Outfest 2006: the 24th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival unspooled 14 short film programs during its July 6-17 run this year. And while the 77 features playing Outfest garnered the lion's share of critical attention, it is in the short-form live action, documentary, and experimental arenas where the truly maverick filmmaking can be found. Here (in alphabetical order) is a sampling of ten outstanding shorts, which, in addition to playing Outfest, continue to make their mark on the festival circuit.
"Available Men" (Dir. David Dean Bottrell, USA, 2005, 15 min.)
This short, which won the audience award for best narrative short film at Outfest, is a comedy of misunderstanding, featuring a fast-talking Hollywood agent who mistakes a sensitive artist waiting for a blind date for a hot-shot screenwriter shopping for representation. Written and directed by a Hollywood scribe (Bottrell co-wrote Fox Searchlight's "Kingdom Come"), the short's double-entendre jargon-filled dialogue delighted Outfest's Industry-savvy audience.
"Bugcrush" (Dir. Carter Smith, USA, 2006, 36 min.)
The jury award winner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Bugcrush" is based on a Scott Treleaven's story and directed by Carter Smith, whose background is fashion photography and commercial/television directing. But if you didn't know that, you'd swear this mesmerizing tale of a high school boy's obsession with a seductive new kid was a lost Gus Van Sant masterpiece. Smith's ability to capture naturalistic performances marks him as a director to watch.
"Dirtyglitter 1: Damien" (Dir. Aron Kantor, USA, 2005, 13 min.)
Shown in a program entitled "Some Velvet Morning," "Dirtyglitter 1: Damien" is the kind of visually experimental filmmaking one expects from an edgy festival like Outfest. This saga of a hustler searching for a photographer who seems to be snapping scenes from the hustler's life before they happen was shot entirely on greenscreen - and leaves audiences eager to see what cinematic visions the filmmaker will unleash in Episode 2.
"First Date" (Dir. Gary Huggins, USA, 2005, 20 min.)
The film's official logline - a volatile ex-con will stop at nothing to keep a date with the underage boy he met online - captures the storyline but does not indicate the absurdly comedic moments in store for viewers who discover this 20-minute gem. Shot on a borrowed camera and edited on a borrowed iMac, "First Date" is helmed by a Kansas City librarian who found his star, Santiago Vasquez, among the library patrons. The short next plays the Vancouver Queer Film Festival in August.
"guy101" (Dir. Ian W. Gouldstone, UK, 2005, 9 min.)
Shown in the same Boys' Shorts program as "Available Men," "guy101" shares with "First Date" the hook of on-line hook-ups. In this particular case, the entire film (made at the Royal College of Art) is a collage of internet imagery put together in After Effects as a way of experimentally illustrating the saga of sexual encounter gone horribly wrong.
"Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" (Dir. Andrea Janakas, USA, 2005, 22 min.)
Writer/director Andrea Janakas offers up a day-in-the-life of two small-town girls in 1979. An American Film Institute (AFI) student film adapted from Nona Caspers' short story "La Maison de Madame Durard," this teen drama benefits from strong performances from leads Annie Quinn and Amanda Seyfried.
"Hold Up" (Dir. Madeleine Olnek, USA, 2005, 7 min.)
A selection from the Girls' Shorts program, "Hold Up" is an example of a short film that actually suffers from being shown in a genre festival, as the audience anticipates the lesbian-angle twist. Luckily, Columbia film student Madeleine Olnek has a charming enough story in this comedy of a corner store robbery gone awry that Outfest viewers enjoyed the film nevertheless.
"Peace Talk" (Dir. Jenifer Malmqvist, Sweden, 2005, 14 min.)
Winner of Best Short at NewFest: the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Film Festival, this Swedish film is a nicely executed coming-of-age piece about a pre-teen tomboy's not-so-innocent play date with her pretty best friend.
"Rape for Who I Am" (Dir. Lovinsa Kavuma, UK, 2006, 26 min.)
A South African documentary that played before the feature doc "Cruel and Unusual," Lovinsa Kavuma's compelling half-hour piece interviews Johannesburg women assaulted because of their sexual orientation who are becoming activists via an anti-hate-crime awareness campaign.
"Reporter Zero" (Dir. Carrie Lozano, USA, 2005, 25 min.)
Another short doc that played before a feature (in this case, "Books of James"), "Reporter Zero" is a portrait of Randy Shilts, the legendary San Francisco newspaper reporter who pioneered AIDS coverage. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival and a gold medal winner at the 2006 Student Academy Awards, "Reporter Zero" benefits from the unique perspective of the filmmaker, a student at U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
[Kim Adelman is the author of "The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films."]