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So many films, so little time. It's a common refrain heard each July in Los Angeles as movie buffs prepare for Outfest, the annual smorgasbord of LGBT films. This year there are 163 films -- 67 features and 96 shorts, to be specific -- from 25 countries. Naturally, star power is a big component of every film festival, and this year is no exception. Heartthrobs like out actor Cheyenne Jackson (The Green) are represented, as is veteran actress Kathleen Turner (the closing night dramedy The Perfect Family), and so is a certain legendary icon (the aptly titled doc Carol Channing: Larger Than Life). There's even a double dose of Dolly Parton, with the sweet road-trip documentary Hollywood to Dollywood and a sing-along version of the superstar's 1982 hit musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Also, part of the fun of Outfest is discovering fresh new talent. One of the most buzzed-about performers this year is newcomer Harmony Santana, a young transgender actress who is unforgettable in the opening night selection, Gun Hill Road, and she's also featured in the latest installment of the raunch-com series Eating Out: Drama Camp. To make tonight's opening especially memorable, drag maven RuPaul will present the Outfest Achievement Award to accomplished producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the duo responsible for an impressive list of documentaries, including this year's groundbreaking Becoming Chaz.
On the following pages you'll find our choices for some of this year's don't-miss movies.
Outfest 2011: The 29th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival takes place July 7-17 at the DGA Theatre, REDCAT, Sunset 5, and other venues in L.A. For tickets or more information, visit Outfest.org.
Directed by Eldar Rapaport
Screens July 10
In this torrid tale named for the summer's hottest month, a male couple's otherwise solid relationship is tested when a former lover shows up with some unfinished business. "I always wanted to make a different kind of gay film," says director Eldar Rapaport, "a film about human emotions of people who happen to be gay, and also something beautiful and romantic." An innocent rendezvous with the former flame ignites a spark, revealing the complexities of love and intimacy.
Directed by Maryam Keshavarz
Screens July 12
Already an audience award-winner at this year's Sundance festival, Keshavarz's daring, exciting first feature follows two rebellious teenage girls in Tehran as they fight against conformity and their feelings for each other. Keshavarz, who spent much of her life in Iran, says she was inspired "by my cousins and my female friends that would go to all of the parties and put themselves at risks to try to find ways to express themselves." The director documents an underground Middle Eastern subculture rarely seen by American audiences.
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same
Directed by Madeleine Olnek
Screens July 16
Get ready for the ultimate date movie with Lisa Haas's star vehicle Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. Filmaker Madeleine Olnek wanted to make a movie about "the romantic despair that one can experience at the thought that there is truly no one out there for them ... using the metaphor of sci-fi B movies, not just for the obvious ... but also because the movies could be so funny in themselves."
Gun Hill Road
Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green
Screens July 7
Selected for the prestigious opening night slot, this searing drama follows an ex-con (Esai Morales) who has trouble readjusting to changes in his domestic life, particularly those involving his son, who is now a transgender female (Harmony Santana, in a stunning debut performance). Green made the film after watching a friend go through a similar emotional journey. "This person saw his child in transition and he didn't have the tools necessary to cope, and that is what made me want to make this film," Green says. Already well received at previous festivals, the film will receive theatrical release in August.
Hollywood to Dollywood
Directed by John Lavin
Screens July 16
In what is perhaps the festival's most relatable documentary (who doesn't worship at the shrine of Dolly Parton?), Dolly-loving gay twins Gary and Larry set out on the open road in a RV named Jolene to deliver a screenplay to their idol. Along the way, the boys make unexpected discoveries about themselves and a number of colorful gay people they meet on their journey. "We wanted to give Dolly the script and let her know how much she has meant to us in our lives," Gary says. "But through making the film we realized she meant a lot to so many people!"
Leave It on the Floor
Directed by Sheldon Larry
Screens July 16
Two decades after the dance form voguing became a national sensation with the classic documentary Paris Is Burning (OK, Madonna helped a little) comes this ruthlessly entertaining celebration of L.A.'s drag ball culture. Director Larry says he was obsessed with the earlier documentary. Groups of young African-Americans, largely gay and transgendered, mostly runaways and throwaways, victims of rejection, bullying, violence, and homelessness, come together below the radar to create innovative music, dance, theater, design, and, most importantly, community. "These kids are brave and talented heroes to me, off the grid, vulnerable, yet full of such talent and humanity," Larry says. "I needed to make a film to celebrate their lives and lifestyle ... and the characters needed to sing about it!"
Directed by Ash Christian
Screens July 9
Christian, an Outfest veteran with his sweet-natured comedy Fat Girls, returns with another John Waters-esque tale a small-town production of a musical called Jesus Christ Spectacular! The Texas native says he drew inspiration for the new film, which he also wrote, "from growing up an outsider and my love for small-town community theater ... and my love for hometown stardom," Christian offers. He assembled an impressive cast for his latest effort, including Leslie Jordan, Jennifer Coolidge, Heather Matarazzo, and even Waters himself in a cameo.
The Perfect Family
Directed by Anne Renton
Screens July 17
There's probably no film more eagerly awaited by lesbian fans than the one chosen for this year's closing night gala, The Perfect Family. That's because it features two lesbianish icons: Kathleen Turner is an uber-Catholic mom who goes out of her way to portray her dysfunctional family as the Christian ideal while Emily Deschanel (from TV's Bones) plays her soon-to-be-married lesbian daughter.
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Screens July 13
One of the year's most sizzling dramas (chosen as the festival's International Centerpiece) focuses on Glen, who doesn't do boyfriends or goodbyes. But a chance meeting with Russell begins a weekend he'll never forget. Is it love at first sight or something even deeper? From bars to bedrooms and through a haze of alcohol, drugs, and sex, both men learn to see the world -- and themselves -- in a new light.
The Wise Kids
Directed by Stephen Cone
Screens July 9
Three conflicted teenagers, including one who is gay, contemplate the complexities of life in a South Carolina Baptist church congregation in this provocative tale inspired by the director's upbringing. "During my teenage years I also began grappling with faith and doubt and sexuality and, to a certain extent, watched others do the same," Cone recalls. "Also, as a preacher's kid I became an eyewitness early on to all the different kinds of lonely and questioning souls in the church and was very sensitive to that. All of these things, combined with knowing that there are millions of church youth out there right now, just trying to find their own way, are what led me to make The Wise Kids."
Wish Me Away
Directed by Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Knopf
Screens July 15
Filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf followed country music star Chely Wright as the artist released a coming-out memoir and a new album, all the while wondering if her fans would stick by her, for the documentary Wish Me Away. "Beverly and I were inspired to make this film because we recognized both its emotional authenticity and its historical importance," says producer-director Birleffi.
Directed by Scott Gracheff
Screens July 14
As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the short life of Mark Bingham, one of its heroes, is celebrated by interviews with people who knew him in a documentary that is alternately tragic and humorous. Gracheff learned about Bingham's impactful life from a mutual friend. "Everyone close to Mark knew he had something to do with United Flight 93 not reaching its target on 9/11," the director recalls. "What intrigued me most was that Mark bucked the stereotypes of what society thinks is a 'typical' gay guy: He was athletic, he was tough, he was a force to be reckoned with. And it's important, especially now, for people to see that anyone can be a hero."
Directed by Brian Pera
Screens July 11 and 16
Director Brian Pera was moved by the women he cast in Woman's Picture, a triptych inspired by classic women's films of bygone eras. "I fell in love with the women I was working with," Pera says. "They're incredibly dynamic people and I wanted to see them in something that reflected that, an homage ... where women are fascinating and complicated rather than just ridiculous, shallow, or peripheral."