August 17, 2020 at 5:52 pm PDT | by John Paul King
A reinvented Outfest set to bring LGBTQ cinema into the age of social distancing

Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein star in “The Nowhere Inn,” the opening night selection for Outfest LA Under the Stars (Image Courtesy of Outfest)

For Outfest, the show must go on.

Despite the continuing pandemic, the renowned Los Angeles’ LGBTQ film festival will kick off this week (on August 20), even without being able to host its comprehensive roster of screenings at the usual in-person venues. Instead, the fest will move online, allowing supporters, subscribers, and even just fans of world-class LGBTQ cinema access to more than 160 participating films – among them, 35 world premieres, 10 North American premieres and four US premieres.

This is great news for the many Angelenos who look forward annually to immersing themselves in the fresh, diverse, and exciting new features and shorts offered by Outfest since its humble but ambitious beginnings at UCLA in 1982. Even better news, perhaps, is that not all the screenings will be virtual. The festival has lined up a series of drive-in events, under the title “Outfest LA Under the Stars,” to take place at Malibu’s Calamigos Ranch. It’s the first time in Outfest’s 38-year history that audiences will be able to enjoy a film from the privacy – not to mention the safety – of their cars.

The venue has scheduled screenings across six-nights on two lots, including kick-off and closing events, and will launch with the LA premiere of “The Nowhere Inn,” a Sundance entry starring musicians Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein in a reality-bending twist of Clark’s alt-pop star persona St. Vincent. The additional live screenings will include the trans-themed modern-day western, “Cowboys,” starring Steve Zahn and Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), the Latinx romance, “La Leyenda Negra,” the pre-Stonewall drag documentary, “P.S. Burn this Letter Please ,” and the world premiere of Outfest alum Travis Fine’s “Two Eyes,” a century-spanning interwoven narrative exploring queer expression across three different eras in the American West.

More than 70 percent of the films in this year’s Outfest were directed by women, transgender and POC filmmakers; the festival also includes several films originally scheduled for other festivals, such as the aforementioned “P.S. Burn This Letter Please” and “Cowboys,” which along with the also-slated Big Freedia anti-gun advocacy doc “Freedia Got A Gun” were selected for Tribeca, and SXSW premiere titles including “The Carnivores” and Outfest LA’s US centerpiece selection “Shiva Baby,” starring Rachel Sennott, Dianna Agron, and Fred Melamed.

Outfest’s other centerpiece selections include the Posy Dixon-helmed documentary “Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story,” International Centerpiece “Monsoon” (directed by Sundance and Outfest alum Hong Khaou and starring Henry Golding), and Breakthrough Centerpiece “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson,” the feature-film directing debut of “Everybody Hates Chris” co-creator Ali LeRoi.

“Two Eyes,” which will be Outfest’s closing film, will also screen on the festival’s digital platform.

Other notable titles at this year’s festival include “Three Chords and a Lie,” a documentary about gay country music artist Brandon Stansell’s return to his conservative hometown which will be presented with a drive-in concert, and the world premiere of Emmy-nominated actor Scott Turner Schofield’s one-man show “Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps,” in which viewers can interactively choose from among the 127 segments created by Schofield.

Mike Dougherty, Outfest’s director of programming, says, “In this brand new, uncharted territory of digital festivals, we are honored that so many wonderful films have entrusted Outfest LA to be their festival home. I’m incredibly excited that this stunning array of diverse talent — which represents Outfest’s continued mission to showcase the best work from LGBTQIA+ artists — will be more accessible than ever before.”

Executive Director Damien S. Navarro adds, “This year’s film festival is not only a reflection of Outfest’s historic trajectory — mixing innovation with media to cast an ever-widening net of diverse and global stories — it is also a testament to Outfest’s commitment to thrive in a moment in which the future of live events, independent film, and our own rights are threatened.”

Participating films will compete for jury and audience awards. U.S. narrative feature jurors include filmmaker James Sweeney (“Straight Up”); Neon’s director of acquisitions Ayo Kepher-Maat, Neon; and film critic Caden Mark Gardner. International narrative feature jurors are former AFI Fest and Film Independent artistic director Jacqueline Lyanga; Inside Out Toronto director of programming Andrew Murphyand filmmaker Isabel Sandoval (“Lingua Franca”). Documentary jurors include filmmakers Sam Feder (“Disclosure”); Ben-Alex Dupris (Outfest winner “Sweetheart Dancers”), and Daresha Kyi (“Chavela”). International narrative shorts jurors are filmmakers Daniel Laabs (Outfest winner “Jules of Light and Dark”), Lauren Wolkstein (“The Strange Ones”); and Aurora Guerrero (“Gentefied”). U.S. narrative short jurors include actor Brian Michael Smith (“911: Lone Star”), and filmmakers Gillian Horvat (“I Blame Society”) and Carly Usdin (“Suicide Kale”).

Outfest is presented by Warner Media and runs Aug. 20-30. Information and tickets, along with a full line-up of scheduled films, can be accessed at the festival’s website.

© Copyright Los Angeles Blade, LLC. 2020. All rights reserved.