There has never been a more important time to showcase the stories of the LGBT community. As civil rights are being assailed, the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival fights back with its showcase of narrative films and documentaries that speak to the struggles and triumphs of queer people around the globe. This year's selection, which runs July 12 to 22, shines a spotlight on a number of these issues, including conversion therapy, polyamory, HIV, and the heyday of Studio 54. Here are some of the favorites of The Advocate's editors. And don't miss the full schedule of movies, panels, and parties at Outfest.org.
Photos and descriptions courtesy of Outfest.
Saturday, July 14, 6:45 p.m. at DGA 1
Lovely and lyrical, this film received well-earned comparisons to Moonlight when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it earned the prestigious NEXT Innovator Award. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar makes his narrative debut with this adaptation of the novel by Justin Torres about three boys navigating their parents’ volatile relationship and the aftermath of their breakup. Two of the sons clearly follow in the footsteps of their macho, anger-prone father (Raúl Castillo, Looking), while the sensitive youngest, Jonah (Evan Rosado), remains close to their mother (Sheila Vand, Women Who Kill).
Exquisitely photographed by Zak Mulligan, the film captures both the beauty and terror of childhood, guiding us through the wonders of the world and the pain and confusion of marital dysfunction. Strains of Malick appear throughout, but there is nothing contrived or familiar about this achingly crafted coming-of-age tale. The entire ensemble (which also includes newcomers Josiah Gabriel and Isaiah Kristian) gives the film a raw naturalism — we feel like invisible observers as young lives unfold before us. Subtle and haunting, bursting with empathy and energy, We the Animals heralds a new chapter for a brilliant and essential storytelling talent.
Thursday, July 19, 8:30 p.m. at The Ford
Drop into the electric and subversive underground dance scene known as “bucking.” As voguing exploded out of the ballroom scene of New York City, bucking was boldly pioneered in the clubs of the Deep South as a new form of self-expression. This film presents a fresh glimpse into the magnetic artistry and flair behind this emerging dance culture.
In his feature debut, famed choreographer and filmmaker Jamal Sims, who has worked with the likes of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, illuminates the warmhearted and fierce queer black performers who make up one of the leading “bucking” groups in the city of Atlanta. As they train for their biggest competition yet, they face the risk of losing their jobs and family to compete at the top levels of this dance scene.
Jamal Sims calls dance a “super power,” and with this film he crafts a vision of the power of dance to bring movement to new heights and elevate the queer community.
Tuesday, July 17, 7:00 p.m. at DGA 1
Martin Clement is about to give the performance of his life: his life story, that is, in an autobiographical stage play. As a child, young Marvin Bijoux was bullied by homophobic classmates at school and misunderstood by his often-neglectful parents, making him feel like a lonely outsider in his small rural French village. But when a kind school principal guides him to join the drama club, Marvin discovers his gifts for play-acting the misery that surrounds him. When he qualifies to attend a theatrical school, Marvin acts the role of the brash straight stud until he meets an older mentor who encourages him to acknowledge his sexuality and to exorcise his pain by putting it all on the stage.
This sweeping drama from director and co-writer Anne Fontaine (The Innocents, Coco Before Chanel) captures a life in the theater, as we see timid young Marvin (Jules Porier) blossom into adult Martin (Finnegan Oldfield, Nocturama) — with a little help along the way from Isabelle Huppert, playing herself. Fontaine masterfully spins a powerful yet subtly heartbreaking tale that reminds us that no matter how far we get from our upbringing, a piece of it remains with us always.
Friday, July 13, 8:30 p.m. at Redcat
Will queer culture go out with a stylish bang, or will the spirits of Lemuria inspire us to preserve our fabulousness? Springing from the creative mind of trans director, writer, and animator Clement Hil Goldberg, this multimedia and multidisciplinary satire envisions both near-extinct lemurs and long-lost Lemuria. Lemuria (a precursor to the occult city of Atlantis) was an imagined site of catastrophic loss populated by Lemurians, queer prehistoric entities that went extinct alongside the Atlanteans. Goldberg’s work illuminates the at-risk nature of queer spaces as well as the world’s most endangered mammal, the lemur. While Lemurians confront their crystals, pill-popping lemurs struggle to survive as parallel extinction stories unfold through stop-motion animation, and live performance.
Goldberg’s darkly comedic satire connects threats of extinction to wildlife and marginalized communities, and stars Brontez Purnell, Heather María Ács, and Siobhan Aluvalot, with Zackary Drucker, Silas Howard, Xandra Ibarra, Ben McCoy, and Maryam Farnaz Rostami as additional voices of the animated lemurs. Come with them all to this dance party on the brink.
Thursday, July 12, 8 p.m. at Orpheum
When disco was the epicenter of popular culture, Studio 54 was the epicenter of disco. Brooklyn-born college pals Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager took a former opera house and CBS studio (where What’s My Line? and Captain Kangaroo filmed), in what was at the time one of New York City’s sketchiest neighborhoods, and turned it into a dance palace known the world over. Extroverted gay Rubell and introverted straight Schrager (the latter giving his most extensive interview to date about Studio 54) were a powerful team — but the swirl of sex, drugs, celebrity, and tax evasion brought this phenomenon to an end, as did the advent of Ronald Reagan, the AIDS crisis, and the “Disco Sucks” backlash.
But oh, what heady times there were during Studio 54’s heyday, which this vibrant documentary captures, mixing vintage interviews (Michael Jackson!) with reminiscences from the doormen, bartenders, and paparazzi who experienced the thrills and the beats on the dance floor and in the infamous balcony. There may never again be such a stately pleasure dome as Studio 54, but director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood) observantly captures the hedonism and the hubris with the exacting eye that has made him one of this generation’s most fascinating documentarians.
Set in the early 90s, the film follows lesbian teen Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz, Carrie), sent to a religious conversion camp after she gets caught hooking up with her female best friend. At the camp, Cameron reluctantly undergoes various tactics used to “cure” same-sex attraction from persistent faith leaders Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who are intent on “saving” LGBTQ teens. While some of the campers embrace the treatment, Cameron resists, and instead forms an alliance with the rebellious duo Jane (Sasha Lane, American Honey) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck, The Revenant). The heartfelt bond shared among the three friends gives them the strength they need in order to rise up and live their truth.
Director Desiree Akhavan’s (Appropriate Behavior) unapologetically queer lens delivers a refreshing take on the troubling topic of conversion therapy (which is, to this day, still used in some states) while exploring the themes of self-love, identity, and chosen family, all with unexpected flourishes of humor.
Monday, July 16, 7 p.m. at DGA 1
Adrian (Cory Michael Smith, Carol) returns to Texas for Christmas, keeping quiet about both his sexuality and HIV status. Award-winning writer-director Yen Tan (Pit Stop, Ciao) delivers a poignant period piece about a gay man tying up loose ends with his parents (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis) and friends (including Jamie Chung as Adrian’s ex from high school) and leaving a legacy of hope for his younger brother (Aidan Langford, Bosch), who may be following in Adrian’s footsteps.
Friday, July 13, 7 p.m. at Harmony Gold
Who knew that the insensitive way some of his Filipino-American family members treat his sexuality would be the least of Declan’s worries when he returns home for the holidays? As he and his siblings tiptoe around his freeloading brother’s volatile personality, long-buried secrets are revealed to set in motion a hilarious plan of revenge. A black comedy with heart, the latest from H.P. Mendoza (Fruit Fly) deftly explores toxic masculinity and abuse— emotional and physical—with absurdity and true empathy.
Wednesday, July 18, 7 p.m. at DGA 1
If you missed Drew Droege’s hilarious one-man show on stage, BroadwayHD has captured it for the screen. Writer-performer Droege stars as Gerry, the motor-mouthed house guest from hell at the Palm Springs wedding of his friends Josh and Brennan. Gerry is furious that the invitation forbids guests from wearing “bright colors and bold patterns,” which sets him off on a rant about gay assimilation and Lifetime movies, culminating in a riotous, coke-fueled meltdown.
Saturday, July 14, 2 p.m. at DGA 2 & July 22, 11 a.m. at Regal LA Live
After his mother dies unexpectedly, Andy moves into the palatial residence of his strict, no-nonsense grandmother (played by frequent Almodóvar collaborator Carmen Maura) in the Mexican suburb of Cuernavaca. He finds comfort and refuge in Charly, the estate’s young gardener, who introduces him to an exciting world of danger, risk, and temptation. In this epic coming-of-age story, Andy will navigate the pain and joy that comes with grief, growing up, and finding your identity.
Saturday, July 14, 9:30 p.m. at DGA 1
Online, Pedro smears neon paint across his body for pay-per-view voyeurs hungry for his webcam erotica. IRL, he rarely sees the sun or speaks to another soul in Porto Alegre. After catching word of a rival ripping off his rainbow-colored act, he ventures from the shadows to settle their score — but finds an unlikely new friend in the process. This Berlinale Teddy Award winner conjures a dark, sensual atmosphere of alienation and discovery. This young filmmaking duo is back at Outfest for the third time after their previous feature Seaside and miniseries O Ninho (The Nest).
Friday, July 13, 7 p.m. at DGA 1; Sunday, July 22, 11:30 a.m. at Regal LA Live
Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) plays renegade queer artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Set in the gay leather communities and highbrow galleries of New York City in the 70s and 80s, Ondi Timoner’s biopic is an unflinching look at the life and career of the icon made famous for his striking black-and-white images of phalluses and flowers. This film takes a chronological look at the influences and practices that captured male homo-erotic desire so poignantly in the face of the devastating toll of the AIDS crisis.
Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m. at Harmony Gold; Monday, July 16, 9:45 p.m. at Plaza
A portrait of two strong, independent women: a female director and the star of her first film, drawn together by a powerful attraction and their shared desire to take on the movie world. The passion between them creates a seductive and fascinating intimacy. But over time, their relationship evolves, swinging from infatuation to sensuality, which turns to tenderness, and then routine. They never wanted to be a conventional couple, and yet that’s just what they’ve become. Can Eva and Candela withstand the inevitable effects of time to overcome the metamorphosis of their relationship?
Friday, July 20, 8:30 p.m. at The Ford
Broke and beautiful, Joe (Beach Rats breakout Harris Dickinson) chases his big-city dreams to London and lands in the company of the Raconteurs: an elite gang of escorts who mix sex work with an encyclopedic knowledge of art history. Buzzing with electric energy and awash in Caravaggio, Joe’s journey takes him through the neon-lit labyrinth of Soho and, even more fantastically, transports him into classical paintings themselves. Sculpted like the gods, he becomes a muse for the ages.
Sunday, July 15, 4:30 p.m. at DGA 1
In 1978, when the push to decriminalize homosexuality had stalled, a group of friends decide to make one final attempt to celebrate who they are. Led by a former union boss, they get a police permit and spread the word, unaware that the courage they find will finally mobilize the nation. This vivid retelling of “Australia’s Stonewall” is brought to life by a superb ensemble cast playing the real-life figures whose activist work led to the creation of the first-ever Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Monday, July 16, 7 p.m. at Plaza de la Raza
Shy, 18-year-old Camille seeks out an all-girl skateboard crew in NYC, a subculture of sexually fluid, cool city kids whose lives revolve around social media and skateboarding. Camille, adopted into their gang, is quickly faced with the complexity of female friendship, loyalty pressures, and singular personalities. A breakout darling of the Sundance Film Festival, filmmaker Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack) perfectly captures the female zeitgeist in her richly textured and atmospheric second feature.
Saturday, July 21, 8:30 p.m. at The Ford
In this laugh-out-loud period dramatic comedy, Molly Shannon transforms 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson from tragic spinster to irreverent lesbian heartthrob. Outfest alum Madeleine Olnek (The Foxy Merkins) reclaims Dickinson’s identity from the throes of patriarchy, exploring her vivacious side and her lifelong romantic relationship with her best friend and brother’s wife Susan (Susan Ziegler). In a film that’s part sketch comedy, part historical burlesque, Shannon’s performance is alive as she kicks up the pieces of this famous legacy.
Wednesday, July 18, 8:30 p.m. at The Ford
Rock-and-roll pioneer Joan Jett has been shredding hard since she founded The Runaways back in the 1970s, and at age 60, she shows no signs of slowing down. This breathlessly entertaining documentary spans the many eras and facets of her career, including interviews from a wide range of peers and protégés, including Michael J. Fox, Debbie Harry, Miley Cyrus, Billie Jo Armstrong, Kathleen Hanna, Kristen Stewart, Iggy Pop, and Laura Jane Grace, to name just a few. Revel in Jett’s trademark humble swagger as the film chronicles her journey to becoming one of the most influential figures in punk rock history.
Friday, July 20, 7 p.m. at DGA 1
One of the most glaring omissions in the film canon has been the work of queer women. Thankfully this once-hidden population picked up the camera and transformed the visibility of lesbians in cinema. Pioneering filmmakers Barbara Hammer, Su Friedrich, Rose Troche, Yoruba Richen, Desiree Akhavan, Vicky Du, Cheryl Dunye, critic B. Ruby Rich, Jenni Olson, and others discuss how they’ve expressed their queer identity through film, revealing personal stories from their own experiences of looking for themselves on screen.
Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m. at DGA 1; Sunday, July 22, 2:15 p.m. at Regal LA Live
Playwright Terrence McNally has redefined contemporary gay theater with an extraordinary body of work that includes The Ritz, Corpus Christi, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and Love! Valour! Compassion!, to name just a few. But his life offstage has been just as fascinating, encompassing activism, addiction, romance, and the constant pursuit of artistic excellence. McNally shares his story onscreen with the help of friends and colleagues like Angela Lansbury, Rita Moreno, Nathan Lane, F. Murray Abraham, and many more, as captured by documentarian Jeff Kaufman (The State of Marriage).
Sunday, July 15, 9:30 p.m. at DGA 2; Sunday, July 22, 1:45 p.m. at Regal LA Live
In this personal and moving documentary, we follow Teri and her girlfriend Tiahana as they struggle to navigate life on the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Recently released from prison for selling drugs, Tiahana returns to find Teri desperate to get off the streets. In intimate and sometimes unsettling scenes that include group therapy sessions and domestic violence, we are transported into the lives of these two women and root wholeheartedly for their love and survival. This local story spotlighting L.A.’s homelessness epidemic premiered at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival.
Sunday, July 15, 11:30 a.m. at Harmony Gold
Before Johnny Weir or Adam Rippon, there was John Curry. A legend on and off the ice, Curry elevated figure skating from a technical trade to a sophisticated art form with balletic grace and precision. Blending his private letters, public performances, and interviews with his closest circle, this portrait of an icon celebrates his tenacious spirit from the Olympics to Royal Albert Hall while also doubling as a document of burgeoning gay life in the 1970s and 80s.
Saturday, July 21, 12 p.m. at DGA 1; Sunday, July 22, 4:15 p.m. at Regal LA Live
From surgeries and T parties to the struggles and joys of transitioning, follow four men as they prepare for Trans FitCon, the only bodybuilding competition exclusively for trans men. Glimpse the intimate relationships between these men and their partners, family, and children as they train throughout the year. This powerful documentary culminates in a triumphant gesture of acceptance and an understanding of the shared struggles among them as they take the stage and embody their true selves.
Friday, July 13, 9:45 p.m. at DGA 1
Explore the mysteries of dating apps in this charming, infectious documentary that lays all the sexy details out on the table. Young Taiwanese filmmaker Tung-Yen Chou searches for a love of his own, as he questions gay men around the world about their intimate experiences on hookup apps. Can Grindr lead you to the love of your life? This refreshingly raw and far too relatable look into digital romance is a snapshot of the moment.
Saturday, July 14, 1:45 p.m. at DGA 1
In Hollywood’s Golden Age, studio publicists presented movie stars as paragons of heterosexual domesticity, but behind the curtain, some beloved actors and actresses had very different proclivities. Many of these celebrity sexcapades first came to light in Scotty Bowers’ controversial book Full Service. This fascinating documentary balances juicy gossip (bolstered by expert witnesses like Gore Vidal and Liz Smith) with a compassionate look at Bowers’ life. Meet the man who pierces the veil and shines a light on the private sexual dalliances of some of cinema’s biggest stars.
Saturday, July 21, 8:30 p.m. at CAAM
In this intimate and skillfully crafted documentary, viewers are taken deep into the world of Los Angeles’s African-American lesbian club scene. At this legendary weekly party, dancers like Egypt, who found her way to the stage by accident, and Mahogany, the Queen Bee and mother of the clan, spill their hearts out both behind the scenes and on stage. Viewers are confronted with the realities of their lives as they navigate personal and professional relationships with fans, club owner Ronnie, and each other. When one of many police raids sends the club into chaos, everyone must decide what their next move is. This film is a window into the rarely-seen-on-screen world of black female pleasure.
Thursday, July 19, 7:30 p.m. at Samuel Goldwyn
Narrated by Laverne Cox and with music by Melissa Etheridge, this moving documentary about the nation's most influential LGBT publication (ahem) focuses on major events and watershed moments in LGBTQ history through never-before-seen archival footage and engaging interviews (Ricky Martin, Cleve Jones, Caitlyn Jenner, Gloria Allred, Gavin Newsom, Don Lemon, Dustin Lance Black, Margaret Cho, Armistead Maupin, and many more). The magazine's story follows some of the movement's biggest moments — starting with the Black Cat Riots, Stonewall, the sexual revolution, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and the trans movement to present day. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
Sunday, July 15, 1:45 p.m. at DGA 1
This deeply felt feature film debut by Shie Guang-cheng tells the story of Taiwanese expats Cindy and Joanne, living in London, who are about to have their first child. Their marital bliss is threatened when Cindy discovers that Joanne has promised their unborn son to another gay couple, their friends Charles and Tim. Told through an array of flashbacks, the film explores issues that affect many same-sex families, and is anchored by moving performances from Ke Huan-ru and newcomer Emma Reis.
Saturday, July 14, 4:30 p.m. at Redcat
Mandico’s genre- and gender-bending surrealist work zigzags through a perverse, hyper-stylized world of transgressions. In this nightmarish adventure, well-bred teenage boys, played by women, commit a heinous crime and are sent to sea with the barbaric Captain. Landing on a magical island with bizarre animals and lascivious plants, the teens metamorphize. Outrageous vulgarity blends with refinement as machismo’s cruelty and the glory of sexual freedom are exposed in this phantasmagorical visual feast and erotic fantasia.
Sunday, July 15, 11:00 a.m. at DGA 1
An Altman-esque mosaic of LGBTQ storylines intersect in this portrait of gender identity in present-day Taiwan by director Yu-Lin Wang (Seven Days in Heaven). Alifu works as a hairdresser in Taipei and longs for gender-confirmation surgery, which may affect his status within his tribal Paiwan family. Sherry, a trans woman who owns a drag bar, is in love with a plumber who appears not to share her feelings. Chris is a government worker and lives with his girlfriend Angie — and also moonlights as a drag queen. Wang weaves these narratives into an empowering tapestry of love and its many forms.
Friday, July 13, 9:30 p.m. at DGA 2
This inspirational documentary follows a number of LGBTQ athletes, including Robbie Rogers (Major League Soccer), Layana White (NCAA basketball player), Gus Kenworthy (freestyle skier and Olympic silver medalist), Megan Rapinoe (soccer, Olympic gold medalist), and Trevor Betts, a trans high school athlete, charting their social and legal challenges within the schools, sports leagues, and within their own families, as well as their triumphs in the face of great adversity.