Today is a special Gay Day! No, they didn’t pass another fabulous law for the gheys, it’s the first night of 26th annual film fest, Outfest. The 13-day blast of gay film kicks off tonight with Breakfast with Scot, featuring Tom Cavanagh (Ed) and Ben Shenkman (Angels In America) at the Orpheum Theatre. We talked to Kirsten Schaffer, the interim executive director about her new favorite flicks, and the process of whittling all those submissions down to a manageable “225 movies from 25 countries and nine venues for over 13 days, and we expect over 50,000 attendees,” as she put it in her understated way. And also we find out how exactly a South Park movie makes the cut in a gay fest. (Hint: It’s a sing-a-long. All together now: “Uncle Fucker!”)
Defamer: I see you have a series called Four in Focus dedicated to first-time filmmakers. Is there one to watch? Do you find that younger filmmakers focus on different subject matter than their predecessors?
Kirsten Schaffer: Half Life, by Jennifer Phang, is exceptional (see video clip above). The thing that they have in common—which is interesting and sort of new is that the gay subject matter is definitely a part of a story, but it’s not the central focus of any of these stories.
Do you think that’s something different with the younger generation?
I do. Because this generation has grown up seeing more images of queer people on film and in television, they are free to tell stories they want to tell, and integrate the queerness in different ways. Like, in the 90s and even in the first part of 2000s, we weren’t seeing enough coming out stories, so people were making a lot more coming out stories. They are still being made and they are often good, but at the same time the filmmakers are reaching a little bit deeper into their lives and telling stories that are complicated and involve queer stories in a different way.
How has the quality and number of submissions changed over the years?
The submissions have definitely gone up. When I first started programming in Seattle with a fax machine-before the Internet, I feel like there were maybe 200 submissions. So now it’s tripled, and I think the biggest change is the diversity of things to choose from. It used to be if there was a gay romantic comedy, you had to show it. Now, there are 20 gay romantic comedies, and you can choose from the best. That said, the other thing that’s changed, more so, in the last couple of years, is that there’s fewer and fewer films being made on film and more being made on video and DVD. And the plus side of that is that people who didn’t have access to film are making great movies. The downside of that is, sometimes it feels like the movies are getting made really fast. Sometimes the quality isn’t always the same. The stories are good, they are interesting, but there’s something that’s missing from not being made on film.
I think it’s happening in independent cinema across the board. I don’t think it’s just gay films, I think it’s everything. It really is, it’s great and it’s terrible at the same time. There are some good movies being made, but just because somebody grabs a camera and makes a real good movie, but then, there’s a lot more to wade through because someone is grabbing a camera and making a movie. There’s a intentionality and a skill that’s missing than when you are making a film on film, and you have to spend two, three, five, 10 years raising the money and reworking the script. There’s a difference between making a movie in a month and making a movie in five years.
Which movies do you consider some of the most monumental flicks in gay filmmaking that Outfest has shown?
Hedwig and the Angry Inch—that was the opening night in 2001; Boys Don’t Cry; High Art; Making Love in 1983; Desert Heart in 1985; Paris is Burning; Poison, Todd Haynes’ film from 1991; Go Fish in 1994; Celluloid Closet in 95.
Which flicks in this year’s fest are worthy of the Canon—as they say?
There’s a film called Wild Combination about musician Arthur Russell which I think is exceptional. I think a Jihad for Love because it’s the first of its kind is a really important movie. I really like this film The World Unseen, a lesbian film set in South Africa in 50s. It’s really lovely and beautiful.
Half Life—that is set suburban northern California, it’s about a family and a single mom and her two teenage children; trying to figure life out in the suburbs. It’s not as dark as Todd Solondz’s movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. It’s a little bit dark, sometimes funny and mostly dramatic suburban tale, which is my favorite kind of movie. A little like American Beauty, Safety of Objects. What this has that’s different is the 12, or 13 year-old boy lives in a fantasy world, and when he goes into that fantasy world, she uses animation. The teenage girl—the 19 year-old-—her best friend is gay and there’s a whole subplot that focuses on their relationship and his relationship to his Christian parents.
Hamlet 2. Andrew Fleming’s new movie, he did Threesome. This is a really fun film with Amy Poehler, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Shue. It’s about a high school drama teacher who is quite unsuccessful and decides that instead of doing the kind of plays he’s been doing, he’s going to write his own. So he writes Hamlet 2. There’s one of the students is gay and he writes Hamlet 2 as a musical, so it’s pretty campy.
We’re also showing a film called 11 Minutes which is about Jay McCarroll, the first winner of Project Runway. I think that’s going to be a fun screening because he’s going to be there. That’s on July 16th.
What sort of movies are you ultimately looking for?
We’re looking for films that are of interest to the lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, community. It’s kind of broad. Sometimes that’s a film that’s a gay film from start to finish, or sometimes that’s a film that’s really campy, because it’s of interest to the gay community. Like this year, we’re doing South Park as a sing-a-long, because we think that’s campy and fun and the gays want to see that. Sometimes we’ll show some feminist movie that’s not that lesbian but it’s really about women and feminist culture and that’s of interest to lesbian audience. This year we’re showing a film that’s mostly about environmental issues, it’s a mockumentary, but it has a gay-appearing character as the lead, but it’s not about their gay identity at all. It’s totally about environmental issues. But they seem gay to me and I liked it, so we’re showing it. The movie is called Sizzle. It has an awesome photo of a guy and a polar bear in a slightly compromising position.
Also: FREE TIX. First two people to respond to each email get entree to the Eleven Minutes screening Wed. 7/16 at 8 p.m., and The South Park Sing-a-long on Thur. 7/17 at 8 p.m. Both are at the Ford. Send emails to southpark AT outfest DOT org and 11min AT outfest DOT org and it might just be your lucky day.