It is not easy being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, especially in the world of moviemaking, where stigma still closes doors to queer filmmakers and the stories they try to tell about our community. But as the directors of this year's Outfest Film Festival prove, sometimes being LGBT can be one's greatest strength. We asked them why. Read their stories. Then head over to Outfest, which runs July 7 -17 in Los Angeles, to watch their extraordianary productions.
Clea Duvall, The Intervention
"I always appreciate seeing LGBT characters as people who are just living their lives within the story without their sexuality being the headline. There is an authenticity to an LGBT filmmaker representing LGBT characters that you can’t really get anywhere else. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to normalize and humanize LGBT characters on-screen."
Clea DuVall began working as an actress at the age of 18, quickly becoming a fixture in both TV and film. Some of her credits include the Academy Award-winning film Argo; 21 Grams; Girl, Interrupted; Carnivale; Better Call Saul; and American Horror Story. In 2012 Clea began working behind the camera, directing a series of videos for Grammy-nominated artists Tegan and Sara. Buy Outfest tickets to her film The Interventionhere.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, The Trans List
"Is this a trick question? ... My strength as a director comes from my interest in people — their lives, struggles and accomplishments. Empathy makes for a good director."
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker. His work is in the Museum of Modern Art, and his 11 films have aired on HBO and PBS's American Masters. Buy Outfest tickets to his film The Trans List here.
Deondray Gossett and Quincy LeNear, The Chadwick Journals
"After being in the closet for seven years, Quincy and I decided to come out publicly and professionally with our TV show, The DL Chronicles. We would have been the antithesis of everything we were trying to communicate with the show if we had remained in the closet. Through that self-acceptance and expression, we not only inspired hundreds of closeted black gay and bisexual men to come out across the country, but we also gave them a voice and a face. We have received hundreds of letters from across the country from young men who were contemplating suicide who told us that our show saved their lives. We were just being true to ourselves and our craft. We had no idea that our art would be so transformative for so many people. The power of the LGBT director is enormous, and our work has rippling effects throughout society. We have the power to change minds and save lives."
Deondray Gossett and Quincy LeNear are considered two of the pioneering creators and directors of the new gay, black television renaissance. They are the creative team that brought the cult hit and GLAAD Award-winning series, The DL Chronicles to cable TV in 2007. The Chadwick Journals is a hybrid pre/sequel to The DL Chronicles. Lead character Chadwick Williams attempts to understand his estranged brother's secret life by interviewing closeted men he finds online. Buy Outfest tickets to their film The Chadwick Journals here.
Exa Zim, Alexa to Exa
"Being LGBT gives you a different perspective as a director. I got a bachelor's in film at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, and there was certainly no talk of LGBT filmmakers or films. When I set out to make my thesis, Alexa to Exa, which is screening at Outfest, I didn’t have much guidance. At school, we were taught to make short narrative dramas often involving some sort of awkward sexual encounter between a male and female. Ultimately, the guy gets the girl and we all cry at the end (a.k.a. everything in Hollywood). But that wasn’t me. That wasn’t my story, and because I am transgender, I had experienced something very different from my straight, cisgender classmates. Being LGBT was a strength for me as a director, because it allowed me to open up and tell my story of how I came to realize I was transgender. It allowed me to be a risk-taker. I believe all LGBT directors and persons are risk-takers in some form or another. You have to be a risk-taker to be out in our society, especially if your film has an LGBT theme."
Exa Callen Zim is a 23-year-old transgender writer, filmmaker, and performer currently residing in New York City. Exa made his first film at age 9 and has continued with visual storytelling since that day. Buy Outfest tickets to the film Alexa to Exa here.
Clay Cane, Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church
"I had a lot of dreams for this film, but I didn’t even dream this big. I didn’t even know this was possible, from the White House to receiving a GLAAD Media Award nomination. Everything that I am, I am the example of the impossible being possible. In the film, there is young woman named Hannah — she is magnetic and truly had an impact on me. When I met her, I could tell she was trying to figure me out — trying to figure out if she could trust me because when someone is marginalized, disenfranchised, and an outsider, anyone could be a predator. But Hannah and I connected. She told me her story, and after the cameras stopped rolling, she said to me, 'I didn't think I would live through this.' That line hit me in my soul, because I felt my own past rising up. Being a young boy growing up in an oppressive and racist environment in Washington State, then moving to west Philadelphia, knowing I was an embarrassment to my father because he hated that I was gay. I wasn’t 'man' enough. I wasn’t a 'black man' enough. I remember watching the documentary Paris Is Burning and seeing this beautiful, bold drag queen named Dorian Corey saying, 'If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.' I was obsessed with storytelling, revealing the narratives of people who are ignored or silenced. But never did I dream I would shoot an arrow so high that it would bring me to the all the places Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church has taken me. All of my identities are my strengths, and I am grateful for every fiber of who I am."
Through emotional and deeply honest storytelling, Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church boldly tackles the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and religion. The film earned a 2016 GLAAD Media Award nomination for Outstanding Digital Journalism and was featured at the White House during this year's Black History Month. Buy Outfest tickets to the film Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church here.
Christian Marsh, Alexa to Exa
"A strength? Hmm. Well, being queer and a director, you totally start to overanalyze some weird subtle stuff in day-to-day life outside of filming. I'm starting to use Siri on my iPhone a lot more nowadays, and actually, it dawned on me this morning that I use the pronoun 'she' when referring to 'her.' But that made me think! Isn't it funny how we, as a global society, accept a sassy, invisible phone nonhuman software voice as someone with those pronouns, but a lot of folks out there are unwilling to accept transgender people's preferred pronouns?"
Christian Marsh is the co-director and co-executive producer of Alexa to Exa. He lives for writing, producing, directing, and eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Buy Outfest tickets to the film Alexa to Exa here.
C. Fitz, Jewel's Catch One
"LGBT people and others that have faced bigotry, racism, and homophobia in their lives have battled from the ground up and have grown only stronger to be able to successfully maneuver around obstacles. #RiseUp, as Andra Day sings so eloquently in our film. This is what Jewel Thais-Williams did for over 42 years every day."
C. Fitz is a creative EP and director of marketing and social media by day and filmmaker by night. Buy Outfest tickets to the film Jewel's Catch One here.
Adelina Anthony, Bruising for Besos
"For me, my embodied experiences as an LGBT person of color, coupled with progressive political consciousness around my identities, gives me insights into multiple experiences at once. It means I can bring out nuances in an actor's performance that I am privy to, because I have insider knowledge. For example, the scenes of intimacy between my character and her romantic interest (played by a fierce ally, Carolyn Zeller), meant that I could shape those scenes as a director for lesbian and queer viewers to feel authentic to our desires and expressed sexuality. It's in the details. And it's also in the complexity of our emotional terrain. Why a character's motivation is connected to his/her/their queerness also comes into play with direction. It's not an identity ever left at the door."
Adelina Anthony is a critically acclaimed two-spirit Xicana lesbian multi-genre artist. This is her first feature film with the indie company, AdeRisa Productions, which she founded with her wife, Marisa Becerra. Buy Outfest tickets to the film Bruising for Besos here.
Tor Iben, Where Are You Going, Habibi?
"Because out of being LGBT, you develop a different point of view onto man, onto woman, and onto the world. A unique point of view decides if you are an interesting filmmaker or not."
Marco Castro-Bojorquez, El Canto del Colibrí (The Song of the Hummingbird)
"I would actually insert a 'race and' as the frame to your question, 'Why is being LGBT a strength for a director?' My LGBT identity alone is no longer enough to be relevant to some people. To me, it never did. My film El Canto del Colibrí celebrates intersectionality, and the cast does a terrific job dismantling stereotypes. It is this 'race and' type of analysis that provided the richness of the dialogue. Perhaps that's where the challenge lives nowadays. LGBT directors are blending with mainstream while POC, LGBT, queer, and especially trans folks are basically surviving. I don't know if I like my answers. They are missing the naïveté of the film director. I guess my life changed drastically just a few days ago when the Orlando massacre took place, and I am trying to to find my way back."
Marco Castro-Bojorquez is an activist-filmmaker who advocates for the rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV and AIDS as a community educator for Lambda Legal. He is also a member of the U.S. People Living With HIV Caucus and a lead organizer with the Coalition of Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform. This past year and in response to the success of his latest documentary, El Canto del Colibrí (The Song of the Hummingbird), which explores family acceptance and immigration, he cofounded a pilot project in Sinaloa, Mexico, called Proyecto Corazón Abierto (Project Open Heart), whixh promotes family acceptance and LGBT visibility in the region. Marco affirms that while Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV at alarming rates, they are underrepresented in the HIV field. He is working at facilitating the formation of Venas Abiertas (open veins): A Network of Latinx Immigrant People Living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Buy Outfest tickets to the film El Canto del Colibrí here.
Sekiya Dorsett, The Revival: Women and the Word
"I have the power to create my own history. I write my own narrative. Writing our narratives and telling our stories are the ways people connect with us. Without story, we have nothing. It's important for me to use my platform as director to do that. Also, as an LGBT director, I get to do that in new ways."
Sekiya Dorsett is a queer filmmaker from the Bahamas breaking barriers in television and film while putting the stories of queer women of color front and center. Buy Outfest tickets to The Revival: Women and the Word here.
Chris Kelly, Other People
"Because on set, if someone doesn't listen to me, I can tell them they're being homophobic. JKJKJKJKJK!"
Chris Kelly is a writer for Broad City and a supervising writer at Saturday Night Live. This is his first feature. Buy Outfest tickets to Other People here.
Alden Peters, Coming Out
"The openness to alternative ways of being oneself is one of the most remarkable and embracing aspects of our community, and we as LGBTQ filmmakers bring that to the director’s chair. Our ability to see a character and a story without judgment allows us to get to real emotions and authentic representations. Straight directors might be more prone to regurgitate society-sanctioned tropes and stereotypes that aid systems of oppression, mostly because they don’t necessarily have direct experience combating those systems. We LGBTQ filmmakers bring that direct life experience to the stories we tell and to the characters we create on-screen. In my own work, I aim to portray stories that serve as aspirational representations with flawed, real characters. I do that because, as a gay man, I want to ensure that there are stories out there for queer youth and the entire LGBTQ community to look up to."
"I will never forget what it's like to be an outsider. This remains an endless well of inspirations I draw from every time I make a film."
In Yen Tan's film 1985, a dying man prepares to move in with his estranged mother. He makes an appointment with a beauty consultant to hide his symptoms. Buy Outfest tickets to 1985 here.
Cheryl Dunye, The Watermelon Woman
"Allows me to work both inside and outside the world of independent media making."
Cheryl Dunye has directed 15 award-winning films that investigate race, class, and gender in the lives of queer women of color. A native of Liberia, she received her BA from Temple University and her MFA from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. Her 1996 debut feature, The Watermelon Woman, was the first African-American lesbian feature film. It won the Teddy Award at Berlinale and Best Feature at Outfest, Torino, and Creteil. Since then, Dunye’s work has premiered at Sundance and other top-tier festivals, been included in the Whitney Biennial, aired on HBO, and garnered her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best director. Her most recent short film, Black Is Blue (2014), explores the transphobic experiences in the lives of trans black men. It won awards at five major festivals and will be expanded into a feature film in 2016. Based in Oakland, Calif., Cheryl is an assistant professor in the Department of Cinema at San Francisco State University. Buy Outfest tickets to The Watermelon Woman here.
Quyên Nguyen-Le, Nuoc
"I think that being a queer director brings nuance to the vision of a film and tends to make directors more intentional about how we organize the creative space. That's not to say that other people are not able to do the same thing, but I think that marginalized people learn to navigate the world in a different way, and so we tend to make our own paths on the periphery of mainstream view.
"There's a lot of talk about diversity in Hollywood right now, and I think that LGBTQ+ filmmakers are on the forefront of actually forming how that happens both interpersonally and institutionally, because we tend to have the training about how to make film sets more inclusive."
Quyên Nguyen-Le is a queer Vietnamese-American filmmaker from Los Angeles. They recently directed a film for James Franco's The Labyrinth anthology and is currently touring with their first documentary, Queer Vietnameseness.Buy Outfest tickets to their film Nuoc here.
Marina Rice Bader, Ava's Impossible Things
"There are so many answers to this question, but as a creator having a hungry audience is the first thing that comes to mind. I came out at 52, started making movies at 53, and now I'm in a hot hurry to make as many films for my ladies as humanly possible. I'm on a mission."
L.A.-based filmmaker Marina Rice Bader is the founder of Soul Kiss Films, which is dedicated to producing evocative, entertaining, and compelling movies by, for, and about women. Ava's Impossible Things will be her fifth narrative feature release. Buy Outfest tickets to Ava's Impossible Things here.
Sal Bardo, Great Escape
"There are countless barriers for LGBT directors, as there are for most minorities in any field, but there's a sense of community in the LGBT film world that I haven't really seen in other parts of the industry. I've felt really embraced and nurtured by organizations like Outfest in the few short years I've been making movies. Creating LGBT-themed films has given me the opportunity to give back, as my work has a social and political relevance that I'm not sure it would have otherwise."
Sal Bardo is an award-winning writer-director whose films have screened around the world and have been viewed over 7 million times online. Buy Outfest tickets to Great Escape here.
Daniel Armando, Daddy's Boy
"The films I've directed and written have become very personal to me. It's become therapeutic and cathartic. It's my way of contributing to the LGBTQ community, to the film community, and as a Latino, to the Latino community."
A native of Southern California, Daniel Armando currently resides in New York as a filmmaker and producer at Novo Novus Productions. Daddy's Boy is his fifth film directing; all five have been LGBT-themed. Buy Outfest tickets Daddy's Boy here.
Papu Curotto, Esteros
"I only know to make movies about the things that I know. The most important aspect of me that I know more than anything is being gay. This goes through me since my childhood. So it is my most important source of inspiration."
Papu Curotto studied Imagen and sound design. He defends the public university and likes dancing. Buy Outfest tickets to Esteros here.
Tim Kirkman, Lazy Eye
"Being LGBT gives us a perspective from the margins, a way of being outside of mainstream culture and what is acceptable. That vantage point allows you to look at other people's lives from a perspective other than your own, if you're brave enough. It fosters empathy, which we all could use a little more of."
Tim Kirkman received Emmy, GLAAD, Gotham, and Spirit Award nominations for his first film, Dear Jesse, which was the winner of the Audience Award at Frameline and named Best Documentary of the Year by the Boston Society of Film Critics. Tim wrote and directed Loggerheads, which debuted at Sundance and won the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest as well as awards at several other festivals. He also directed a film of David Drake's play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me.A North Carolina native, Tim lives in Los Angeles. Buy Outfest tickets to Lazy Eye here.
Nick Neon, Ultra Bleu
"Growing up gay and also half-Korean has given me a very empathetic spirit. I don't know who I would've been if I were born straight, but I've come to understand that so much of my compassion and my ability to see life from multiple vantage points comes from being 'other.' As a storyteller and filmmaker, I think it's paramount to have a strong singular voice, but we should never forget the importance of listening to other voices as well."
Nick Neon is a Korean-American film and music video director, writer, and actor. Buy Outfest tickets to Ultra Bleu here.
Lisa Donato, Spunkle
"It's more authentic and impactful for a person of the LGBT community to tell stories that represent the LGBT community. Film productions are often chaotic and move at supersonic speed. When I'm making split-second creative decisions that affect the overall story or production of a film, I want my decision to come from a visceral place. The only way I can have that hit-me-in-the-gut kind of knowing is to embrace my queer identity and live openly. I truly know how to tell these stories because I'm living a similar life. I get it."
Lisa Spunkle is an award-winning writer, director, and producer who specializes in commercial and indie film productions. Her personal stories have been published in the Los Angeles Times,Self magazine, Curve, 5280, and more. Buy Outfest tickets to Spunkle here.
Ingrid Jungermann, Women Who Kill
"I've lived my life by having to learn the rules before breaking them. I approach directing in the same way."
Ingrid Jungermann created the WGA-nominated web series F to 7th; the half-hour version is in development at Showtime. Women Who Kill premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, where Jungermann won Best Screenplay. Buy Outfest tickets to Women Who Kill here.
Carly Usdin, Suicide Kale
"I think I have a different perspective than a lot of directors, but I wouldn't say it's easier. Women — especially queer women, especially women of color — have a disproportionately difficult time getting their films made and seen. But when you do succeed, when you do get your film out there or get hired on an amazing project, it is that much more exciting."
Carly Usdin is a director and producer from New York. She currently lives in Los Angeles and primarily creates short-form digital content. This is her first feature. Buy Outfest tickets to her film Suicide Kale here.
Douglas Langway, BearCity 3
"To direct films well, you have to believe in yourself and allow your chosen team to add their talent to your vision. Being an out gay professional focuses those skills every day."
Douglas Langway is an American screenwriter and film director, best known for the award-winning BearCity films. Buy Outfest tickets to BearCity 3 here.
Sara Jordenö, Kiki
"We have so much cultural expression and important activism, which I personally am very inspired by. We are also incredibly resilient, which a filmmaker needs to be more than anything else."
Sara Jordenö is a New York City-based Swedish visual artist and documentary filmmaker whose stories often concern communities facing different types of marginalization and the strategies they take to empower themselves and overcome their struggles. Buy Outfest tickets to Kiki here.
Keely Weiss, The Thing About Us
"I learned everything I know about directing from Jill Soloway, who refers to her filmmaking style as 'directing from the feminine.' At the center of this approach is the idea of privileging the other: making space for viewpoints that are generally relegated to the margins of other stories. I think that practice is so key to being able to approach all the characters in your story as fully realized individuals — not to mention that it naturally draws you to worlds, characters, stories that are underexplored (and all the more electric for it). As a queer woman, I feel especially entrenched in that tradition of storytelling — and in the sense of creative empathy granted by that 'outsider' perspective."
Keely Weiss is a writer and filmmaker who has been in multiple Twitter fights with Joyce Carol Oates. Buy Outfest tickets to The Thing About Us here.
Alexandra-Therese Keining, Girls Lost
"For years, I fought very hard to make Kiss Me and Girls Lost — films which center around strong LGBTQ issues. The struggle I sometimes experience in my personal life for being true to myself makes me a better, stronger, and more confident filmmaker. Whats’s true to myself as an individual also marks my films in terms of sustainability and artistic exploration."
Alexandra-Therese Keining is a Swedish filmmaker best known for her award-winning feature films Kiss Me and Girls Lost. Buy Outfest tickets to Girls Lost here.
Kevin Rios, Made of Sugar
"The best part about being in the LGBT community is our common experience of coming to terms with our sexuality. We have all been forced to look within ourselves and see the differences between what we feel and what society has put in front of us. Becoming aware of these behaviors strengthens the director's point of view in telling other people's/their own stories."
Kevin Rios is a Cuban-American filmmaker who recently graduated from New York University Tisch School of the Arts. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Buy Outfest tickets to Made of Sugar here.
Dante Alencastre, Raising Zoey
"In the industry I not only represent as an LGBT filmmaker but also as an immigrant and only child from a single mom who raised me with unconditional love. Because of her acceptance and support, I was able since my teens to embrace my sexual identity, history, arts, and culture, which has informed my life's work. My sensibilities, sensitivity, and curiosity about others like me makes me an empathetic and compassionate storyteller of my community.
"The fact that Zoey Luna has a similar background as mine helps me give this particular film a very personal and insightful perspective."
Dante Alencastre is a Peruvian-born filmmaker who has made several documentaries on trans lives, including In the Fire and Transvisible, a film about activist Bamby Salcedo. Buy Outfest tickets to Raising Zoey here.