In movie years great and mediocre, one thing remains true and fine about the Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which turns 24 this week: It’s an event that queer people make for themselves. Straights are welcome, but not necessary, which perhaps accounts for why the lobbies of the Directors Guild and other festival venues fairly hum with happiness. Here, no one has to worry about whether Mom and Dad will be able to handle seeing Jake kiss Heath, because Outfest movies — despite the crossover dreams of their makers — aren’t intended for multiplex heteros, but for the men and women and transgendered beauties who fill Outfest’s theaters, and for their brethren. Outfest, in a sense, says to the larger world: “We want you to see and understand and enjoy these films we’ve made about our lives, but if you don’t come, we’ll survive, and even prosper. For these 12 days, we look to, and look after, ourselves first.”
Here are 15 films from this year’s festival that made us sit up straight (so to speak) in our seats. See ya in the lobby.
AMNESIA: THE JAMES BRIGHTON ENIGMA (Canada) This moody French Canadian docudrama is drawn from a semifamous true story: In 1998, a young man (played here by Dusan Dukic) woke up naked in an alley in Montreal, unable to remember his name. He knew he was gay and eventually identified himself as James Brighton, a name that would later be proven false. Was Brighton a fake? Writer-director Denis Langlois approaches the question with near-clinical detachment, until the movie’s homestretch, when flashbacks reveal the filmmaker’s notion that Brighton is a man ruined by love. It’s a pain-filled theory, in a film that’s peculiar and slow and undeniably haunting. (Regent Showcase; Fri., July 7, 8 p.m.) (CW)
SAINT OF 9/11 (USA) It would be lovely if the Outfest folks could somehow run director Glenn Holsten’s magnificent documentary in a continuous loop throughout the festival, as tribute to its subject, Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest and New York Fire Department chaplain who died while tending to fallen firefighters at the World Trade Center’s North Tower. In a film that’s as much a tone poem to New York City as a biography, those who knew and loved and were changed by Judge conjure his life and extraordinary good works, while narrator Ian McKellen reads from the father’s speeches, sermons, interviews and journals. Judge’s words seem to send Holsten’s camera arching high above the city. The movie is full of sky. (DGA2; Fri., July 7, 8 p.m.) (CW)
METH (USA) Turning his camera on a sinfully neglected community crisis, director Todd Ahlberg (Hooked) interviews half a dozen men who speak frankly about “Tina,” the party drug that turned them into speed freaks whose quest for never-ending (never-safe) sex decimated their lives. One Phoenix man shoots up on camera, only to later listen as his unsuspecting mother sings his praises. He vows to change, but it’s clear from the faraway look in the eyes of Meth’s recovering addicts that Tina’s a temptress for whom a wounded man never stops pining. (DGA1; Sat., July 8, 1:30 p.m.) (CW)
THE GYMNAST (USA) While writer-director Ned Farr struggles in vain to move his male characters beyond cliché, the heroine of his debut feature is an original, complex creation. A physically powerful, emotionally restrained Dreya Weber stars as Jane, a former gymnast whose midlife crisis leads her to join an aerial dance team. Slowly, she begins having romantic feelings for her female partner (Addie Yungmee), but their love story may not be as memorable as their midair duets, which find the women spinning and entwining amid dropped rolls of cloth. The sex scene is too tame, but a marvelous end-credits bonus sequence — a triumph for Weber — redeems all. (DGA1; Fri., July 14, 9:30 p.m.) (CW)
BOY CULTURE (USA) Writer-director Q. Allan Brocka’s debut feature, Eating Out, was an unbearably inane WeHo sexcapade, so it’s a happy shock that his follow-up film is sleek and assured, and practically radical in its conviction that even boy-toys have an inner life. Commanding newcomer Derek Magyar plays a reflective, high-priced Seattle prostitute known as X, who’s dodging the overtures of one roommate (Jonathon Trent) while hiding his feelings for another (Darryl Stephens). Adapted by Brocka and Philip Pierce from Matthew Rettenmund’s novel, Boy Culture is most interesting in its first half, as X wonders if falling in love means losing one’s truest self, or worse, having to get a day job. (Ford Amphitheater; Sun., July 16, 7:30 p.m.) (CW)
Outfest runs through July 17. Visit www.outfest.org for a complete schedule and additional info.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes