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FilmOut

"It is a raunchy, honest and refreshing comedy -- a perfect crowd pleaser for opening night," says festival programmer Michael McQuiggan. He's excited about presenting 72 films from more than ten countries. Among the foreign entries he's touting are Spain's dark comedy Boystown ; Germany's multi-generational women's film Vivere ; and France's portrait of an HIV-positive former gigolo Before I Forget .

"Since we expanded to a week this year, I thought we should have theme-nights hence International/Foreign Night, Thriller/Camp Night, Documentary Night, and Shorts Night."

For closing night (April 17), FilmOut holds the world premiere of the homegrown film, James Vasquez' Ready? Okay! This San Diego-based charmer concerns a young boy named Josh who wants to join his school's cheer squad. The premise for the film came from Vasquez' own failed attempt to participate in his Catholic School's pep rally when he was in second grade. In the film, a nun tells young Josh that he will "never" be on the cheer squad. Josh replies that "never is a strong word," and breaks into a cheer. There's no keeping this boy down.


Josh tries to convince the powers that be to let him on the cheer squad in Ready? Okay! (Daisy 3 Pictures)

San Diego native Vasquez says he already owes a debt of gratitude to FilmOut. Last year Vasquez came to FilmOut audiences to ask for help in securing shooting locations and accommodations for out of town talent.

"We got an overwhelming amount of response from the community," says Vasquez, "We shot the movie on a shoe-string budget, so the donations of housing, locations, food, and props really helped make the movie possible." Vasquez also credits the San Diego Film Commission's Kathy McCurdy for lining up film permits, helping with locations, and offering advice.

Vasquez describes his film as "an important, quiet and poignant little film told from a perspective we haven't seen much of. At one point Josh says, & 'I'm not trying to break the rules, I'm trying to change them.' There's something really wonderful about the belief this little boy has in himself and the world."

The film's success rests heavily on the young actor playing the buoyant Josh. Vasquez says they auditioned about fifty boys before selecting Lurie Poston, who impressed them with his cheering abilities.

"Whoever we cast as Josh had to be able to cheer and have no hesitation about it," says Vasquez, "Lurie blew us away with his read of the scenes. But his cheer sealed the deal. Lurie Poston is perfect as Josh. The role was not written for him, but he certainly makes you feel like it was."

But Vasquez did write roles for two other actors in the film, Carrie Preston and her brother John Preston who play Josh's mother and uncle respectively.

"James wrote the roles for the two of us," says Carrie Preston, "so it was really wonderful being with John on screen. We have a built in history so it was incredibly easy and satisfying to play those scenes."

Preston, who went to Julliard with Vasquez and serves as one of the film's producers, also got to work with her husband Michael Emerson who plays Josh's sympathetic gay neighbor. The genuine sense of family on the set spills over onto the screen, creating a warm and intimate film.

"We set out to make a true, subtle, funny film about how a mother struggles with the possibility that her son may grow up to be gay," says Carrie Preston, "And I feel like we accomplished that."

Ready? Okay! is one of three San Diego films screening at FilmOut. Festival programmer Michael McQuiggan say, "We are very excited to have LGBT San Diegan filmmakers represented every year at FilmOut San Diego."

In addition to Vasquez' Ready? Okay!, the festival will highlight Robert Marzek's short film The Field , and Dale Jeter's Birthday Boy . Plus, on Thriller/Camp Night those with a strong stomach for gore and a taste for camp can find The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror by former San Diegan Jaymes Thompson.

Looking back on the festival's ten year history, McQuiggan says "I am most proud that we have continued to grow over the past decade and that we're offering San Diego the chance to see some great films, which may never screen in San Diego after this film festival. Film is art, and art needs to be supported - we are grateful to our volunteers and audiences who have supported and allowed us to achieve this growth."

Here's a quick rundown of the films I was able to preview.

On April 12, there the locally made Birthday Boy that deals with a closeted gay man married to woman and with a daughter about to get married. When she brings her fianc e home, he turns out to be one of the men her father secretly slept with. To make matters worse he's been recording all his sexual encounters and keeps a collection of DVDs at his house. It's a low budget effort that never manages to ov ercome an artificial feel. & If you're looking for locally produced fare, check out Ready? Okay!

I didn't get to screen the short Gay Zombie (also screening on April 12) but as a fan of the undead I just felt like I had to highlight it. The description says: "Trapped in the closet during his waking life, a zombie is given a second chance to come out." This sounds like the perfect warm up to the upcoming theatrical feature, Zombie Stripper.


Spain's Boystown

Sticking with something of a horror theme is Spain's Boystown by Juan Flahn. The story concerns a greedy real estate agent who's been killing old ladies in order to get their apartments in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. On the case is a young cop and his arachnophobia mother. Unwittingly pulled into the case are Ray and Leo, a gay couple going through some upheavals of their own. The film has a fast pace and an often-wicked sense of humor. The opening titles are clever as well.

Rounding out the April 12 screenings is Spencer Schilly's The Houseboy. Twentysomething Ricky (Nick May) is the shared love interest of two thirtysomething men. During the Christmas holidays, Ricky is asked to watch their place and their large menagerie of animals. Ricky, feeling a bit abandoned, starts looking for some form of connection with men he meets over the Internet and elsewhere. He tells each one that he plans to kill himself on Christmas. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, this film has some bumpy spots but delivers a satisfying emotional conclusion.

As gay and lesbian filmmakers make more inroads into the mainstream, festivals like this seem more willing to showcase genre filmmaking. This year, FilmOut presents an unusually high number of horror/thrillers.

"This year, I received over 200 submissions, and for whatever the reason, a lot of the films submitted were thrillers/horror/science-fiction/ with dark themes," says McQuiggan, "I think filmmakers know that the thriller genre is big money, so many are using these films to get distribution and DVD deals. Not to mention that they are crowd pleasers - and to see a thriller with a full house is exhilarating." On April 13, you can see a pair of those thrillers: You Belong to Me and Picture of Dorian Gray. You Belong to Me has a creepy performance by Patti D'Arbanville as it weaves a tense tale of a man who discovers that his landlady is interested in more than just collecting the rent. Duncan Roy's Picture of Dorian Gray gives a contemporary spin to Oscar Wilde's classic tale of vanity. This time, though, the portrait is a video one. The film boasts some clever set design elements but is a bit self conscious in it's quoting of Wilde. It ends with this: "Forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he doesn't admire it, the only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it immensely, all art is quite useless."

The horror continues with Thriller/Camp Night on April 14. In the afternoon, though, you can catch Carter Smith's BugCrush . This low budget, indie short reveals a greater mastery of style and atmosphere than Smith's current Hollywood feature debut, The Ruins. My guess is that since he was a first time director, he didn't have the same level of control on The Ruins as he did on his own indie project. Anyway, check out the creepy BugCrush.

Self-consciously dealing with the whole Hollywood filmmaking process is Guillermo R. Rodriguez' The Shadows. A clever premise isn't fully played out in this tale of a famous writer who wants to disappear. Later on April 14, the thrills continue with Socket, a genuinely perverse sci-fi tale about a man struck by lightening. He joins a group of people who were also struck by lightening and they soon develop an addiction to electrical shock. Intriguing ideas spark interest even if the film never really ignites.

Bringing the night of horror to a close is Jaymes Thompson's camp extravaganza The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror . Don't arrive late for this one because the best thing may be the opening credits with a go-go dancing queen warning to watch out for the straights. Gore galore and high (or low, depending on your taste) camp are what you'll find here. The film rips off Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Sweeney Todd (among others). Wildly erratic, sometimes hilarious, the film draws on every gay and horror stereotype and clich e. But there's something appealing about a Freddy Krueger-like character that's the bastard offspring of a 100 Republican conventioneers.


Betty Dodson: Her Life of Sex and Art

April 15 brings the lively documentary Betty Dodson: Her Life of Sex and Art . Dodson gained fame and notoriety for her frank talk and explicit art celebrating female sexuality. The documentary is a filmed lecture but Dodson is far more lively and entertaining that Al Gore was in his filmed lecture about global warming. She talks about her life and art and her status as an "old masturbating lady." She continues to shock people and smash conventional notions about what a woman should be like. Be forewarned that the talk and the images are often explicit.


France's Before I Forget

On April 16 are two of the festival's best films and both are foreign works. From Germany's Angelina Maccarone comes Vivere , a female road film. Three women are on the run for various reasons, and they end up traveling together and offering support and salvation in unexpected ways. The film's strength lies in its trio of strong performances by Esther Zimmering, Kim Schnitzer and Hannelore Elsnor. Before I Forget is the third film by Jacques Nolot exploring gay life. Self-absorbed but not pretentious, Nolot focuses on an aging gigolo who's been diagnosed as HIV positive. Nolot has a dry sense of humor as he observes the details of one man's life. This one is slow and reflective but ultimately satisfying.

On April 17, Finn's Girl serves up a story of a lesbian mother deals with a rebellious daughter as well as threats on her life from anti-abortionists. Brooke Johnson plays the levelheaded Dr. Finn whose rational approach to things can't seem to solve her problems with her daughter.

April 17 also brings the world premiere of Ready? Okay! I've already expressed how much I enjoyed this homegrown charmer, so just make an effort to go see it and give the local cast and crew a warm embrace. The film works so well because it comes from something personal and you can't fake intimate details that come from life. You'll come out of this one cheering. A perfect way to bring the 10th Annual FilmOut to a close.

FilmOut San Diego runs April 11 through April 17 at Landmark's Ken Cinema. For more information you can visit their website at www.filmoutsandiego.com .

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