This year marks a new chapter for Outfest, with a just-named new executive director, Damien Novarro, and a fresh director of programming, Mike Dougherty. Dougherty takes the programming reigns from the beloved Lucy Mukerjee (who’s now a senior programmer at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival), and is a veteran of the industry’s creative, acquisitions and distribution realms. He’s also programming director for LA’s Indian Film Festival, as well as an associate programmer for AFI Fest.
As Outfest 2019 kicks off, we spoke with Dougherty about his own Outfest history, his goals for its future, and his top film and event picks from this year’s excellent lineup.
How long have you been attending and involved with Outfest?
This is my first year officially on the Outfest team, but I’ve been going to Outfest events since I moved to Los Angeles almost 15 years ago.
Do you have any particularly fond personal Outfest memories?
One of the first Outfest events I went to was a special Outfest-hosted screening of the ‘Strangers with Candy’ movie at the Egyptian Theater. I was a die-hard fan of the original TV series and I worship Amy Sedaris, but never knew many people who’d even heard of her at the time. I was relatively new to Los Angeles, and I walked into that screening surprised to see a packed house, and when the lights went down, people in the theater started screaming ‘Hobo camp! Fandango!’—which if you know the show, is hilarious. It felt like I’d found my people.
Lucy Mukerjee did such a fantastic job as Outfest’s director of programming these past few years. Are there any specific aspects of her legacy you hope to carry on?
Lucy has always been a great champion of under-represented LGBTQ voices, and did a tremendous job of making sure her programs reflected the diversity of our community. This is something I think is crucial to Outfest, and I’m proud we carried on that mission, with more than two-thirds of our 2019 program directed by women, people of color and trans filmmakers.
Do you have any particular new goals of your own for Outfest programming?
I’m a big proponent of the idea that stepping outside of your comfort zone is the best way to enjoy a festival. I like to program films and events that encourage audiences to connect with a view of the world that’s unfamiliar to them.
I’m sure they’re all your babies, but what are some of your top must-see film picks at this year’s Outfest? Any that you were particularly excited to get? Any below-the-radar gems that people should be sure not to miss?
You’re right, I’m so proud of the lineup that it hurts to pick just a few to highlight. I will say that I’m overjoyed to have the world premiere of Elegance Bratton’s documentary PIER KIDS, about the queer and trans homeless youth still gathering at New York’s Christopher Street pier. It shines a light on some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and the young people we meet in this film are vibrant and courageous and unforgettable. There are a pair of films that won prizes from the Teddy Jury in Berlin—BRIEF STORY FROM THE GREEN PLANET and A DOG BARKING AT THE MOON—that feel like the beginnings of major filmmaking careers, as does Lucio Castro’s END OF THE CENTURY. I’m very excited that we’ll be joined by all the young trans athletes featured in our Documentary Centerpiece CHANGING THE GAME, by the hilarious cast of the charming comedy CUBBY, by Trixie Mattel, Kathy Griffin, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at our several nights at the Ford Theater, and by drag-racer Rusty Tidenberg, who is the focus of the wonderful doc WHY CAN’T I BE ME? AROUND YOU. And I’m still amazed at the panel we have lined up following our screening of the great doc QUEERING THE SCRIPT, about queer female representation on television. We’ll be joined by Angelica Ross, Isabella Gomez from ‘One Day at a Time’, Amber Benson from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, and Marja-Lewis Ryan, who created the upcoming revival of ‘The L Word’.
Of course people go to movies for different reasons, so I’m going to just rattle off a few categories, and tell me if you can which film or films from this year’s Outfest lineup you think best fit them.
Most romantic: CARMEN & LOLA, about two young Romani women living in Spain. The leads have such amazing chemistry.
Most moving: Rodney Evan’s doc VISION PORTRAITS, about artists—including Rodney—who continue to create despite losing their eyesight.
Most daring: The entire Platinum section of our program, curated by Tiffany Naiman, highlight avant-garde, experimental, and wonderfully strange features and short films.
Most eye-opening: JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE is an unflinching and very sensitive portrayal of porn star Jonathan Agassi, and the toll that life in the public eye takes on him.
Most hot: END OF THE CENTURY and THE DAUGHTERS OF FIRE
And what are some of your best bets for non-screening events at this year’s festival?
Angelica Ross will be giving what’s sure to be a galvanizing keynote address at our third annual Trans Summit, we have fantastic talent like Nik Dodani, Lauren Moon, and Vincent Rodriguez on a panel called Crazy Queer Asians to discuss queer Asian representation in media, and our Screenwriting Lab fellows will be doing live reads of the screenplays that secured them a spot in the lab.
Outfest will be temporarily shifting its hub this year to Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatres, a venue you must be well familiar with through your work with AFI Fest. Do you think it will change the Outfest vibe dramatically?
I think the most dramatic changes will be cosmetic—it’s a whole new venue and some new systems will have to be in place. But the strong sense of community and fun will remain. And there will be a concession stand, which we’ve not had before!
Are you excited about working with Damien Navarro [Outfest’s new executive director]?
Absolutely. I see the same enthusiasm from Damien that I had when I joined the Outfest team earlier this year. I think we both feel humbled by the responsibilities ahead of us, but completely thrilled to be part of an organization we’ve admired for so long.
Outfest 2019 runs through July 28. For full schedule and ticket info, go to festival.outfest.org.