Universal Pictures must have felt guilty about opening “Bros,” touted as “the first gay rom-com released by a major studio,” i.e., aimed at a general audience (What about “The Birdcage”? “In and Out”?), opposite the final weekend of a key LGBTQ+ film festival; so they’ve granted Out On Film a preview screening on opening night to generate word of mouth among their primary audience.
That’s cool, but remember that “Bros” will be around for a long time, while many of the other films in the festival will be hard to find if you miss them here.
This year’s 35th Out On Film Festival runs September 22 through October 2 in person and virtually from September 30 through October 6. Most screenings will be at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema until closing weekend, September 30 through October 2, when the festival moves to the Out Front Theatre Company.
More information and ticket sales are available at outonfilm.org. Lest you be overwhelmed by the 40 feature films and 16 programs of short films from a total of 27 countries, we’ve managed to preview some features and offer recommendations below.
BEST OF FEST:
Oct. 2, 7:30pm, Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 2–9 virtual
It’s rare, but occasionally you’ll see something at Out on Film that’s so original and made with such skill by a hot new talent, you’ll think you’re at Sundance. Out On Film ends on a high note with “Chrissy Judy,” the first feature by writer-director-producer-editor Todd Flaherty. Did I mention he also stars as Judy, half of a pair of underappreciated New York drag queens? Judy and Chrissy (Wyatt Fenner) are the kind of besties who promised to marry each other if they were still single at 30. When the time comes, they push the deadline back to 40, but Chrissy has a serious boyfriend who invites him to move to Philadelphia with him. This introduces Judy to a new kind of loneliness, and he tries different ways of coping. The black-and-white cinematography and score of jazzy standards — many sung live — suggest early Woody Allen; and like Allen, there’s enough comedy that it may be a while before you take the story seriously. There’s certainly more than one possibility for a line like, “When did you start acting like all these people we used to make fun of?” If Flaherty doesn’t have an Oscar by the time he’s 40, I’ll marry him (and I don’t think my present husband has to worry)!
ART AND PEP
Sept. 24, 1pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Sept. 25–Oct. 2 virtual
One generation’s nostalgia is another’s history lesson. Every major city and many towns smaller than you’d expect have had their queeroes, who put the “community” in their LGBTQ community, giving them a place to meet and organize, and speaking up when many were still afraid to. Mercedes Kane’s documentary is the story of Chicago’s. It focuses on Arthur Johnston and Jose Pepe Peña, who have been a couple since the mid-1970s and opened the bar Sidetrack in 1982. As Chicago progressed from Mayor Richard Daley, who ignored AIDS for years, to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city’s first Black lesbian leader, Pepe ran the bar and Art ran his mouth, getting arrested when police raided Sidetrack, importing safe sex materials from more progressive cities early in the epidemic, and helping get the city’s gay rights ordinance passed in 1988. Kane errs in illustrating the 2014 start of same-sex marriage in Illinois with footage of Art and Pep’s 2011 civil union, and at times the film seems like an infomercial for Sidetrack. OK, it made me thirsty, but it also satisfied my hunger. It includes many movement leaders, in old footage and new interviews, providing a crash course in Chicago Pride. It shows how far we’ve come and doesn’t forget we’ve still got a way to go. And it provides a template for Atlanta and other cities to follow in preserving their own history.
BLACK AS U R
Sept. 25, 7pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Sept. 26–Oct. 4 virtual
Growing up LGBTQ is easier now than it was when most of us did it — unless, as with most things in America, you’re Black. Black gay writer-director Micheal Rice grew up that way in Texas, struggling to fit in with limited options. Now he makes films and writes plays in an attempt to bring people together. Based on this example, if he’s not successful, he can at least make folks on both sides understand why. He begins by reviewing the history of post-Civil War violence against Black people, leading to the civil rights and later Black Lives Matter movements. The latter was started by three women, two of them lesbians, while the 1963 March on Washington was organized by gay Bayard Rustin (who will be played next year by this year’s Icon Award winner, Colman Domingo). Yet tolerance of LGBTQ people in the Black community is limited, largely by conservative “Christians” who marginalize members of their already marginalized group, and it’s common for Black trans women to be murdered by people of their own race. Rice lets a number of trans people and others tell their stories, one of which ends badly, of acceptance or rejection. He spends a bit too much time with a cute quartet from the ballroom scene in Greenwich Village. Most interesting to me was a surprisingly articulate conversation in a Crown Heights barbershop where diverse points of view are expressed. You know the speakers must have been preselected, but it’s fascinating to hear what they have to say and to see that they hear each other.
IN FROM THE SIDE
Sept. 24, 7pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
Though not technically a superhero movie, “In from the Side” is the work of an emerging superhero: Matt Carter. He’s the film’s writer, director, cinematographer, editor, a producer, composer, performer and a few miscellaneous credits — a possible record for multitasking. Usually such an effort results in a small-scale, low-budget film, but this one has a broad scope and excellent production values. It also has a plot, a gay love story concerning rugby players. Knowing only that rugby is a sport, I soon learned it involves hot men in tight shorts and is much like the English version of American football, as soccer is the American version of English football. The all-gay South London Stags have an A Squad and a B Squad. Mark (Alexander Lincoln) is the MVP of the latter. Warren (Alexander King) is returning to the A team after being sidelined with an injury. Each is in a long-term relationship, which complicates things when their initial hookup leads to more and more involvement, and they have to hide it from their teammates and everyone else they know. Carter writes himself into such a corner I can’t imagine an ending that would be completely satisfying, but most of what comes before is as good as anything you’ll see in this or most other LGBTQ festivals.
JIMMY IN SAIGON
Oct. 1, 2:30pm, Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 1–8 virtual
Filmmaker Peter McDowell plays detective to learn how his older brother Jimmy lived and died in Saigon in 1972 at the age of 24. I won’t reveal his key discovery, but because the film’s in an LGBTQ festival, you can imagine it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler. Peter himself comes out early in the film, so that could be enough justification. They were the oldest and youngest of six siblings in a Catholic (naturally) Illinois family. Despite claiming to be a conscientious objector, Jimmy was drafted in 1969 and sent to Vietnam at the height of the war. After being discharged he chose to go back to Saigon — “for hedonistic pleasures,” he wrote. He said he was close to a young woman and lived with her family. When he died, “heroin abuse” was blamed. The McDowells retrieved his body for burial, but felt they lacked closure. In 2010, Peter started working on this film to resolve unanswered questions. He went through Jimmy’s letters and sought out people who had known him. In 2016 he went to Saigon in search of Jimmy’s return address, the number of which had changed, and his “girlfriend,” who had moved to America. But he didn’t quit. Besides letters and photos, Peter has amassed an impressive number of clips — from old home movies to period news and scenic footage. He’s also interviewed family and friends to paint a slowly evolving portrait of the brother he lost when he was five. It’s a moving story, well told, with an executive producer credit for gay writer and advice columnist, Dan Savage.
Oct. 1, 5:45pm, Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 1–8 virtual
Where in the world can you go for a haircut without worrying about encountering hypermasculinity, racism, homophobia or transphobia? Manscaping is an hourlong portrait of three LGBTQ people from Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Sydney who have provided different answers to that question. Devan Shimoyama overcame his childhood fear of barbers by creating collages about haircuts, applying jewels, glitter and other objects and materials to his paintings, winding up with exhibitions in New York and Washington DC. Transman Jessie Anderson opened Big Bro’s Barber Shop, where trans people are especially welcome and understood and can buy clothing items otherwise available only online. While losing his own hair, Australian fetishist Richard Savvy started cutting other men’s as the Naked Barber. He also produces porn, but knows how to keep his professions separate. Director Broderick Fox smoothly juggles his three subjects as we find out more about each and the types they represent. I was surprised by how much I learned, when I thought I knew everything. Florida politicians might be surprised to see what kind of “grooming” queers really do.
PAT ROCCO DARED
Sept. 25, 9:15pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Sept. 26–Oct. 3 virtual
Almost three seconds pass in this biography of gay filmmaker/activist Pat Rocco (1934–2018) before we see nude male genitalia. There will be a lot more. Rocco began as a nightclub entertainer. He worked with Phyllis Diller in 1955 and they remained friends. Out from adolescence, Rocco started making gay films in 1967. They were love stories with lots of male nudity, but no erections or graphic sex — someone labels them “cockdanglers.” A historian says Rocco also made hardcore films, but under another name. Many of us who are old enough to remember Rocco are likely to have forgotten him. I can’t remember if, when, or where his films were shown in Atlanta, other than private homes. But Rocco, who lived in L.A., became active in what was then the gay movement and documented various events in California, hanging with such heroes as Rev. Troy Perry (shown in historical clips and recent interviews) and the late Harvey Milk. He spent his last 46 years with life partner David Ghee. Rocco won tons of lifetime achievement awards, but it took Canadians to honor him with this film — notably declared disciple Charlie David, who interviewed Rocco the year before his death. There’s a wealth of LGBTQ history on display here in addition to the dangling cocks. There are moments when it might have been assembled better, but it’s worth the effort to try to take it all in. And lest you question Rocco’s skills as a boundary-busting filmmaker, there are scenes from a love story set against the 1976 L.A. Pride celebration with an ending that brought tears to my eyes.
WHEN TIME GOT LOUDER
Sept. 26, 7pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
My early reaction to “When Time Got Louder” was that soap opera fans, which I am not, will find it soaper-doaper. It didn’t take me long to get caught up in the genuine drama of writer-director Connie Cocchia’s debut feature. She’s annoyingly trendy in shredding the timeline over a dozen years while concealing until the last few minutes the nature of the event that brought Kayden Peterson (Jonathan Simao) to the hospital with head injuries. His family is interrogated by a woman who turns out to be a social worker. The Petersons haven’t had an easy time raising 17-year-old Kayden, who has a severe case of autism and can’t be left alone. His parents (Lochlyn Munro, Elizabeth Mitchell) have largely relied on his sister Abbie (Willow Shields), with whom Kayden shares a love of drawing, but she went away to college a few months ago and has just returned for the holidays. At college she started dating Karly (Ava Capri), who doesn’t appreciate Abbie not being out to her overstressed family. Performances range from good to great, most notably Simao’s. It turns out he has Asperger’s syndrome in real life, giving him insight into Kayden’s condition without most of the handicaps. Despite my issues with the continuity, I can’t dispute the film’s dramatic impact.
FLAWED BUT INTERESTING:
ALL MAN: THE INTERNATIONAL MALE STORY
Oct. 2, 5:45pm, Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 2–9 virtual
Once upon a time, gay men who could afford it bought trendy clothes from the International Male catalog. The rest of us just looked at the pictures. Directors Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed include plenty of those pictures as they take us back to those days — roughly the last three decades of the 20th century. Gene Burkard founded the magazine/catalog after leaving the Air Force, spending the ’60s in Europe and finally settling in San Diego. He was interviewed extensively for this film before passing away in 2020. Masculinity began to be sexualized (no one says “exploited”) by Cosmopolitan and Playgirl in the early ’70s. Burkard found he could sell sexy underwear to gay men through the mail, but when his inventory expanded, he was surprised to find his clientele included more straight men who wanted to look like the models (and women who wanted their men to) than the gay men who wanted the models. After AIDS took many of his staff, models and customers, Burkard gave up and sold the business to Hanover Direct. Narrated by Matt Bomer, the film doesn’t have the smoothest flow, but you’re never far from some interesting comments, because everyone had their own take on IM. And of course, there are those photos.
NELLY & NADINE
Sept. 28, 7pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Sept. 29–Oct. 6 virtual
Elements of Nelly & Nadine could have made this true lesbian love story the best film in the festival, but because of the way they’ve been assembled — presumably at the will of director and co-writer Magnus Gertten — it’s the most frustrating instead. The tale is presented like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. The unidentified narrator, possibly Gertten, tells how he researched to learn the identity of women prisoners of Nazi concentration camps from photos taken after their release. Among his examples is Nadine Hwang, who he says he learned about on a French farm. Cut to that farm, where we meet Sylvie Bianchi, the granddaughter of another prisoner, opera singer Nelly Mousset-Vos. Sylvie explores Nelly’s memorabilia, which she hasn’t looked at since her death in 1987. We’re 20 minutes into the film before the women are connected. Nelly and Nadine became lovers at Kreuzberg or Ravensbrück, camps where they were imprisoned in 1944, and except for a year or so after the war (we don’t learn how they found each other again), they were together until Nadine’s death in 1972, living mostly in Caracas. Much of the story is told through Nelly’s journals, which are beautifully written and read (in French, subtitled here) and illustrated with the trove of photos and film from her archive, as well as WWII stock footage. Those parts are so wonderful it’s a shame to interrupt them with recent interviews with Sylvie and others. I’d rather hear more about Nadine’s pre-war involvement in Natalie Barney’s lesbian literary salon in Paris than watch Christian (presumably Sylvie’s husband) plowing the fields of their farm. While Gertten omits or buries details, his attempts to be arty only damage a story that’s already a work of art; but the film you can piece together in your head while watching is worth the effort.
Sept. 29, 9pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Sept. 29–Oct. 7 virtual
Most of the character names in Two Eyes have odd spellings to obscure their genders, but unless you’re watching a subtitled print you won’t see the names until the closing credits (which no one watches). It’s another sign that writer, director, co-producer, editor and native Atlantan Travis Fine is more concerned with pleasing himself than potential viewers with his cleverness. The whole film is a jigsaw puzzle that lets you piece together three stories spread over 152 years. Even more puzzling are the gender and sexuality of some characters, which may be revealed or change as the film sometimes flows, more often jumps from one tale to another. In Montana in 1868, British artist Dihlon (Benjamin Rigby) leaves his wife and kids to follow a Native guide, Jacy (Kiowa Gordon), in search of his muse. In 1979 in Barstow, California, Gabryal (Uly Schlesinger) becomes a native guide of sorts for newly arrived foreign exchange student Alasen (Jessica Allain), until she takes the reins and guides him through life. In Wyoming in 2020, Jalin (Ryan Cassata) is depressed after a breakup and struggling to navigate his gender identity. A nonbinary trans therapist (Kate Bornstein) tries to help him and eventually helps us tie the stories together. The title comes from a variation on the idea of two-spirit Indigenous people, saying that some see the world through one eye as a male and the other as a female. Nakhane Touré, as a friend of Alasen’s, provides the film’s best music and some of its best acting. Much of “Two Eyes” is enjoyable, but sometimes it seems to require more effort than it’s worth.
WONDERFULLY MADE: LGBTQ+R(eligion)
Sept. 24, 5pm, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Sept. 25–Oct. 2 virtual
This film was adequately made by director Yuval David and his husband, Mark McDermott, to illustrate their process of creating a photo exhibit that brings LGBTQ imagery into Christian iconography. Said to be the first of a series, this film focuses exclusively on the Catholic church, whose strict dogma causes bullying, suicides, and events like the Pulse massacre. In addition to reviewing these things and negative reactions by some archbishops to Pope Francis’ efforts to be more welcoming, including allowing same-sex civil unions, David interviews Catholics on our side, including Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of Dignity USA; and Fr. James Martin, S.J., who speaks of the “double whammy of hate and rejection” he’s received as an openly gay Black priest. Amusingly, while they sought people of diverse ethnicities and genders to portray Jesus, the casting call shows they limited the ages of model/actors to 21-27, when the Bible says Jesus’ ministry was from ages 30 to 33. They also cite two websites where you can “view the art,” but all you’ll find there are trailers and promotional material for the film. Hey, nobody’s perfect.