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Outfest 2009


Another Outfest has come and gone. And that fact truly saddens me. For while I am totally viewed out, (41 screenings) boozed out (almost as many Absolut cocktails), and schmoozed out, I'm sad. It's not that all of the films in this, the 27th Annual Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, were wonderful. But the overall experience is unique in this town, and it's vital to gay L.A.

As an LGBTQ film festival, it's not like any other that I've attended. Its venues are chosen to foster community, making the festival so much more than a series of screenings. While most film fests have Opening and Closing night galas at which people mix, mingle and exchange numbers, Outfest creates a social atmosphere each and every day. In L.A., that's rare. Sure we gays come together at Pride, at the bars and at the Weho Starbucks, but the eleven days of Outfest comprise the only time in the year when we congregate for something cultural.

Plus, where else can you see Benjamin Bratt call Josh Brolin 'sexy' from the stage? Where else can you hear Sharon Gless admit that it was time she played a lesbian since 'the rumors have been out there for years?' Where else but Outfest does it seem natural to spy Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow and Chaz Bono, in a confab? At Outfest, you could even win a meet and greet with Barry Manilow (although it's a dubious prize if you think about it; do you really want to get that close?)

And then, of course, there are the films. Such variety and so many that most of us would never otherwise see, or even be aware of, were they not available here. Documentaries about gender reassignment? A feature depicting elder lesbians as sexual? Short films from Norway (don't laugh; The Awakening was one of the best things I've seen on screen all year)? If you can think it, chances are some variation of it was being screened.

Here are the films you shouldn't miss:

I have already written a review of the charming Patrik, Age 1.5, a film that deserve release and a permanent spot in any good homo's DVD library. It's not alone in that.

Nacho G. Vell'a Spanish film, Chef's Special, which deservedly won the Audience Award for Best Feature, is about as satisfying as a gay romantic comedy can be. Well shot, well acted and especially well written, this ensemble film had me laughing, crying, and salivating (at the food, not the boys) in almost equal measure.

Salivating for the boys occurred at Give Me Your Hand, a French film by Pascal-Alex Vincent about two impossibly beautiful twin brothers who embark on a foot trip from France to Spain for their estranged mother's funeral. This is a film low on plot and even lower on dialogue, but the cinematography is gorgeous and the excellent actors speak volumes in their silences.

Both Dare and Norway's The Man Who Loved Yngve are high school stories of sexual awakening, a genre that feels a bit tapped out. But both end up mining new gold thanks to some excellent performers and solid direction, despite Yngve's baffling, out-of-nowhere ending.

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement is a deceptively simple film. On its surface it's the story of two women, told exclusively by them, who were together for forty-one years before their 2007 marriage. But at its heart, it's the inspiring story of how love endures and triumphs.

Andrew Haigh's Greek Pete provides still more gorgeous naked flesh in a hybrid documentary/ narrative (we're told that the story is fiction, but there's no real script and the 'actors' are all playing themselves). Pete is a London rent-boy but, unlike any other rent-boy film I've seen, this one is not about how sad and sordid the life is. Pete is a charmer who's really happy in his own skin and not at all afraid to admit that all he wants is to amass a lot of money.

Prodigal Sons is Kimberly Reed's documentary that sort of got away from her. Reed set out to tell the story of her return home for her high school reunion (a place where, prior to her transition, she had been the All-American quarterback). Her adopted brother Marc, one year her senior but in the same class, had always struggled to be noticed and showing up with a new sister isn't helping. But as filming progresses it is discovered that Marc is the grandson of Rita Hayworth and Orson Wells and the story flies in fascinating directions Reed couldn't have imagined.

Training Rules gives us a classic cinematic villain in Rene Portland, the bleach blonde women's basketball coach at U Penn. Portland's success as a coach leads the school to turn a blind eye on her shocking homophobia, which had lifelong effects on some of the women in her charge.

Yun Suh's City of Borders expertly shows that, while the Palestinians and Israelis may hate each other, they are largely united in their hatred of the gay people in their own country.

Pop Star on Ice is the story of Johnny Weir, figure skating's very own Adam Lambert (at least until Lambert actually came out). Weir's skating blends both the balletic grace of female skaters and the athleticism of men, all wrapped up in one big flaming (but not out) package. He's fascinating to watch, both on and off the ice.

The only thing wrong with The Making of The Boys is its title. The insightful doc isn't really about the creation of The Boys in the Band but the contextual history of both the play and the film and how, while they changed the culture, the culture consumed the participants. More than any of the other films in this festival which try to depict how tough it was for pre-Stonewall gays, this one hits its mark with searing specificity.

And finally, a film that ranks amongst the creepiest things I've ever seen, George O'Donnell's College Boys Live, set in an Orlando web-cam house. This is one sad story of a group of very delusional people, none of whom seem to think there's anything odd about the way they live. The film feels almost like a latter-day Grey Gardens wherein the audience is taken into a house to witness a living, breathing train-wreck. As a viewer, one can't help but feel humiliated for the subjects and embarrassed to see what you see. And yet O'Donnell's skill is such that you can't take your eyes away.

So now that it's all over, what happens? The luckiest (although not necessarily the most talented) directors will come out of Outfest with distribution deals, putting these films all over the country. And in Los Angeles, we'll try to muddle through (no more open bars????) while we count the days until Outfest 2010.

For more info on Outfest, head here.

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