My first experience with Outfest was last year when the pandemic changed everyone’s plans. The Los Angeles based LGBTQIA film festival succeeded in providing its audience with a huge array of films to get us through the summer months of the first year of the pandemic, and the organization has succeeded again with a hybrid of in-person and virtual showing of incredible queer content.
I wish I could’ve included everything on my list this year, but I slimmed it down from 20 to 10 entries. Honorable mentions include the sweaty and hypnotic The Novice (with an incredibly driven performance from Isabelle Fuhrman). The Night Train is a sexy encounter that will do for oranges what Call Me By Your Name did for peaches. Homebody features an incredibly physical performance from Colby Minife. I loved how documentary Baloney showed he vigilance of a queer cabaret trying to get back on its feet after being hit hard from the pandemic.
Nicky Miller’s explicit short makes a wonderful companion to the queer undertones of Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. A bushy-bearded fisherman is trying his luck at the water’s edge when he begins getting cruised by a mysterious stranger. They enter the water and more men suddenly appear like the fisherman is being swarmed by a predator. It’s a graphic, pulse-pounding encounter that leaves you with an erotic and dangerous electric charge.
We don’t often get queer wartime stories, but Firebird is a handsomely made, accomplished love story. Sergey (Tom Prior, who also shares a co-writing credit with Peeter Rebane) is eager for his military service to end, but he immediately finds himself drawn to a pilot named Roman, played by Oleg Zagorodnii. A triangle forms between them and Sergey’s friend, Luisa, when she becomes involved with Roman. Prior and Zagorodnii achieve a surprisingly palpable chemistry even when their characters cannot voice their affections for one another, and Prior’s youthful nature is an easy gateway into this Cold War love story. It’s gorgeous and heartbreaking.
8. Jump, Darling
I was so wary to watch Phil Connell’s drama not because of the content or the story but because it is the final performance from the legendary Cloris Leachman. Leachman is such a comedic force in so many films–and in real life–and she brings such a measured authenticity to this subtle drama about an up-and-coming drag queen trying to find his place in the world. Thomas Duplessie’s Russell finds himself at his grandmother’s house after he suddenly leaves his boyfriend, and she welcomes him as every grandmother should, but her declining health gives her grandson pause. Leachman and Duplessie have an earnest chemistry with one another, and the circumstances surrounding her character only make her death resonate more.
7. Pool Boy
My favorite narrative short was an easy choice. There is that saying where straight men aren’t scared of who they sleep with but what their friends think about it comes center stage in writer-director Luke Willis’ film, Pool Boy. Austin is spending his summer break lounging by the pool and working out. Every day he talks with Star, his family’s non-binary pool cleaner, and the more they chat, the deeper Austin’s feelings grow. Tim Torre is the textbook definition of an all-American jock, and Willis’ film is a simply plotted and incredibly moving. This is more than a meet cute–it’s a fantastic step towards more nonbinary romantic stories.
6. Boulevard! A Hollywood Story
Boulevard! A Hollywood Story takes a look back before Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway smash production of Sunset Boulevard. I had no idea that Gloria Swanson worked on an original musical adaptation of the Academy Award winning film, and this documentary is a must-see for Old Hollywood and musical aficionados alike. After Swanson achieved success with Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, she could never truly let Norma Desmond go. She enlisted the help of composer Dickson Hughes and actor Richard Stapley in the creation of a new musical but unexpected emotions get in the way of the musical’s success. Director Jeffrey Schwarz doesn’t blame anyone for the show’s failure–like many projects, it simply doesn’t work out. The film goes beyond the typical behind-the-scenes drama and leaves us with some sad details of the final days of Swanson, Stapley, and Hughes.
5. Trade Center
As the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 looms, Adam Baran honors the iconic, fallen tower in an unexpected way. Using narration from men who cruised restrooms and dark corners of the skyscraper back in the 1980s and 1990s, he has created a sexual artifact with a tangible longing. A lot of queer people hold their sexuality very close to their identity, and cruising spots are just as important to honor to signify that we hold a place in history.
4. See You Then
Meeting up with your ex-partner always comes with a lot of baggage, but Naomi and Kris aren’t prepared for the powder keg that erupts when they reunite. Naomi and Kris haven’t seen each other for more than ten years, and they spend their night walking around and having drinks as they talk about their lives, their relationships, and Kris’ transition. The tone of Mari Walker’s film is easy and light even when it goes to personal territory, but the end is an emotional sledgehammer that I was not expecting. The performances from Pooya Mohseni and Lynn Chen are dynamite.
3. Gemmel & Tim
Michiel Thomas’ documentary will anger you for how it depicts Ed Buck’s complete disregard for the Black men he lures into his home. You should be angry. In only 91 minutes, Thomas mashes together a true crime story and a memorial piece of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean, two very different men who died at the hands of a man with a blatant disregard for their wellbeing. A lot of films would buckle under the weight of so much story, but Thomas paces his film so briskly that you find yourself on the edge of your seat as you mourn the men who were lost. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year.
2. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
I might be biased because I am a huge fan of the original musical, and I could watch drag queen videos on YouTube on a continuous loop until I die. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a different kind of boy meets girl story because it’s about a 16 year old who yearns to be on stage as a successful drag queen. Jamie New’s life was originally chronicled in the 2011 TV documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 and the musical debuted on the West End in 2017. Jamie (here played by newcomer, Max Harwood) is aching for attention from his distant father as much as he longs for the stage, but his supportive mother, played by Sarah Lancashire, is wary. It’s incredible to learn that this is Harwood’s first starring role in anything, and Richard E. Grant provides strong support as Loco Chanelle, a queen who becomes Jamie’s mentor. It teaches tolerance and acceptance but then tosses some sequins and glitter as it sashays away. I could watch this movie over and over again.
1. Potato Dreams of America
Did you watch last year’s Jojo Rabbit and wonder what the gay version would be like? Potato (Tyler Babcock) and his mother, Lena (Marya Sea Kaminski) watch pirated American movies and dream of a better life away from the USSR. That dream becomes a harsh reality when Lena excitedly becomes a mail-order bride and she and Potato attempt to understand the American dream. Oh, and Potato’s confidante is an effeminate Jesus played by Jonathan Bennett. There is a wholesome, diorama quality to Wes Hurley’s autobiographical film. The storybook tone doesn’t undercut the emotions or stakes but allows it to be a nimble story of identity and the survival of a mother and son. Potato is sly, wickedly funny, and winning. The emotions sneak up on you. I loved this movie.