children’s book authorChris Colfer brought this year’s 10-day long Outfest festivities in Hollywood to a close Sunday night with the premiere of Struck by Lightning. Colfer not only headlines the comedy but wrote its screenplay, his first. Talk about multi-talented!
By Outfest’s end, several movies had implanted themselves in my consciousness as among the very best that not only Outfest but contemporary GLBT cinema has to offer. These are in addition to a handful of films I was able to preview and acclaim before the fest began (see Reverend’s 2012 Outfest Preview). The standout for me was Matthew Mishory’s Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, which is notable both for its provocative depiction of an unquestionably bisexual, pre-celebrity Dean and its gorgeous, primarily black-and-white visual style. The mostly speculative bio was photographed by Michael Marius Pessah, who was designated one of Outfest 2012’s “Five to Watch” before the fest began. Also, actor James Preston gives an arresting performance as Dean.
A close second for me was Ira Sachs' already highly acclaimed Keep the Lights On, The film won raves at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival's Teddy Award earlier this year, and it walked away with two of Outfest's most prestigious awards (please find a complete list of Outfest award winners in the comments section below). This authentic, semi-autobiographical saga of two lovers struggling with drug addiction and other challenges over the course of their nine-year relationship is, by turns, heartbreaking and hopeful. Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth are exquisite as the on again, off again pair. Keep the Lights On is shaping up to be the gay-interest movie of 2012 and is scheduled for theatrical release beginning in September.
I was thrilled to not only catch That's What She Said, the feature directorial debut of actress Carrie Preston (True Blood, Ready? OK!, Straight-Jacket), but to finally meet Preston after four years of phone interviews and e-mail exchanges. Her hilarious, NYC-set dramedy about female BFFs and their travails boasts a superb turn by Anne Heche, truly the best performance I've yet seen her give. While cut from the same raunchy girl-power cloth as recent hits Bridesmaids and Friends with Kids, That's What She Said has a truer, warmer heart than either of it predecessors.
A reader commented here recently on my interview with Sassy Pants star Haley Joel Osment that it's good to see filmmakers using more average looking/less physically perfect actors in gay-themed films. This was true of several Outfest entries but perhaps most significantly in I Want Your Love. Writer-director Travis Mathews enlisted a full complement of everyday physical types for this thoughtful drama of gay maturity, and they all engage in graphic, non-simulated sex. It's striking, even shocking, but ultimately moving.
As usual, a number of fine documentaries were screened at Outfest, including the highly-touted Vito, Love Free or Die (about out Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson) and How to Survive a Plague. Of those I saw, I was most impressed and informed by United in Anger: A History of ACT UP by Jim Hubbard. While it gets a little long and repetitive in detailing the 25-year history of the pioneering organization, the doc provides valuable insights into the initial years of the AIDS epidemic, the US government's inability/unwillingness to respond effectively, and ACT UP's leadership and often volatile tactics.
All in all, Outfest's 30th anniversary lineup was one of its best to date. Here's to 30+ more years of spotlighting the finest in GLBT cinema.
Report by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.