The time has come for you to schlep your way through another film festival. This time, it's Outfest, Los Angeles' premiere LGBTQ+ film festival promising 10 days of new and necessary contributions to the queer cinematic canon. But we all know that some films are better watched at home, on demand, or on somebody's streaming platform -- not every film needs to be seen in a theater, and that's no shade. And considering the locations for Outfest's screenings are all over this God-forsaken city, knowing what movies to brave the traffic for is important.
As such, below are 15 films that can't be missed during the festival. To be clear, a film's inclusion on this list doesn't mean it's necessarily an amazing film, unless it is. Rather, every movie on this list is a must-see because of what it says -- and doesn't say -- about LGBTQ+ representation on screen. (So, if you don't like something, tell nobody but God!)
There's something wondrous about seeing young people stand in their power, and director Michael Barnett's doc is perfect at capturing how a set of trans athletes are doing just that. It follows the lives of three teens across the United States who just want to compete -- Sarah Rose Huckman, a skier and policy-maker in New Hampshire; Andraya Yearwood, a stellar track star; and Mack Beggs, a two-time Texas State Champion wrestler who made headlines for dominating women's wrestling while pushing to wrestle boys.
Circus of Books
There's something to be said about a film's director having distance from its subject. Surely, at minimum, it allows them some "objective" perspective with which they can treat the material, carving out a narrative that is not only interesting to those involved in its creation but to those on the other side of the screen. Then there's what we have with Rachel Mason and Circus of Books, the documentary about the queer bookstore and porn shop her parents owned in West Hollywood. It's her lack of distance from the subject -- in fact, it's that she, too, is part of the story -- that makes the picture soar with intimacy. And it's that familiarity that makes Circus of Books a worthy homage to the Los Angeles-area landmark of LGBTQ+ culture. Read the rest of my review here.
Filmmaker Rodney Evans (Brother to Brother, The Happy Sad) faces the possibility of losing his eyesight. Grappling with how to be a blind artist, he reaches out to creatives in other media -- choreographer Kayla Hamilton, author Ryan Knighton, and photographer John Dugdale -- who continue to create new work even with the loss of their vision.
The Garden Left Behind
When The Garden Left Behind premiered earlier this year, it made history as perhaps the first film to star and be produced by 50 trans actors and filmmakers. From queer, Latinx filmmaker Flavio Alves, the picture traces the relationship between Tina (newcomer Carlie Guevara), a young Mexican trans woman, and her grandmother Eliana (Miriam Cruz, I Love You Phillip Morris), as they navigate Tina's transition while building a life for themselves as undocumented immigrants in New York City. It also stars Anthony Abdo, Tamara Williams, Ivana Black, Kristen Lovell, Danny Flaherty, Alex Kruz, Michael Madsen, and Ed Asner. (Trigger warning: violence against trans community)
This is Not Berlin
The opening scene of Hari Sama's This Is Not Berlin (Esto no es Berlin) is a portrait of toxic masculinity. A group of young boys are fighting one another in a dusty field. Presented in slow-motion, their punches and bloodied faces are exaggerated. In the center of the shot stands a still Carlos (a striking Xabiani Ponce de Leon), a boy whose soft features and long brown locks set him apart from the chaos around him. It's no surprise he's knocked out; he barely puts up a fight.
The punk-scored film that follows builds on the themes and visuals of Sama's opening. What he's created with This Is Not Berlin is an urgent and refreshing queer take on the coming-of-age genre that doubles as an intoxicating snapshot of Mexico's countercultural scene in the late 80s. Read the rest of critic Manuel Betancourt's review here.
The third feature film by Outfest alum Wendy Jo Carlton follows lesbian couple Kate and Jenna meeting up with single Mia for a fun and sexy threesome. After some alcohol, palm reading, and heavy foreplay -- ice is involved -- the evening takes a turn. This film, which I had the pleasure of truly enjoying during Toronto's Inside Out Film Festival, stars Rachel Paulson, Julia Eringer, Kari Alison Hodge, Carter Rodriquez, and Courtney McCullough.
Watching this short written by and starring Staceyann Chin is a worthy use of 15 minutes. Directed by Micaela Birmingham (who co-wrote it with Chin), Motherstruck -- which is based on the one-woman play written by Chin, directed by Cynthia Nixon and produced by Rosie O'Donnell -- is the true story of a lesbian's (Chin) efforts to become a mother with her closest friends (Gina Yashere, Laura Gomez, Janine Brito) by her side. Hilarious isn't even the best word to describe it. Read the rest of my review here.
For They Know Not What They Do
At the intersection of religion, sexuality, and gender identity, For They Know Not What They Do is an emotional and revealing look into how -- in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's legalization of marriage equality that prompted continued, fierce opposition by evangelical and conservative Christian communities -- four religious families came to support their LGBTQ+ children. It serves, in a way, as a companion to Daniel Karslake's 2007 doc For The Bible Tells Me So, about how conservative Christians' interpretation of the Bible is commonly used as a way to deny LGBTQ+ folks equal rights. (It was shortlisted for the 2008 Academy Award.) Read the rest of my review here.
I never knew I needed a teen vampire flick in my life. And maybe I still don't, but Bit is intriguing nonetheless. About a trans teen named Laurel (played by trans advocate-turned-actress Nicole Maines who we'll also get to see in Supergirl) who sets her sights on Los Angeles after graduating high school, the film follows her budding friendships with a mysterious gang of girls who just happen to be vampires on the hunt for their next member. Directed by Brad Michael Elmore, it's fresh, it's smart, it's camp.
Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth
With Seahorse, Jeanie Finlay's created an intimate and revealing interrogation of masculinity and gender presentation through the eyes of a pregnant man. Tender and compassionate, the doc takes us on Freddy McConnell's emotional, (extra)ordinary journey to start a family. (In case you didn't know, the doc is named as such because seahorses are the only species in which males give birth to their offspring. Thus, trans men who give birth to children are called "seahorse dads.") Read my interview with the director and subject here.
From Zero To I Love You
Fans of the legendary Noah's Arc, assemble! Our favorites Darryl Stephens and Doug Spearman are back at it, this time as star and director, respectively, of this romance flick about Peter, a serial dater of unavailable men, who's under pressure from his formidably gruff father to get his life in order and settle down. But the latest man to capture Peter's attention is Jack -- a successful, charming businessman with a devoted wife and two children. #Relatable
David Makes Man
The hour-long "lyrical drama" follows a 14-year-old prodigy named David from the projects (Akili McDowell) who is haunted by the death of his closest friend. Bussed out of his community to a mostly white school, David is forced to don two personas: one to navigate the streets that raised him, and another to succeed in the education system that may offer him a way out. Set in South Florida and also starring Alana Arenas, Isaiah Johnson, Travis Coles, and icon Phylicia Rashad, the series is Tarell Alvin McCraney's television debut. Yes, the man that wrote the play that Moonlight is based on. Operating in a similar world to Moonlight, David Makes Man draws on McCraney's experience growing up Black, poor, and queer with a struggling, single mother in a world that offers little support. Read my feature on McCraney here.
To many, New York City's Christopher Street Pier is probably a landmark closely associated with the ballroom community as depicted in films like Paris is Burning and shows like FX's Pose. The Pier however is also home to countless LGBTQ+ folks of color who are homeless. Director Elegance Bratton takes us into that world, chronicling, over three years, the lives of people they found there. It features Anniyah Balenciaga, Cheetah Revlon, Desean Irby, Jusheem Casper Thorne, and Krystal Labeija Dixon.
Another flick I had the chance to see at Toronto's Inside Out, Sell By is a solid, moving romantic comedy with, at its center, boyfriends Adam (Scott Evans) and Marklin (Augustus Prew, Special) who've hit a rough patch. Meanwhile, their group of friends (played by the sweet Zoe Chao, the legend that is Kate Walsh, and the hilarious, national treasure that is Michelle Buteau) manage their own love lives.
This short film is the story of Ester, a trans woman struggling to find her path in New Orleans during the week before Hurricane Katrina. With an evacuation order looming, she is forced to make a choice that will impact her future forever. Written and directed by Dui Jarrod (Brooklyn. Blue. Sky.), this short form scripted series explores the intersection of race, class, and gender in a uniquely NOLA context. It stars the legendary Janet Hubert (the OG Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Angelica Ross (Pose, Her Story), and Rowin Amone among others. It'll be screened in advance of the Trans Summit, of which Ross is the keynote speaker.