Atlanta’s 24th annual Out on Film features more than 50 films from around the world, highlighting a diverse selection of cinematic styles and LGBT lives.
“We are thrilled at what we consider to be one of the strongest line-ups in Out On Film history, with award-wining films, lots of premieres, guests and plenty of local flavor,” Jim Farmer, festival director of Out On Film, says via a media release.
The festival gets underway with a pre-event on Wednesday, Sept. 28, focusing on a local hero of HIV advocacy. Out on Film officially kicks off Thursday, Sept. 29, and runs through Thursday, Oct. 6.
A double feature — “The Sleeping Beauty of East Finchley” and “Going Down in La-La Land” — opens the festival while “Judas Kiss” closes the week.
Other highlights include “Cho Dependent,” the Margaret Cho performance filmed here in Atlanta at the Tabernacle; “Wish Me Away,” about first out mainstream country music singer Chely Wright; “Eating Out: The Open Weekend,” the latest installment in the raunchy comedy series; “The Night Watch,” based on the novel by Sarah Waters; and “This is What Love in Action Looks Like,” a documentary about Zach Stark, who made headlines in 2005 at age 16 when he blogged about coming out and being sent to an “ex-gay” therapy program.
All-access festival passes cost $115 and are available on the Out on Film website. Individual tickets are also available for each show.
Sunday, Oct. 2
“This is What Love in Action Looks Like” • 11 a.m.
In the summer of 2005 16-year-old Zach Stark of Memphis posted on MySpace that his parents were sending him to the Refuge program of “ex-gay” ministry Love in Action.
Zach posted the program’s rules, which kept the teenagers, mostly there unwillingly, cut off from the outside world. His virtual cry for help went viral and brought protestors (followed by the media) to the LIA headquarters.
Zach, who requested privacy after leaving Refuge, breaks his own silence, though perhaps not as strongly as we’d like. Other alumni share their experiences and feelings but the most interesting contributions come from Rev. John Smid, LIA’s executive director from 1990 to 2008.
This documentary downplays the role of filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox in organizing the protests though his Queer Action Coalition. You can’t expect objectivity from Fox news!
“Legalize Gay” • 1 p.m. (with Q and A to follow)
A sneak preview of the upcoming LOGO documentary looking at the new generation leading the campaign for LGBT equality. Includes rugby star Ben Cohen, who visited Atlanta earlier this year, as well as Jeshawna Wholley, a lesbian activist at Atlanta’s Spelman College.
“Mary Lou” • 2:30 p.m.
A modern fable with a musical message. Meir, a young man searching for his mother in Tel Aviv, learns about love with the help of the gay community and Israeli pop music.
“Man 2 Man: A Gay Man’s Guide to Finding Love” 5:30 p.m. (world premiere; Q and A to follow with Christopher Hines)
Christopher Hines makes vaguely annoying documentaries (“The Butch Factor,” “The Adonis Factor”) that belabor obvious ideas and push his idea of eye candy, even while preaching against the worship of superficial beauty.
“Man 2 Man” devotes roughly three quarters to the search for love and one quarter to maintaining a relationship once you’re in one. Marginally better than “Butch” and “Adonis,” it shares their faults, including “experts” testifying to score plugs for their books, websites and counseling services.
If you see “Man 2 Man” in a festival you might meet Mr. Right there. If you watch it alone at home you’re ignoring the film’s advice that you should be out there looking for love to find it.
“The Green” • 7:20 p.m.
Intended as a latter-day “Children’s Hour,” “The Green” has good acting, cinematography and intentions that make it an enjoyable dramatic experience. But as a legal drama it would be thrown out of court and despite its school setting, Paul Marcarelli’s script wouldn’t pass Screenwriting 101.
Michael (Jason Butler Harner) and Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson), his partner of 15 years, moved from Manhattan to a small Connecticut town and found immediate acceptance. Dan runs a catering business and Michael teaches at a private high school.
Jason (Chris Bert), Michael’s favorite student, is behaving strangely, apparently because of problems at home, where his white trash mother (Karen Young) lives with the school janitor (Bill Sage).
A minor incident incites a rumor that Michael behaved inappropriately with Jason. He’s arrested and instantly becomes the town pariah. It’s not clear what he’s charged with but a lesbian lawyer (Julia Ormond) helps him fight.
“Buffering” • 9:10 p.m.
“Buffering” shows the English can make silly sex comedies too.
Being laid off gives Aaron (Conner McKenzy) more time for Internet porn, but he and his partner Seb (Alex Anthony) are in danger of losing their home.
Aaron secretly tapes their sex life and posts it on a pay-per-view pornsite. With money pouring in even Seb consents, but stipulates their faces not be shown. Their friend Jem (Jessica Matthews) urges them to go interactive and add a third party to the action to boost revenue.
McKenzy and Anthony are ordinary blokes, not pornstar hunks. Their buff neighbor (Oliver Park) provides the visual stimulation in this movie that’s sweet and amusing, more artistic and less sexy than its U.S. counterparts.
Christian Martin, one of two writer-directors, also worked on “Fucked,” an HIV awareness short screening with “Buffering.” It’s much hotter.
Monday, Oct. 3
“Out for the Long Run” • 3:50 p.m.
This documentary about LGBT athletes in high school includes appearances by openly gay former baseball player Billy Bean and Olympic diver Greg Louganis.
“Tomboy” • 5:20 p.m.
After the ten-year-old “Tomboy” introduces herself to kids in her new neighborhood as Mikael, “the new boy in the building,” writer-director Céline Sciamma has to throw in a full-frontal shot to reassure us she’s a girl.
“Tomboy” pulls you into an unusual world — or the life of an unusual person in a usual world. Young Zoé Héran grounds the film with an amazing, incredibly natural performance as Mikael, whose birth name is Laure. Her short hair and boyish wardrobe suggest Laure’s feelings are not new, but it’s unclear whether she’s acted on them before.
As summer fades and school approaches, there are surprises, both sweet and bitter. Some reactions will seem totally French: Americans would make a bigger deal of everything.
“Tomboy” is worth making a big deal of, precisely because it allows a child to find her/his place in the universe without getting hysterical about it.
“The Wise Kids” • 7 p.m. (Q and A to follow with director Stephen Cone)
“The Wise Kids” is one of those sweet surprises that make film festivals worthwhile. It’s set in a Charleston neighborhood anchored by a Baptist church but could be anywhere in the Bible belt, including Harper Valley.
The story spans Easter to Christmas in the year three teenagers graduate high school and start college. It’s bookended by church pageants staged by Austin (writer-director-producer Stephen Cone). He’s not exactly Marcus Bachmann gay but his wife has been having a long dry spell in the bedroom.
Preacher’s daughter Brea (Molly Kunz) is questioning her faith. Her BFF Laura (Allison Torem) questions the faith of their friend Tim (Tyler Ross) after he comes out to them. Laura tells Tim he can’t be gay and Christian, although he seems to manage.
“The Wise Kids” feels wonderfully natural. The plot occasionally flirts with melodrama but never yields to that temptation.
“Morgan” • 9:10 p.m. (world premiere)
Morgan is a young man whose spirit and drive prevent him from accepting his new life as a paraplegic. When he meets Dean, Morgan finds himself reverting to his old ways that led to his crippling accident.
Tuesday, Oct. 4
Noon Shorts • 12 p.m.
“It’s Just a Community Place,” “A Family Portrait,” “Go-Go Alice in Andrews Land”
“That’s My Nun” • 4:15 p.m.
A documentary about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who use their irreverent humor and street theater to support men and women facing discrimination, especially homophobia and HIV.
“The Night Watch” • 5:35 p.m.
“The Night Watch” shows the impracticality of condensing a 544-page novel (by Sarah Waters of “Tipping the Velvet”) into a 90-minute screenplay. Impeccably produced by the BBC, the 1940s production design is at times more interesting than the plot unfolding against it.
In 1947 mannish Kay (Anna Maxwell Martin) walks to the abandoned headquarters of her wartime ambulance corps. Gay Duncan (Harry Treadaway) is pursued by Fraser (JJ Feild), his straight former cellmate. Duncan’s sister Viv (Jodie Whittaker) recently resumed seeing her married lover, Reggie (Liam Garrigan). Viv works with Helen (Claire Foy), whose insecurity is wearing on her lover, Julia (Anna Wilson-Jones).
Before you can process all these people and their situations you’re whisked back to 1944 for a longer chapter that reveals some of their history. For more (but not all) answers you have to check 1941 and for partial resolutions you have to return to 1947 in the finale.
The structure can be confusing in the novel as well, although the characters are compelling and worth trying to get to know. At elast in the book, you have the chance to turn back the pages for details or connections you might have missed.
“We Were Here” • 7:20 p.m.
Speaking as objectively as possible, “We Were Here” is a well-made documentary by David Weissman about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Five eyewitnesses, each with a unique perspective near the center of the action, detail their experiences during the plague years, while archival material fleshes out the broader story.
But no gay man who lived through the ‘80s and ‘90s can watch “We Were Here” objectively. I lived in San Francisco from 1979 to 1993, and it brought back memories of attending memorial services every week, while also mourning friends lost in Atlanta and elsewhere.
From our pre-AIDS party to hope for a post-AIDS future, “We Were Here” cuts a broad swath through modern queer history, showing how AIDS brought us together as a community, including uniting lesbians and gay men.
“Longhorns” • 9:10 p.m.
Set in Texas in 1982, this sexy comedy explores what happens when a straight frat boy’s heart starts to flutter for an openly gay student, and a weekend fueled by beers and straight porn leads to bed-hopping and questions about sexual identity.
Also on Tuesday night, Ansley Park Playhouse (1545 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta GA 30309) hosts an encore screening at 7:45 p.m., with the film to be determined during the festival.
Wednesday, Oct. 5 • GA Voice night
TBD encore • 12 p.m. (film chosen by popularity during festival)
Finding Their Own Voice shorts • 4 p.m.
“Finding Judy,” “Loop Planes,” “Poker Face,” “Slip Away”
“Gone” • 5:35 p.m.
If “Gone” weren’t a documentary, Kathryn Gilleran would be in line for Best Actress honors. Her great character face goes through a gamut of emotions.
Kathy tells her story in closeup, with occasional visual aids. She retired in 2006 after 21 years as a police officer in upstate New York. On Oct. 31, 2007, she got word that her gay son Aeryn, who worked for the United Nations in Vienna, hadn’t been seen for two days, since he ran naked from an exclusive sauna (bathhouse) after some kind of altercation. A fisherman reported seeing a body in a nearby canal.
When Kathy goes to Vienna our movie expectations kick in. Like Liam Neeson in “Taken,” she’s going over there to kick some ass! Well, not quite…
Stonewalled by the police, who call the death a “spontaneous suicide,” she determines to unearth the truth. Despite her training and experience, sadly, real life doesn’t always play out as neatly as a movie script.
“Wish Me Away” • 7:15 p.m.
How many biographical documentaries deserve to premiere simultaneously on Lifetime, Logo and CMT?
If you’re not into country music you may not have known Chely Wright before she came out as a lesbian in May 2010, then promoted her new book and album on the Pride festival circuit.
Wright tells her life story, often tearfully, during the weeks prior to coming out. Aware early that she was gay, she tried to pray it away. When she couldn’t, she kept promising herself she’d come out at the next career milestone. It finally came down to a choice between potential career suicide and actual suicide.
“Private Romeo” • 9:10 p.m. (possible Q and A)
A Shakespearean reboot, “Private Romeo” is strangely watchable, though oddly conceived.
Alan Brown’s all-male production is set in a contemporary military school. Some characters are spoken of as female but not portrayed that way. Juliet is as macho as Romeo.
While the dialogue is primarily Shakespeare’s, heavily edited, other lines (“Do you think I’m going to get into West Point?”) are inserted to fit the setting. The play’s deaths are transformed and the ending isn’t as you remember it.
Amazingly, the cast (mostly stage actors) is quite good at its thankless task. They keep “Private Romeo” interesting, even if the concept doesn’t quite make sense.
Also on Wednesday night, Ansley Park Playhouse (1545 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta GA 30309) hosts an encore screening at 7:45 p.m., with the film to be determined during the festival.
Thursday, Oct. 6 • Closing Night
“Leave it on the Floor” • 3 p.m. (encore)
Best of Fest Shorts • 5 p.m.
“Expressions,” “Facing a New Age,” Men’s Shorts Audience Award winner, Women’s Shorts Audience Award winner
“From Hollywood to Dollywood” • 6:45 p.m. (Q and A with directors Gary and Larry Lane)
Gay twin brothers Gary and Larry Lane ride from “Hollywood to Dollywood” in a rented RV to hand Dolly Parton a script they’ve written for her at the opening of Dollywood’s 25th anniversary season.
Born and raised in North Carolina, the twins, 35, came out to each other at 16 and to their parents when they were 25, not coincidentally the year they moved to Hollywood.
The brothers get tips from celebrity friends: Oscar-winning screenwriter (“Milk”) Dustin Lance Black, actors Beth Grant, Leslie Jordan and Ann Walker, all from “Sordid Lives”; and gay actor Chad Allen.
Everyone, including strangers along the road, gushes about Dolly Parton. Several also talk about growing up gay in the South.
The journey is peppered with Parton songs and the personal stories are often moving, so the bullshit in the premise hardly matters.
“Judas Kiss” • 8:45 pm. (Q and A to follow with J.T. Tepnapa) (preceded by the short “Lunchtime”)
One person at three different ages comes together at one time and place. The one in the middle counsels his younger self to keep him from repeating his mistakes, while ignoring the older man’s efforts to do the same for him. It’s reminiscent of “A Christmas Carol.”
Zachary Wells (Charlie David) returns to his alma mater as a judge in their prestigious student film festival. Zach won it 15 years ago, changed his name and went to Hollywood to party and fail.
Zach hooks up with a student (Richard Harmon), who turns out to be a competition finalist. His name is Danny Reyes — Zach’s name before he changed it — and his film “Judas Kiss” is the same one Zach had made.
“Judas Kiss” strives for more than most films attempt, and should be lauded for it, so chiding it makes me feel like a Judas. Still, the phrase “the key to your future” is heard frequently. Whether “Judas Kiss” will be the key to filmmaker J.T. Tepnapa’s future remains an open question.
Top photo: ‘Going Down in La-La Land (publicity still)