One of the largest film festivals in Los Angeles, Outfest has always served as not only a place to catch up on queer film from around the world but as a space of validation and the community's recognition of itself. Coming fast on the heels of New York's vote to grant marriage rights to gays and lesbians, this year's Outfest undoubtedly will have a deeper celebratory feel (and hard-core party vibe) than ever before.
Many of the films listed below, which are our recommendations based on what was made available for preview, speak directly to the issues of marriage, but also serve as a reminder of the many unconventional and inspired ways LGBT and queer folk have forged family and self.
In addition to the reviewed titles, we also recommend checking out Nao Bustamante's live performance; the "Human Resources" shorts program; the "We Who Are Sexy" panel on transgender images in film; and anniversary screenings of films like Pedro Almodovar's Law of Desire (arguably his best film), Todd Haynes' Poison (arguably his best film), Rose Troche's Go Fish, Gregg Araki's Three Bewildered People in the Night and the classic short Trevor.
3 This Berlin-based love triangle from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) consists of a prickly, brilliant woman who swims in the worlds of art and science; her art-world lover; and the male scientist with whom they both (unbeknownst to each other) begin an affair. The film employs flashbacks, angels, old film clips and fantasy sequences as conversations swirl about art, love, philosophy, death and the meaning of life. (There's also a graphic scene in which a testicle is surgically removed.) Though tackling "big issues," 3 is often very funny, taking its time to establish all three characters and their lives before diving into their three-way affair. (E.H.)
AUGUST "I think you're the devil," Jonathan (Daniel Dugan) says after he falls back into bed with Troy (Murray Bartlett), the 40-ish architect who flew off to Spain five years ago and broke Jonathan's 25-year-old heart. Now Troy is back, and although he has a loving boyfriend (Adrian Gonzalez), Jonathan can't resist Troy's bad-boy heat. For his slightly underwritten but compelling debut feature, director Eldar Rapaport has cast three absurdly handsome (and gifted) actors to play men whose head-turning good looks risk making life so easy for them that they never learn how to listen to the truth of their own hearts. (C.W.)
GUN HILL ROAD The festival's flawed but ambitious opening-night film is a coming-of-age tale in which the hero/ine, Michael/Vanessa, is not just queer but transgender, and not just transgender but of color in a working-class Latino neighborhood. Complicating things further, the teenager's homophobic father (tortured by his own demons) arrives home from prison unaware that his baby boy has started blossoming into a woman. Writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green unflinchingly tackles the myriad cultural intersections upon which Vanessa is building her identity. Though the film's ending falls flat, performances and plot twists (particularly one involving a cruel lover) make the film worthwhile viewing. (E.H.)
HABANA MUDA This documentary about Chino, a deaf Cuban man, his deaf wife and his Mexican lover (whom he wants to marry for Mexican citizenship) would fry minds at almost any time; it's especially provocative in the wake of recent gay-marriage gains. Chino is not only open about his queer relationship but has brought his lover into his household, with his wife's blessing — she even says that if he doesn't marry his lover and gain financial support that way, she'll take their young babies and leave. Needless to say, the film complicates the conversation around marriage and its emotional and material benefits. (E.H.)
HIT SO HARD A riveting look at the life of Patty Schemel, former drummer in Hole, Hard hits the requisite notes beautifully. Incorporating deftly used performance footage, insightful talking heads, ample research by the director and frank conversation from Schemel, the doc dissects how her substance abuse began and how it destroyed her life — leaving her homeless in L.A. and tricking for drugs before turning it all around. What makes the film resonate, though, is the way director P. David Ebersole uses a lesbian protagonist and her specific struggles as the filter for a discussion about large-scale political movements and cultural shifts of the '90s. (E.H.)
JAMIE AND JESSIE ARE NOT TOGETHER Jessie (Jessica London-Shields) is in love with her best friend and college roommate, Jamie (Jacqui Jackson), who's too busy bedding other women to notice Jessie's adoring stares. With Jamie about to move to New York, Jessie only has two weeks to declare her feelings. This new film by writer-director Wendy Jo Carlton occasionally requires its characters to burst into song, a motif that may charm or dismay, but the tolerant will be rewarded by a third act that allows London-Shields to shine, while also making resonant points about the fine line between admiration and love. (C.W.)
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[Critic's Pick] ROMEOS Lukas (Rick Okon) is a few months away from the surgery that will complete his transition from female to male, but in the meantime he's trying to pass as a man at a German college. To the dismay of his lesbian housemate, Lukas steers himself into the orbit of Fabio (Maximilian Befort), a hypermacho gay student who becomes Lukas' role model for all things manly. Making an assured feature debut, writer-director Sabine Bernardi never sugarcoats her hero's journey, even when the whirl of emotions and hormones within him turns Lukas into that most recognizable of men — a macho jerk.
[Critic's Pick] WEEKEND On a Friday night, young Brits Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) meet in a Nottingham bar, go back to Russell's flat, have drunken sex, then fall asleep. Saturday morning brings awkwardness, coffee and, then, a peculiar conversation starter from Glen, a budding artist. Russell, a semicloseted swimming pool lifeguard, reluctantly plays along and starts talking about what he's been feeling from the instant he first saw Glen. And so it begins — a two-day conversation that's filled with intimacy and revelation, interspersed with increasingly intense sex, a heated philosophical argument or two, and a growing awareness between the two men that they are sparking change in one another. Which is terrifying. The debut feature of writer-director Andrew Haigh, Weekend is a small, perfect thing, a likely classic, I think — and not just a gay one. (C.W.)
[Critic's Pick] WE WERE HERE It's impossible for a single film to capture the devastation wrought by AIDS, or the heroism with which many in the LGBT community responded to it. But director David Weissman's documentary is such a powerful achievement because he just about does it. Focusing on the arrival, detonation and devastation of AIDS in San Francisco (after first reminding viewers how and why the city was a queer utopia), Weissman employs standard documentary tools — stock footage, home movies, smart talking heads — to wonderful effect. It's that last component that makes the film: Armed with just their voices, wit, humor and memories, the film's interviewees break your heart with their stories. (E.H.)
OUTFEST 2011: THE 29TH LOS ANGELES GAY AND LESBIAN FILM FESTIVAL | July 7-17 | DGA Theater, REDCAT, Sunset 5 and other venues around L.A. | Screening times and location information at outfest.org