BootLeg Betty

Outfest returns for its 35th installment of LGBTQ films

Los Angeles Daily Center
Outfest returns for its 35th installment of LGBTQ films
By Sandra Barrera, Los Angeles Daily News
POSTED: 07/01/17, 11:08 AM PDT |

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Trans rights, gender parity and racial equality are the themes coming through loud and clear at the 35th annual Outfest Los Angeles, the world’s leading LGBT film festival presented by HBO.

The gathering of filmmakers, Hollywood insiders, media and moviegoers returns to Los Angeles for 11 days of comedies, dramas, documentaries and shorts that tackle current topics, beginning Thursday.

“So many people think that the LGBTQ community is monolithic, but we are actually dozens of communities that come together as allies,” says Christopher Racster, Outfest executive director. “We are here to assure that all of those communities are represented and that their stories and their films get out into the world.”

From Thursday’s opening-night gay romance (“God’s Own Country”) set in the English countryside to the closing-night comedy (“Freak Show”) about a high school boy in the running for homecoming queen, 194 films from 30 countries will be shown at different venues around town.

Francis Lee’s feature debut, “God’s Own Country,” kicks off the festival with its only screening Thursday at the Orpheum Theatre. The film has been drawing comparisons to “Brokeback Mountain” since its world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival for its depiction of the steamy relationship between the son of a sheep farmer and a Romanian migrant worker.

The July 16 festival closer is another feature debut. Trudie Styler directs “Freak Show,” a film adaptation of the James St. James novel starring Alex Lawther as a cross-dressing teen who faces off against mean girl Abigail Breslin in a race for homecoming queen at their conservative high school. It also stars Bette Midler, Laverne Cox and AnnaSophia Robb and screens July 16 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

“It’s absolutely hilarious,” says Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest director of programming. “It’s a really nice way to close the festival and leave everyone with a smile on their face, thinking fondly about the festival until next year.”

Half of the features shown at the festival are directed by women.

They include all four centerpiece screenings — “Strangers” by Mia Lidofsky, “Close-Knit” by Naoko Ogigami, “Kevyn Aucoin Beauty and the Beast in Me” by Lori Kaye and “Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall” by Katherine Fairfax Wright.

Wright, the filmmaker behind “Call Me Kuchu” that centers on Uganda’s gay rights struggles, will make her Outfest debut with a heartfelt, behind-the-scenes look at the making of Hall’s visual album and stage show, “Straight Outta Oz” — a “Wizard of Oz”-inspired musical inspired by his small town upbringing and his close relationship with his conservative Christian mother. The documentary world premiered at the 2017 SXSW and has since played at various film festivals.

Admittedly, Wright knew nothing of Hall — an “American Idol” semifinalist turn YouTube sensation, “Kinky Boots” on Broadway performer and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” celebrity judge — until the production company Awesomeness offered her the film.

She found herself as blown away by him as the audiences have been so far.

“They weren’t necessarily from his community; they’re not into YouTube, they’re not black, they’re not gay, yet they still identify with Todrick’s story and persona,” Wright says, adding she and Hall took a liking to one another from the start, which made a difference in the final footage. “He was open to having his story told in a thorough fashion. He didn’t necessarily understand all of the things I was doing in terms of why I needed him to talk about this or why I needed to film that. He was busy with his own pursuit. But he never stopped me from pursuing what I needed which I’m very grateful to him for.”

The filmmaker joins Hall for a Q&A following the screening at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on July 13.

With so much to take in, organizers suggest a good entry into the festival is to hit the opener, closer and centerpieces as well as the different shorts programs, from youth to “silver” for LGBT elders, to get a taste of the trends in queer cinema.

And then peruse the program for films.

Standouts include “A Womb of Their Own,” a documentary playing July 13 at the DGA 2 that explores the experiences of male-identified parents-to-be discussing their pregnancies and what it means to give birth as a transman. Another is “Whose Streets?

That documentary screening at the DGA 2 on July 14 is an unflinching look at the Black Lives Matter community, which includes young LGBTQ leaders, who demand justice in the wake of the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

Dream Boat,” a Germany documentary screening July 12 at the DGA, focuses on a gay cruise that sets sail once a year full of men from different countries and experiences. Some of them are out in their daily lives, some can only be out once a year on this cruise.

Special events include a screening of “Chasing Amy” in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary followed by a conversation with director Kevin Smith and Guinevere Turner, a sneak peak at Season 4 of Amazon Studios’ “Transparent” and more. A complete listing of films, parties and receptions is at the website, www.outfest.org.

“As we continue to live our lives more and more online, gatherings like this of queer people as a group become increasingly valuable,” Mukerjee-Borwn says. “It’s 11 days of guaranteed queer visibility and there’s nothing more powerful than that when you know you can show up at a venue and see people like you. It’s really magical.”

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