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Is there still a need for LGBT film festivals like Outfest?

 Outfest will close July 16 with IFC’s
Outfest will close July 16 with IFC’s "Freak Show," Trudie Styler’s directorial debut.
 Outfest will close July 16 with IFC’s
Francis Lee’s "God’s Own Country," will open Outfest on July 6.
 Outfest will close July 16 with IFC’s
Outfest's Alonso Duralde, left, and Christopher Racster flank The Frame's host, John Horn.
Monica Bushman/KPCC

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The best picture win for "Moonlight" at this year's Academy Awards marked a milestone. For the first time, a film featuring queer black characters took home cinema's highest honor.

But, maybe not surprisingly, that doesn't mean it's become magically easier to get an LGBTQ-themed film made.

One film festival dedicated to changing that is L.A.'s Outfest. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the festival, which gets underway on July 6. 

While a lot of progress has been made since the festival first started on the UCLA campus in 1982, Outfest's executive director, Christopher Racster, says the need for Outfest and other queer film festivals hasn't gone away.

"Sadly, we're facing a lot of the same issues today that caused people to come together and begin Outfest in 1982," Racster says. "There is a lack of representation, there's a lack of affirming representation, and not everybody has access to these stories."

Racster and Alonso Duralde, film reviews editor for The Wrap and a senior programmer for Outfest, joined The Frame's John Horn to talk about Outfest's origins and the current state of queer cinema.

Interview highlights:

On the state of gay film back in the early 1980s when Outfest was just getting started:

Alonso Duralde: There was a flirtation of big studios trying to tell these stories. That’s when you wind up with movies like "Cruising" and "Partners," which were not exactly highlights of the genre. There were outliers trying to get these movies made, but there were not organizations backing them up, there were no production entities that were particularly interested in making them. And there certainly wasn’t the theatrical distribution … There wasn’t streaming, there wasn’t DVD. You really had to find these urban, niche markets wherever they existed. 

On the continuing need for queer film festivals like Outfest:

Racster: Outfest serves a very particular purpose for our community. We are one part art, one part activism, and — equally, and maybe more importantly — we are about community ... creating a safe, inclusive, affirming environment where you can come together and watch a story reflective of your experience with 600, 1,000, 2,000 people that understand what the LGBTQ population faces. There is nothing like experiencing that together and the debate, the discussion, the affirmation that comes out of it. Obviously, we want these films to be seen. Obviously, we want straight audiences, other audiences to see them and get out there. But there will always be a role for a queer film festival, there will always be a role to bring people together, celebrate our stories, and celebrate each other.

On distributors and production companies that were early pioneers of queer cinema:

Duralde: I think Sam Goldwyn early on with films like "Longtime Companion." The early years of Strand Releasing, who are still a juggernaut in arthouse and indie cinema, helped get "The Living End" made, which was one of Marcus Hu’s first [producing] credits. And then obviously things started turning around in the early '90s, when you had the new queer cinema. One year at Sundance you’ve got "Poison" winning the Jury Prize, and "Paris is Burning" winning the Documentary Jury Prize. That set off this mini-wave of [filmmakers like] Gus Van Sant and Cheryl Dunye, and slowly but surely Zeitgeist and Miramax and other companies like that started getting interested. And once there was money to be made, a lot more of those indies in the mid-'90s started trying to make more mainstream but still queer inclusive comedies and dramas for a larger audience.

On the success of "Moonlight" and the continuing struggle to get LGBTQ films made:

Racster: There was an article that just came out in Vanity Fair focusing on Barry Jenkins and "Moonlight," that interviewed queer filmmakers across the spectrum. People we feel are very successful, whether it is a Jamie Babbitt or a Cheryl Dunye … they still struggle and fight every day in the entertainment industry to be seen, to be heard, to get their projects green-lit. Even when we have a critical and popular success, such as "Transparent," oftentimes the industry is going to say, Great! We’ve got our trans story. Next! Almost a quota. So the struggle is still there.

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.

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