Outfest celebrated its fortieth anniversary this year with an incredible festival of films. I hope that the Los Angeles-based festival continues to do a hybrid of in-person and virtual in order to give people across the country access to some features and short films they might not be able to find otherwise. This year, I saw 66 films (a lot of shorts programs), and I present to you my favorite 21 from this year’s crop.
Lou is a young girl who lacks the parental guidance when it comes to new milestones, and she seeks the help of June, her teacher who happens to be trans. When Lou discovers that she is beginning her first period, she looks to Lou for help, and a dual coming-of-age occurs. June takes Lou to the drugstore to show her the process of buying pads or tampons, but June hasn’t had this experience herself. Both find sympathy in one another and Naomi Cubero’s film is earnest, sweet, and matter-of-fact.
20. The Bower
History doesn’t repeat itself as much as it lays over one another in Marco Alessi’s beautiful short, The Bower. 1991 and 2021 run parallel as we see a group of queer men living through fabulous defiance as a memory as a flower shop owner consoles and comforts a newly HIV positive person in the present. The Bower features a wonderful performance from Sharon D. Clarke, and the line, “There will be an after…and you will thrive there” is a timeless quote that burns brightly as a mantra and prayer.
19. Tank Fairy
Color and glitter explode in the raucous short, Tank Fairy. Young Jojo is in the need for inspiration and verve, but his mother doesn’t know how much her son just wants to play with all the colors of the crayon box. When he sees the fabulous Tank Fairy (a female gas supplier in an industry dominated by men), Jojo is given permission to put on a pair of heels and strut as fiercely as he’s always dreamed of. Tank Fairy is a musical feast that proves that every expression is nothing to be worried about.
18. Three Headed Beast
Sensuality sweats through Three Headed Beast, a nearly silent film from directors Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh. Peter and Nina have been in a relationship for eight years, and they have been open for almost half of it. Peter begins a relationship with Alex, a young man who realizes he wants something deeper with someone. By using visual cues and clever editing Andrés and Rugh showcase how relationships have the power to ebb and flow no matter if they are new or old. There are several sequences where we see all three people leading their separate lives before coming together, and the ending leave us with a satisfying ellipsis.
17. Foreign Uncle
Sining brings his first boyfriend, Patrick, to meet his family in China, but Sining doesn’t reveal that they are lovers. He wants to have his mother like him as a friend before, maybe down the line, dropping the bomb that he and his roommate are in a committed relationship. Sining’s young nephew, Naonao, takes an easy and immediately shine to Patrick, and this film is warm, sweet, and hopeful. Children are taught to hate those who are different than themselves, but Foreign Uncle combats that with love and kindness.
16. F^⊄K ‘€m R!ght B@⊄K
The energy that exudes from life-affirming. Pursuing an artistic dream is never easy, especially when you have a hateful boss at your day job, and she just wants to see you fail. When Sammy discovers that he accidentally ate some weed butter, his friends tells him to chug as much water as possible in order to avoid testing positive on a drug test. Sammy doesn’t partake to begin with, but he knows that his boss will shove a test in his face the minute he returns to work. His employer, Yolanda, is more than happy to snatch any of Sammy’s remaining paid leave, but he needs that for his upcoming rap tour. This short has P-E-R-S-O-N-A-L-I-T-Y to spare and the soundtracks bumps in your ears.
Even though we commemorated the six year anniversary of the Pulse massacre earlier this summer, it feels more present than ever with the abundance of gun violence in this country. Maris Curran’s documentary focuses on survivor Jeannette Feliciano and how she, as a competitive bodybuilder, trains her body, mind, and soul to deal with the trauma. It’s an intimate film with a lot of relatable anger and fear, and Curran’s film brings a humanity to the plight of those picking up the pieces. For a full review, check out other Outfest coverage.
The summer sun heats up the ennui in Tij Doyen’s macabre, stylish short, Lollygag. A young woman spies on the activities of her hot neighbor as he lounges by the pool. She is drawn to his body and how he sleeps with both men and women, but maybe she also just wants to be a participant instead of a voyeur? It’s a dreary, sun-kissed film about isolation and leaning into our instincts. And not letting your summer pass you by without you taking part.
Mental illness takes a horrifying and specific turn in Addison Heimann’s dark film. Zach Villa plays Will, a ceramist who begins to have physical ailments and visions of a monstrous, human-sized wolf. His doctors insist it is his mind affecting his body, but Will suspects it has something to do with his mother who has been trying to get in contact from a mental institution. Has Will inherited his mother’s paranoid schizophrenia, or are there dark forces trying to invade his brain? For a full review, check out more Outfest coverage.
12. New Moon
Colman Domingo lends his voice and likeness to this dreamy, gorgeous tribute to his mother. Jay Jay sits on his front porch with his mother, Edie, as they gaze up at the stars and she encourages him to see everything he can. “Travel the world, baby,” she tells him. With swaths of sky and gorgeous dark blue colors, New Moon is a salute to Black motherhood and enduring power and hope for sons everywhere. It’s gorgeous.
11. A Fox in the Night
Sometimes a flirtation and sexual charge can change your perspective on yourself, especially when you don’t anticipate it. Director Keeran Anwar Blessie also stars as Lewis, a South Londoner who makes a pit stop to buy some weed from a guy he has never met. Korey Ryan’s Daniel isn’t bothered by Lewis’ leather beret or pearl accessories, and the two begin to chat. Blessie and Ryan have palpable, undeniable chemistry, and A Fox in the Night is elusive, sweet, and unexpectedly sexy and affirming.
A mother will do anything for her child even when she doesn’t always have the best financial means to make every dream come true immediately. Carlie Guevera’s Maria is on the verge of losing her daughter, Alex, to child services. It doesn’t help matters when Maria is evicted and she is having trouble finding something other than her dead-end dishwashing gig. Alex is obsessed with space, and Maria distracts her daughter from focusing on sleeping in the car by imagining that it’s a spaceship or rocket communicating with mission control. It’s somber, but deeply felt, and Guevera carries a scrappy, magnetic charge throughout.
Normally, you wouldn’t want your neighbors to hear you have sex, but what if they took an interest in your emotional well-being as well? The Troy in question happens to bang men all day and all night, and it can be a distraction for Charlie and Thea, Troy’s neighbors. When Troy’s boyfriend finds out that he’s been having sex with his massage clients, he leaves the hunk behind and Charlie and Thea become overly involved in observing the mend of Troy’s heart. Many sitcoms have aired episodes where our leads get involved in overhearing the business of those through their thin walls, but Mike Donahue’s short is a charming glimpse at true emotional allyship. The next time you hear your neighbors going at it, don’t be so harsh to bang on the wall.
8. All Man: The International Male Story
If you were lucky enough to flip through the glossy pages of International Male, you might have had something confirmed to you at a young age. Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed’s film lovingly looks back at the gorgeous men and the peculiar fashions that packed the pages of the catalog that served as a haven for closeted queer people in the 1980s. The smallest of gestures–like a catalog packed with gorgeous male models–can combat fear. For a full review, check out more Outfest coverage.
Dana Aliya Levinson makes a deep impression as Shira Rose, a trans woman who supports herself by committing petty credit card fraud. When she connects with the handsome André (the handsome Babak Tafti), Shira Rose comes to realize that she is not alone in this game, and that romance and thievery can live deliciously side by side. Director Zen Pace has created a film that is elusive in tone, and we can’t help by chase it. It’s romance, thrill ride, and caper all rolled into one.
6. Anything’s Possible
Billy Porter’s light and frothy Anything’s Possible romance is both a throwback and revelatory at the same time. Kelsa (Eva Reign) is a confident and proud young trans woman who finds herself attracted to her classmate Khal, played by Abubakr Ali. At first, Kelsa’s friend Em (Courtnee Carter) has eyes for Khal, but he only sees Kelsa, and their courtship causes a stir for the duration of their senior year together. Romantic comedies seem like things of the past, but Porter and screenwriter Ximena García Lecuona bring up important subjects without weighing down the comedic aspects to the film. It’s beautifully balanced, and it takes on themes of performative allyship and how a lot of straight men are attracted to trans women. Renée Elise Goldsberry adds another strong performance as Kelsa’s supportive mom, Selene. Not only does Porter deliver a charming debut, but Anything’s Possible is also a love letter to Pittsburgh.
5. Unidentified Objects
A lot of queer people feel like they don’t belong or otherworldly. Or other people make them feel that way. Sarah Hay’s Winona needs the help of Matthew Jeffers’ Peter to visit the spot where she was abducted by aliens the first time. A snappy recluse, Peter reluctantly agrees to accompany Winona on the promise that she will pay him for the use of his late friend’s pink SUV. Peter has mentally locked himself away as Winona is reaching out for another connection. The juxtaposition of these two ways of life is captured beautifully by director Juan Felipe Zuleta, and watching their defenses come down for one another is very satisfying. Jeffers rightfully won the Grand Jury Prize for Outstanding Performance in a North American Narrative Feature. For a full review, check out more Outfest coverage.
The ping of Grindr and images of a muscle stud in a cowboy hat in the first few moments of Craig Boreham’s film inform you of the hyper-sexual ride you are about to take in Lonesome. Josh Lavery’s Casey runs away Sydney after an outrageous scandal, and he begins spending time with Tib, a handyman who offers Casey a warm bed and companionship. The natural habit for men to hide their emotions is confronted throughout Casey and Tib’s tumultuous relationship. As Tib, Daniel Gabriel exudes an easy confidence while retaining an impish charm. Lavery is also a huge find. With his rosy cheeks, pouty lips, and defined chest, his Casey is a Gus Van Sant mirage come to life.
3. North Star
Colman Domingo returns to our list as a man doing everything in his power to maintain the dignity of him and his partner, played by Malcolm Gets. Domingo’s James spends most of his days working solo on the ranch that he shares with his ailing partner. It’s haunting to see one man among such beautiful landscape. His partner’s sister, Erin, will occasionally stop by to help her brother, but she also spouts religious banter and doesn’t acknowledge the love between these two men. According to her, her God doesn’t now recognize the love between James and Craig. There is determination and resilience here from Domingo, and director PJ Palmer reminds us that we can maintain that dignity as we fight for our space in this world.
2. Art and Pep
COVID shuttered many small businesses and queer spaces, but Chicago’s legendary Sidetrack thankfully survived. What I thought was going to be a simple love story about Art Johnston and Pepe Peña turned out to be a rich journey back in time. As we gain more traction with queer and gay rights, we must always be on the alert that they can be taken away. Johnston and Peña detail opening the bar with no sign out front, battling homophobic police officers who offered no protection, and surviving the AIDS crisis. There is something so beautiful about hearing our history from the people who not only lived through it but thrived. We must celebrate those who not only paved the way but admirably took charge of their own happiness. We would only be so lucky to not only share a love like the one between Johnston and Peña, but also to live a life as full as theirs.
Are you and your best Judy as close as you think? If a dramatic shift came about, would you be able to evolve and adapt with it? When Chrissy (Wyatt Fenner) tells Judy (director Todd Flaherty) that he is moving in with his boyfriend and away from New York City, Judy begins a slow spiral out of control. The pair of friends have a drag cabaret act together, so Judy feels abandoned on multiple fronts. We often think of breakup stories being associated with romance, but what about friendship? As we grow out of our twenties and into adulthood, we discover what we truly want and, sometimes, our friends don’t keep up with us. There is pain in maturing that we don’t talk about but Chrissy Judy crashes head-on into how hilarious and tragic losing half of your heart can be. Todd Flaherty is a creative to watch, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. For a full review, check out more Outfest coverage.