(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reverend’s Previews: Outfest 2010 Celebrates GLBT Diversity

This year’s Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, will boast 60 GLBT-themed feature films and 87 shorts from 23 different countries. The 28th edition of the oldest film festival in LA and the leading GLBT festival in the US will run July 8th-18.

Having had the opportunity to preview a number of the movies to be shown, I can attest that this year’s Outfest selections are generally more thoughtful and of higher quality than those I saw the past two years. As Outfest’s Executive Director, Kirsten Schaffer, rightly proclaimed, “This year’s incredible line-up celebrates all of the forward-thinking artists that push the boundaries for LGBT rights and equality.”

One such artist was the poet Allen Ginsberg, who is the subject of the Outfest Opening Night Gala film, Howl (the movie also opened the prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year). James Franco of the Spider-Man series plays Ginsberg. Howl is the first dramatic feature from veteran documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who made The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet among several acclaimed prior films.

The opening night festivities will kick-off at 8:00 PM on July 8 with a special presentation of the annual Outfest Achievement Award to lesbian actress Jane Lynch. Currently enjoying huge success as the domineering cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, on the Fox TV series Glee, Lynch has also given memorable performances in such diverse films as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Best in Show and last year’s Julie & Julia.

Each year, Outfest features a foreign film as its International Dramatic Centerpiece. Contracorriente (or Undertow) will be this year’s selection on July 13. It is set in an exotic Peruvian fishing village where love between two men is forbidden. The film was a rare gay-themed winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Audience Award in January.

There are too many movies that I’d recommend to list here, but a few highlights are:

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, an insightful and thoroughly enjoyable documentary about New Zealand’s legendary yodeling lesbian twins. Jools and Lynda Topp have been performing together since the 1970’s, and were pivotal figures in the 1986 passage of their country’s pioneering gay rights bill. If you want to learn the hysterical punchline to the twins’ joke, “Why can’t lesbians wear make-up when they go to Weight Watchers?,” see the movie!

Grown Up Movie Star, written and directed by the talented Adriana Maggs, is a smart, observant study of a teenage girl in rural Canada’s coming of age. Living with her closeted gay father doesn’t make things any easier for her. The movie also benefits from an excellent cast (newcomer Tatiana Maslany is a revelation as the teen, Ruby) and great, naturalistic — if dysfunctional — family rapport.

Children of God utilizes overlapping storylines and characters in its expose of closeted homosexuality and religious hypocrisy in the Bahamas. An attractive, interracial gay couple run afoul of the local fundamentalist pastor, who at one point privately sums up the motivation behind his anti-gay campaign thusly: “You have to give people something to hate; it brings them together.” The film is also worth seeing for its beautiful photography of sun-bathed, seaside locales.

Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight, with its title taken from Bonnie Tyler’s hit song of the 80’s, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” is an admirably unsentimental documentary that turns its lens on 75-year old, transgendered drag performer Vicki Marlane. Still performing today after 59 years as a drag artist at Aunt Charlie’s in San Francisco, Marlane speaks candidly of her upbringing, legal run-ins, ill-fated love affairs and addictions. Marlane and the film’s producer-director, Michelle Lawler, are scheduled to appear at the Outfest screening.

Role/Play, the latest from Rob Williams, director of past gay hits Back Soon and Make the Yuletide Gay. It is a smart and sexy account of what might happen if a closeted gay soap opera star (hunky Steve Callahan) and an outspoken gay activist with marriage troubles (Matthew Montgomery, Callahan’s real-life partner) were to meet at a Palm Springs resort.

A Marine Story is timely to say the least, what with the current debate over revoking the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Based on actual events, the film focuses on a recently-discharged lesbian (a dramatically and physically strong performance by Dreya Weber) who discovers her troubles are just beginning once she returns to her hometown. Written, directed and even edited — all very well — by Ned Farr.

Standouts among the numerous recommended short films to be shown during Outfest are the cute and funny Go Go Reject, which features the adorable Heath Daniels as a stripper hopeful who is labeled as too skinny but who isn’t going to take “No” for an answer; Last Address, an unusual, quietly devastating travelogue of the final residences inhabited by New York City-based artists who died of AIDS; and Public Relations, an upbeat romantic-comedy in which two female personal assistants meet and fall in love.

For me, Outfest wouldn’t be complete each year without its Sing-Along Musical night at the Ford Amphitheater. The 2010 winner of the annual online vote by Outfest fans is Grease 2, the campy 1982 sequel to Grease. Hardly as well-received as its predecessor, Grease 2 is still entertaining and somewhat underrated. It stars Michelle Pfeiffer in her first big-screen lead role, as well as then-pretty Maxwell Caulfield, a then-hot Adrian Zmed and Judy Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft. What’s not to enjoy? It will screen at 8:30 PM on July 15. Feel free to dress as a T-Bird or Pink Lady!

The hilarious-sounding new comedy Spork will wrap up Outfest during the Closing Night Gala on July 18. For a complete listing of films or to purchase tickets for screenings and related events, please visit the Outfest website or call (213) 480-7065.

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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