For more than two decades FilmOut has been San Diego’s LGBTQ film festival. It kicks off Thursday night at the San Diego Natural History Museum and then moves to the Museum of Photographic Arts for three days of features, shorts and documentaries.
The great thing about FilmOut is that not only does it program crowd-pleasing fare, but it also likes to push audiences’ boundaries.
Programmer Michael McQuiggan has made a point to seek out and showcase queer horror over the years through both the festival and its monthly film series.
That pleases filmmaker Carter Smith whose film "Swallowed" screens on Saturday.
"I think horror has always been queer," Smith said. "Horror has always been stories of outsiders and monsters and people seen as monsters, and unconventional heroes or heroines fighting back against the monster. There's a queerness that's kind of always been there, and I think only recently have films and books and stories started to come out where queer people are at the center of those stories, but the stories oftentimes they're not about people being queer. They're not about the queerness. The queerness is sort of secondary to the main story."
That's what he wanted to do with "Swallowed."
"I wanted to make a story that kind of was universally relatable and that these characters, some of them are queer, but it's not about this kind of angsty, (they're) struggling with the fact that they're queer," he said. "They're just a queer character and they're facing adversity in these horrific situations that don't necessarily have to do with the fact that they are queer. And if you're working in the horror genre, you can sort of tell all sorts of stories wrapped in this kind of genre horror wrapper."
"Swallowed" ventures into body horror as the two main characters get involved with smuggling what they think are drugs across the Canadian border. But things when horribly wrong. Smith has always been interested in how our bodies can break down on us and how that can be terrifying.
"As a queer kid growing up in the '80s and early '90s, I sort of came of age when I was pretty afraid of my body and pretty afraid of sex," Smith said. "AIDS was the forefront of everything, and every mole or rash was like, I was convinced that I was going to die. And I was petrified of sex. There was this real sense that horror and sex and the body were sort of tied together in a way that I don't think I've ever quite been able to shake, at least in my storytelling."
Smith cast Mark Patton in his film, which is something of a coup. Patton gained fame and became an unexpected gay horror icon after starring in "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge." That experience became the topic of the documentary "Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street."
Smith said the documentary, which chronicled how the young Patton was subjected to a homophobic backlash after "Freddy's Revenge" and essentially retired from films, made him fall in love with Patton's story.
"In the beauty of our modern age, I sent him a direct message on Instagram and was like, 'I wrote a movie and I want to send it to you,'" Smith said. "And he responded, I mean, it took a little prodding to convince him that I was a real filmmaker and it was a real movie, but I was able to just send messages over Instagram. That's how I cast him."
Smith looks forward to the in-person Filmout screening because he likes to watch audiences watch his film.
"It's been amazing to sit in the theater and watch people kind of squirm in their seats and gasp," he said. "And talking to people afterwards to find people, like crying and sort of touched by this kind of tender love story that's hiding at the heart of this really messed up sort of body horror film."
Benjamin Howard’s "Rendezvous" is not body horror, but it did present the filmmaker with his first sex scene, which can be scary.
"The short explores a number of things, one of which is kind of the gray areas of consent," Howard said.
The film focuses on two characters, a young boy and an older man, who meet up and then try to figure out what the other wants and is willing to do. It was a scene that required nudity and intimacy.
"It's not easy (to shoot), and so you want to tread lightly. You want to make sure that everyone is very comfortable," Howard said. "We had an intimacy coordinator on set who was phenomenal to work with. Amanda Blumenthal is her name, and she really kind of made the difference between me just coming into this scared out of my mind and me approaching this like, OK, cool."
Howard grew up in San Diego but "Rendezvous" became a class project at UCLA.
"You ask yourself, 'What's my end goal?' Howard said. "If my end goal is to make a feature version of something, but I don't quite have the means to do that just yet. Okay, great. Start with the proof of concept. Maybe you take a scene from that feature script and you turn that into a short. And that's basically what we did with 'Rendezvous.'"
Another short film with local roots is Rachel Earnest’s "Moving Out," which was shot in the director’s hometown of Oceanside.
"Sometimes I asked myself, why did I decide to do it this way? Because it was challenging to see who came out to help us and who did not," Earnest said.
The church administration scenes where her gay character overhears a man asking about whether his son can marry another man in the church were shot at Earnest’s childhood church.
"So it was really special to me to be able to film there because while the film is not completely based on a true story, it does hit close to home," Earnest said.
Earnest is excited to screen "Moving Out" at FilmOut.
"I have all these people from the church community who are coming out to this LGBTQ festival, and I think it's amazing. I honestly never thought that this could happen," Earnest said.
FilmOut will be making amazing things happen Friday through Sunday at venues in Balboa Park.