This Thursday, FilmOut launches its 23rd year as San Diego’s LGBTQ Film Festival. The four-day event kicks off at the San Diego Natural History Museum and then moves to the Museum of Photographic Arts. Here's a preview.
To enlighten, educate and entertain
We may live in the 21st century but sometimes it can feel like the Dark Ages in terms of attitudes about the LGBTQ+ community.
"Society still puts us in boxes. Society doesn't really give us the chance to live freely," said Israeli filmmaker Nitzan Gilady. "Look at what's going on in America, the laws that are being presented and these things really affect your soul, your whole being."
To counteract conservative U.S. politicians who are trying to pass anti-drag laws and bills that restrict transgender and non-binary youth from accessing gender affirming care, FilmOut celebrates and uplifts the broad spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community through movies. FilmOut's stated mission "is to enlighten, educate, and entertain through the exhibition of LGBTQ themed films."
San Diegans might be enlightened by the candid documentary "Intersectional Lens: The Black, Queer, And Trans Experience," which explores the challenges of those who identify as being part of multiple marginalized communities — Black and LGBTQ+— in San Diego. Filmmakers Pamuela Halliwell and Todd A. Jackson find strong voices to recount personal stories of coming out, trying to find community, workplace difficulties and dealing with prejudice and injustices.
The film screens as part of the San Diego Filmmaker Spotlight on Sunday that includes the short films "Diving for Rays" and "Bistro #1."
Then the international spotlight lets drag take center stage with the French film "Three Nights A Week." When Baptiste (Pablo Pauly) happens to meet a drag queen named Cookie Kunty (Romain Eck), his life completely changes. Baptiste is so struck by Cookie's persona (and later by Quentin, his off-stage identity) that he creates a photography project around Cookie and her drag queen friends.
Cookie is actually the off-screen drag persona of Eck, and Baptiste is something of an alter ego for director Florent Gouëlou. Like Baptiste, Gouëlou was immediately entranced by Cookie when he saw her onstage for the first time. He was then inspired to shoot a trio of short films featuring Cookie before creating this feature film. Eck, in drag and out, is the brilliant center of the film. But seeing him in his stunning drag persona made me think that the only crime I can imagine related to drag would be to forbid performers like Eck from putting on those gorgeous clothes and spectacular make up, and delivering a defiant, sexy performance.
'In Bed' with Gilady
Nitzan Gilady is showing his film "In Bed" at FilmOut where he will also be in attendance. It will mark a return to San Diego for the filmmaker who was a visiting professor at San Diego State University where he taught screenwriting.
His film opens with a joyous gay Pride parade disrupted by a gunman shooting randomly into the crowd.
The scene reflects real violence that has disrupted gay Pride parades in Israel. But Gilady also drew on elements from another hate crime that happened in Tel Aviv where a man wearing a black mask and armed with a gun entered an LGBTQ+ youth bar, killing two people and injuring more than a dozen others. The murderer, however, was never caught.
"I got really obsessed with it," Gilady confessed. "I started to think about what happens if he's (the shooter) someone that when you go and order a coffee, he's the one who actually served the coffee. There were also rumors that he might be from the (LGBTQ+) community and maybe he's someone I'm opening the door for for a date."
And it’s that idea that starts to unnerve Guy, the main character in his film.
"I think, that it triggers his paranoia and it triggers everything that's within him," Gilady explained. "His self-hate, his fear from meeting people, even interacting with other people. We still are talking about not being accepted. We still are dealing with the self-hate within ourselves. And it's a subject and it's a matter that we need to find a way to solve and to find a way to get full acceptance of us, and not just we ourselves, but also the people that surround us."
Gilady added that his film is about the need for love even against a backdrop of hate and violence.
"Because the three characters in my film, that's what they want. What's wrong about them is that they're looking for love in the wrong places," Gilady said. "They are really scared about having an intimate relationship."
That fear is one of the reasons they turn to drugs and chemsex.
"It came about, actually, from stories that I've heard about friends of friends in the community, all surrounding the subject of the use of drugs and abuse of drugs and addiction to drugs," Gilady said. "It looks at the beginning as an attractive thing to use drugs and have fun. But then what can also happen when you exaggerate the use of drugs. We got a lot of responses from audiences that talked about how the film made them aware of what the consequences could be when you're in a situation like that, when you're using drugs and doing chemsex, because it could lead to, unfortunately, unpleasant places."
And FilmOut does have a warning on the film stating "explicit content - adults only."
'Chasing Chasing Amy' director Sav Rodgers in person
Filmmaker Sav Rodgers has been navigating his own journey of acceptance and identity. The journey began when as a queer kid he saw the Kevin Smith movie "Chasing Amy."
"Not only was I so moved by the grand romanticism in Kevin's work, but also I saw queer people getting to have full, realized lives for the first time in my life in this cinematic foray 'Chasing Amy,'" Rodgers said. "That was a lightning rod for me, but also a life raft when I really needed it struggling in school as a kid, as a queer kid, who everybody else figured out was queer before I did, and I didn't really understand why I didn't fit in."
Now Rodgers explores how "Chasing Amy" fits into a bigger social context in his documentary "Chasing Chasing Amy."
"I always thought that there was something special there about the story of 'Chasing Amy' and the intersection with the LGBTQ community," Rodgers explained. "What I did not have the foresight to see was that it was going to literally be my personal story with 'Chasing Amy' that would really anchor the film emotionally."
The film begins as a fan doc about Rodgers’ love for Smith’s work. Then it morphs into a story about his changing relationship to the movie. Prompting that change is his interview with actress Joey Lauren Adams. She played the lead character in Smith's film and is identified as lesbian (although from today's perspective, bisexual or pansexual might be more accurate).
Adams points out to Rodgers in the documentary that while "Chasing Amy" is "amazing but whatever moved you has a dark side too."
Adams offers candid and contemplative revelations about how the role impacted her life in both positive and negative ways, and how her relationship with Smith during the making of the film was problematic. And you can see in Rodgers' reactions during her interview that he was not quite prepared for what she had to say.
"It was challenging," Rodgers admitted. "And I'm so thankful that she chose to share her truth with me. The question on my mind was always, how do we balance everybody's truths to where we're presenting everything without judgment and we're presenting everything from everybody's point of view so that all of these truths can coexist at the same time. It's one of the things that resonated so deeply with me as a filmmaker and as a person was this idea of multiple things true at once."
Making the film was in many ways a dream project for Rodgers and Smith has been supportive of the documentary.
"I get emotional just thinking about it," Rodgers said. "I mean, the person that made you want to do the things that you do loves the movie you made, it's quite touching."
But the film also pushed Rodgers in ways he never expected: "Which is this kind of forward push to really think deeper about my fandom with 'Chasing Amy,' and also like, who do I want to be? Do I want to just live in this moment from when I was 12 or do I want to move forward?"
His answer was, that he wanted to move forward, which meant he needed to address the fact that he also wanted to transition. So that becomes a part of the film too.
"It's really challenging to have any kind of self awareness about how you exist in the world, and it's also really difficult, as you're finding out in real time, that the way that you think you present to the world is not actually what people see, whether it's transition or as a filmmaker," Rodgers said. "For me in particular, the painful parts were exploring my transition because, as you can imagine, I was not terribly interested in preserving a part of myself that I wish that people generally wouldn't remember. But it's the story and it's what happened."
Rodgers’ ability to pivot as a director and see that his documentary needed to be something different than what he had originally imagined is just one reason why "Chasing Chasing Amy" is such a fresh, inspiring film.
Other festival highlights
And finally a few additional recommendations. San Diego Latino Film Festival is co-presenting Julián Hernández's "Trace of Your Lips (La Huella de Unos Labios)" on Saturday. (This film also has an explicit content warning.)
The film has a humorous open involving a B-movie actor Román (Hugo Catalán) but then turns darker and claustrophobic as the COVID-19 pandemic hits and he is confined to his apartment. But Román strikes up a virtual relationship with Aldo (Mauricio Rico), an essential worker who is allowed to go out during the lockdown. This leads to the temptation to meet.
If that sounds too dark for you then there is the charming and sweet coming-of-age film "Big Boys" by Corey Sherman. Isaac Krasner shines as an awkward but smart teen coming to terms with his sexuality. This film and "Chasing Chasing Amy" were my favorites of the festival for the fresh, engaging way they approached coming-of-age stories.
And Sunday's closing night film "Golden Delicious" will be co-presented by San Diego Asian Film Festival. Canada's Jason Karman serves up a familiar story about an Asian American family and coming of age. Jake (Cardi Wong) is a high school senior who wants to please everyone, especially his domineering father who wants him to play basketball. Jake slowly realizes that not only is he not following his own dreams, but he's also ignoring his own desires and sexuality. The film also takes the time to develop the parents' back story, which is a good addition.
These are just a few of the offerings at this year's FilmOut but I hope they entice you to seek out more.
You can read my Alliance for Women Film Journalists' review of "Chasing Chasing Amy" from when I covered it at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.