Preview: Outfest 2010
By Eddie Shapiro
There's a buzz in the air all over West Hollywood. Banners are heralding the dates. Circulars are in all the stores. Overheard in Starbucks on Santa Monica: 'What are you seeing on Saturday night? I can't decide.' 'I know, it's like Sophie's Choice.' It's typical. It happens every year around this time as L.A. gets ready for Outfest, 11 days of GLBT films which play this year July 8-18, and are accompanied by roughly 4000 parties, industry panels, a huge gala, and some of the best mingling of the year.
In anticipation of this, the 28th annual Outfest, Out hosted a small gathering at the French Market, a West Hollywood mainstay. There, with Judy Garland belting in the background, we talked to a quintet of unconscionably beautiful men whose work will be featured in the festival: David Burtka, actor in the short GaySharkTank.com; Guy Shalem, writer/director/producer of GaySharkTank.com; Nicholas Downs, actor in the romantic comedy Is It Just Me?; Heath Daniels, writer and star of the short Go Go Reject; and J.B. Ghuman, writer/director of the closing night film, Spork.
Out: The common denominator between the five of you is that you all have films in Outfest. With gay films so much more available then they were 28 years ago, and gay characters more present in mainstream movies, do we still need Outfest and if so, why?
David Burtka: I think Outfest is such a great vessel for people to put out their films and for people to see gay films. Mainstream movies are not the same as gay films. Having a gay vehicle for people to be able to see into our world is really important.
Guy Shalem: I think that there are so many gay films out there that don't get to be seen except at these kinds of festivals. It's important to have an outlet to showcase them. What's great about Outfest particularly is that it attracts so much publicity. You can't find a platform like that on the Internet or by showing your film on YouTube.
Nicholas Downs: I think we're in a situation where, if a lot of our films were submitted to mainstream film festivals, we wouldn't get in. I think Outfest is very important and until mainstream film festivals start to show more gay films, we are not going to get there. People want to take affirmative action away but I don't think that as a country we are ready to take affirmative action away. I think it's kind of the same thing. It's crossing over. But I do think that more films are coming out about people who just happen to be gay, and less are about coming out or about people dying of an illness.
J.B. Ghuman: I just got back from the Tribeca Film Festival and I am excited to be in a gay film festival. I do think it's important for gay media and gay stories to be meshed into the mainstream but it's also good to have a good sense of self and individuality. No matter how mainstream anything gets, I still think it's important. I don't know if I would call Spork a gay or lesbian film. My main character is intersex and I am excited to share it on this platform. I am a gay filmmaker and I want my stories and the things that I make to always be part of my community. So Outfest should always be necessary no matter what happens in the mainstream. We should always have a strong sense of who we are and what we're part of.
Shalem: A lot of times there are certain movies that cater to the gay fantasy, which is good and it's fun but it's very Hollywood. It's important for us to make legitimate statements about the gay community that are not as prevalent in the straight community, like talking about drug abuse and loneliness and how youth obsessed and judgmental we are. I tried to put as many of these statements as I could in GaySharkTank. I wanted to be honest and go for what we are really about. At the end of the day, a lot of us are sitting at home alone. A lot of us have a lot to offer but we feel like we don't have what it takes. I think that is what GaySharkTank is about.
Heath Daniels: In my film, the fact that I'm gay is never even addressed. The word gay isn't mentioned. The guy had enough going against him, why deal with the fact that he was gay? I didn't want my character to have issues with being gay, it just was. If we can stop having issues with ourselves, maybe other people won't.
Downs: What everybody is saying is affirmation that Outfest is important.
J.B., your film, Spork, is especially out of the box in terms of sexuality issues. It's inclusion in the festival reflects the ways Outfest has evolved. As Nicholas said, we are now beyond coming-out stories and AIDS stories.
Ghuman: Obviously the message is universal. My message isn't embedded in a gay character but it's all the same: loving yourself and nurturing your substance over your superficial. My film is about being as wacky and as crazy as you are. For Spork, the lead character -- not a spoon, not a fork -- that whole duality is how we all kind of feel. We all feel alone and so different. And so crazy. And we are, in beautiful ways. But if we all feel that way then we're all the same. Outfest has given me such a platform. To allow me to share the film on this kind of level, it's rad! It just shows that you can tell a story without getting caught up in, 'Is it a gay film?' It's about the message and about the filmmaker and where they came from. At the end of the day, it's not about whether a character makes you go 'That's me to a T,' but whether the character is relatable.