It's that season in L.A. again. Post-Pride and just as the weather really starts heating up, the buzz begins. Banners flap in the wind, up and down Santa Monica Boulevard, heralding the dates; gays descend on the boutiques on Robertson to find the right outfit for the Opening Night Gala; and tickets are snapped up by the fistful. It's Outfest: 11 days of GLBTQ films, 600 or so parties, industry panels, a huge gala, and some of the best schmoozing of the year. Here in the land of film, Outfest isn't just a film festival -- it's a holy week.
In anticipation of the 29th annual Outfest, which starts tonight, Out hosted its second annual Outfest roundtable at the French Market Place, a West Hollywood mainstay. There, with '70s disco blaring from aged speakers, we talked to a quartet of men whose work in and on wildly divergent films will be part of the festival: Q. Allan Brocka, director and writer of Eating Out 4 (and the original Eating Out); Adrian Gonzalez, actor in the quiet drama, August; John Lavin, director of the documentary From Hollywood to Dollywood;and Matt Ludwinski, star of the cautionary Hollywood story, Going Down in LA-LA Land.
Out: I want to start by asking you all the same question I asked of last year's group. As GLBTQ characters find their way into mainstream film and television with increasing regularity, do we still need Outfest, and if so, why?
Brocka: I think we do. Outfest is more than just having gay characters onscreen. It's the whole experience of sitting in a theater with a gay audience -- this community that's come together to experience a story. That doesn't really happen when something airs on TV or comes out in the theaters. You don't get the sense of community that a festival brings. It will be nice when that's the only thing the festival does, but right now, it also helps inspire industry people to think to include gay characters and gay story lines because so many people around them are talking about the festival and this great experience.
Lavin: And speaking in broader terms of gay film festivals in general, we shot From Hollywood to Dollywood all across the South. There are festivals there that are super stoked that there's a film that talks about the Southern gay experience. There's still a need for them.
Brocka: Smaller communities are really limited for things gay people to do as a group. I just went to a gay film festival in Dubai, where homosexuality was illegal until two years ago. There aren't even gay bars there. It's one of the biggest cities in the world and there isn't a single gay bar, but they have a queer film festival.
Gonzalez: And you showed Eating Out? Were they able to handle it?
Brocka: They were! It was an amazing experience. The entire community seemed to be coming together around this film festival. And it's the first time these people were gathered in a room with other gay people without being worried about getting caught. There is a lot of work still to be done that film festivals can do.
There was a time when the issues covered in gay films were somewhat limited to AIDS and coming out. Now we have evolved beyond that, but I think that the current commonality is characters seeking acceptance.
Lavin: In my film, I think it's sad and depressing that these two 36-year-old brothers still call their mother three times a day. They are with her right now to explain the movie to her because she won't see it. I think, Cut her out of your life! As soon as you do that you won't have these problems and eventually she will come around. I really struggled with how much of the coming-out story to put in to the film because I feel like it's been done to death in gay cinema, and the reaction of some people has been 'We've seen it!' But people in middle America still need to hear this story.
Do you think sex is needed to sell a gay film?
Ludwinski: It does seem like it's sort of expected.
Gonzalez: I think it's in our society. Sex sells in general -- gay or not. In our film, it's summer, it's hot' although I guess the director made it that way so we would be naked a lot!
Brocka: It certainly gets more attention if you are flipping through a festival guide and see a hot shirtless guy. The Eating Out films in particular are basically American Pie for gay people, so I want to see people having sex and all of the hijinks that lead to the weird situations. So I have to have sex in it.
This question is for the actors. In this day and age, do you think that playing gay is still something to think twice about?
Ludwinski: Oh yes. I was very nervous about taking the role. These gay movies -- some are quite good -- but they still can have a stigma around them. Mine takes such a racy angle, and that was scary. But ultimately, it's such a great part. And being the lead in a feature film was an awesome experience, so it's not like I was gonna say 'No.'
What about being an out actor. Has that been an issue for you?
Ludwinski: I have been instructed many times not to talk about my personal life, so I don't. But it is outrageous that anyone of alternative sexuality can't in this day and age, when we ostensibly don't care -- but we still don't want our leading actors to be gay. We don't mind having gay people around but we want them in certain roles.
Gonzalez: I think it's ironic that the majority of the people in power in Hollywood are gay executives and they're the ones not allowing the actors to come out. But my personal opinion on the whole thing is that it's my job to convince you as actor that I am that person on the screen, and the more you know about my personal life, the harder it is to do that. I was reading an article with Matt Damon, and he said, 'If I reveal to you that I am a father of three, at home every day having breakfast and coloring with my kids, are you going to believe that I am jumping from window to window killing people? No, it's going to break the illusion.'
Except we watch Matt Damon films, and when he is playing Bourne, we don't say, 'That's not right, that guy is a father of three!'
Gonzalez: The whole idea is the more you know, the easier it is to get bored of an actor. People can choose to reveal whatever they want of themselves however they like but' I find it interesting that people find it so fascinating.
Brocka: One thing that we can all do is support gay actors. When an actor comes out, go and watch their movie. Even if you don't like them, go and watch their movie and show your support. Don't go out of your way to go on a bulletin board and say horrible things. Every time an actor comes out, the meanest things are written by other gay people. The best thing anyone can do is speak with your dollars and support. The more that changes, the less it will be an issue. It's not an issue when a straight actor gets married, and it should be the same for us.
What are you most looking forward to in the festival?
Ludwinski: I don't know. I'm nervous. After talking about this movie for a year, to finally have my friends see it will be gratifying. Then they'll know I'm not making it all up!
Gonzalez: I think these festivals are really about community, with a lot of artists showing their work. Points of view that are just so different. So it's really great to be able see other people's work and have them see yours. I think it's amazing as artists and people.
Ludwinski: I know I have to walk around and hand out business cards and be charming when what I really want to do is drink at the after party.
Gonzalez: We have to give out business cards?
Lavin: I think I am looking forward to the closure of an intense year. It's like giving birth! I have been editing literally every day. And I can't wait to see all of your movies!
Brocka: My first short was at Outfest, Rick and Steve. Festivals are a huge part of my life, particularly Outfest. I am actually on the Outfest board now and am really excited about looking at Outfest through those eyes and getting other filmmakers as excited about it as I am. And finding the next generation of people who can make entire careers out of telling gay stories. Because we need them. We need to show that there is a demand for queer film, that it's not a dead end.
Gonzalez: It's always a little weird for me seeing myself. I saw the film once and it was hard for me seeing myself on the screen for that long. I don't know if I'll see it again.
Ludwinski: Really? The first thing I thought as soon as I saw mine was 'I can't wait to see it again!'
For more info on Outfest 2011, including a full listing of all of the films showing during the festival, click here. Also, head back to Out.com in the coming days to read reviews of key films featured this year.