This year's Outfest — the nation's most prominent LGBTQ film festival — is one of its most diverse yet. The event boasts over 200 films from more than 30 countries; two-thirds were directed by women, people of color, and transgender filmmakers. That's not to mention the festival's always-stellar collection of shorts, panels, and of course, parties.
A queer film lover really can't go wrong attending any of these screenings or events. But a few stood out from the crowd for The Advocate's editors. See our highlights below. For the full lineup of the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival, visit Outfest.org.
Documentary; Saturday, July 27, 9:45 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Ever since it burst forth onto an unsuspecting world in 1995, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls has been both vilified as tawdry, vulgar camp and championed as a no-holds-barred look at women surviving in show business. This breathless documentary weaves the commentary of experts like Peaches Christ and David Schmader over clips from the film and archival interviews with Verhoeven and Elizabeth Berkley in an attempt to solve the enduring legacy of this still-controversial NC-17 saga.
Directed by Jeffrey McHale; Cast: Adam Nayman, April Kidwell, David Schmader, Peaches Christ
Documentary; Saturday, July 20, 3:30 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Albuquerque’s Rusty Tidenberg, auto mechanic and drag-racing aficionado, shocked friends and family by coming out as trans. Followed for eight years by filmmaker Harrod Blank (son of Les Blank), Rusty guides us through the aftermath of her transition, as growing acceptance among her straight-talking Southwest community still doesn’t ease her romantic and professional woes. Interwoven with lively tales of gender non-conforming individuals on the art-car circuit, Blank’s film — a hit at South by Southwest — is a sensitive and unpredictable love letter to people who fight to be unapologetically themselves.
Directed by Harrod Blank with Sjoerd Dijk; Cast: Brandi Bosier, Doc Atomic, Dr. Marci Bowers, Dr. Samuel Roll, Harrod Blank, Lucy Hosking, Plymouth Harman Ansbergs, Rusty Tidenberg, Shevaa Deva
Documentary; Ford Theatres; Wednesday, July 24, 8:30 p.m. at Ford Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Out-of-the-box doesn’t begin to cover the multidimensional talents of internationally beloved drag queen Trixie Mattel: an invigorating folk singer, a bawdy comic with a penchant for the perverse, a crowned member of the RuPaul’s Drag Race Hall of Fame, and, of course, an iconic skinny legend. Like all the greats before her, Trixie hits the road with her one-woman show in this revealing look behind the scenes, featuring appearances from Katya, Bob the Drag Queen, and Jinkx Monsoon.
Directed by Nicholas Zeig-Owens
Narrative feature; Saturday, July 27 at 8:30 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Based on Eileen Atkins’s 1993 play, this film captures the fabled romance between the introverted bohemian socialist author Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and the wealthy extroverted socialite and writer Baroness Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton). Fascinated by the enigmatic and beautifully willowy Woolf, Sackville-West strives and eventually succeeds at drawing her into an extremely tumultuous sexual love affair. And though Vita’s attentions were fleeting, their relationship inspired the creatively fertile period for Woolf that produced the modernist classic Orlando.
Directed by Chanya Button
Narrative feature; Monday, July 22, 9:30 p.m. at Plaza de la Raza; Buy tickets here.
Young trans woman Tina, an undocumented immigrant living with her grandmother in New York City, is on the cusp of major life changes. As she prepares to transition with the support of friends — if not family — she’s drawn into activism when members of the local trans community are targeted by police. A powerful portrait of the day-to-day realities of trans women of color, Flavio Alves’s feature directorial debut boasts multiple awards on the festival circuit, including a SXSW Audience Award. (Trigger warning: violence against trans community)
Directed by Flavio Alves; Cast: Alex Kruz, Anthony Abdo, Bernadette Quigley, Carlie Guevara, Danny Flaherty, Dawn Young, Ed Asner, Michael Madsen, Miriam Cruz, Tamara Williams
Centerpiece; Wednesday, July 24, 7:00 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
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 homelife. 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.
Directed by Hari Sama; Cast: José Antonio Toledano, Mauro Sánchez Navarro, Xabiani Ponce de León, Ximena Romo Mercado
Centerpiece; Tuesday, July 23, 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday, July 24, 9:45 pm at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
James Sweeney knocks it out of the park with his feature debut, a true 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 (Katie Findlay), 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?
Directed by James Sweeney; Cast: Betsy Brandt, James Sweeney, Katie Findlay, Randall Park
Narrative feature; Monday, July 22, 7:00 p.m. at Harmony Gold; Buy tickets here.
Jayro Bustamante’s searing follow-up to Ixcanul (Guatemala’s 2015 Oscar submission) targets homophobia among the wealthy and powerful, captivating audiences at this year’s Berlinale. “Reparative therapy” isn’t just for teenagers — here, middle-aged husband and father Pablo is forced by his influential family to undergo this torturous process after they discover his sexuality. Stripped of his job and access to his children, he finds himself subjugated to very un-Christian treatment as he seeks to fulfill his proscribed role in a patriarchy that is hesitant to accept change.
Directed by Jayro Bustamante; Cast: Diane Bathen, Juan Pablo Olyslager, María Telón, Mauricio Armas
Narrative feature; Saturday, July 20, 1:45 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres
Bridget, a young woman drifting aimlessly through life, contends with an unplanned pregnancy just as she lands a new job nannying the six-year-old daughter of affluent lesbian couple Maya and Annie. Unaccustomed to the emotional flexibility required to be part of someone else’s family, Bridget learns to make peace with her precocious new charge as she becomes embroiled in a growing tension between the two moms. Newcomers Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan deliver a funny, endearingly irreverent first feature with this SXSW Audience Award winner.
Directed by Alex Thompson; Cast: Charin Alvarez, Kelly O'Sullivan, Lily Mojekwu, Ramona Edith-Williams
Narrative feature; Monday, July 22, 9:45 p.m. at Harmony Gold; Buy tickets here.
A dashing teenager, hypnotized by the allure of app-based sex on demand, uses the alias “Sequin” for a series of trysts with older men. When his thrill-seeking leads to a memorable encounter at an anonymous sex party, he resolves to track down the mystery guy — even if he has to rely on a menacing former hookup to help him. Inspired by the New Queer Cinema of the 90s, this titillating thriller revels in the danger and eroticism of sexual access in the digital age.
Directed by Samuel Van Grinsven; Cast: Anthony Brandon Wong, Conor Leach, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Samuel Barrie
Documentary; Saturday, July 27, 8:30 p.m. at Ford Theatres; Buy tickets here.
When Judy Garland met Sid Luft, she was at a career crossroads, having just left MGM after decades under contract. Professionally, he steered her to the Palladium, to their acclaimed remake of A Star Is Born, and to her legendary CBS variety show. Offstage, their tempestuous romance changed them both forever. With fascinating archival material and rousing footage of stellar Garland vocal performances, acclaimed documentarian Stephen Kijak captures the ups and downs of Sid and Judy’s singular story.
Directed by Stephen Kijak
Documentary; Sunday, July 21, 4:15 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Following the path tread by Paris is Burning, through dance halls and police-filled streets, Outfest alum Elegance Bratton spent three years at NYC’s Christopher Street Pier documenting its community of queer and trans kids of color. The resulting raw, immersive film captures the spirit of this new generation living on the edge of homelessness with bold visual style. By elevating stories like that of central figure Krystal LaBeija, a young trans woman named for the ballroom legend, Bratton crafts a transcendent narrative around these still hopeful, vibrant youth.
Directed by Elegance Bratton; Cast: Anniyah Balenciaga, Cheetah Revlon, Desean Irby, Jusheem Casper Thorne, Krystal Labeija Dixon
Documentary; Sunday, July 21, 1:30 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Trailblazing artists, activists, and everyday people from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality defy social norms and dare to live unconventional lives in this kaleidoscopic view of LGBTQ culture in contemporary Japan. Meet figures like legendary erotic manga artist Gengoroh Tagame and Japan’s first openly transgender elected official, Aya Kamikawa; venture into underground hentai parties and phantasmagoric drag shows; and experience a dazzling rainbow of exhilarating expressions and uncompromised culture rarely seen in the Western world.
Directed by Graham Kolbeins; Cast: Atsushi Matsuda, Aya Kamikawa, Chiga Ogawa, Fumino Sugiyama, Gengoroh Tagame, Hiroshi Hasegawa, Leslie Kee, Nogi Sumiko, Tomato Hatakeno, Vivienne Sato
Narrative feature; Thursday, July 25, 7:30 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
In this NewFest Grand Jury Award winner, girlfriends Maya and Jules total their car after a night of backwoods raving. They’re rescued from the wreckage by Freddy, a divorced oil worker whose stoic facade crumbles as he begins to confront his repressed desires through conversations with Maya. Through the lens of Maya and Freddy’s burgeoning friendship, Daniel Laabs’ first feature solidly articulates the universality of queer loneliness and uncertainty across genders and generations.
Directed by Daniel Laabs; Cast: Betsy Holt, Robert Longstreet, Tallie Medel
Documentary; Friday, July 26, 8:30 p.m. at Ford Theatres; Buy tickets here.
In the wake of the 2016 election, when conservative U.S. lawmakers launched efforts to roll back the progress made on LGBTQ rights, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus responded with a bus tour through the Southern red states. Their mission: Carry a message of visibility, acceptance and hope to the LGBTQ communities affected by these discriminatory laws. Joined by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the chorus harnesses the power of music to unify rather than divide. The film won the 2019 Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Directed by David Charles Rodrigues
Narrative feature; Tuesday, July 23, 7:00 p.m. at Plaza de la Raza; Buy tickets here.
Winner of the Venice Queer Lion, this intimate neorealist story follows José, a 19-year-old who finds escape from his working-class existence in Guatemala City through hookup apps and casual meetups. He discovers meaning in his encounters with Luis, a migrant construction worker who dreams of a better life for them together. But can this passionate new relationship — and the promise of change — rival José’s bond with his doting, religious mother?
Directed by Li Cheng
Documentary; Saturday, July 27, at 1:45 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
In this vital, authentic follow-up to Outfest Documentary Prize winner For the Bible Tells Me So, filmmaker Daniel Karslake returns a decade later to the religious right, embittered by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision and emboldened by the rise of Trump. Following four families of faith as they journey to accept their LGBTQ children, while their community continues to persecute the flock from within, these stories balance the heartbreaking — and inspirational — costs of freedom.
Directed by Daniel Karslake; Cast: the Baez Febos, the McBrides, the Porchers, The Robertsons
Documentary; Thursday, July 25, 7:00 pm at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
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.
Directed by Michael Barnett; Cast: Andraya Yearwood, Mack Beggs, Sarah Rose Huckman
Opening night gala; Thursday, July 18, 8:00 p.m. at Orpheum Theatre; Buy tickets here.
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.
Directed by Rachel Mason; Cast: Alaska Thunderfuck, Barry Mason, Jeff Stryker, Karen Mason, Larry Flynt
Narrative feature; Friday, July 26, 9:45 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
As soon as she graduates from her small-town high school, trans teen Laurel (Nicole Maines, Supergirl) immediately sets her sights on Los Angeles. She meets a mysterious group of girls — vampires, looking to recruit her into their glamorous, alluring world, where they have complete agency over their lives. But as Laurel becomes entrenched in their ways, she begins to doubt whether she’s ready to become one of them. A pulsing soundtrack, impossibly cool style, sharp wit, and a little camp breathe life into this fresh take on blood-thirsty ladies of the night.
Directed by Brad Michael Elmore; Cast: Char Diaz, Diana Hopper, Friday Chamberlain, Greg Hill, James Paxton, M.C. Gainey, Nicole Maines, Zolee Griggs
Narrative feature; Friday, July 19, 7:15 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
In director Santiago Loza’s Teddy Award winner, young trans woman Tania is tasked with caring for her recently deceased grandmother’s closest companion — an alien, whom she and her comrades must safely return to its origins. As the group makes the journey on foot, Tania finds herself supernaturally linked with her extraterrestrial charge, confronting past trauma that manifests as remorseful childhood bullies and as past lovers with new commitments. Each traveler overcomes their fears and heartbreak on this tender, epic journey.
Directed by Santiago Loza; Cast: Elvira Onetto, Luis Soda, Paul Grinszpan, Romina Escobar
Closing night gala; Sunday, July 28; 7:00 p.m. at Ace Hotel; Buy tickets here.
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.
Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt
Centerpiece; Sunday, July 21, 6:30 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
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 the older(ish) 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.
Directed by Rhys Ernst; Cast: Alisha B. Woods, Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Chloë Levine, Colton Ryan, Dana Aliya Levinson, Gracie Lawrence, Haley Murphy, Jari Jones, Katie Lynn Esswein, Leo Sheng, Margaret Qualley, Maxton Miles Baeza, May Hong, Nicholas Alexander, Paige Gilbert Washington, Rachel Burkhardt
Narrative feature; Wednesday, July 24, 5:00 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
In this remarkable feature debut, a Teddy Jury Award winner at the Berlinale, decades of secrets and resentment wreak havoc on a Chinese family. Upon returning home to her parents, expectant mother Huang Xiaoyu is immediately embroiled in their ongoing feud, triggered by her father’s gay affairs and her fire-breathing mother’s entry into a predatory cult. Shifting nimbly between past and present, director Lisa Zi Xiang unflinchingly dissects the societally mandated repression that passes unhappiness down through each generation.
Directed by Lisa Zi Xiang; Cast: Bing Jiang, Fuzhu Li, Na Renhua, Nan Ji, Renyuan Wu, Thomas Fiquet, Xilu Wang, Xing Ming, Yinyue Zhang, Zhenyuan Chen
Documentary, Saturday, July 20, at 4:30 p.m. at TCL Chinese 6 Theatres; Buy tickets here.
Gabrielle Zilkha’s latest film gathers a dynamite roster of fans, creators, and actors for an incisive discussion of the sometimes inspiring yet often troubled history of queer female representation on television. Galvanized by the upsetting trend of stereotyping, neglecting, or outright killing-off of TV’s beloved queer characters, Zilkha’s subjects beautifully articulate their frustrations and their ideas for better, more accurate, more inclusive visibility. Featuring interviews with Ilene Chaiken (The L Word), Angelica Ross (Pose), Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and more.
Screening to be followed by a panel discussion featuring Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Isabella Gomez (One Day at a Time), Angelica Ross (Pose), Marja-Lewis Ryan (The L Word: Generation Q) schedules permitting. Moderated by Tracy E. Gilchrist, Feminism Editor of The Advocate.