How Outfest’s 40th Anniversary Event Plans to ‘Bring the Fest in Festival Back’

·9-min read

Nonprofit Outfest is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the kickoff of its 2022 edition on July 11, when the annual Los Angeles LGBTQ+ film festival will launch with new awards, programming and a lineup of over 200 screenings.

“One of the things that I really did like is that [the festival] wasn’t in June, because I think there’s this way of thinking about queerness as if it is siloed within the space of one month,” Outfest Artistic Director Faridah Gbadamosi told TheWrap in a recent interview. “I like the idea that it exists beyond the month of June because it kind of brings this idea that our identities can’t be siloed within the space of one month.”

Gbadamosi has been with Outfest for over a year, and she emphasized a collaborative approach to the programming for the Los Angeles festival, which this year was sensitive to the depiction and presentation of trauma coming out of such a difficult past couple of years.

“One of the things that’s been really interesting to come out of COVID is the way in which programmers interact with programming trauma because for marginalized communities, you always have externalized trauma, but it’s become more socially aware that there is anxiety and stress,” she said. “So the way you program is inherently in response to the community at large. So it’s also the way that you look at certain films like is this a necessary harm to show, is this a necessary story to center at this particular point in time?”

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This year’s 11-day festival anticipates the attendance of 30,000 people in-person throughout seven different venues — with an increasing number of allies attending over the last couple of decades.

“We’ve increasingly seen allies to the tune of 20 to 25% that are coming with their friends now to experience these things together,” executive director Damien Navarro told TheWrap. “There was a world in which those that were ‘in the closet’ had to sneak in the back doors of Outfest back in the ’80s and the ’90s because simply by walking through, people would sit there and question and point, and it was terrifying for many to come.”

The festival will begin with an Opening Night Gala hosting the world premiere of Billy Porter’s directorial debut “Anything’s Possible,” in which a trans girl and a charming teenage boy strike up a relationship during their last year of high school. The Closing Night Gala will feature a screening of Blumhouse Productions’ “They/Them,” starring Kevin Bacon. Many other activities and screenings will take place in between these nights, including a 20th Anniversary screening of Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven” with Haynes, Julianne Moore and producer Christine Vachon in attendance.

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“The ‘out’ in Outfest means many different things. It can also mean outsider. Never before have so many people come together that have felt like outcasts or outsiders, and I think when we look at the youth today identifying increasingly more as queer, it’s not necessarily always about just sexuality and gender,” Navarro said. “You can be anything you want, and it’s okay and those spaces are really important for us to continue to foster and create so that Outfest can eventually become known as a space in which anybody can thrive. I guarantee there’s several films that anybody will see themselves in, regardless if they consider themselves necessarily gay or lesbian or queer or any of the acronyms.”

Outfest will feature screenings of “Girl Picture,” which won a Sundance Audience Award, their U.S. Centerpiece “Unidentified Objects,” and documentary centerpiece “Mama Bears.” Divided into Narratives, Documentary, Platinum Section, Episodics and an Episodic Showcase, the lineup also includes “Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story,” a documentary from Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films and Pulse Films and an advanced showing of the first two episodes of Prime Video’s “A League of Their Own” series.

“We kind of go through a combination of the films that have been submitted directly to us and then the films we’ve kind of seen out in the world in the curation process,” Gbadamosi said about the programming. “For me personally, the concept of good and bad is inherently a flawed one. But whether or not the story accomplishes what it intends to do, whether or not to serve an audience, whether or not it serves a filmmaker — these are all things that we have in discussion.”

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In addition to screenings, several other engagement programs will take place including a live read performance of “Our Lady of the Six,” a script by Dominic Colón to be featured in the scripted podcast series ”Love in Gravity,“ the 6th Outfest Los Angeles Trans, Nonbinary & Intersex Summit —  consisting of a keynote address from writer and activist, Raquel Willis, two timely filmmaker perspectives, an artist to artist conversation on intersex visibility, and a comedy showcase featuring D’Lo, Nori Reed, Jes Tom, 7g, River Butcher, and Kai — and dance classes from Tiffany Billings’ J’Eté, House of Ebony and Rashida KhanBey Miller’s (Lizzo’s “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls”) Messy Movement workshop for feminine spectrum actors.

“We’re really trying to bring the fest in the festival back,” Navarro said. “Obviously film will always be centered around this particular festival, but we have lots of activities for whether you’re a fan, an audience member, a cinephile or an industry insider that is interested in film.”

Navarro joined Outfest in 2019 before the onset of the pandemic.

“The irony of COVID was I had spent the better half of nearly 20 years of my career in streaming media technology, and so there was definitely a bizarre moment in which I realized that perhaps that might be valuable in ways that I didn’t exactly expect to be a fit,” Navarro said. “It was a very analog kind of more traditional festival. So when COVID hit, many of us had to pivot in ways that we never thought possible. But since then, I think [they’re have] been incredible opportunities to do some proof of concepts that are now becoming mainstay programming. So it’s bittersweet.“

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COVID caused the festival to adapt in ways that also increased access for those beyond Los Angeles and the United States. The Out Museum allows the nonprofit to claim territory in the streaming space with its various offerings.

“What we’ve created is an online queer media museum, and every two to three weeks we put up a new exhibit,” Gbadamosi said. “They last for about six weeks, and they’re a combination of short films, and either story ideas or a panel discussion, kind of a more creative approach around a different topic. We do pay all the short filmmakers who are on the platform, we pay the panelists, and then we also bring in guest curators who come in and kind of get to hone their craft through the Out Museum. So we’re both simultaneously showcasing work and creating opportunities.”

The festival will give away three $15,000 grants for filmmakers under 25 through a partnership with the Colin Higgins Foundation. The Paul D. Lerner & Stephen Reis Grand Jury Awards for Outstanding Documentary Feature will come with funding. The Platinum section will also present two awards — the Platinum Maverick Award to writer and filmmaker Clive Barker (“Hellraiser”) prior to a live conversation with Barker, followed by a screening of the Director’s Cut of Barker’s “Nightbreed” — and the Platinum Alchemy Award will be presented to bounce music artist Big Freedia, who will perform live at the Platinum Alchemy Party, headlining a performance roster that also includes 700 Bliss (Moor Mother and DJ Harem), Seth Bogart, Moonily, Commando, Tally T, Sevyn, Sunkee Angel, and p_a_g_o_t_o.

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“In terms of additional programming, the industry Summit that we’re doing this year, which is kind of a state of queer media open to our industry guests, and our filmmakers, [will have] four to five panels that are really focusing on where are we now when it comes to representation and access for film professionals,” Gbadamosi said “Not just like actors on screen, but also having conversations with media execs about how they got into the space and to navigate that and stuff like that.”

Looking forward, Navarro hopes to continue breaking down boundaries between viewers and content.

“We want to remove as many barriers whether that be financial, geographical, technologically, for everybody to be able to access our programs,” Navarro said. “Regardless of the iteration or the format of the programs, those three things are very important to us as an organization that we commit to. Because if we can’t solve this then we will always be within these like smaller bubbles and not really necessarily able to reach the millions and millions of people who we know will be transformed by the types of work that we do.”

Gbadamosi echoes Navarro’s comments, also highlighting the need to shift with the various changes in LGBTQ+ media that have occurred since Outfest was started by a group of UCLA students in 1982.

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“We are an advocacy space, but we’re also a film space, so [we’re] really trying to figure out, what does queer cinema look like?” Gbadamosi said. “Because we started 40 years ago, new queer cinema was a little more than 20 years ago, and now we’re in this new space in which what it means to be queer is fundamentally changing and shifting for different people. One of the things that we’re really interested in is like, what does queer film look like? And how do we move away from strictly ‘there’s a queer person in it’ to figure out, what is it that the film community really wants to see centered?”

As for what is missing in queer cinema now, Navarro outlined his view.

“First, we need a much greater abundance and diversity of projects across genres – from horror to procedurals – romantic comedies to road trips – action thrillers to animation – our representation as the lead characters across the mainstream space is sorely still missing,” Navarro said. “Also, the fact that women, much less queer women, much less BIPOC queer women, screenwriters and directors are so poorly represented across narrative features and scripted television, and that the industry feels there just isn’t enough ‘out’ queer actors and trans/non-binary/intersex talent to play the roles we see and it’s quickly apparent we have just barely tipped the iceberg on what we feel is still missing.”

Outfest 2022 runs from July 14 – July 24.

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