In 2008, I saw a blurb in Southern Voice that the Atlanta Film Festival was giving up Out On Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQIA+ film festival, and wanted it to be a community-run organization moving forward. I immediately reached out to the new group that was taking over and blatantly said that I’d like to be the festival director/head of programming. It seemed like a perfect job for the movie nerd in me. Little did I know what I was stepping into — or that 15 years would pass by so quickly.
Those first years were tough, but we slowly built up a team and have continued to grow, season after season. As we dive into our 36th anniversary, we have become one of the major LGBTQIA+ film festivals around. This year, as part of the “USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards 2023,” we were voted as the top film festival in the country.
To have that honor is an amazing testament to the filmmakers, sponsors, and patrons who have supported us all these years, and the staff and volunteers who keep us hungry to grow every season.
I grew up at an age where there was very little LGBTQ programming and what was there was mostly tragic and unnerving. One of the first movies with a gay character I watched was the film, “Cruising,” in which a police detective goes undercover in an underground S&M gay subculture of New York City to try to find a serial killer who is killing gay men. It scared the heck out of me. Then I started watching AIDS films, and they were all very good and affecting, yet the main character had to die at the end, befitting the times. At one point, I thought to myself — I do not have a lot to look forward to if I ever have the nerve to come out.
But I did watch a TV movie called Consenting Adult with Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen as parents whose son, played by Barry Tubb, is gay. I knew when I watched Barry Tubb kiss another guy in a van that I was gay. Tubb was later seen in Top Gun and a few other movies, but he’s not active now as a performer. The movie, too, is largely under the radar. Too bad. I’ll never forget it, though. It changed my life.
That is what movies and media can do. It’s important to have positive portrayals of LGBTQ individuals, but for a while those were especially hard to come by.
As I grew older, I did begin seeing more positive portrayals, including another that changed me — TV’s “My So-Called Life,” with Wilson Cruz playing Enrique Vasquez. It was a groundbreaking character. And over the years, representation and positive portrayals have gotten much better. One of my favorite LGBTQ films is “Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo,” which deals with HIV/AIDS in a refreshingly positive manner.
With many more LGBTQ movies available, as well as television series, people often ask me why it’s still important to host an LGBTQ film festival. It will always be essential to have positive portrayals of the LGBTQ experience so audiences know they are not alone. Nothing beats the feeling of having someone come to Out On Film and tell us they saw themselves on screen for the first time. That is why we exist and why we work so hard every year. For every patron in the Midtown/Atlanta area who comes to see a film, there is another from somewhere else in the state or the South who is not able to be out at work or at home, and what we offer that person is a safe haven to see themselves and be part of their community.
A reporter asked me last week why our theme was Defiantly Queer this year. It seems natural. At a time when our community is under attack, with so much unnecessary anti-gay legislation, it is vital to bring us all together, stand up and proudly say: we are here. We have every right to be here. And we are not going anywhere.
We open our festival with a bang this year — Bill Oliver’s “Our Son,” featuring excellent performances by Billy Porter and Luke Evans as a gay couple in a custody battle over their 8-year-old son when they part ways. Our closing night film is Tom Gustafson’s delightful, “Glitter & Doom,” a musical featuring songs from the legendary and local Indigo Girls. We literally have movies all members of the LGBTQ community can enjoy. As always, it is our pleasure — and responsibility — to do so.
Jim Farmer has written about queer arts for Southern Voice/ The Georgia Voice for the last 25 years. He’s an editor-at-large for ArtsATL and also contributes to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His writing has been awarded by both the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists and the National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards, and he was also nominated for the Online Journalist of the Year Award by the latter. Farmer serves as the festival director of Out On Film, Atlanta’s Oscar® qualifying LGBTQIA+ film festival. Named as the 2019 Business Man of the Year from the Out Georgia Business Alliance, he has been named to Atlanta Magazine’s Atlanta 500 Most Powerful City Leaders list in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. He is also an ambassador for the Out Georgia Business Alliance and was on the Atlanta Hawks LGBTQIA+ Pride Council. He lives in Avondale Estates with his husband Craig and dog Douglas.