A 50th-anniversary tribute to LA’s first-ever gay film festival. A one-night-only recreation of iconic LA cruise bar Cuffs. A celebration of the work of Jewel Thais-Williams, in the space that was once her Catch One club. These are just a few of the events that have already been a part of Dirty Looks: On Location, an incredibly ambitious and provocative multi-media exploration of the queer history of Los Angeles, making use of unique and often legendary queer spaces across the city to show rare films and mount special performances, with a different event happening every single evening of the month of July.
We spoke with Dirty Looks Founder and Creative Director Bradford Nordeen about the stimulating and expansive On Location festival, which he organized with 13 local curators, and which continues daily through July 31.
LOS ANGELES BLADE: How did you and your curators go about choosing the films and locations to include as part of the festival?
BRADFORD NORDEEN: We met over a series of dinners and bar moments, talking about the different LA stories that everyone was interested in telling. We passed around some books. It’s not a literal festival, in that what you’re watching doesn’t necessarily relate to the space directly, more like the combination of site and film evoke a historical moment or element. So we took those opportunities to get to know one another and kind of plan how this year was going to pan out.
BLADE: Did the films always dictate the locations, or was it sometimes the other way around?
NORDEEN: In a way, I would say it’s the action that dictates what’s going on. The history that we are celebrating becomes the glue that brings together the venue and the film or performance. I feel like our event above The Masque, LA’s first punk club (now World of Wonder’s production offices) was a good example of this, where the punk films weren’t about that exact venue, but about a distinctly Los Angeles, Latinx punk sensibility. That event was also made up of three separate proposals that we brought together to make a really strong and unlikely night that merged LA video art, documentary and live performance. It was funny, because someone came down from their office upstairs and was like, “I’ve always wanted to know the history of this space,” and I bit my lip and was kind of like, “Well…”
BLADE: The schedule has such a broad spectrum of voices. Was that an important element for you?
NORDEEN: 100 percent! I think the landscape of Los Angeles begets all of these amazing micro-communities of experimentation, with nightlife, noise shows, filmmaking, queer community organizing, so bringing together the performing arts venue Coaxial, with Women’s Center for Creative Work and Young Joon Kwak + Marvin Astorga — who front the band Xina Xurner and collaborate on the project Mutant Salon — covers so many different art forms and approaches, but each shares a kind of mutual respect and collaborative passion towards bringing queerness to the surface of LA 2018. Also, LA’s history felt unwritten for so long, and it pops up in such fascinating and disparate events, so it felt silly to limit everything to movies.
BLADE: What are you most excited about that’s still to come?
NORDEEN: I’m thrilled that we’re screening Gregg Araki’s “Nowhere” on 35mm at The Vista for a midnight screening on July 27th. I’ve watched that movie a million times on VHS, but I’ve never seen a print. I know that Graham Kolbeins from Massive has some great surprises in store for the closing night at Tom of Finland Foundation, which is centered around the art and inspiration of Gengoroh Tagame. The Tom boys always know how to host a real fun time — I never miss their Christmas party!
BLADE: Were there any films or locations that you wanted to use in the festival, but just couldn’t get access to for whatever reason?
NORDEEN: Yes, there were one or two. Los Angeles can be tricky for this approach because of how the industry creates a hypothetical economy for venue rentals. But I would say that, as a whole, the project is easier today than when we founded it in 2012 because now it’s more in vogue to be woke or to honor legacy. A lot of the venues said yes without batting a lash.
BLADE: Along the same lines, any films or locations that you felt especially lucky that you were able to include?
NORDEEN: I have to say, doing our event at the Plaza just felt so amazing, there’s so much history there and it’s such a beautiful location. I’ve also never screened in the main theater at The Egyptian or The Vista. Our night resurrecting Cuffs bar in Silverlake was beyond special, I think because a lot of people went into it thinking it was going to be some kind of neutered, Epcot-style reenactment, but it was probably 110 inside without AC and wall-to-wall sweating flesh, so it felt kind of like the bowels of hell in a way that perhaps fidelitously recreated the original vibe of the space for 2018.
BLADE: I know you’ve been asked about this before, but since On Location is happening at the same time as Outfest, do you see it as an alternative Outfest, or completely unrelated?
NORDEEN: I ran Outfest’s experimental programming for four years. What I was able to do with that platform is SO different from what I’m able to accomplish with this one. Festivals tend to operate as a commercial network, and this project is about Los Angeles history and space. It was great when people went to a Platinum performance last weekend then popped into our event at Chico’s later that night. I mean, we work with film, and so naturally it’s somewhat related. But can’t we all just get along?
Full schedule and ticket info for Dirty Looks: On Location is at dirtylooksla.org/map