Film Festival in L.A.

Film Festival in L.A.

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Los Angeles’ largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festival returns this summer with some 166 movies — and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Outfest Los Angeles, which starts Thursday and runs through July 19, will celebrate its 33rd edition as marriage equality, transgender consciousness and the place of women in film are more a part of the American discussion than ever.

“My goal is, first and foremost, to continue our tradition of bringing Los Angeles and, actually, the world, the best LGBT stories that our filmmakers are making,” says Christopher Racster, a producer and Outfest’s interim executive director. “We are the only film festival at the crossroads of Hollywood and the LGBT community, so we’re uniquely positioned to capture the attention of not just audiences but distributors, the media and other industry executives that will make sure our storytellers continue to grow.”

Racster added that the films in this year’s festival represent a wider range of stories than the traditional gay subgenres such as coming out, dealing with discrimination, AIDS and unrequited love. More and more diverse transgender narratives than at previous Outfests demonstrate that, at a time when mainstream media has opened up to such TV shows as “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent” and is awash in Caitlyn Jenner news.

“ ‘Carmin Tropical’ is from Mexico and it’s a thriller, it’s a detective story,” notes Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, the festival’s director of programming. “The lead character just happens to be trans(gender), but it’s not about the agony of being trans. It’s a really exciting story about uncovering a mystery.”

Other unique entries include “Tig,” the opening night gala selection at the Orpheum Theatre, which documents lesbian comedian Tig Notaro’s battle with cancer; international centerpiece “Eisenstein in Guanajuato,” British art film legend Peter Greenaway’s look at the even more legendary Russian filmmaker’s sexual adventures in 1930s Mexico (at Directors Guild headquarters in West Hollywood, like the majority of Outfest screenings); U.S. dramatic centerpiece “Nasty Baby,” a dark comedy with Kristen Wiig about Brooklyn hipsters whose efforts to create a surrogate family go horribly wrong; a Hollywood Forever Cemetery screening of “54: The Director’s Cut,” the 1998 disco epic as it finally should be seen; and French auteur Francois Ozon’s gender-bending closing night gala screening, “The New Girlfriend,” at The Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Many other features, documentaries and shorts are, of course, on the program, including a festival record 64 films directed by women.

“It’s the year of the female director,” says Mukerjee-Brown, herself a producer, in reference to the growing outcry over Hollywood’s paucity of women filmmakers. “There’s sort of this universal groundswell of support for female directors right now, so it feels fitting that we open the festival with a film from a female team. And there was just a high number of films from female directors that were submitted, so it was just sort of a natural course of things.”

One of those is Kristin Hanggi’s “Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List,” a bittersweet comedy about a gay boy (Pierson Fode) and the straight childhood friend (Victoria Justice) who’s in love with him facing maturity and its decisions.

“It’s so exciting,” shares Hanggi, who directed the hit stage show “Rock of Ages.” “This dialogue keeps coming up between me and all of the female filmmakers that I know. The discrepancy in female representation in Hollywood has been very publicized this year.

“As an artist, you want to talk about what’s affecting you, what you see happening in culture and what your heart tells you to talk about,” Hanggi continues. “Look at what happened at the Supreme Court; as people, as a culture, we have to talk about this.”

“Naomi and Ely” is one of six world premieres and three additional U.S. premieres at Outfest this year, the most ever. Another is Philipp Karner’s directing debut, “Like You Mean It,” a semiautobiographical study of a Hollywood actor’s (whom Karner plays) struggle to counter his alienation and maintain a relationship.

“It’s very validating for my first attempt at directing to be recognized and placed among some films by people that I really respect,” says Karner, who’s appeared on such shows as “Mistresses” and “Castle.” “That feels incredible, and the most exciting part of playing at a festival that is very much a part of L.A. and has been around for a long time is it has really incredible industry folks on the board. I’m very excited about what will come of that.”

Outfest is celebrating both its own staying power and that of queer cinema with anniversary tributes to two of the industry’s most gay-friendly production companies, Killer Films (in its 20th year) and Wolfe Films (its 30th). The 10th year of Outfest and UCLA’s preservation Legacy Project also will be commemorated.

Drag superstar Lypsinka is expected to make her first live L.A. appearance in 10 years as part of the festival, too. There will be a SAG-AFTRA Transgender Hollywood panel and other programs for both professionals and starting artists. Lots of parties, of course, and — gasp — “A Night with Nick Jonas.”

And have we mentioned much, much more?

“Some people are looking around and believing that they see LGBT images everywhere, and they sometimes question the ongoing relevance of an LGBT film festival,” Racster says. “I believe quite strongly that that indicates just how relevant these festivals, and Outfest in particular, really are. Our continued impact and ability to promote filmmakers and their stories and to help them develop trajectories for their careers sends an incredibly powerful message.”

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