Eleven days of films. Eleven days of events. Eleven days of creating change. One story at a time. Outfest is the leading LGBTQ+ film festival in the nation championing diverse queer up-and-coming filmmakers. This year, the festival lasted from June 6-16, taking place in the film and TV capital, Hollywood. I was honored to be a part of this change with my short film, Bicultural, selected as a part of the Girls Shorts program. My experience at the festival exceeded my expectations, to say the least.
Outfest did not shy away from spoiling their filmmakers and industry professionals with screenings and networking events every day. It was summer camp with free drinks, food, a refreshing pool party, and - most importantly - provoking stories from around the world. With the central hub at the Director’s Guild of America, the environment exuded a warmth of passion and a spirit of acceptance. From the moment you stepped into the lounge or theatre, you knew this was an open space to be everything that you are - whether you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or straight - it was home away from home.
As a first time attendee, filmmaker, Ella Lentini celebrates how “the volunteers and hospitality team were so generous and welcoming; it was like we created this bubble - and in that bubble we’d do what we loved.” Without the avidly dedicated staff as Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Director of Programming, and the too many to name team members, OUTfest wouldn’t be the largest LGBTQ+ film festival in the nation.
From the overwhelming but inspiring films, ranging from documentaries to features to short films and web series, here are a few highlights of some stories and the filmmakers themselves.
Chaos erupts in the very first scene of Goddess, with a young girl clearly at odds with the world around her. And this would be the thread of the story with this closeted lesbian, who tempts the traditions of her Indian household, when she gives into her desire for the family maid. Director Karishma Dube affirms that “there is a palpable class war in India” and this film was an attempt to “understand issues of class and sexuality in a contemporary matriarchal household like the one I grew up in.” Dube succeeds in her effort with minimal dialogue and visual intimacy. Goddess won the Best Narrative Short award.
Deaf best friends attempt to maintain their bond as challenges in their separate romantic relationships arise. This story hit my heart unexpectedly as it not only emanated honest heartbreak but as Director, Anna Kerrigan, points out - “The Chances is a story by deaf creators, not necessarily the story.” And that’s the importance of this particular narrative series, it’s about regular people who just happen to be deaf.
From the very first scene, this rom-com captures the warmth of two enamored lesbians getting ready for their bachelorette party. With a stellar cast led by Constance Wu and a breakthrough performance by the effortlessly hilarious, Ever Mainard (Outfest winner for Best Actress), The Feels reminds us to find the comedy in the tragedy of love.
A fresh new voice comes about in this international debut feature film by Samantha Lee, a Filipino filmmaker. Like every other Asian, in America and beyond, the representation is scarce in films worldwide. Lee declares assertively that “my main driving force to make the film in the first place was that I wanted to see myself and my friends being represented on-screen.”
These are just few of the extensive awe-inspiring films in Outfest’s program this year. For a creative filmmaker as myself, this film festival is one that every aspiring artist and movie enthusiasts - wherever you are in the spectrum of sexuality - should attend. Outfest is nothing short of a supportive and nurturing home for all kinds of filmmakers.
So as this year’s theme provokes that “our stories have power,” we must continue the dialogue surrounding the stigma of LGBTQ+ folk and push for authentic representation of the underrepresented.