Moving Forward, Looking Back: Outfest Wraps 23rd Year with Spotlight on Queer Film Preservation
by Jonny Leahan
Outfest 2005, which ran in Los Angeles from July 7-18, kicked off 12 nights of films and special events with a screening and after-party at the historic Orpheum Theater, the festival's traditional opening night venue. Making Outfest history, newly elected LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched the festivities, marking the first time in the fest's 23 years that a mayor has taken part. Bringing attendees to their feet, Villaraigosa expressed surprise at this fact, and pledged to return next year, and for years to come.
In another first, festival executive director Stephen Gutwillig took the stage to announce a brand new initiative called the Outfest Legacy Project, which will compile the largest public library of LGBT films in the world, while preserving endangered classics and ensuring that future releases will be properly archived. "Outfest is partnering with the UCLA Film and Television Archive," Gutwillig told indieWIRE, "which is one of the most prestigious film and television archives in the world, to do something about the crisis in LGBT film preservation."
And it is indeed a cultural crisis. "What we've discovered over the last couple of years is just how severe this issue is," says Gutwillig, "and what a dilemma it poses for people who care deeply about the images that made us who we are, and the power that media has to shape our understanding of queer identity and the mainstream appreciation for our lives. From 'Parting Glances' to 'Go Fish', from 'Edge of Seventeen' to 'Desert Hearts' and beyond, these films have no viable archive quality print stored anywhere. All that exists with most independent LGBT film titles is that handful of prints that were struck whenever the film was initially released... and those prints are now on their last legs."
Back to newer films, the opening night selection was Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's "Cote D'Azur," a light-hearted crowd pleaser perfectly suited to launch the fest. Marking the directors' fourth film at Outfest, this summertime sizzler follows married couple Marc and Beatrix as they vacation in the south of France with their teenagers Charly and Laura. Charly and his gay friend Martin cause some confusion, as his parents are convinced that they are a couple, and a classic French sex farce ensues, complete with mom screwing her secret lover in the bushes while dad sleeps with the plumber - all peppered with the occasional musical number about seafood and sex.
Nobody, not even the French, does musical numbers like lounge legends Kiki and Herb, who performed live after the world premiere of their 'mockumentary' "Kiki and Herb: Reloaded," directed by Chris Gallagher and Michaline Babich. What the film lacks in technical prowess it makes up for in the performances of its twisted subjects, especially their rendition of Bowie's "Space Oddity," which inspired tears of laughter as Kiki interpreted the lyrics through dance in a most peculiar way.
In another Outfest world premiere, John Baumgartner's "Hard Pill" screened to a sold-out audience at the sizeable Showcase Theater, following a reception in the film's honor at the home of director Todd Holland. The sci-fi flick asks the disturbing question: if you could take a pill to make you straight, would you? In this age of an anti-gay, pro-pharmaceutical government, the notion of a futuristic "cure" in pill form is not unthinkable, and the lonely protagonist Tim Barrens (Jonathan Slavin) is hoping for just such a panacea. Whether or not the remedy for what he thinks ails him will allow his very being to remain intact is the real mystery.
Geoff Callan and Mike Shaw show an entirely different reality in "Pursuit of Equality," the inspiring documentary that provides behind-the-scenes access to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as he challenges California marriage law. Shot over 15 months, this remarkable film chronicles every step of the way as Newsom decides he will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, sparking a firestorm of protest as well as a massive show of support from a divided public, in a story that is far from over. The film serves not only as an important civil rights document, but functions as a call to arms for anyone with even the slightest sense of fairness to speak out against the wave of anti-gay discrimination that seems to be sweeping the country.
The film was preceded by Stuart Gaffney's short "Muni to the Marriage," a black-and-white meditation on civil rights made while he was taking the train to San Francisco's City Hall, where he was about to marry his boyfriend in a spontaneous civil ceremony, as did thousands of other couples in the weeks to follow. Mayor Newsom was the welcome guest of honor at a packed reception following the screening, where he mingled with the appreciative audience, gaining even more fans as he stayed the entire time, engaging anyone who wished to talk in lively conversation, while posing for photographs with fans, including several couples who were married thanks to his fearless leadership.
Another unlikely gay icon attending the festival, also the subject of a documentary, was the always-fascinating Tammy Faye Messner. In Chris McKim's "Tammy Faye: Death Defying," she bravely invites cameras into her world as she battles stage IV colon cancer, which carries a dismal 5-percent survival rate in the first five years. Down but not beaten, Tammy Faye struggles through intensive chemotherapy and the loss of both her singing voice and her precious eyelashes, but in the end is declared cancer-free by her stunned doctors. Taking the stage to wild applause after the screening, she apologized to the audience for the right-wing Christians who have been so viciously fighting to deny the gay and lesbian community their civil rights. "I tell them 'Judge not, lest ye be judged,'" said the diminutive Messner, with that trademark tear in her eye.
On the lighter side, Georgia Lee's whimsical family drama "Red Doors" got plenty of laughs at the sold-out screening. The Wong Family's upstate New York home, with its bright red doors in front, holds some surprising secrets, as three very different sisters struggle to make their way in the world. The eldest, Samantha (Jacqueline Kim), is trying to juggle corporate life while planning her marriage, as Julie (Elaine Kao), the middle sibling, starts to fall hard for a hot movie actress, while teenager Katie (Kathy Shao-Lin Lee) plays dangerous games with an immature crush. Add to the mix, a mother in deep denial (Freda Foh Shen) and a wonderfully dark performance by Tzi Ma ("The Quiet American") as the patriarch, and an engaging crowd-pleaser ensues.
Near the close of the festival, the hilarious awards ceremony (reported on earlier in indieWIRE) was followed by a screening of Marco Kreuzpaintner's sexy "Summer Storm" under the stars at the Ford Amphitheater. Beautifully shot and tightly scripted, the film follows best friends Achim and Tobi as they compete in rowing competitions while trying to find themselves in the murky waters that are adolescence. A lavish after-party at the home of producer/director Roland Emmerich ("The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day") was the perfect end to the evening.
In its 23rd year, Outfest seemed more relevant than ever against the backdrop of a government increasingly hostile to the LGBT community, demonstrated so well in films like "Pursuit of Equality," which provide a much-needed ray of hope. "I think these are the last gasps of a dying social order that is built on intolerance," says Gutwillig, "and the gay and lesbian political movement is strong enough to defend the role that we play in American society. Gay and lesbian film has always been at the heart of the growing movement... These images remind us of who we are and where we come from, why we love the way we do, and they validate our own experience, they reflect our own humanity back to us and out into the mainstream - and we will not stand by while our own history in film withers and dies."
[ EDITOR'S NOTE: Sadly, nearly a week following Tammy Faye Messner's appearance at Outfest, it was reported that cancer has returned to her lungs. Our thoughts and prayers are with her. ]