As LGBTQ culture filters further into the mainstream, it seems every TV show (and even most films) have a queer character these days. Loki is bisexual, “The L Word” is back, and “Euphoria” has every teenager (and some adults) wishing they were as cool as Jules. But, as discussed in this IndieWire Anniversary piece about the future of queer film and TV, more doesn’t always mean good. With every project trying to squeeze a queer character into even the most unlikely places, more and more of our stories are being told without our input. Queer filmmakers and creators need industry support now more than even, or this next wave of inclusivity will be just as disappointing as not being represented at all.
Which is why LGBTQ+ film festivals like Outfest are just as crucial, if not more so, than ever. Now in its 39th year, Outfest is one of the biggest and buzziest festivals showcasing queer stories. Thanks to Outfest’s industry-adjacent Los Angeles setting and a renewed commitment to finding and supporting underrepresented creators, showing a film at Outfest can be a huge breakthrough for queer filmmakers.
With continued pandemic protocols, many Outfest films can be streamed virtually from anywhere in the world, which can make a huge difference to people living in more conservative areas. In the spirit of highlighting newer and less mainstream queer voices, here are 10 must-see films and shows playing Outfest this year.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”
Ever since a certain reality competition show made drag America’s new favorite pastime, the next generation has traded dreams of pop stardom for visions of drag superstardom. Now, we get a glitzy musical movie about a British teen with drag dreams, the latest evidence that drag has permeated fully into the mainstream. Based on the stage musical of the same name, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” follows a 16-year-old outcast who pursues his dreams against all odds. Newcomer Max Harwood stars alongside exciting supporting cast members Richard E. Grant as Jamie’s drag mother and Sharon Horgan as his teacher. With a pop-inspired original score and the killer combo of musicals and drag, it could very well be to gag for. Outfest viewers can catch it before its premiere on Amazon Prime on September 17.
“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair”
An IndieWire Critics’ Pick after its Sundance premiere earlier this year, experimental filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun’s feature debut is also their most accessible work to date. The film is a chilling and immersive exploration of internet culture and the gender ambiguity it affords. In her rave review, IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote: “Part coming-of-age story, part horror film, and the greatest argument yet that something as bonkers as ‘Creepypasta’ can inspire something so beautiful, ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’ is a strong debut for a filmmaker who is nothing if not consistent in their themes.” Distributors Utopia and HBO Max haven’t revealed a release date yet, so this is a rare chance to see it early.
“Death and Bowling”
Boasting an almost entirely transgender cast and crew and citing influences from Todd Haynes to John Waters, “Death and Bowling” describes itself as “a fictional meta-critique about trans-representation.” Written and directed by Lyle Kash, the movie follows a trans actor who is struggling to find meaning in the world after the beloved captain of his lesbian bowling league dies and a mysterious stranger shows up at the funeral. Executive produced by “Adam” filmmaker Rhys Ernst, “Death and Bowling” marks a new era in trans masculine storytelling on its own terms.
Cleverly exploiting the body swap trope to explore gender identity (at least, more directly than most), “Homebody” is an absurdist comedy about a queer child inhabiting the body of their revered babysitter. Earning comparisons to “Freaky Friday,” “Big,” and “Being John Malkovich,” the film is the feature debut of rising filmmaker Joseph Sackett. “I like the idea of drawing inspiration from slick, big-budget movies,” Sackett told Filmmaker when he was one of 2020’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. “But bringing in an accessible, queer, independent sensibility.” In addition to newcomers Colby Minifie and Tre Ryder, the film stars comedian Whitmer Thomas and Tony winner Maria Dizzia (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”).
“The Sixth Reel”
The legendary Charles Busch is back with another farcical comedy that’s sure to be just as clever and comical as the rest of his oeuvre, which includes queer cult classics “Die Mommie Die” and “Psycho Beach Party.” Co-written and directed with Busch’s longtime collaborator Carl Andress, “The Sixth Reel” is an outlandish caper starring Busch as an Old Hollywood-obsessed New Yorker who unearths a long-thought lost final reel of a classic Tod Browning horror film. The cohort of eccentric cinephiles fight over the sale of the film, leading to false romances, drag personas, and vampires. The film also stars Julie Halston, Margaret Cho, and Tim Daly, so it’s sure to be a raucous good time.
This heartfelt comedy about a down-and-out drag queen who flees city life to stay with his cantankerous grandmother boasts the great Cloris Leachman’s final major screen performance. (Sadly, Leachman passed away in January of this year.) Becoming her caretaker in an attempt to help her avoid the dreaded nursing home, he also injects some life into the local gay scene with his performances. The feature debut of Toronto filmmaker Phil Connell has earned warm reviews so far, which praised newcomer Thomas Duplessie and noted his chemistry with Leachman in her swan song.
“Gemmel & Tim”
A horrifying story that has been largely avoided by mainstream media, “Gemmel & Tim” is named for Gemmel Moore and Timothy Michael Dean, two Black queer men who were found dead at the West Hollywood home of businessman and political donor Ed Buck. Through meticulous research and a journalistic approach, documentarian Michiel Thomas charts the progression of Buck’s crimes through the years, including former District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s initial decision not to prosecute, tireless efforts to keep the story in the news, and the effects of their deaths on personal friends of both men.
The feature is programmed alongside Enyce Smith & Gina Lamb’s 56-minute short “Crystal Diaries,” which exposes the Los Angeles LGBTQ+ House & Ball Community’s battle with methamphetamine addiction.
“No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics”
Based on the anthology book of the same name, Vivian Kleiman’s feature documentary charts the history-making work of LGBT comic artists over a 40-year period, beginning in the 1970s and encompassing the AIDS crisis as well as the 1990s alternative newspaper boom. It showcases the work of established cartoonists Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, Roberta Gregory, Eric Shanower, and Paige Braddock, as well as then-up-and-coming cartoonists including Ellen Forney, Erika Moen, and Ariel Schrag. A collaborator of the celebrated queer filmmaker Marlon Riggs, Kleiman produced Riggs’ 1992 documentary “Color Adjustments,” which received both IDA and Peabody awards.
In the first-ever series produced by Grindr, beloved internet comedian Jimmy Fowlie plays a self-obsessed gay man who is roped into being a bridesman for his best friend, Judith (out comedian Sydnee Washington). In ten-minute episodes, Jimmy schemes how to break up the marriage (Jimmy not being a fan of heteropatriarchal institutions), which includes seducing her hot bisexual fiancee with whom he has insane chemistry. Created by John Onieal (“Cicada”), who co-writes with Frank Spiro, “Bridesman” promises to be the next gag-worthy comedy for our ADHD-addled internet age.
“Mama Has a Mustache”
Using audio interviews, animation, and colorful collage mixed media, this adorably charming documentary short offers a touching guide to trans parenting. Told from the perspective of the kids’ experiences, filmmaker Sally Rubin gently interviews kids on what it’s like to grow up with trans and gender nonconforming parents. Their observations are honest, hilarious, and always straight from the heart. A documentarian known for features about life in Appalachia, including “Deep Down: A Story from the Heart of Coal Country” (2010) and “Hillbilly” (2018), “Mama Has a Mustache” marks a more playful, but just as vital, side to Rubin’s work.