The 38th annual edition of Outfest, LA’s own LGBT film festival, may have delivered an unprecedented treasure trove of exciting new queer titles during its opening weekend – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have more to offer.
The festival, which has grown to become a world-class regional film festival since it was founded by a group of UCLA students in 1982, kicked off last Thursday night with an opening night Gala held downtown at the historic Orpheum Theatre. In front of a packed audience gathered for a screening of the new Netflix documentary, “Circus of Books,” Outfest Board co-Presidents Terry Franklin and Marissa Roman Griffith and outgoing Executive Director Christopher Racster set an inspirational tone with their inaugural comments, capped by a stirring speech by incoming Executive Director Damien Navarro, who said, “We are not just a regional film festival … we are a festival of life.”
“Circus,” the unexpectedly hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming documentary about the iconic LA gay porn palace and queer cultural hub, was only the first on a weekend’s slate of movies and shorts. Hollywood’s legendary Chinese Theatre, along with other venues, played host to other documentaries like the comprehensive and culture-bridging “Queer Japan,” the buzzy “Scream, Queen: My Nightmare On Elm Street,” and “Queering the Script,” a status report on queer female inclusion in the film and television industry.
There were also great narrative features, like the whimsical leather-themed fantasy “Cubby,” the romantic ensemble comedy “Sell By,” the queer YA literary adaptation “Adam,” and the campy, boundary pushing “Holy Trinity,” about a lesbian dominatrix who speaks to the dead. Fans of short form narratives were given plentiful choices, with screenings of Outfest’s popular short film showcases and episodic programming like the fourth season of “Eastsiders,” and the festival’s commitment to LGBT history was highlighted by the inclusion of both the newly restored queer classic “The Queen,” featuring late ballroom legend Crystal LaBeija, and “Pier Kids,” a new documentary that unites her by geography with the queer and trans young people of color living today at the Christopher Street pier which has long served as a hub for that community.
There are still more riches to come. As Outfest heads into its second weekend, here’s a list of highlights to help you as you plan your viewing schedule.
“Good Kisser.” The third feature film by Outfest alum Wendy Jo Carlton finds lesbian couple Kate and Jenna meeting up with single Mia for a fun and sexy threesome. After some alcohol, palm reading, and heavy foreplay, the evening looks to be proceeding nicely – until it becomes clear that everyone came with completely different expectations. Now, when it all hits the fan, no one will be going home with the partner they originally planned.
“Bit.” As soon as she graduates from her small-town high school, trans teen Laurel (Nicole Maines, “Supergirl”) heads for Los Angeles, where she meets a group of girl vampires who try to recruit her into their glamorous, alluring world. But as Laurel becomes entrenched in their ways, she begins to doubt whether she’s ready to become one of them. A pulsing soundtrack, impossibly cool style, sharp wit, and a little camp breathe life into writer/director Brad Michael Elmore’s fresh take on blood-thirsty ladies of the night.
“Gay Chorus Deep South.” In the wake of the 2016 election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus responded with a bus tour through the southern red states. Their mission: Carry a message of visibility, acceptance and hope to the LGBTQ communities affected by these discriminatory laws. Joined by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the chorus harnesses the power of music to unify rather than divide. The documentary won the 2019 Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and this screening will be followed by a live performance by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
“Fireflies (Luciérnagas).” Stranded by accident in the tropical port town of Veracruz, Mexico, thirtysomething Iranian refugee Ramin longs for fate or fortune to grant him passage across the ocean to return to his boyfriend in Turkey. Meanwhile, he waits in exile, exploring life in freer circumstances and seeking connection with a fellow construction worker. Creating a rich atmosphere of sound and image, Iranian director Bani Khoshnoudi expertly captures the dislocation and reinvigoration of starting life anew.
“From Zero To I Love You.” Peter, a serial dater of unavailable men, is under pressure from his formidably gruff father to get his life in order and settle down. Unfortunately, the latest man to capture Peter’s attention is Jack – a successful, charming businessman with a devoted wife and two children. Outfest alum Doug Spearman (“Hot Guys with Guns”) directs Darryl Stephens in this funny, bittersweet romance that grapples with the hang-ups and pressures gay men contend with when it comes to identity and love.
“Transfinite.” In Neelu Bhuman’s wholly original omnibus film – composed of several stand-alone magical realistic short stories written by a collective of trans and gender-nonconforming people of color — supernatural trans and queer people from various cultures use their powers to protect, love, teach, fight, and thrive. Featuring cherished members of the Outfest family like Harmony Santana (“Gun Hill Road”) and D’Lo (“Looking,” “Sense8”), each of these enchanting narratives harnesses the power of a trans community in peak creative form.
“Sid and Judy.” When Judy Garland met Sid Luft, she was at a career crossroads, having just left MGM after decades under contract. Professionally, he steered her to the Palladium, to their acclaimed remake of “A Star Is Born,” and to her legendary CBS variety show. Offstage, their tempestuous romance changed them both forever. With fascinating archival material and rousing footage of stellar Garland vocal performances, acclaimed documentarian Stephen Kijak captures the ups and downs of Sid and Judy’s singular story.
“Before You Know It.” This Sundance favorite, presented as Outfest’s Closing Night Gala offering, is a quirky comedy from director Hannah Pearl Utt (who also co-wrote and stars) infusing tenderness and complex emotion into the absurd misadventures of two sisters living a dysfunctional life in New York City. Between taking care her extended family and the small theater they run in Greenwich Village and constantly monitoring actress sister/hot mess Jackie, Rachel doesn’t even have time to take a woman out on a second date. But things really go off the rails when a tragedy puts their home and theater at risk, and the sisters learn the mother they thought was dead is not only alive, but also the veteran star of a popular soap opera. Grounded by an incredible cast, including Jen Tullock, Alec Baldwin, Tim Daly, and Mike Colter, and featuring memorable turns from Judith Light and Mandy Patinkin, this worthy entry in the pantheon of NYC comedies charms as it tackles extreme codependence, madcap hijinks, and familial dynamics with hilarity and poignancy.
The above list, of course, barely scratches the surface of Outfest’s calendar for its remaining dates. You can peruse the entire selection of film offerings, as well as find information about ticketing, schedule and venues, at Outfest.org.