Back to IndieWire

The 13 Films You Must See at Outfest

The 13 Films You Must See at Outfest

Outfest — the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival — is kicking off its 30th anniversary celebrations tomorrow night with a screening of Jeffrey Schwarz’s “Vito” and a tribute to the one-and-only John Waters.  What will follow is 10 days showcasing the best LGBT cinema of the past year, which — in something of a rare occasion — isn’t simply one or two great films and then countless filler. 

It’s been a pretty exceptional year for LGBT films, and if you’re in Los Angeles over the next little bit, Outfest is a pretty great opportunity to see why. Indiewire offers 13 best bets below, though there’s also quite a bit more where that came from, so check out the festival’s full program here.

Cloudburst,” written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald
“Cloudburst” comes nearly fifteen years after writer-director Thom Fitzgerald made his directorial debut with “The Hanging Garden.” But unlike “Garden” – and most of Fitzgerald’s subsequent films (“Beefcake,” “The Event”) – “Cloudburst” doesn’t have queer male central characters. Instead, he offers up a good ol’ fashioned lesbian road trip movie. The film stars Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as an American couple who decide head to Nova Scotia (where Fitzgerald is based) to marry after 30 years together, coming across a hunky hitchhiker (Ryan Doucette, in his first onscreen role). Given that synopsis, one might be inclined to dub “Cloudburst” a senior citizen version of “Thelma & Louise.” But that would be reductive. The film has its own unique sense of humanity and humor that’s handled gently by Fitzgerald. [Peter Knegt]

Gayby,” written and directed by Jonathan Lisecki
Expanding upon the hilarious short of the same name that hopped from film festival to festival two years ago, snatching up several awards, Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby” is a tightly written hilarious romp of a group of New York friends who must deal with growing older.  Matt, a gay man, and Jenn, a straight woman, are longtime friends who have decided that they want to bring a baby into the world, the old-fashioned way.  What follows is a tender look at what happens to friendships when people get older and new friends and lovers come in the way.  As evidenced in our FUTURES profile of him, Lisecki’s always surprising and never tiring wit is a welcome addition to the film festival circuit. [Bryce J. Renninger]

How To Survive a Plague,” directed by David France and “United In Anger,” directed by Jim Hubbard
It’s something of a shame that two excellent documentaries about New York-based AIDS activism had to come out around the same time. But it’s also something of a gift.  Each unique in their storytelling and execution, David France’s “How To Survive a Plague” and Jim Hubbard’s “United in Anger” complement each other quite well. In their own ways, each film looks at the history and remarkable contribution of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) — the AIDS activism group born in mid-1980s New York.  Though comprehensive and powerful documentaries to be sure, collectively they still only represent a small fraction of the worldwide history of one of the worst epidemics — and greatest examples of resulting activism — ever.  So see both films, and consider them mere introductions (albeit two harrowing, beautifully crafted introductions). [Peter Knegt]

I Am a Woman Now,” directed by Michiel van Erp
The glamorous women in Michel van Erp’s feature documentary are some of the first women who traveled from all over to undergo gender reassignment surgery in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in Casablanca.  The women get together to gab about their life as some of the first modern day transsexuals, all worked on by the doctor Georges Burou.  While not all of them have the same experience of life as a pioneering transsexual, they stand out in recent history as some of the only women who received this surgery without going through the stringent psychological tests to deem one a candidate for any procedure. [Bryce J. Renninger]

I Want Your Love,” written and directed by Travis Mathews
When Travis Mathews’ online art porn short of the same name was released a few years ago, many (including our own Peter Knegt) were smitten with Matthews’ subtle portrayals of gay hipsters getting intimate and having sex.  After exploring these themes in documentary form with “In Their Room” (shot in San Fransisco) and “In Their Room: Berlin,” Mathews’ feature fiction debut is once again intimate and a true document of a group of men exploring love and sex through each other. [Bryce J. Renninger]

Keep The Lights On,” directed by Ira Sachs; written by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias
Director Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”) paints a painfully realistic portrait of an epic relationship in “Keep The Lights On.” Set in 1990s New York, the loosely autobiographical film follows a Danish documentarian (Thure Lindhardt) who falls for Paul (Zachary Booth), a closeted lawyer. Sachs charts what follows over a volatile ten year time frame, with each man struggling with their own private compulsions and addictions – often at the expense of their relationship.  With strong performances and a thoughtful screenplay that defies convention, “Keep The Lights On” captures a poignant, raw love story sure to resonate strongly with audiences. [Peter Knegt]

Mosquita Y Mari,” written by directed by Aurora Guerrero
This Chicana coming-of-age movie follows two 15 year old girls in Los Angeles’ Huntington Park: Good girl Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda), and her polar opposite Mari (Venecia Troncoso).  As their friendship quickly develops, questions of sexual attraction arise in a slowly revealing, carefully constructed narrative from first-time writer-director Aurora Guerrero.  Guerrero — along with her two lead actresses, who are both excellent — is definitely a name to watch, and this is most definitely a film to watch. [Peter Knegt]

My Brother The Devil,” written and directed by Sally el Hosaini
With her debut feature, Sally el Hosaini explores the lives of two Arab-British brothers who must contend with the competing values of the gang culture they’re trying to prove themselves within and their intimate feelings and love.  Resisting the cliches many like films fall for, “My Brother the Devil” is a complicated story of coming to understand one’s own feelings and one’s place within family. [Bryce J. Renninger]

Struck By Lightning,” directed by Brian Dannelly, written by Chris Colfer
Chris Colfer shines as a smart ass high school student intent on making an impact on his classmates, and doing this his way.  The film, which debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, was cause for me to say, “Just watch:  Colfer will be one of the most interesting pop culture voices of this generation.  I’ve been sure of this since seeing him co-present Jane Lynch with a lifetime achievement award two years ago at Outfest.  His comic smarts far exceed what we’ve seen on the screen so far.  “Struck By Lightning” is exactly what he needed to do.  Get it, girl.”  “Struck By Lightning” will be an awesome closing night screening for the festival; it’s full of smart quips and shellacked with all kinds of camp. [Bryce J. Renninger]

Vito,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz
A new addition to the canon of great LGBT rights documentaries, Jeffrey Schwarz’s “Vito” — which opens Outfest — is a passionate look at the life of Vito Russo. Russo is probably best known for the 1981 book about the representation of LGBT people in Hollywood, “The Celluloid Closet” (which was adapted into the 1995 documentary by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman). But he was also a remarkable figure in the early gay rights movement, and the fight against AIDS (which he succumbed to in 1990).  Using interviews with Russo’s family and peers as well as wonderful archival footage, Schwarz gives Russo’s legacy the documentary it deserves with “Vito.” [Peter Knegt]

Wildness,” directed by Wu Tsang, written by Wu Tsang & Roy Rastegar
Wu Tsang’s essay film about the party he helped through at LA’s Latino bar The Silver Platter is definitely one of my favorite films of the year.  Wu and his co-writer Roya Rastegar have truly made something special here, an incredibly powerful documentation of working to sustain culture, neighborhood institutions and neighborly fraternizing as young queer (often middle-class) people while fighting the more destructive aspects of gentrification. [Bryce J. Renninger]

Yossi,” written and directed Eytan Fox
Ten years after his 2002 film “Yossi & Jaggar,” Eytan Fox offers up a sequel-of-sorts with the simply titled “Yossi.” It plays like a sort of Israeli cross between Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” and Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend.” Ohad Knoller reprises his role of the now singular title character, now an overweight, closeted 34-year-old doctor living in Tel Aviv. Still struggling with the tragic events that came at the end of the first film (spoiler alert: Jagger died), Yossi lives a sad, lonely life. But thankfully for Yossi, it gets better. After he randomly meets a group of young Israeli soldiers, “Yossi” gives us a hopeful second act set on an Israeli resort.  A lovely little film about grief and aging and life’s second chances, “Yossi” — a last minute addition to Outfest’s program — should not be missed. [Peter Knegt]

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox