It had been 25 days since the Pulse shooting in Orlando, but the effects of the attack on the nightclub reverberated on the nation’s opposite coast at the beginning of the 34th Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Festival.
Speaking from the stage at the downtown Orpheum Theatre, Opening Night Gala speaker Wilson Cruz noted that the festival’s general atmosphere is markedly different than the one surrounding 2015’s celebration. “Just this time last year,” Cruz said, “we were celebrating marriage equality across this country. Just short of one year later, we would come together again, but this time for the communal experience of grief and mourning.”
Outfest Executive Director Christopher Racster also echoed the sentiment that the evening’s gathering was a tribute to the LGBT community’s resilient spirit. “Although we still face tough challenges, let’s not forget that love is, and always will be, stronger than hate. Thank you for not letting hate win and for being here tonight.”
The evening’s celebration highlighted the accomplishments of this year’s Outfest Achievement Award honoree, Sundance Film Festival Director and former Outfest Director of Programming John Cooper. After a rollicking, heartfelt introduction from director Rose Troche and a video tribute to the films and filmmakers helped to prominence under Cooper’s 27-year Sundance tenure, Cooper spoke about his lessons from his time in the film festival world.
“Never ask for permission,” he said, relaying one anecdote explaining that the Sundance staff wasn’t entirely sure the state of Utah would allow them to show the 1989 film “Longtime Companion” at the festival, only to see the film go on to win that year’s Audience Award. “That’s how I’ve lived my career.”
Discussing his role in helping to bring queer cinema to a wider audience, Cooper was gracious, but emphasized the power of giving quality films a chance to shine, regardless of where or who they come from. “None of this was a master plan…We showed films because they were good, because they were inspiring, because they were fresh, because they were exciting, because they moved us. Filmmakers followed their dreams and we followed them,” Cooper said.
Many of the evening’s speakers also expressed their solidarity in light of the police shootings of the previous two days. “It’s easy to feel disposable, undervalued today,” Cruz said before beginning his planned speech. Cooper concluded his remarks with a wider view, saying “This is no time for us to fall out of the diversity conversation happening in our industry. This is a time we join the other ‘others’ and take our place with them. The world is ready for more of us and together we can make that happen.”
Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest’s Director of Programming, also focused on the ways that the 2016 program proves that there is space to celebrate all the many voices and perspectives that exist under the Outfest umbrella. And in introducing the evening’s Opening Night Screening of Clea DuVall’s “The Intervention” (and looking forward to Chris Kelly’s “Other People,” slated for Closing Night), she reiterated that this is a time when festival audiences can embrace the relief that comedy can provide. “Being able to laugh together right now is a very good thing for all of us,” Mukerjee-Brown said.
Outfest will continue through July 17th, a period when Cruz argued to the gathered crowd is a time the world needs the optimistic power of his communities more than ever. “I don’t want you to retreat. I don’t want you dim your light. I want you to shine it brighter,” Cruz said.