The 28th Outfest Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival kicks off July 8. We've noted some of our favorite films from their pleasingly potent lineup below. Screening info can be found at outfest.org.
COLONIAL GODS (USA) Dee Rees' short Pariah made a huge splash at Outfest in 2007. She proves she was no fluke with the exquisite Colonial Gods, playing in both the Fusion and the International Male shorts programs this year. Set in Cardiff, Wales, the film tracks the relationship between a middle-aged immigrant who's a revered community activist, and the newly arrived young immigrant he helps settle in. Grittily beautiful images are used to illuminate and underscore connections between issues of immigration, gentrification, racism and homophobia, but the film finally hinges on a more wrenching politic: the heartbreaking terms of loyalty and betrayal between friends. (Ernest Hardy)
EVENING DRESS (France) Twelve-year-old Julietta's crush on her sexy female teacher fuels the girl's scholastic life; that she's the top student in her class curries attention from the object of her affection. But when a cute, not-so-smart boy in her class receives the flirtatious energy Julietta craves, she goes into meltdown — first falling into debilitating depression, then leveling accusations that make a spectacular mess of her life. Writer-director Myriam Aziza is fantastically attuned to the psychological workings of both Julietta and the teacher, whose sexual vibes are intercepted by an unintended recipient, with painful consequences for both. (E.H.)
GROWN UP MOVIE STAR (USA) No one expects being 17 to be simple, but life is getting over-the-top complicated for Ruby (Tatiana Maslany, amazing), a small-town Canadian girl whose drug-addled mom has run off to Hollywood to become a star, and whose perpetually perplexed father (Shawn Doyle) may be in love with the high school gym teacher (a guy). What makes this debut feature from writer-director Adriana Maggs so compelling is the assurance with which she piles on those layers of complexity. For her knockout performance, Maslany won this year's Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Breakout Performance. (Chuck Wilson)
HOOTERS (USA) Cutaways to and skits starring filmmaker Anna Margarita Albelo are self-indulgent, but her documentary on the making of Cheryl Dunye's film The Owls is riveting. Documenting Owls from its workshop phase to the final day of shooting, Hooters is dense with questions (on the construction of gender and the responsibility of queer artists in representing the community) and battles (generation gaps and on-set tensions). The folks on-screen (ranging from Guinevere Turner to Sarah Schulman) are smart, funny and sometimes just bitchy — a tribute to Albelo's skill in fostering trust and intimacy that impels her subjects to give her no-holds-barred access. (E.H.)
LE TIGRE: ON TOUR (USA) Director Kerthy Fix's behind-the-scenes documentary on the final tour of electro-punk cult darlings Le Tigre is a low-budget but captivating celebration. As the group fuses unapologetically feminist, pro-queer politics into its art, Fix makes it clear that it's all of a single piece. There's ample performance footage (collected from around the world) that demonstrates the trio's mastery of the concert stage, but it's listening to them wittily, insightfully hold court, in talking-head mode and in conversation, on the politics of art, gender and sexuality, and representation that will make you swoon. And JD Samson is one sexy muthafucka. (E.H.)
A MARINE STORY (USA) For their first film since winning the 2006 Outfest Audience Award for The Gymnast, writer-director Ned Farr and his wife, actress Dreya Weber, have made a huge artistic leap forward. Weber plays Alexandra, a Marine major who leaves the military and returns to her Mojave Desert hometown. She's soon involved in the lives of the locals, none of whom know the real reason Alexandra left the Marines. While her secret doesn't surprise, what is revelatory is the mature intelligence of Farr's screenplay, and the fascinating, subtle beauty of Weber's portrayal of a woman who's been holding herself within for so long that she can barely breathe. (C.W.)
PLAN B (Argentina) In order to get his ex-girlfriend back, Bruno befriends and seduces her current boyfriend with hopes of destroying the new relationship, but he doesn't factor the possibility of his own sexual equilibrium being thrown off-kilter. Writer-director Marco Berger shrewdly and winningly tweaks the bromance phenomenon, here bringing the queerness of the male-bonding connection front and center. Plan moves at a leisurely pace but stokes sexual tension so thick you can cut it, and the sexily scruffy lead actors make you care about their characters. Unfortunately, those characters and Berger are cavalier with the feelings of the woman in the middle. (E.H.)
ROLE/PLAY (USA) In the new film from writer-director Rob Williams (Make the Yuletide Gay), two men (real-life partners Steve Callahan and Matthew Montgomery) meet at a Palm Springs resort. They take an instant dislike to each other, have sex anyway, and then do something radical … they talk! Callahan and Montgomery, both indie film vets, occasionally stand self-consciously before one another, yet, when their characters get naked, slide into bed and begin talking, the actors visibly relax, as if they're finally home. Their conversations, about love, age and fame, prove to be as diverting as their frequent nudity. (C.W.)
STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS (USA) Singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt's most famous record is 69 Love Songs, the dazzling three-disc set released by his band the Magnetic Fields in 1999. In this enlightening documentary by Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara, Merritt reveals that most of those songs were written during the day in New York gay bars, where he'd sit taking notes while dance music thumped around him. The filmmakers revel in such details, as during a marvelous early sequence in which band mate Claudia Gonson turns Merritt's demonstrative hand bangs, foot taps and shoulder shrugs into musical notes on a page. Such is the process of netting genius. (C.W.)
THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS (New Zealand) Jools and Lynda Topp, the “yodeling lesbian twins from New Zealand,” have been beloved in their native land for decades, first for their comedy-tinged country music, then for their political activism, and later, for the satirical characters they portray on and off the stage, including “Ken & Ken,” two sheep farmers who dress like hit men and offer wry commentary on the Topp Twins. Filmmaker Leanne Pooley lovingly interweaves concert footage with archival material of the sisters' astonishing activist history, as well as interviews with their awestruck fans, including musician Billy Bragg and the prime minister of New Zealand. The Topps are pure joy. (C.W.)
UNDERTOW (Peru/Colombia/France/Germany) Javier Fuentes-Leon's Undertow is sublime. Set in a small Peruvian fishing village, it's the story of a married fisherman who insists he's not “that way” despite being in love with a male painter with whom he's having a clandestine affair. When the painter dies, the fisherman is forced to own up to his love in a public way that will likely mark him as an outsider forever. Fuentes-Leon's visuals are poetic but it's his nuanced handling of the layers of the affair — respecting the POV of the fisherman, the painter and the heartbroken wife — that is most impressive. Bring Kleenex. (E.H.)
Also recommended: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister; From Beginning to End; Forever's Gonna Start Tonight.