Outfest, the Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival, returns this weekend with a gorgeous lineup of over 200 films from around the world. Here’s some highlights…
Lovingly produced by 50 trans actors and crew members, Flavio Alves’ brilliant character study THE GARDEN LEFT BEHIND garnered fierce acclaim at SXSW in March, where it took home the Audience Award in the Visions program. Talented newcomer Carlie Guevara nails her debut as Tina, a young, Mexican trans woman living with her grandmother (Miriam Cruz) in New York City. It’s not always an easy watch, but it’s made with heart and the ending will haunt you for days. Shout-out to trans allies Ed Asner and Michael Madsen (who knew??) for showing up in cameos as a therapist and a bar owner.
A pair of films about twinks having a rough time on the apps both offer a voyeuristic look inside the world of online hookup culture. The stronger of the two, Samuel Van Grisman’s bold and sexy debut SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM, follows a kinda dead-inside Australian teenager (Conor Leach) from tryst to tryst, eventually leading to a volatile stalker situation…and maybe love? Austrian director Gregor Schmidinger’s relentlessly stylish NEVRLAND introduces Jakob (Simon Frühwirth), a 17-year-old meat processor with crippling anxiety. A late-night Chatroulette encounter with a slightly older and mysterious model-type (Paul Forman) leads to a hallucinatory freakout that plays like a Berghain-influenced version of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
A Chinese mother joins a cult after discovering her husband’s homosexual love affair in Lisa Zi Xiang’s tense and claustrophobic family drama A DOG BARKING AT THE MOON.Beautifully acted and filled with elegant static shots, it won a special prize from the jury at Berlinale’s Teddy Awards in February. Another Teddy winner, Santiago Loza’s melancholic road movie BRIEF STORY FROM THE GREEN PLANET, takes an Argentine trans woman Tania (Romania Escobar) on a mission to return her dead grandmother’s bff, who just happens to be an alien, back to its place of origin. The moody four-minute introduction is one of the finest sequences of the year.
Queer coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen, but one Sundance favorite transcends the crowded genre. Set against the turbulent backdrop of Mexico City in the 1980’s, Hari Sama’s THIS IS NOT BERLIN traces the sexual and political awakening of seventeen-year-old outcast Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León). Although the narrative meanders at times, it’s an immersive exploration of sexual identity, class politics and new-wave club culture. Oscar-nominee Marina de Tavira (from Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma) also makes a small but memorable appearance.
On a lighter tip, writer-director James Sweeney’s hilarious relationship comedy STRAIGHT UP received a well-deserved standing ovation last month at Frameline. Sweeney also stars as Todd, a sex-phobic, kinda-gay man (“I wish I didn’t have any holes.”) who falls for Rory (Katie Findlay), an equally neurotic straight woman. The pace is zippy, the dialogue super-sharp, and the lead actors have tons of sexless millennial chemistry.
Over in the documentary section, the uproarious KATHY GRIFFIN: A HELL OF A STORY places viewers directly in the massive blowback of the infamous Trump-mask moment. Tom Shepard’s urgent and timely UNSETTLED follows four LGBTQ refugees through the confusing maze of bureaucracy in Trump’s America. In GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH, David Charles Rodrigues accompanies the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they boldly embark on a tour of some of the nation’s more closed-minded areas. Shot over three years around NYC’s Christopher Street Pier, Elegance Bratton’s raw and moving PIER KIDS documents a handful of vulnerable queer and trans kids of color. Graham Kolbein’s informative and wildly entertaining QUEER JAPAN offers a kaleidoscopic travelogue of the country’s ever-evolving LGBTQ scene. Queens with great taste should attend the 20th anniversary screening of DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, as well as Jeffrey McHale’s YOU DON’T NOMI, an intellectual dissection of Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 trash masterpiece SHOWGIRLS.
Click here for tickets and the full lineup