FilmOut, San Diego's LGBTQ Film Festival, Opens Thursday Night
Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary
>> FilmOut, San Diego LGBTQ film Festival turns 20 this year Inc. KPBS film critic Beth commander speaks with the festivals foundered so thoroughly about his origins and its future. >> Joe film it so liberating it's 23rd anniversary so I thought one of the things to do would be to go back to its origins and you are responsible for starting this and it was part of a thesis project for you? >> Yes, it was and my actual thesis was about interested in exploring a gait sensibility and not particularly in only gay film so that the history of American cinema, so that is what led to creating this film out because at the time San Diego did not have any kind of gay film festival. >> When you started it here in San Diego, what is kind of your goal or what was your mission statement and what did you want to do with that festival? >> My goal was to try and -- especially at that time -- to showcase underrepresented minorities within the gay community. Women's film and minority film and the very first year of film ox, a few films that were about African-American drag queens, there was the documentary angel on my shoulder about an actress, Glenn Wells, who was very popular in the early 70s and made films with Ron Altman and this was a documentary about her about a lesbian filmmaker yes, made by a lesbian film acre site was showcasing those kinds of things. >> I know your film held well and we want to tell you right together it's a lot of films together so I know you have unique sensibility when it comes to film and you tend to like things that are out of the mainstream so unlike some other LGBTQ principles you are driven less by maybe the politics of it or the social aspects and more by the art of cinema. You seem to really love movies, like that seems to be where the core of the festival comes out. >> Yes, and speaking of tell you right, one and I think it was the first year at Telluride while I was introduced to Terence Davies and the movie was distant voices still lives. >> Memories, of the sounds of distant voices and the echoes of still lives. >> [Music] from Terence Davies, Britain's most highly acclaimed new director comes a unique and original portrait of an unforgettable family. >> Nothing explicitly or implicitly gay in the film but somehow I knew that this was a gay filmmaker and then when he came up and did the Q&A at the end of the film, he started off with as a gay filmmaker so that interested me to see other films like looking at the films of George Cukor and how someone who is not really openly gay, how could they put these kinds of suggestions and lifestyle into these otherwise straight films? >> Over these 20 years, how have you seen FilmOut grow in chains and what are your thoughts about it at this point? >> It is been incredible, Mike the Quicken has done an incredible job with programming, and early on it was very difficult to get sponsors to try and even just getting people out to the movies. So the things they have done, the society is grown so much in all kinds of sponsors and all kinds of community involvement now, so I think over the years, seen it blossom has just been thrilling to me. >> As there is more representation for the LGBTQ community, on television and in film, do you see the purpose of a festival like this changing and what kind of things do you see for the future of a festival like this? >> I think it is important to still have this kind of a community event. For people and especially younger people who might not otherwise be in a community with gay people or even be in social situations. Originally that was a big impact is to give people a place to go to other than the bars. So this, the idea was to bring people together to introduce films whether they be certain films that I loved and that we show, that did not please everyone or that were not necessarily positive images of LGBTQ people. But still important images and not everything purports to represent an entire community so I think going off on those little tangents is helpful and enlightening for some. >> How difficult was it to show films early on that might not have shown necessarily a positive depiction of gay or LGBTQ life? Part of the challenge is sometimes of the film wants to go kind of someplace dark or show characters that are not necessarily positive, sometimes those films feel this wait of there are so little representation of this and we have to make sure it presents a good image and so hard was it to show films that challenge audiences in some way? >> I did one program that I recall, very vividly, with the movie flaming creatures which was a 60s underground film, that was at various time confiscated, projectionists were arrested and it was this very à la carte black and white no sink sound kind of an orgy of a film for lack of a better word. >> [Music] >> But it was part of a program that I wanted to show kind of the progression of gay films and also the program was Kenneth anger firework and also the silent solemnly from the 20s with a purported gay cast. I remember the reaction to flaming creatures was, horrible people, hated it, people walked out, and kind of this black-and-white avant-garde film that that was very important to show in the history of gay cinema and especially considering the fact that it was confiscated and that it was banned in that people went to jail for showing this film. So that was some of that in the beginning. But I tried not to let it deter me from showing these kinds of films. >> Over these past two decades at the festival being around, have you noticed any recent trends or anything in terms of the kinds of films that get submitted to LGBTQ festivals or the kinds of films being made?'s but I think there is a tendency to lean towards comedy. >> There is nothing wrong with that and certainly if we look back at the history of gay films, films in the 60s or 50s even where gay characters have to commit suicide or wind up dead or miserable or their lives are ruined, I think there was kind of a reaction to that. And it is funny because we had just spoken about boys in the band and that is a great example of something that in 19 68, when the play came out, it was groundbreaking. >> How larries play the boys in the band is now a movie. It is not a musical. >> But two years later, after the Stonewall riots, people started looking and thinking, these characters are full of self-hatred and I really think having just seen the play on Broadway this past weekend with a completely out gay cast, that maybe it is time has come. I think all these years later, having positive reinforcement and positive gay characters that now we are able to say, okay, this might not represent all gays or lesbians, but it certainly represent some people. We know some people like this. So I think we have come a long way in that regard.
FilmOut, San Diego’s LGBTQ film festival celebrates its 20th anniversary Thursday evening. Let's take a look back to its roots as well as this year's films.
FilmOut opens Thursday with a comedy called “Ideal Home” in which Steve Coogan plays a gay man who suddenly discovers he has a grandson. Paul Rudd plays his spouse and business partner.
The film screens with a pair of shorts, “Turn It Around” from the Netherlands, and “Femme” from the U.S. All are West Coast premieres.
FilmOut San Diego has been celebrating films made by, for and about the LGBTQ community for two decades. But what people might not remember is that the festival began as a thesis project by Joe Ferrelli at San Diego State University.
“My actual thesis was about exploring a gay sensibility and not particularly in only gay films throughout the history of American cinema. So that’s what led to creating this FilmOut, because at that time San Diego did not have any kind of gay film fest,” Ferrelli said from his home in Buffalo, New York.
Ferrelli recalled seeing Terence Davies’ film “Distant Voices, Still Lives” at the Telluride Film Festival and being struck by the fact that he felt the film had a gay sensibility although there was nothing overtly gay in the story. Then filmmaker Davies came out after the film and began his Q&A by introducing himself as a gay filmmaker. This made Ferrelli interesting in things like the films of old time studio director George Cukor who was not openly gay in Hollywood but made films such as “The Woman,” “Camille,” and “Adam’s Rib” that Ferrelli felt revealed some kind of gay sensibility.
Unlike many of the other gay film festivals, Filmout was started more out of Ferrelli’s love of cinema than out of strictly political or social interests. As LGBTQ themes are become more prevalent and accepted in Hollywood films, Ferrelli said the festival has changed and evolved but he feels there is still a need for it.
“I think it is still important to still have this kind of community for people, especially younger people, who might not otherwise be in a community with gay people or even be in social situations, so it gives them a place to go other than the bars, so the idea was to give people a place to go,” Ferrelli said.
Ferrelli pushed people’s buttons in the early days with films that did not always meet audience’s expectations about what images of gays should be on the screen or even about what qualifies as a film. An experimental film called “Flaming Creatures” sent filmgoers running for the exit.
Ferrelli recalled that audiences complained about films like “Flaming Creatures” because “they weren’t always positive images but they were important images, not everything purports to represent an entire community. I think going off on those little tangents is helpful and enlightening for some.”
This year controversy has come up for festival programmer Michael McQuiggan about his closing night film “Anything.” The film stars John Carroll Lynch and Matt Bomer as a recently widowed man who forms a friendship with a transgender woman (played by Bomer).
Some in the San Diego trans community have asked for the film to be pulled because a cisgender actor is playing a trans character.
Kylene Kristen Steele is a trans woman who was brought in by producer Louis Runge and filmmaker Timothy McNeil to help work on the script. She worked as a consultant and producer on the film and defended the choice of Bomer to play the character of Freda.
“It’s an indie, it’s not like a big studio production,” Steel said. “The facts are this. We don’t really have that many trans actors and actresses out there that are known. We didn’t start coming into light until about two years ago really, in terms of getting the respect we needed or the acknowledgment that we are in society and we have always been here and now we are finally getting our turn at the wheel of social acceptance. It would have been great to have a trans actress in it, don’t get me wrong. We would love it but the business side of Hollywood is that you can’t get a film made without a star and Matt Bomer was the star and we already predetermined that he was going to be the lead.”
But Steele did try to bring in trans performers elsewhere.
“I said we need more trans people in this and we had trans actors and actresses, we had Christmas [played by Roxy Wood] and we had Belinda [played by Gia Ryan]. I think if you think you can play Albert Einstein and you are a man or you’re a woman or you are trans you should be able to audition for it. Actors channel and pretend to be someone that they are not and they became the character and if we say if you are trans you can only play trans characters that is just submitting to society’s social constructs again because you are limiting yourself once again.”
McQuiggan points to other films in the festival line up that he said are trans themed or featuring trans actors: “Mrs. McCutcheon,” “For A Change,” “Golden Boy,” “Something About Alex,” “Freelancer's Anonymous” and “Femme.”
“I also suggest that if you are trans and do not feel represented, go out and write a script, crowdfund it and make it. The tools are more readily at your disposal now and then you can submit it to the festival," McQuiggan said.