OutFest at 40: LA’s Prime LGBTQ Film Fest–Exec Director

 

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From left, Outfest executive director Damien S. Navarro, former fest director Larry Horne, Outfest artistic director Faridah Gbadamosi on opening night. SHUTTERSTOCK FOR OUTFEST

Doing festival during the first years of the pandemic?

During the pandemic, we were doing drive-ins. We were at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu out in the dirt in the beautiful forest. To this day, people still say it was one of their favorite experiences.

Last year, opening night was at Hollywood Forever and we were back about 50 percent; we did about 50 percent virtual.

Putting together this 40th anniversary festival?

As far as programming, it’s all the bells and whistles that you hope for in a major anniversary year. We’re back at all of our nostalgic favorites, like The Ford and the Ace Hotel and of course the DGA — which, I will say, when I first came on board, I didn’t quite realize the magic that [the DGA] holds for so many storytellers and filmmakers to see their work highlighted there.

Looking back at the first 40 years of the festival?

You basically had four PhD students who wanted to create a conference and cover all the topics at the time that the queer community was facing as it was getting more heavily involved in entertainment. That grew into Outfest and all its programming and all its tentacles. The bad news is we’re still having those same conversations. And that was tough to stomach, like when we look at things like overturning Roe v. Wade and the anti-trans and “Don’t Say Gay” bills. You’re like, “How the hell has it been 40 years and our community, for all the big things done, are still right back here, talking about inclusivity, about access, about our rights being taken away?”

Outfest also runs streaming platform?

It’s because of stories like this widowed man, well into his 80s in the rural South who filled out Outfest’s financial hardship form to get complimentary tickets online. It’s anonymous but we just ask for a little blurb so we can track it for grant purposes. And he said, “You know, I’ve been married to a woman. I lost my wife. I’ve been closeted my entire life. I never knew that I ever would have access to something like this festival online.”

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Cast of Blumhouse’s They/Them, a horror film set inside gay conversion camp; it plays the closing night of Outfest 2022. BLUMHOUSE

Role of an LGBTQ film festival in 2022?

Our role now is to serve three distinct audiences. First, it’s audiences craving different type of community experience that isn’t a bar or a nightclub. For filmmakers, they are under more duress than ever before — so it’s about increasing programming. And then finally for the streamers and the studios, it’s about holding them accountable and meeting with their ERGs [Employee Resource Groups] and their corporate social responsibility groups, and saying, “You can’t just do press release anymore that you’re gonna put support toward this.” We’re happy to take that resource, and we will make sure that we are accountable for making sure it ends up in the right hands.

Gay Directors: Almodovar, Davies, Haynes, Van Sant, John Waters. By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Pres).

How Outfest engages with Hollywood?

Netflix is a great example. Netflix has been in the headlines. There are obviously things from their leadership that I think all of us would say they could do better. But they’ve also shown films and distributed films like Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, which we have many board members and members of our community behind. They also announced this incredibly large artist fund in which they have publicly said, we are going to be channeling however millions of dollars it was at the time into the community in order to help solve some of these inclusive crises, representation crises. We see this all the time with corporations. What’s happening over here may not be what’s being reflected here. We went to Netflix, who we hadn’t had support from, and pitched them underwriting the entire screenwriting lab that is a program that has been around for many years. It’s great, but one of the challenges is, you get selected to be in the screenwriting lab, you get a mentor, you get to showcase one act of your films in some sort of creative way. But other than that, when we were listening to what support screenwriters really needed, it was cash to live in L.A., to go on those interviews for writing rooms, to stay long enough. They couldn’t afford it. So, starting last year, Netflix underwrote all of the submission fees for the entire thing, and then we also gave away $10,000 for 2 of the fellows. This year, we’re giving every fellow $5,000. And the stories we heard back from those two 2021 individuals was that they booked their first jobs, they stayed here.