By Hans Pedersen, July 2016 Web Exclusive.
Fresh and exciting new voices continue to emerge in queer cinema, and filmmakers are finding innovative ways of sharing these stories. Just a six-hour drive away, the 2016 Outfest Los Angeles LGBT film festival remains an outstanding annual event held by an organization that is committed to celebrating our stories and empowering our community.
Each year, the festival gives us a preview of films with LGBTQ themes and characters before they become available to audiences. And Outfest 2016, which runs July 7-17, will showcase a staggering range of industry’s diverse and creative talent.
The opening night movie is a delightful romp that was a Sundance hit: The Intervention, a wickedly funny comedy about four couples on a weekend getaway. The all-star indie cast features Melanie Lynskey (HBO’s “Togetherness”), Natasha Lyonne (Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”), Jason Ritter and Clea Duvall, who is making her directorial debut.
In the film, Duvall and Lyonne play two women who are in love, but have not yet fully committed to each other. When a young gal (Alia Shawkat) begins an open flirtation, we see that they are not the only couple facing challenges with monogamy and trust. An opening night gala and party will follow the screening to help launch the festival.
From weekend outings to an evening at the spa, the fest includes Spa Night, directed by Andrew Ahn, and his movie is receiving praise for its cultural authenticity. The drama focuses on David (Joe Seo), a young Korean-American from LA’s Koreatown whose biggest obstacle is passing the SATs – until his parents’ business falls apart, that is. To help make ends meet, David takes a job at a local Korean spa, but the intimate activities he witnesses pique his interest in the next step and participating.
Also playing at the festival is the independent film First Girl I Loved, which centers around teenager Anne (Dylan Gelula from Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), who develops a relationship with a soccer player named Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand from Deadpool). But when she tells her friend Cliff about her same-sex attraction, he jealously tries to block the blossoming relationship. The movie is frank and sassy, in part because director Kerem Sanga (who does not identify as gay) manages to capture the voices of teenage girls in love with honesty and a complete lack of artifice.
In addition to entertaining films that put a premium on realness, Outfest is screening a slew of new documentaries, including Film Hawk. It’s a profile of cinephile Bob Hawk, a gay man whose life’s mission is to shine the spotlight on unknown talented filmmakers. He discovered Clerks director Kevin Smith (who credits Hawk with starting his career) as well as filmmaker Edward Burns. In addition to having an eye for talent, the documentary shows what a warm and delightful person Hawk is.
Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America is an insightful documentary by Moises Serrano that pulls off our cultural blinders and gives us an honest look at the experience of living as an undocumented gay man in the southern U.S.
And Last Men Standing shares the remarkable stories of eight HIV-positive men who remain strong 35 years after the AIDS crisis first broke out, as they speak frankly about their trials and tribulations.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (director of The Out List, The Latino List and The Black List) is back with The Queer List, featuring profiles of such famous trans celebrities as Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Buck Angel, as well as such activists as Miss Major. The compelling and timely documentary offers a revelatory look at folks on the forefront of a cultural transformation.
Both tantalizing and entertaining, Kiki is an uplifting documentary about the dance and vogue competitions in the Manhattan ballroom scene. An affirmative look at black and Latino gay men and members of the trans community, the film is a buoyant and energizing profile of these fabulous east coast performers. Made with Twiggy Pucci Garçon and members of the Kiki community, Swedish director Sara Jordenö has crafted a fierce and powerful story.
Folks who helped popularize vogueing in the early ‘90s are profiled in the documentary Strike a Pose, which revisits the backup dancers from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour. In the film, the surviving dancers recall what it was like to be outed and and in the limelight when the groundbreaking documentary Truth or Dare hit theaters in a more homophobic era.
Closing out the festival is Other People, a real tearjerker that can also produce howls of laughter. “Saturday Night Live” writer Chris Kelly writes and directs this dramatic comedy, which is based on his own family experiences. David (Jesse Plemons from “Breaking Bad,” Fargo) is recovering from a breakup when he returns home to care for his mother, who is dying of cancer, and contend with his homophobic dad. With dark comic flair, Molly Shannon delivers an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance as the woman who is counting down her last days.
Closet Monster, which screened at this year’s Desperado LGBT Film Festival in the Valley, is a gem of a film. Like Other People, it’s an example of what some critics call “gay incidentalism,” where a character’s sexuality is a small but significant part of a larger story. Many will remember the magical realism in this quirky coming-out tale about a traumatized teen, Oscar (Connor Jessup), and his talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini).
Outfest is also screening the world premiere of Looking: the Movie, an HBO special that serves as a coda, wrapping up the network’s acclaimed series about gay men looking for love in San Francisco. Instead of a third season of the show, fans can enjoy this movie, which is slated to play on HBO on July 23. And of course, many of the other films at 2016 Outfest will hit theaters or get released on iTunes or home video in the coming months.
The extensive festival will also spotlight short films by LGBTQ youth at Outset: The Young Filmmakers Project, and will include the Platinum Section, a program in its 15th year featuring experimental film, video and live performances.
For more information, including screening dates, locations and show times, visit outfest.org.