Now in its 29th year, making it one of the longest-running film festivals of any kind in the US, Outfest annually presents the best of new and classic, independent GLBTQ movies. Six gala screenings will be featured in addition to more than 100 features and shorts. "This year's selection of galas represent some of the most acclaimed and thematically diverse films of the year," according to Kirsten Schaffer, Outfest's Executive Director.
The 2011 Opening Night Gala will kick off with the presentation of the 15th Annual Outfest Achievement Award to Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Once the acclaimed directors of such eye-opening documentaries as Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, 101 Rent Boys and the recent Becoming Chaz have been honored, the feature Gun Hill Road will be shown. It stars Esai Morales (Rapa Nui, Caprica) as a recently released parolee who comes home to discover his teenage son is transgender. The drama's great cast also includes Judy Reyes of TV's Scrubs and impressive newcomer Harmony Santana as Michael/Vanessa (look for an interview with Santana here next week). A spectacular Opening Night after-party will follow Gun Hill Road.
Outfest's Closing Night Gala at the Ford Amphitheatre on July 17 will showcase The Perfect Family, which recently had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Jason Ritter, Emily Deschanel, Sharon Lawrence and out actor Richard Chamberlain (as a Catholic monsignor) co-star with Kathleen Turner in this drama-comedy about the collision of traditional values and modern reality within a Catholic household. It marks the feature film debut of director Anne Renton. The Closing Night after-party will be celebrated at Hollywood's classic Roosevelt Hotel.
Between these "bookends," other gala screenings will be held: Circumstance, a contemporary story set in ultra-conservative Iran about the forbidden love between two teenage girls that won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival; Weekend, a well-written, affecting drama by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (Greek Pete), in which the relationship between two men grows from a one-night stand to something more complex and significant; the documentary Hit So Hard, about rock musician Patty Schemel; and 3, the latest stylish movie by mainstream German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who now explores the topic of sexual fluidity.
Dolly Parton will take the cinematic spotlight during Outfest 2011 on two occasions (and is making her live performance debut at the Hollywood Bowl this month as well). The traditional "Sing-Along" movie musical event on July 13 will be 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The fact-based hit stars Parton as a beloved madam, Miss Mona, who with the local sheriff (a crooning Burt Reynolds) squares off against a religious crusader (the late Dom DeLuise) determined to shut her brothel down. It contains such classic songs as "I Will Always Love You," "Hard Candy Christmas" and "A Li'l Ol' Bitty Country Place." Of note, the movie was helmed by gay director Colin Higgins, who sadly died of AIDS complications not long after its original release.
Then, on July 16, Parton will be seen in the wonderful documentary Hollywood to Dollywood. The country-western queen is the lifelong object of affection of two gay twin brothers, Gary and Larry Lane, who rent a mobile home and set out on a road trip to hand-deliver a screenplay they've written to Parton at her Tennessee amusement park. Their resulting film serves as a loving tribute to her as well as an opportunity to see the twins' industry friends, which include gay faves Leslie Jordan, Beth Grant and Chad Allen.
A few other must-see movies at this year's Outfest I was able to preview are:
- Leave It On the Floor, a spectacular musical-on-a-budget by director Sheldon Larry and screenwriter/lyricist Glenn Gaylord. Set in Los Angeles, it focuses on local "dynasties" of GLBT young people who perform in weekly drag balls. It combines elements of the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning as well as Dreamgirls, and features the best dance number set in a bowling alley since Grease 2 (and I am counting the lane-shaking sequences in The Big Lebowski and Across the Universe)! The movie's recent world premiere at the LA Film Festival sold out quickly, so don't wait to buy tickets.
- Private Romeo, an ingenious transplanting of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet to a modern, all-male military academy. Alan Brown (watch for an interview with him later this week) directs an attractive and talented cast, who utilize the original text and gender references but also add an unexpected twist or two.
- I Am, which explores GLBTQ life in India. This insightful, award-winning documentary was inspired by director Sonali Gulati's personal efforts to bring closure to her relationship with her deceased mother. Along the way, we are introduced to numerous out Indians including prince-turned-political-activist Manvendra Singh Gohil, who was famously but tragically disowned by his royal family after he revealed he was gay.
Not as good but still recommended:
- Longhorns, the latest comedy from the producers of BearCity and Fruit Fly. Set in the 1980's, it evokes such gotta-lose-my-virginity titles of the time as Porky's and Risky Business — but with a gay sensibility — to often-hilarious effect. The hot, funny cast includes local boys Dylan Vox and Kevin Held.
- August, a beautifully filmed and scored tale of romantic entanglement. Following his return to LA after several years in Europe, a man reunites with his former partner despite his ex's new relationship with a sexy immigrant. The movie's writer-director, Eldar Rapaport, is designated by Outfest as one of "4 in Focus" filmmakers to pay particular attention to.
- The Green, a timely story about a gay high school teacher in Connecticut who is accused of having a sexual relationship with a male student. It features excellent performances by name actors Jason Butler Harner, Cheyenne Jackson of Glee and Broadway fame, Ileanna Douglas, Karen Young and, as a lesbian attorney, Julia Ormond.
For certain, shall we say unusual tastes, this year's Outfest will include L.A. Zombie, a new porn-horror epic by provocateur Bruce LaBruce. Adult superstar François Sagat plays the possibly schizophrenic, possibly undead title role. Graphic and gory but chock-full of hot men, the movie is likely to give new meaning to the term "raising the dead"!
For the full Outfest 2011 festival schedule and to purchase passes or tickets, visit the fest's official website.
Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.