L.A.'s OutFest, Part 2: Shorts, Strand's Pics and More. . .
by Brian Brooks
Aside from the opening night gala downtown, I did not attend one party
-- official or otherwise -- related to this year's Outfest. During this
year's week-plus fest, my routine was to race down Sunset Blvd. during
rush-hour, charm my way past the parking nazis wherever there was an
indication that space was available, and scramble into the theater by
7:00. After the night's films, I went straight home like a good boy in
order to begin again the next day. The pressure I felt last year trying
to crack the g-A-y-list crowd, or risk missing some hidden wonder of it
all, did not invade my dedicated movie-going psyche this time around.
OutFest regularly includes themed events in its extensive roster, one of
which is the cluster of films, "Boys Shorts." Among the eight shorts
presented this year, two of the films, "Nobody I Know" by Australian
director Andrew Porter and "A Kiss In The Snow" by Norwegian Frank
Mosvold titillated audiences with their accounts of fleeting passion.
In both shorts, the characters are confronted with a lost desire due to
their inability to acknowledge their passion in a heterosexual-dominated
world. The two directors use unique yet realistic scenarios which
resonated with audiences recalling their own first forays into elusive
desire. Director Todd Downing's "Dirty Baby Does Fire Island" was a
short that left spectators in stitches. Rated "Q" by OutFest indicating
nudity, violence and sexual situations, the story follows an
unsuspecting doll to the fairy-tale world of Fire Island (a gay vacation
mainstay off Long Island) where she is confronted with some rather
This year's fest also included a number of features with unique stories
of the gay experience. "Like It Is" by director Paul Oremland was one
of many. In this stylishly well-written account, a blue-collar boy from
the north of England is confronted with his new boyfriend's hedonistic
music-industry friends who are less than thrilled with his presence.
Class difference creates a formidable challenge for the two lovers, a
situation which incited one viewer in the audience to utter, "I see this
happen all the time where I work..."
"East Palace, West Palace" (opening tomorrow from Strand Releasing)
by mainland Chinese director Zhang Yuan, was another highlight this
year. Set in an urban area park in China, Zhang tells the story of a
defiantly open young writer who is arrested for seeking forbidden
companionship. During an all night interrogation, the writer is forced
to "explain" his "deviant" behavior to an extremely interested police
official. I had actually hoped to interview Zhang about his film, but
alas, the director is currently blacklisted on the Chinese mainland.
Another Strand Release, "Love Is the Devil" by British director John
Maybury, is a chilling look into the tumultuous relationship between
artist Francis Bacon and his longtime lover and subject George Dyer.
Again, class is the main culprit in this doomed relationship that is set
in the bohemian circles of 1960's Soho in London. Maybury was asked to
write and direct the project by the BBC and managed to work closely with
those close to Bacon -- although opposed by many in the Bacon estate.
Before the showing, Maybury described the film as "a weird one." True,
but very worthwhile if one is looking for a film beyond the fluffier
fare. After the film, I told the director that while I enjoyed the
film, all the decadence left me a little queasy since the previous night
I had downed a few myself. He retorted, "a perfect way to see the
film." A haunting musical score by Oscar winner Ryuichi Sakamoto also
adds to the angst-ridden surrealism.
The partying and decadence continued in Fenton Bailey and
Randy Barbato's documentary "Party Monster." This disturbing and
thrilling film investigates the true-life story of New York club
kid-extraordinaire Michael Alig. Alig arrived in New York in the late
'80s from Indiana and found his dizzying personality cult catapulting
himself to the forefront of the decadent post-Warhol downtown club
scene. The film chronicles Alig's taste for shock and indulgence that
later spirals out of control and leads to his arrest for murder in the
mid-90s. Animated testimonies by those close to Alig as well as by his
mother and himself left audiences captivated. A narrative feature about
Alig called "Disco Bloodbath" is reportedly in the works from the
doc-making duo along with the help of producer Christine Vachon.
Audiences attending any gay and lesbian film festival expect to have at
least several choices of "coming out" stories to choose from, and this
year's OutFest was no exception. One fantastic account was the, as yet
unacquired, "Edge of Seventeen" by directors David Moreton and Todd
Stephens. Original stories about coming out are a challenge, because
often they come out clichéd and trite. This film is an exception. Set
in the mid-80s in Ohio, the film is an honest depiction of a late teen's
first experiences with his sexuality. The story is heart-warming, yet
not overtly cute as it grapples with the complex realities of gay
adulthood. Additionally, the film has a fantastic '80s soundtrack that
left filmmaker Darren Stein ("Sparkler"), his boyfriend Tommy, myself and
other audience members fighting the temptation to break into chorus.
In addition to these as well as the many other films that comprised this
year's OutFest was "The Open Screen" which was instituted two years ago
to allow filmmakers on a first-come basis the opportunity to screen
their work. The festival also had several panels including one with
Warhol superstar, Joe Dellasandro. Also included was a screening of
"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" meant to entertain the kiddies while their
parent(s) were attending other films. You can't say Outfest doesn't
take care of its patrons.