As Outfest 2021 Concludes, Here Are Our Favorite Entries
Outfest 2021 featured 10 days of the best in new and upcoming LGBTQ+ cinema.
From engaging documentaries to irreverent shorts and series premieres, Outfest 2021 brought queer films and filmmakers together from all over the world.
Hosting the first in-person events in over a year, Outfest 2021 was ready to go all out. Executive Director Damien Navarro took the lead in coordinating activities all over the city, hosting screenings, performances and live events at over 5 locations. “It is our 39th film festival and we could not be more proud of what the staff, board and volunteers have put together for this year,” he said.
The Opening Gala was hosted at the not-at-all creepy Hollywood Forever cemetery! Attendees were treated to a pre-screening of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the Amazon film adaptation of the West End musical hit. Stars were on hand to welcome the film and enjoy it with fans under a surprisingly clear sky. Held at the beautiful Orpheum Theater in downtown LA, the Closing Gala featured a screening of Fanny: The Right to Rock and an amazing performance from the reunited Fanny cast!
Winners of the festival have been announced and the competition was fierce. There were so many notable entries that I was able to cover extensively that I wanted to take a moment to shout out some of my Festival Faves that I wasn't able to give the full treatment.
Gemmel and Tim
Gemmel and Tim investigate the lives behind the two lost souls, Gemmel “Juelz” Moore and Timothy “Tim” Dean, whose lives were taken in Ed Buck’s West Hollywood apartment. Buck was a politician who was previously respected in the community. When the deaths happened, the media responded by either villainizing the victims or ignoring it altogether. Director Michiel Thomas (That’s Wild) played on a gay men’s basketball team in LA with Dean and felt the loss closely. He made the film with his producing partner Michael Franklin and producer/editor Niq Lewis, who decided it was time to give voice to these faceless figures. Through archival footage, testimonials from friends and family, and artistic elements, Gemmel and Tim beautifully tells a tragic and haunting story.
Pictured: Michael Franklin, Niq Lewis, DeMarco Majors, Michel Thomas
Where Gemmel and Tim gives a platform to the victims, Crystal Diariesspeaks to the lifestyle that may have the two men to a predator like Buck. After coming out, co-director Enyce Smith immersed himself in “Ballroom Culture.” It was a world full of dancing, artistic expression and drugs; meth and coke specifically. Five members of LA’s ballroom and house scenes not only tell about their relationship to Gemmel but to methamphetamine, to sex work, and to being broke and out of options. The movie isn’t just a retrospective, but a call to someone who may be struggling that they’re not alone and can seek help. Keep your tissues handy and your mind open.
Pictured: Enyce Smith
Right to Try
The Zeberiah Newman directed winner of the Outfest 2021 Documentary Short Audience Award, Right to Try follows Jeffrey Drew as he takes part in an experimental medical trial. The purpose of the trial? To find a cure for HIV.
You might be thinking, what’s so special about that? Lots of people are searching for a cure. Right to Try shows that there’s a search for a more profitable treatment, but not necessarily a cure. In fact, medical trials are being done in secret in case pharmaceutical companies try to shut them down. Drew discusses the reasoning behind pharmaceutical intervention and how participating in an unauthorized trial is literally putting his life on the line to search for the end of HIV.
Drew's favorite part of the festival was seeing the camaraderie between all the filmmakers. No stranger to collaboration himself, Drew also appears in the aforementioned Gemmel and Tim sharing his story as Timothy Dean’s friend. Powerful, thought-provoking, and empowering, this documentary short is a must-see.
One of Cloris Leachman’s final roles may also be one of the best of the festival. As the feisty and “a little more than senile” Margaret, Leachman gives a performance that is subtle and heartbreaking all while having a whiplash tongue and the demeanor of a woman who’s been here a long time... maybe too long.
Written and directed by first-time feature director Phil Connell, the movie has a sensibility and point of view that he displays beautifully. Russell (Thomas Duplessi) has left his job and his boyfriend and retreats to the country where he finds his grandmother in disrepair. The relationship between them presents intergenerational misunderstanding and after a bit, a little reconciliation. Featuring fun drag performances to offset the somewhat heavy themes, Jump, Darling strikes a nice balance with pleasing execution.
Pictured: Thomas Duplessie, Phil Connell, Tynomi Banks
The Extinction of Fireflies
Starring Drew Droege as an embattled playwright and long-time producing partner Michael Urie as his would-be protege, The Extinction of Fireflies is pure “theater on-screen” goodness. I have a great love for theater, but growing up in the midwest meant that opportunities to see good theater were few and far between (it’s gotten better, but this was the ‘90s!). So I did what any teenager strapped for resources (read: poor) would do, I stole it from the internet. I spent hours downloading anybody's handycam footage of one-half of a play before they ran out of tape. I watched every poorly lit video rendition of Memories from Cats and every barely audible line as Molina shares his fantasies with Valentin in Kiss of the Spiderwoman.
There’s something about the starkness of the stage, the vastness that allows you to fill in the empty spaces with imaginative flair as the performances transport you into another world. At its essence, The Extinction of Fireflies is a play. It just happens to be filmed, but the filming is almost beside the point.
Adapted from a play by James Andrew Walsh, the cast is sparse, featuring 4 characters who play to an invisible audience. Drew Droege is perfect as the world-weary James who just wants to create a show, but darn these real-life responsibilities. Michael Urie is Jay who is eager to please and wants desperately to be seen even though he’s not completely found himself. Tracie Bennett is Charlotte, an aged actress who would be washed up except no one has told her. She’s wonderfully exuberant and has a style that can’t be ignored. And finally Kario Marcel as Callisto, the mysterious heartthrob that is the embodiment of the meme, “Is he perfect, or is he just a good masseuse? Is he perfect? Or does he listen when you talk?” His character’s charm is equal parts frustrating and coveted. It creates a fascinating dynamic, particularly with James. He’s attracted to Callisto on several levels, but also despises the notes he has for James’ play.
A weekend script read turns into a spiritual journey where everyone is terrible and the points don’t matter.
It's been fun, 2021!
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out these fantastic entries, and if you haven’t, visit their websites for distribution information.