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A reinvented Outfest set to bring LGBTQ cinema into the age of social distancing

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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.

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Events

The universe comes out to jazz and violins and you’re invited

LA prides itself as home of the stars. Don’t limit yourself to the mere mortal stars of Hollywood, when the universe is opening its doors

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Past Sunday Afternoon Concerts in the Dome (2018) Photo credit: Irina Logra

LOS ANGELES COUNTY – Starlight, starbright: Bathing yourself in the magnificent skies has returned to Los Angeles as the historic Mount Wilson Observatory announces… shall we say it… a heavenly lineup for its 2022 program.

The program offers something for everybody: From the universe-fascinated who want to observe and soak up astronomical knowledge to the bright light and musically discerning who are there just for the mind-blowing beauty alone. 

Since its founding in 1904 by astronomer and visionary George Ellery Hale, Mount Wilson Observatory has played host to some of the most important discoveries in modern astronomy. Located on Mount Wilson, a 5710-foot (1740-meter) peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of the Angeles National Forest, Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO) features the Snow Solar Telescope (largest in the world from 1905-1908 and the mountain’s first installation), a 60-inch telescope (the world’s largest operational telescope from 1908-1917), and the 100-inch Hooker telescope (which featured the world’s largest aperture from 1917-1949). Mount Wilson Institute has independently operated and maintained the Mount Wilson Observatory since 1989 under a long-term agreement with the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The observatory offers a series of tours throughout the season for the scientific tourist in you. For the mechanically inclined, you can take an engineering tour of the huge telescopes and understand how they have enabled historic discoveries. For the stargazers, there are public and private tours to actually use the telescopes and peep in on our nearest planetary and constellation neighbors. For the gazers who want to keep things even closer to home, take a look right into our own Sun with the Lunt Telescope.

There is no better way to observe the universe than to do it wrapped in gorgeous music. The observatory steps up and takes advantage of the dome’s sensational acoustics by presenting Sunday Afternoon Concerts in the Dome. Top jazz, violinist, brass talents and more will perform in events at 3:00pm and 5:00pm May 22- October 21. The season aesthetics are capped off with [email protected] Observatory in the later summer months which explores sound art in the dome, plein-air painting and sculpting.

It would be a shame to visit the observatory for its visual and auditory sensual offerings alone, however. For those who want to deepen their mind, the season also offers an incredible roster for the astronomy intellect. Lectures from the top experts include discoveries of the deep space mission, women scientists at the observatory, the work of George Ellery Hale, and more.

The gates to Mount Wilson’s acreage opens at 10:00am every day and close at 5:30. Visitors can hike the grounds, gaze at the telescope domes that dot the landscape, and browse through the Historic Museum in the Lecture Hall.  Members from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society will gather around the grounds during each of the events during the season and set up specialty telescopes for a view of various night sky objects while attendees await their turn to look through the grand telescopes in the domes.

Los Angeles prides itself as home of the stars. Don’t limit yourself to the mere mortal stars of Hollywood, when the universe is opening its doors to experience stellar wonders that will really blow your heart and your mind. We hope to see you at the observatory to experience magnificence together.

For more information:  

Concerts: https://www.mtwilson.edu/concerts 

Engineering Tours: www.mtwilson.edu/engineering-tour

Public Ticket Nights:  mtwilson.edu/public-ticket-nights

Private Telescope Reservations: mtwilson.edu/observe

Solar Viewing: mtwilson.edu/solar-observing

Tours: mtwilson.edu/weekend-docent-tours

Mt. Wilson Observatory: https://www.mtwilson.edu 

MWO Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WilsonObs 

MWO Twitter:  https://twitter.com/mtwilsonobs MWO Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtwilsonobservatory

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Sports

Blackpool’s Jake Daniels- First Out UK pro soccer player in 30 years

The Blackpool FC forward joins with Justinus Soni “Justin” Fashanu as the only two footballers to declare themselves openly Out

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Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels/Blackpool FC UK

BLACKPOOL, Lancashire, England – A seventeen-year-old professional soccer player has made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in the sport in the United Kingdom.

Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels joins with Justinus Soni “Justin” Fashanu as the only two footballers to declare themselves openly Out. Fashanu had come out in an exclusive with The Sun tabloid newspaper on October 22, 1990 and later retired in 1997. He later passed away in London in May 1998.

Daniels made his announcement via a statement released by the team on its webpage:

“This season has been a fantastic one for me on the pitch. I’ve made my first-team debut, scored 30 goals for the youth team, signed my first professional contract and shared success with my team-mates, going on a great run in the FA Youth Cup and lifting the Lancashire FA Pro-Youth Cup. 

But off the pitch I’ve been hiding the real me and who I really am. I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself.

It’s a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to reveal my sexuality, but I’ve been inspired by Josh Cavallo, Matt Morton and athletes from other sports, like Tom Daley, to have the courage and determination to drive change.        

In reaching this point, I’ve had some of the best support and advice from my family, my Club, my agent and Stonewall, who have all been incredibly pro-active in putting my interests and welfare first. I have also confided in my team-mates in the youth team here at Blackpool, and they too have embraced the news and supported my decision to open up and tell people.   

I’ve hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to fit in. I want to be a role model myself by doing this.

There are people out there in the same space as me that may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality. I just want to tell them that you don’t have to change who you are, or how you should be, just to fit in.

You being you, and being happy, is what matters most.

Jake”

The team itself also noted:

“Blackpool Football Club has worked closely with Stonewall and the relevant footballing organisations to support Jake and is incredibly proud that he has reached a stage where he is empowered to express himself both on-and-off the pitch.

It is vital that we all promote an environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves, and that football leads the way in removing any form of discrimination and prejudice.”

The largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation in the UK, Stonewall tweeted:

Blackpool Football Club is a professional association football club based in seaside resort of Blackpool on the Irish Sea coast of England.

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Movies

‘Everything Everywhere’ does the multiverse right

Quirky film boosted by Jamie Lee Curtis’s ‘feud’ with Marvel

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Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michelle Yeoh star in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’ (Photo courtesy of A24)

Last weekend, the Marvel Studios blockbuster machine unleashed its latest piece of cinematic eye-and-brain candy, “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” in which the titular hero traverses multiple versions of reality to save the universe from chaos and destruction.

Marvel, of course, didn’t invent the concept of the “multiverse” – in fact, they’re not even the first ones to release a movie about it this year; another multiverse film beat “Dr. Strange” into theaters by nearly six weeks – and it’s been enjoying a slow, word-of-mouth-fueled juggernaut of box office success ever since.

That movie, a genre-bending indie production titled “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” caused a bemusing stir on social media last week, when Jamie Lee Curtis (one of its stars) launched a tongue-in-cheek feud with “Dr. Strange” in a string of Instagram posts. It was all in fun, but one couldn’t help recognizing a sense of authentic pride when she teased, among other things, that her film “out marvels any Marvel movie they put out there.”

Perspective is everything, of course, but she’s not wrong. While Marvel fans will undoubtedly find “Dr. Strange” a satisfying trip into the multiverse and back, the rest of us would do well to seek out “Everything Everywhere All at Once” while it’s still on the big screen – and yes, that even applies to people who couldn’t care less about any universe but this one.

Conceived, written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as “Daniels” since their early career directing music videos), it’s a fast-paced wild ride that begins in one of the most mundane realities imaginable – the life of a middle-aged Chinese-American immigrant named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), who operates a laundromat with her mild-mannered husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), endures strained relationships with her elderly father Gong Gong (James Hong) and her lesbian Gen Z daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and faces a tax audit – conducted by a humorless and hostile IRS agent (Curtis) – which could bankrupt the family business. This stressful quotidian mix is suddenly disrupted when a visitor appears, claiming to be from another universe, and tells her that a powerful evil being has undertaken a sinister plot that threatens to destroy not just his universe and her universe, but all the universes. Further, he informs her that she is the only person in ANY universe who has a chance of defeating this malevolent force in battle. Needless to say, she is hesitant to believe him – but it’s not long before she is leaping from timeline to timeline as an unlikely inter-dimensional warrior on a mission to save existence itself from annihilation.

At the risk of making a spoiler-ish statement, that mission turns out to be as absurd as it is apocalyptic. The Daniels’ film – which had been baking in their heads since 2010 – has no desire to ply its audiences with high-tech wizard battles in outer space or any of the other tropes of the sci-fi adventures it simultaneously spoofs and salutes; instead, it draws on a long tradition of existentialist thinking – something that, for obvious reasons, goes hand-in-hand with stories about existing in a reality full of infinite possibilities that all lead to oblivion – to accentuate the ridiculous. One of the worlds we visit, for example, is populated by human beings who have hot dogs for fingers, and that’s just the most blatant of the many delicious absurdities the film serves up. It makes for a lot of laughs, but it nevertheless sets us to ponder the implications of infinite possibility we concoct within our own imaginations.

To that end, “Everything” balances its quirky, surrealist humor by showing us a few more plausible universes, as well. To gain the skills necessary to defeat her nemesis, Evelyn must visit other versions of her life; she experiences herself as a movie star in martial arts films, or a skilled hibachi chef, or a world-class opera singer, and visiting these realities drives home the point that one small decision – like choosing whether to marry someone or not – can divert our path toward a vastly different lifetime. We see the power of the past to shape our future, for better or for worse, through empowerment or regret, and the power in ourselves to change a multitude of worlds with a single choice. Inevitably, too, we see the nihilistic despair that comes of recognizing one’s insignificance in the face of a vast and seemingly uncaring universe; what’s the point of living in a world of infinite potential outcomes if none of those outcomes matter?

If that all sounds a little too philosophical for your tastes, don’t worry; Kwan and Scheinert pull off the rare feat of encompassing these speculative issues within a story that is not only relatable, but wildly entertaining – and a lot of it has to do with the cast of avengers they’ve assembled.

First and foremost is Yeoh, whose status as a martial arts screen icon is just one of the strengths she brings to the table; her performance is a career-topping triumph in which she commits to making the beleaguered, unremarkable Evelyn palpably and painfully human even when immersed in the most outrageous of circumstances, and in the process gives us the kick-ass heroine for the ages we never knew we needed. As her put-upon husband, Quan is an invaluable asset; the former child actor (who appeared in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies” before moving behind the camera for a career as a sought-after stunt coordinator) brings his own history to the mix, too, and brings us an entire array of Waymonds, all manifesting different flavors of his irresistible underdog charm. Hsu contains multitudes as Joy – no spoilers, but her troubled relationship with her mom is not limited to this universe – and screen veteran Hong is full of surprises as Gong Gong. Finally, Curtis uses the various iterations of her frumpy tax accountant to turn her supporting role into a scene-stealing audience favorite.

The fun these performers clearly have with their roles goes a long way toward keeping things light, no small accomplishment in a brainy cinematic excursion like this one. More importantly, they seem to fully understand and embrace what this madcap sci-fi comedy caper is really all about – and that makes all the difference, because “Everything Everywhere All at Once” may be an action-packed adventure dealing in the same epic conceptual scale as “Dr. Strange,” but it’s less concerned with titanic battles and cosmic catastrophes than it is with the very small, very ordinary concerns of everyday human life. Sure, it exploits the multiverse as a plot device to enable its imaginative and far-fetched flights of fancy, and it does so with relish, but it ultimately uses it to remind us – gently, and without laying it on too thick – that we have the power to change our reality with every choice we make.

The fact that it delivers that message in a story that puts Asian and queer characters front-and-center is just another great reason to call this disarmingly oddball movie the brightest gem of the season.

Well, that and the hot dog fingers.

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