I'm bleary-eyed, exhausted, and schmoozed-out. Also moved, informed, and enlivened. I drank free booze (copiously), gave out my number (copiously), I blew air kisses and actually landed a few (copiously), and had my ass pinched by Judith Light (once). Oh, and I saw 31 movies in 11 days. I am speaking, of course, of Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival or, if you're anything like me, the highest of holy days in L.A.
Outfest, which celebrated its 25th year somewhat auspiciously by debuting the first fully restored film from the Outfest Legacy Project (the world's only program dedicated to the restoration and preservation of LGBTQ films), is an event like no other in Los Angeles. Yes, it's a terrific film festival, but it's also that very rare opportunity for our community to come together for something where everyone is fully clothed'at least to begin with. This festival has brought me new friends, new trysts, and new networking opportunities, sometimes all wrapped up in the same person.
So how did this year's films rank? Like those of most years, they were a mixed bag of transcendent cinema, ambitious attempts, and some downright disasters. But where else can you see a lesbian love story, a Dreamgirls sing-a-long, and an Israeli Romeo and, well, Romeo?
You may think you've seen your share of gay coming-of-age stories but first-time writer-director Jonah Markowitz's Shelter is an instant classic in the genre. It's also the first gay surfer movie, but the surfing is really superfluous to the beautifully wrought story of a teenager finding first love while simultaneously finding himself. It sounds more trite than it is. And a pair of terrific performances from the sexy leads certainly doesn't hurt.
I didn't think I needed to hear any more (from either side) about what the Christians think of my sex life. But Daniel Karslake's documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, wrecked me. Weaving footage of religious families who have gay kids with commentary from theological scholars and witty animation, I found myself cheering and weeping in equal measure. Appropriately enough, I sat with Steven Fales, he of Confessions of a Mormon Boy, who has been telling his story of religious oppression for some time now. If you can see this film with a handsome man who knows religion, so much the better.
Festivals provide that rare opportunity to see short films. Truth be told, shorts typically frustrate the hell out of me. I go because there's always that rare gem, but I frequently find the credits rolling just as I begin to care. This year's offerings, however, included an unusual number of exceptional little digestible morsels. Be on the lookout for Casting Pearls, Pariah, Solace, At the River, Heartland, Orphan, The Saddest Little Boy in the World, Screening Party, and Love Is Love.
Pete Jones's Outing Riley looked, on the surface, like a pleasant little comedy about an Irish-Catholic guy coming out to his tight-knit family. While it was exactly that, Riley was also laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly touching. It even managed to find some new twists in what could have been a tired retread. I was on a first date for this one. Let's just say it did what it needed to.
What's a festival if not an opportunity for young filmmakers to blossom? A heartbreaker when those same filmmakers can't win over even the most sympathetic of audiences. 25 Cent Preview (SF hustlers in the Tenderloin; if the handheld camera doesn't nauseate you, the dialogue will), 2 Seconds Later (thrillers only work when you care), The Itty Bitty Titty Committee (teenage lesbian activists think the Washington Monument is phallic!), One to Another (yes, it's French and pretty, but still nonsensical), and The Picture of Dorian Gray (an unintelligible and unnecessary modernization of Wilde), all come to mind as projects their makers might have kept to show at parties.
You'd think that the combination of RuPaul as a secret agent and a lot of naked, fully erect costars would be enough to make Starbooty fly. You'd be wrong.
Documentaries are fairly hard to come by to all but devotees of PBS. But documentaries that don't shed any new light on their subjects, like Further Off the Straight and Narrow (about GLBT representation on TV) and On the Downlow are unnecessary at best and redundant at worst.
In the Middle
Then there are the films that weren't perfect but in the context of a gay film festival seemed just right: Holding Trevor is overstuffed with melodrama but still effective at navigating love in urban, gay twentysomethings. Socket has its flaws, but as the first gay sci-fi movie, it's breaking new ground. Don't Go wants to be a Melrose Place meets Noah's Arc. It's neither, but it gets points for trying hard at depicting GLBT diversity. A Four Letter Word, though a bit derivative, makes real comments on our dating culture. The documentary Laughing Matters: The Men (covering the standup work of six comics including Bruce Vilanch, Alec Mapa, and Bob Smith) manages to be funny while showing the broader sociological impact of a narrow subject. And Through Thick and Thin showed the very real, very current issues facing gay couples who hold different passports.
The unveiling of the Outfest Legacy Project's first restoration, Bill Sherwood's 1986 classic, Parting Glances, was not only an opportunity to celebrate the Project's inauguration and revel in this film's new, pristine print, it was a chance to revisit a slice of gay history and discuss it with a panel that included cast members Steve Buscemi, John Bolger, Richard Ganoung, and Kathy Kinney. Twenty years is a long time.
I tried to imagine a filmgoing experience that would top my night at the Ford Amphitheatre. I devoured the picnic my friends prepared, complete with cupcakes and merlot, then saw the under-the-stars screening of Dreamgirls, introduced by director Bill Condon with sing-a-long lyrics at the bottom of the screen, and a live performance by one of Broadway's original Dreamgirls, Loretta Devine. Amazing!
After a TV season that included two new gay favorites, Ugly Betty and Brothers and Sisters, Outfest hosted incisive panels with the casts and creators of each. We knew that America Ferrera and Matthew Rhys would be adorable in person but who could have guessed that Sally Field could be even more luminous than she is onscreen?
So now that it's all over, what happens next? The luckiest and most talented of the filmmakers hash out distribution deals so that audiences all over the country can enjoy the good, the bad, and even the ugly (sorry, but Alexis Arquette does not a pretty documentary subject make). And in Los Angeles, we dry clean all of our party shirts, attempt to decipher the numbers scrawled on cocktail napkins, and start counting the days til Outfest 2008!