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Outfest Festival LA (12 – 22 July 2018)

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This was my first year attending Outfest and I’m so glad I did. I only got to see four films this year, but hope to increase that in 2019. I’m going to tell you about the films I saw and highlight four films from the festival I’m looking forward to seeing as soon as I can. Exactly 50% of these eight films are directed by women, which I know shouldn’t be notable in 2018, but unfortunately still is worth highlighting.

Founded by UCLA students in 1982, Outfest is the leading organization that promotes LGBTQ equality by creating, sharing and protecting LGBTQ stories on the screen. Outfest builds community by connecting diverse populations to discover, discuss and celebrate stories of LGBTQ lives. Over the past three decades Outfest has showcased thousands of films from around the world, educated and mentored hundreds of emerging filmmakers and protected more than 20,000 LGBTQ films and videos.

We the Animals (dir. Jeremiah Zagar)

This was selected as the US centrepiece of the festival after winning the NEXT Innovator Award at Sundance and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for best US narrative feature at Outfest.

We the Animals is the tale of three brothers in upstate New York who grow up amongst poverty and neglect. Their young parents have a volatile relationship, leading to their father (played by Looking’s Raul Castillo) leaving and returning more than once. The youngest of the three brothers, Jonah (an incredibly naturalistic performance from Evan Rosado) is the protagonist, and he stands out as being quieter and more sensitive than his brothers. He has a diary hidden under the mattress he shares with them, which he secretly adds to at night. He uses more pictures than words to express himself and these pictures come to stunning life in the form of hand-drawn animation. The cinematography is beautiful and the distress of their circumstances is juxtaposed with the wonder of the scenery that surrounds them. The subject-matter is only tangentially related to the LGBTQ community, with subtle hints that Jonah is gay. I have a feeling this is more central to the book it is based on; a semi-autobiographical work by Justin Torres. However, masculinity is certainly a theme of the film, examining the influence of the sometimes violent father on the three boys. I really loved this film; I thought it was tender, vulnerable, thoughtful and had astonishing performances, particularly from the children.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wild Nights with Emily (dir. Madeleine Olnek)

This was a Ford Theater Under The Stars screening, so it had a lovely setting as well as being a lovely film.

This is a very different style of biographical period film, in this case of the poet Emily Dickinson. We recently had A Quiet Passion with the same subject-matter, but the two films are poles apart. Director Olnek has thoroughly researched Dickinson and examined her letters, and she has unearthed a little-known side to Dickinson’s life. Dickinson has been portrayed as a miserable spinster recluse in the past, but Olnek reveals that she, in fact, had a long and passionate love affair with her brother’s wife, Susan. As well as the actual plot being somewhat shocking, the style and tone of the film is completely refreshing; it is a hilarious comedy, but has tender and dramatic moments also. It reminded me of two recent films which, on the surface, appear to have nothing in common – I, Tonya and American Animals. All three deal with real-life events, but play with different people’s conflicting perceptions of the same events and the unreliability of the narrator. I happen to love all three for this reason; they afford the audience so much agency and allow us to draw our own conclusions. They examine memory, manipulation, trying to take control of your own story and what can happen when other people take over. They go back to the era of New Journalism and In Cold Blood, and I’m really glad this style of story-telling is coming back. Wild Nights has a fantastic central performance from Molly Shannon and is a far more interesting film than most dry-and-dusty period pieces. I hope it finds a wide audience.

4 out of 5 stars

Tucked (dir. Jamie Patterson)

Tucked is a small independent British film that did well at Outfest, winning two awards: the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Grand Jury Prize for International Narrative Feature.

The film is about an elderly drag queen, Jackie (Derren Nesbitt) discovering he hasn’t got long left to live and at the same time befriending a young drag queen named Faith (Jordan Stephens). Stephens is known in the UK for being in the band Rizzle Kicks, but has branched out into films, including Rogue One. He gives a really impressive performance in what is essentially a two-hander between the two men – one young, one old. Nesbitt’s performance is also incredible as a straight man who likes dressing in women’s clothes (a story not often told), showing the effect it has on his family. The film involves him facing up to his past, as his day of reckoning draws near, and also trying to tick off items on his bucket list, including going to a strip club and trying drugs for the first time (involving a hilarious cameo from Sightseer’s Steve Oram). Tucked is filled with humor and emotion and is an impressive feature from young Brighton-based director Jamie Patterson. The film has been picked up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures and they are eyeing an early-2019 release. I urge you to keep this film on your radar and seek it out when you can.

4.5 stars out of 5

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan)

Iranian-American director Desiree Akhavan had her last film, Appropriate Behavior at Outfest also. I only watched this film recently, but I immediately became a convert to Akhavan, particularly as a writer and performer. I would be interested to know if Phoebe Waller-Bridge watched Appropriate Behavior before creating Fleabag because the influence is clear to me. Akhavan returned to Outfest with her latest work where it was chosen to be the Closing Night Gala film.

Set in 1993, Cameron Post follows Chloe Grace Moretz in the (Julie-voice) titular role as a 16 year old from a conservative Christian family who is caught getting hot and heavy with a girl in the backseat of a car on Prom Night. She is dispatched to a Christian camp using conversion therapy to try and change the teenagers sent there. At the camp, she meets rebels Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), who are challenging the rules in their own ways, including growing marijuana and listening to rock songs. I was blown away by Sasha Lane in Andrea Arnold’s American Honey and she does not disappoint here. Jennifer Ehle plays the sinister therapist in charge of the camp and John Gallagher Jr (who I loved in Short Term 12 and 10 Cloverfield Lane) plays Reverend Rick, who claims to be a successful result of conversion therapy. I am glad Ehle’s career has had a resurgence because she is an incredible actress. Moretz is something of a revelation as this is probably the most challenging role she has had since Hit Girl. Akhavan plays with her pretty girl image cleverly, upending audience expectations of what a stereotypical lesbian should be. This makes an interesting companion piece to Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, especially with its ’90s setting. As a ’90s teen myself, it was nice to hear the music and see the fashions and, yes, I played “What’s Up” in my car on the way home. It will be interesting to see how Boy Erased (ahem, directed by a straight white man) with a similar subject matter compares to this when it coincidentally comes out just in time for Oscar season. I know whose take I’m more interested in seeing on screen.

4 out of 5 stars.

Films shown at Outfest that I haven’t seen yet but I’m keen to watch ASAP!

Postcards from London (dir. Steve McLean)

Harris Dickinson gave one of my top three performances of last year in Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats. In Postcards, Joe (Dickinson) chases his big-city dreams to London and lands in the company of the Raconteurs: an elite gang of escorts who mix sex work with an encyclopedic knowledge of art history. Buzzing with electric energy and awash in Caravaggio, Joe’s journey takes him through the neon-lit labyrinth of Soho and, even more fantastically, transports him into classical paintings themselves. Sculpted like the gods, he becomes a muse for the ages. The use of art in this film has me really excited.

Mapplethorpe (dir. Ondi Timoner)

Matt Smith plays renegade queer artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Set in the gay leather communities and highbrow galleries of New York City in the ’70s and ’80s, Ondi Timoner’s biopic is an unflinching look at the life and career of the icon made famous for his striking black-and-white images of phalluses and flowers. The film takes a chronological look at the influences and practices that captured male homo-erotic desire so poignantly in the face of the devastating toll of the AIDS crisis.

Skate Kitchen (dir. Crystal Moselle)

As a huge fan of both Lords of Dogtown and Dogtown and Z-Boys, I’m really excited about this film. Shy, 18-year-old Camille seeks out an all-girl skateboard crew in NYC, a subculture of sexually fluid, cool city kids whose lives revolve around social media and skateboarding. Camille, adopted into their gang, is quickly faced with the complexity of female friendship, loyalty pressures, and singular personalities. A breakout darling of the Sundance Film Festival, filmmaker Crystal Moselle perfectly captures the female zeitgeist in her richly textured and atmospheric second feature.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (dir. Matt Tyrnauer)

I saw the trailer for this before Three Identical Strangers and it looks intriguing. In Hollywood’s Golden Age, studio publicists presented movie stars as paragons of heterosexual domesticity, but behind the curtain, some beloved actors and actresses had different proclivities. Many of these celebrity sexcapades first came to light in Scotty Bowers’ controversial book, Full Service. This fascinating documentary balances juicy gossip (bolstered by expert witnesses) with a compassionate look at Bowers’ life. Meet the man who pierces the veil and shines a light on the private sexual dalliances of some of cinema’s biggest stars.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Outfest this year, with the lively, spirited, friendly crowds and loved seeing the positive representation of a wide range of LGBTQ people. I will definitely be back next year, hopefully with wider coverage. In the meantime, please seek out these mostly small, independent films which need our support.

Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer

Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.

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