Robert Cary's Save Me, the story of a substance-abusing gay man who attempts to be cured of both his addiction and his homosexuality, will open the 25th Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which kicks off this evening at the Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles.
Eleven days and 235 features and shorts later – mostly at the Directors Guild in West Hollywood – the festival will come to a close with a screening of C. Jay Cox's Kiss the Bride (top), the first film to emerge from Outfest's screenwriting lab. Written by Ty Lieberman, this romantic comedy, which sounds like a gay variation of My Best Friend's Wedding, stars James O'Shea as a young man about to marry Tori Spelling, when a former boyfriend (Phillip Kramer) reappears in his life to rescue him from a fate worse than death – heterosexual marriage.
Director C. Jay Cox, by the way, is the creator of Latter Days, a wildly uneven – but somehow quite affecting – love story involving a flaming party boy and a saintly Mormon missionary (how the poor guy suffers) that was very popular in the gay film festival circuit a few years ago.
Christianity and anti-gay bigotry, in fact, will be prominently featured at this year's festival via the five-film series "Queers in Christ."
"Each year I look for the major theme of the festival and this year, without a doubt, it was the intersection of religion and homosexuality – and more specifically the volatile intersection between Christianity and homosexuality," David Courier, Outfest's co-director of programming told the Los Angeles Times. "We received so many films that spoke to this theme."
"If people think this series is controversial," Courier added, "that's awesome as far as I'm concerned. Controversy breeds consciousness and action."
I personally find the "queer cinema" concept a complete turn off – partly because of the "queer" label partly because of the ghettoization of art and culture – but despite the unfortunate "Queers in Christ" title the films in the series sound promising. They are:
- Daniel Karslake's For the Bible Tells Me So, which features interviews with Christian families with gay or lesbian members. Will they be allowed into heaven?
- Todd Holland's The Believers, a documentary about the world's first transgender gospel choir.
- David Lewis' Rock Haven, about a Christian man (Sean Hoagland, above) who, after moving to the Sonoma coast in Northern California, falls for his hunky neighbor (Owen Alabado). What to do when faith, love, and lust collide?
- Robert Nunez's We're All Angels, which follows two pop musicians who happen to be gay, lovers, and evangelical Christians.
- The aforementioned Save Me. Written by Craig Chester, Alan Hines, and Robert Desiderio, Save Me stars Chad Allen as a man whose life – lots of drugs, lots of sex with multiple partners – takes an ugly dive that eventually lands him at an "ex-gay" ministry. Things don't go quite as planned when Allen's character becomes much too attached to another ex-gay-in-the-making, played by Robert Gant.
(In the Los Angeles Times, Lisa Rosen remarks that "in a sign of the slowly but surely changing times, Save Me has additional crowd appeal in that two of its leads, Allen and Gant, are openly gay – still a relative rarity for Hollywood actors." I'm assuming that Rosen's use of the word "relative" was a joke.)
Another special screening will be that of Bill Sherwood's recently restored Parting Glances, the first such project conducted by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in partnership with Outfest. Sherwood's 1986 drama about two former lovers – one of whom is dying of AIDS – was much admired upon its release, and is now considered a classic of sorts. (Ever the contrarian, I was utterly unimpressed by the film.)
Also, director-writer Bill Condon will receive the 2007 Outfest Achievement Award, and three days later his Dreamgirls will be screened at the Ford Amphitheatre as this year's Sing-Along event. I'll definitely skip that one.
And finally, a festival highlight is sure to be Eytan Fox's The Bubble (right), which was screened at the Toronto Film Festival last year. The Bubble – the term refers to Tel Aviv – follows the travails of two lovers, one Jewish, the other Palestinian. Ohad Knoller, one of the two soldier lovers in Fox's touching Yossi & Jagger is one of the film's leads.
Founded by volunteers on the UCLA campus in 1982, Outfest has grown to become one of the largest gay & lesbian film festivals in the world. Approximately 50,000 attendees are expected this year.
See below a list of the festival's gala/special screenings and programs, taken from the Outfest press release:
Closing Night Gala Screening - "Kiss the Bride"
The Closing Night Gala will return to the Orpheum on July 23 at 8:00PM with the world premiere of the first film to be completed from the Outfest Screenwriting Lab. Written by and directed by "Latter Days" director C. Jay Cox' "Kiss the Bride" is a hilarious comedy of past meets present, Matt (Phillip Kramer) learns that his old sweetheart Ryan (James O'Shea) is about to get married to Alex (Tori Spelling) and returns to rescue him.
Outfest Legacy Project Gala - "Parting Glances" (Restoration World Premiere)
The first feature film to be restored by the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation—a collaboration between Outfest and the UCLA Film & Television Archive – is among the most beloved LGBTQ films of the last 25 years, "Parting Glances." Bill Sherwood's warm, moving debut had a big impact of the burgeoning indie film scene of the mid '80's. The 1986 film established itself in the hearts of gay moviegoers and launched the career of Steve Buscemi. After AIDS claimed Sherwood in 1990, "Parting Glances" faced the limbo and deterioration to which many queer, indie films are consigned, but the Outfest Legacy Project has created fresh 35mm prints from the original Super 16mm, restored the soundtrack, and saved this timeless
piece of film history.
Dramatic Centerpiece - "Shelter"
On Wednesday, July 18th at 8:30PM, The Ford Amphitheatre will showcase Outfest's Dramatic Centerpiece, "Shelter", writer/director Jonah Markowitz's first feature produced by Outfest sponsor here! Network. In "Shelter", Zach is a dead-end surfer kid stuck supporting his family, when he starts hanging with Shaun (played by Brad Rowe of "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss") and the two become lovers, forcing him to choose between supporting his family and pursuing his own dreams.
Documentary Centerpiece - "For the Bible Tells Me So"
"For the Bible Tells Me So" is the Documentary Centerpiece for the festival and will screen at the DGA on July 17 at 7:30PM. Filmmaker Daniel Karslake explores the way religious conservatives have misled the public into believing the Bible forbids homosexuality through the unfolding of five moving stories of Christian families with gay or lesbian members, including the Gephardts, and the reflections of major Biblical scholars.
With "Save Me", "For the Bible Tells Me So" forms the cornerstone of this year's "Queers in Christ" series, a collection of accomplished films that explore the hot topic of sexual identity and religion. "The Believers" – a documentary about a transgender gospel choir—"Rock Haven" and "We're All Angels" round out the series.
Awards Night Screening - "Itty Bitty Titty Committee"
Director Jamie Babbit's ("But I'm a Cheerleader") satirical romantic comedy "Itty Bitty Titty Committee" completes Outfest's gala programming as the Awards Night screening. Imbued with riot grrrl spirit and an indie rock soundtrack, "Itty Bitty…" takes a journey through feminist subculture when uninformed Anna, played by Melanie Diaz (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints), is seduced away from her older girlfriend ("Thirtysomething's" Melanie Mayron) by femme anarchist Sadie, played by Nicole Vicius of Half Nelson. The Awards Night Gala will take place at the Ford Amphitheatre on Sunday, July 22 at 7:30PM.
Outfest Panel Discussions
This year's panel discussions are both star-studded and thought-provoking. "Brothers & Sisters: We are Family" brings together the executive producer Ken Olin, creator Jon Robin Baitz, story editor David Marshall Grant, and award-winning cast members Sally Field and Rachel Griffiths to discuss the groundbreaking hit ABC show "Brothers & Sisters". "Ugly Betty" creator Silvio Horta, executive producer Marco Pennette, plus cast members will discuss fish-out-of-water cross over comedy in "Ugly Betty: Is a Beautiful Thing."