By Vic Gerami
Outfest, the preeminent LGBTQ film festival opens this Thursday, July 18th and runs through Sunday, July 28th.
Outfest is eleven days of not to be missed world-class films, panels, and parties. Each summer Outfest Los Angeles screens more than 150 feature and short films to an audience more than 40,000 people. Outfest Los Angeles is the oldest film festival in Los Angeles.
Outfest’s 2019 Achievement Award recipient is Nisha Ganatra.
Nisha Ganatra, an Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter, will receive the Achievement Award, Outfest’s highest honor, presented in recognition of a body of work that has made a significant contribution to LGBTQ film and media. Her most recent feature film, Late Night starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, was picked up by Amazon Studios after debuting at Sundance Film Festival. In a time where women and people of color still make up only a fraction of directors, Ganatra is breaking barriers in both film and television as a multi award-winning female filmmaker including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Girls,” and “Transparent,” for which she received a Golden Globe Award.
“Nisha stormed into our hearts with her Outfest Los Angles Audience Award winning film, Chutney Popcorn. Since then, she has forged a reputation as someone who matches a strong sense of vision with an openness to collaboration. Nisha has continued to use her confident artistry to create change and push at the barriers which keep women and people of color at the margins in this industry. Her latest film, Late Night, dazzled at Sundance with a $13M sale to Amazon — a testament to her work, her vision, and her vast potential,” commented Outfest’s Executive Director Christopher Racster.
The annual festival will open on the evening of Thursday, July 18th at the Orpheum Theater with Rachel Mason’s intimate and absorbing documentary, Circus of Books, about L.A.’s legendary gay pornography emporium run by her parents, Karen and Barry Mason. The film was recently picked up by Netflix.
Additional gala screenings include: Adam (U.S. Centerpiece), Ariel Schrag’s YA novel adaptation of the same name directed by Outfest alum and “Transparent” producer Rhys Ernst; Hari Sama’s Sundance hit This Is Not Berlin (International Centerpiece), set in the 1980s Mexico City queer music scene; Michael Barnett’s Changing the Game (Documentary Centerpiece) which focuses on three resilient transgender high school athletes fighting to compete as their authentic gender amidst national scrutiny; and Straight Up (Breakthrough Centerpiece), a sharp and witty Los Angeles-set comedy written/directed by and starring newcomer James Sweeney.
“Circus of Books first opened in 1982, coincidentally the same year Outfest began. It’s thrilling that these queer Los Angeles institutions’ parallel histories will converge the same year that we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall at our festival. It will be undeniably powerful to pay tribute to these landmark events that paved the way for today’s generation of emerging queer talent to tell the type of diverse, risk-taking stories represented by our gala selections,” said Outfest Director of Festival Programs Mike Dougherty.
The 2019 Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival will close on Sunday, July 28th at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel with Hannah Pearl Utt’s Before You Know It, a quirky comedy about two sisters who discover the mother they’d long been told was dead is actually a famous soap star, starring Utt, Judith Light, Alec Baldwin, Tim Daly, Jen Tullock, Mike Colter and Mandy Patinkin. The Achievement Award Ceremony will take place at the Closing Night Gala, followed by the screening of Before You Know It.
Circus of Books (Opening Night Gala) Director: Rachel Mason
Within the pantheon of essential landmarks in the history of queer Los Angeles, there never has been nor will there ever be another place as singular and iconic as the legendary Circus of Books: the brick-and-mortar gay erotica emporium, cruising hotspot haven, and unofficial community center on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard and on Sunset in Silver Lake. But somewhere between the racks of multi-sized dildos and racy DVDs available for purchase in the safety of broad daylight, you’d never expect to find that the premier purveyors – and producers! – of hardcore gay pornography in the United States were a clean-cut mom-and-pop duo running sexually explicit contraband by day while raising a family of five in the suburbs by night.
Outlaws of obscenity for more than 30 years, Karen and Barry Mason left the straight-and-narrow behind for a side-hustle hawking magazines for Larry Flynt before going on to open Circus of Books, risking imprisonment under the Reagan Justice Department and inadvertently breaking ground as the erogenous epicenter of LGBTQ L.A. and a sanctuary during the AIDS epidemic.
Filmmaker Rachel Mason turns the camera on her parents in this intimate and absorbing documentary to better understand the personal and political history behind the family business. Featuring revealing interviews with relatives, former employees (including drag superstar Alaska Thunderfuck 5000), and Larry Flynt himself, she weaves together a most unusual home movie that reflects the freedom and family values that only a life in gay porn can provide.
Adam (US Centerpiece) Director: Rhys Ernst
“Transparent” producer and Outfest alum Rhys Ernst’s ambitious feature debut approaches Ariel Schrag’s 2014 satirical YA novel of the same name with sensitivity and nuance, opening a window into the lives of young lesbian and trans New Yorkers in 2006. Faced with a boring summer with his parents, awkward high schooler Adam decides to join his hip sister Casey (Margaret Qualley, Fosse/Verdon), a student at Columbia University, and an active member of the New York City queer scene. As the naïve but open-minded Adam tags along, he finds himself taken with an older(ish) lesbian named Gillian. Surprisingly, she seems interested, assuming he is a trans man — not a cis, straight teen — and Adam does nothing to correct her. As he falls deeper into a relationship with Gillian and plunges further into the core of this group, Adam must find a way to live his truth without alienating and offending his new friends.
A coming-of-age romance with a twist, this comedy of errors doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable moments, treating its characters, their perspectives, and their experiences with respect. Turning the trans deception trope on its head, Adam charts the growth not only of a young man, but also of a movement, giving the eponymous Adam, as well as the audience, an intimate entrée into a very specific time and place.
This is Not Berlin (International Centerpiece) Writer-Director: Hari Sama
Mexico City, 1986: As the country prepares for the World Cup, a thriving underground of New Wave music and avant-garde art bubbles up. Seventeen-year-old Carlos feels like an outsider, but when his engineering know-how comes to the rescue of a synth-heavy music group in need of a keyboard technician, he’s ushered into a world much wilder than high school rivalries and his sheltered home life. Hitting the clubs puts Carlos closer to Rita, his older crush, who’s the sister of his best friend Gera, but as the two young men navigate this vibrant and revolutionary scene, it’s Gera who blossoms both as an artist and as someone discovering his sexuality. Fueled by love and anger, this pack of rabble-rousing young artists inspires each other to greater heights of creativity while also opening up to their true selves.
Featuring a superb ensemble (that includes Oscar nominee Marina de Tavira of Roma) and pulsing with the energy of the art and experimentation of the 1980s — even in the shadow of the HIV epidemic, and even in places that weren’t Berlin — this revelatory and romantic coming-of-age tale was a hit at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. Whether you were around in 1986 or are nostalgic for an earlier era’s efforts to sail against the current and create its own rowdy, revolutionary voice, This Is Not Berlin captures every generation’s deep need to stand apart and smash down the old ways to create something new.
Changing the Game (Documentary Centerpiece) Director: Michael Barnett
Filmmaker Michael Barnett’s richly textured documentary illuminates an issue both timely and topical, but at its core captures the warm-hearted, courageous characters living within it. Three resilient transgender high school athletes across the United States fight for their sports titles and battle voices of harassment in their pursuit to compete as their authentic gender. We enter the lives of Sarah Rose Huckman, a spunky skier and teen policymaker in New Hampshire, Andraya Yearwood, a fierce track star slaying her competition, and at the center of our story is Mack Beggs, a two-time Texas State Champion wrestler who made headlines for dominating women’s wrestling while pushing to wrestle boys.
Caught in the center of a national debate on trans civil rights, these athletes channel the endurance they’ve learned from their sports into their ever more public battles. Those of us who remember feeling helpless against the jeers and aggression of high school bullies will marvel at the perseverance each of these dedicated teens show in the face of vitriol from parents and pundits alike, developing an emotional maturity far beyond anything their young age should require. Still, a network of support emerges to bolster their resolve, and despite the extreme anger of their opposition, each of these inspirational young forces of nature triumphantly overcomes hurdle after hurdle in their individual journey to live as their true selves.
Straight Up (Breakthrough Centerpiece) Writer-Director: James Sweeney
James Sweeney knocks it out of the park with his feature debut, a true comic discovery piled high with razor-sharp one-liners delivered at light-speed. Sweeney stars as Todd, a hyper-articulate, obsessive-compulsive gay man in Los Angeles whose multiple insecurities around dating and sex lead him to a baffling conclusion: He might not be gay at all. Despite all evidence to the contrary, and against the advice of his closest friends, Todd is determined to give dating women a try. Enter Rory, an aspiring actress hitting a personal and professional wall. Unable to land either a role or a decent human connection, she wonders whether she’s operating on a higher intellectual plane than her peers, or if she’s just too stubborn to play everyone else’s game. A latter-day Tracy and Hepburn, the two hit it off and start dating — but how long can a relationship last that’s all stimulating talk and no actual touch?
Set among a young and witty Los Angeles crowd that’s equally hip to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sabrina the Teenage Witch references, Sweeney’s film allows its extroverted social circle to have refreshingly frank discussions about 21st century sex and dating rituals, making them the perfect outlet to explore just how elastic our definitions of love and sexuality can get. Armed with a playful and endlessly quotable script, a game cast that includes guest appearances from Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat”), Betsy Brandt (“Breaking Bad”), and Tracie Thoms (Rent, Death Proof) turns this unlikely romance into an unforgettable comedic tour de force.
Before You Know It (Closing Night Gala) Writer-Director: Hannah Pearl Utt
In this quirky Sundance favorite, director Hannah Pearl Utt (who also co-wrote and stars) infuses tenderness and complex emotion into the absurd misadventures of Rachel and Jackie, sisters living a dysfunctional life in New York City. If only Rachel didn’t have to take care of her extended family living above their small theater in Greenwich Village, maybe she could finally take a woman out on a second date. Between attempting to stage her playwright father Mel’s potential comeback production and constantly monitoring actress/hot mess Jackie, not to mention keeping an eye on Jackie’s precocious 12-year-old daughter Dodge, pragmatic — and slightly controlling — Rachel is barely keeping things afloat, never mind going after something meaningful of her own. But things really go off the rails when a tragedy puts their home and theater at risk, and the sisters learn the mother they thought was dead is not only alive, but also the veteran star of a popular soap opera.
Utt’s winning comedy is grounded by an incredible cast, including co-writer Jen Tullock, Alec Baldwin, Tim Daly, and Mike Colter, and features memorable turns by Judith Light as Rachel and Jackie’s vain, estranged mother and Mandy Patinkin as their misanthropic father. A worthy entry in the pantheon of NYC comedies, Before You Know It charms as it tackles extreme codependence, madcap hijinks, and familial dynamics with hilarity and poignancy.
Celebrating its 37th anniversary, Outfest was founded by UCLA students in 1982 who were looking for positive images of themselves in media. Today Outfest is the world’s leading organization that promotes equality by creating, sharing, and protecting LGBTQ stories on the screen. Outfest builds community by connecting diverse populations to discover, discuss, and celebrate stories of LGBTQ lives. Over the past three decades, Outfest has showcased thousands of films from around the world, educated and mentored hundreds of emerging filmmakers, and protected more than 40,000 LGBTQ films and videos. Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival is 11 days of world-class films, panels, and parties.
ABOUT NISHA GANATRA
Nisha Ganatra has made her mark as a director in film and television. Her acclaimed début feature, Chutney Popcorn won Audience Awards and Best Feature Awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Newport, Outfest, Frameline and many more. Her latest film is the Sundance hit Late Night starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling which sold to Amazon in a record-breaking deal. She is currently in prep on her next film, Covers, for Focus Features and Working Title. Nisha is also a Golden Globe winner and an Emmy nominee for her work as the Director/Producer for “Transparent.” She has directed episodes of “Girls”, “Dear White People”, “Mr. Robot”, “Brooklyn 9-9”, “Last Man On Earth”, “Love”, and “Black Monday.” On “Better Things” she served as the producing director for the first season. She serves on the board of Women in Film.
Outfest Los Angeles has the most extensive awards program of any LGBTQ film festival. Awards include:
GRAND JURY AWARDS
Short Film Jury Special Mention
Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Short Film
Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Short Film
Documentary Feature Jury Special Mention
Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature
International Narrative Feature Jury Special Mention
Grand Jury Award for Best International Feature
US Narrative Jury Special Mention
Grand Jury Prize for Screenwriting, US Narrative Feature
Grand Jury Prize for US Narrative Feature
Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement
Special Programming Award for Emerging Talent
Special Programming Award for Freedom
Audience Award for Best Experimental Short
Audience Award for Best Documentary Short
Audience Award for Best Narrative Short
Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature
Audience Award for Best First Feature
For more information about Outfest, including complete program and tickets, please visit Outfest.org