, one is actually a tongue with legs and a face -- are a decade too late, and that queer filmmakers have largely moved beyond the need to categorize characters and films in the same way they once needed to. And while the question of categorization (what actually constitutes gay cinema?) is likely to always be in the mind of programmers, Outfest seems to have put that question aside in favor of finding a diverse cross-section of film. Festival programmers make advances in the diversification of gay and lesbian cinema by including programs like "Afro-Explosion," celebrating African American cinema, "Platinum," celebrating experimental and avant-garde film, and the "5 @ 5," giving a prime-time platform to five first-time filmmakers. In addition, Outfest presented a spate of documentary and Latino films and proportionately as much foreign fare as any other international film festival.
In its dedication to documentary filmmaking, this year's opening night film was "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" (Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey), introduced by its narrator, an uncharacteristically butch-looking RuPaul Charles. This genuine crowd pleaser of a flick, dedicated to the plight of Christian zealot Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, the only televangelist who displayed early and ongoing support for gays and people with AIDS.
Prior to the film were the endless thanking of sponsors (the festival was presented this year by Absolut Mandrin and IFILM who, as one programmer put it: "encourage you to drink and get online"), and the presentation of the 4th Annual Outfest Achievement Award to the doc-making duo of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman by their "Celluloid Closet" narrator Lily Tomlin. Their Outfest 2000 entry, "Paragraph 175," named for the archaic German law prohibiting homosexuality, interviews all but two of the known gay survivors of the Nazi regime. It is a singularly powerful documentary and surely one of the most important gay films this year.
"Tammy Faye" wasn't the only film with religion at its core this year. "Blessed Art Thou" (Tim Disney) was a misfire of a transsexual/virgin birth fable in a monastery. "Call To Witness" (Pam Walton), a slow-paced video documentary, examines the struggle out gay and lesbian clergy face in relationships, including expulsion of their congregations from the Lutheran church. Both films take shots at the establishment, variously painting organized religion's higher-ups as weak-willed or frightened and regimental.
First time filmmakers get a pretty fair shake at Outfest, especially in the 5 @ 5 program. "Just One Time" (Lane Janger) proves to be a cute and innocuous examination of a m