Even at unconventional arts showcases like LGBTQ film festivals, representation for those who aren’t cis-gender, white men has proven to be an ongoing struggle. So, it’s a particular accomplishment that an impressive two-thirds of the films at this year’s Outfest Los Angeles — which opened yesterday and runs through July 22 —come from directors who are women, of color or trans. We spoke with Outfest’s Director of Programming Lucy Mukerjee about this inclusionary cinematic feat.
LOS ANGELES BLADE: Was it a particular goal this year to include so many films by female, of color and trans directors?
LUCY MUKERJEE: It’s our responsibility as an organization to lead the charge when it comes to including marginalized voices, in order to create a more inclusive world. The LGBTQ experience cannot be represented by one identity alone — what gives the festival the most impact as a thought leader and influencer is the vast expanse of stories we showcase. Outfest has become a game changer for LGBTQ creatives; by opening up the doors to the film and TV industry, we empower artists to achieve a sustainable career doing what they love. To put the creative visions of women, people of color and trans folk on the same level as cis, white male directors is the only logical and ethical course of action.
BLADE: Does this year’s Outfest schedule reflect a broader spectrum than Outfest of the past?
MUKERJEE: I can’t speak to the specific festival demographics before I joined the programming team, but I know that hitting 40 percent female directors in my first year was a landmark moment I was very proud of. I have heard feedback that both in terms of filmmakers invited and audience-members attending, the festival feels more inclusive today than it has in previous years.
Last year we accomplished gender parity at Outfest, with 50 percent of the films at the festival coming from female directors. That was a significant milestone, and it’s been really rewarding over the past 12 months to see that milestone reinforced at film festivals across the country.
This year, it was important to us to extend our efforts to proactively include the other underrepresented voices within the community. Much in line with the intersectional approach of the #MeToo movement, we chose to build from our accomplishment last year and bring not only female voices to the forefront, but also the voices of people of color and trans people.
BLADE: Which female-directed films are you most excited about in this year’s schedule?
MUKERJEE: There are so many female-directed films to be excited about that it’s impossible to mention them all here. Three films I encourage everyone to check out are “Daddy Issues,” the kinky, subversive coming-of-age romance from director Amara Cash (US); “Montana,” the empowering revenge drama by Limor Shmila (Israel); and “Eva & Candela,” a fictional portrayal of a director who falls for her lead actress, directed by Ruth Caudeli (Colombia). These are all impressive films in their own right, but also notable is the fact that all three are debut features. The high caliber of work proves what female directors can accomplish when given the same industry access, support and opportunities that male directors have enjoyed for years. It’s exciting to see the queer female lens being validated around the world in this way.
BLADE: Which films from directors of color are you most excited about?
MUKERJEE: Our documentary centerpiece “When The Beat Drops,” which follows a fierce group of queer performers who are the rising stars and pioneers of the dance trend known as “bucking.” This uplifting dance documentary is the directorial debut of choreographer-to-the-stars Jamal Sims, the visionary behind the dance moves of Madonna, J-Lo and RuPaul.
And “The Miseducation Of Cameron Post,” starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane, directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Desiree Akhavan. In Akhavan’s semi-autobiographical comedy “Appropriate Behavior,” she tackled the topic of a queer brown woman coming out to a conservative Iranian-American family. “Appropriate Behavior” has since become a treasure in the queer canon, so we’ll be celebrating her highly-anticipated new film “Miseducation” at our Closing Night Gala, while also putting the spotlight on the film’s message: challenging the troubling fact that conversion therapy is still considered a viable option by the religious right.
BLADE: Which trans-directed films are you most excited about?
MUKERJEE: “Beyond Binaries,” curated by actress Angelica Ross (“Pose,” “Her Story”), and “Desires & Resistance: Unearthing Trans* Legacies” from guest curator Finn Paul. Both of these shorts programs have an abundance of trans directing talent, including Reina Gossett’s highly-anticipated “Happy Birthday, Marsha!,” a retelling of the hours leading up to the Stonewall riots through the eyes of trans leader Marsha P. Johnson (played by Mya Taylor from “Tangerine”), and Milena Salazar’s “Do I Have Boobs Now?,” a headline-grabbing critique of the unethical gender policing that takes place daily on social media. As Hollywood continues to hire cis-gender writers, directors and actors to tell transgender stories, these shorts are a vital and uncensored insight into the trans experience.
BLADE: Of course, Outfest’s lineup also includes plenty of films from cis, white male directors. Are you hopeful though that audiences will venture beyond their own niches?
MUKERJEE: Yes, absolutely. One way we’re accomplishing this is by programming trans shorts in front of cis-gender features, bringing awareness to people who know little about the community beyond their own lived experience. When Kirsten Schaffer brought me on as director of programming almost four years ago, she instilled in me the importance of encouraging attendees to step outside of their comfort zone and see films about people who don’t look like themselves. My hope is that people will trust in the curatorial strength of the lineup and have confidence that they will find something to admire in every film, whether it is L, G, B, T or Q.
BLADE: Outfest’s Trans Summit will return for its second year on July 21. How successful was the first Trans Summit last year, and how will this year’s be different?
MUKERJEE: Holding the Trans Summit at Outfest LA last year was a deliberate move to make more space for the trans and non-binary community at the festival. With 40,000 attendees coming together over these 11 days, we wanted to make it clear that trans visibility, both onscreen and off, is a priority, so that the wider LGBTQ community and our allies can foster that same inclusivity. This year the summit will kick off with a keynote from Academy Award-nominated director Yance Ford, whose film “Strong Island” was one of the best documentaries of 2017. We will then take a look at three case studies, each focused on different areas of need in trans and non-binary storytelling, including the continued lack of narrative content featuring trans leads. To close the summit, we will move to the discussion portion of the day. The incomparable Tre’vell Anderson, award-winning writer from the LA Times, will lead this year’s urgent and necessary conversation. However you identify, I urge you to be there.
Tickets and schedule information for Outfest Los Angeles can be found at outfest.org.