The Outflix Film Festival, presented by the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, presents its biggest and perhaps best program ever starting this week, with screenings running from Friday, September 5th, to Thursday, September 11th, at Ridgeway Four.
The festival's opening-night film, Breakfast with Scot, features Tom Cavanagh (TV's Ed) as a sportscaster and former pro hockey player living in Toronto with his lawyer partner when their life is disrupted by the sudden custody of 11-year-old nephew Scot. Breakfast with Scot was filmed with the full participation of the National Hockey League, marking the first time a major professional sports league has allowed its logo and uniforms to be used in a gay-themed film.
Another highlight is sure to be the short film Freeheld, which won the Academy Award this year for Best Documentary Short Subject and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance. The film, which screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, September 7th, chronicles New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester, who is suffering from terminal cancer and who has to fight local officials to leave her pension to partner Stacie, an automatic option for heterosexual married couples.
Though Breakfast for Scot and Freeheld may be the highest-profile screenings of the weeklong festival, there are many other potential highlights. A few I've had a chance to screen:
Brother to Brother: A real film-fest find, this 2004 feature from writer-director Rodney Evans stars Anthony Mackie (8 Mile, She Hate Me) as Perry, a college student and artist whose sexuality has led to abandonment by family and tension with classmates. In the midst of this turmoil, Perry strikes up a friendship with Bruce (Roger Robinson), an elderly man at a homeless shelter where Perry volunteers. It turns out Bruce was a poet and writer of note during the Harlem Renaissance, when he boarded with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. This relationship opens up a history of black gay culture that helps Perry negotiate his own world.
Though the film — which alternates present-tense scenes of Perry's life with black-and-white flashbacks of Bruce's life — comes across a little too earnest at times, its modern scenes are effective and realistic and its historical connections are illuminating. That a film of this caliber didn't get a wider theatrical release is testament not only to the difficulty, still, of gay-themed content getting a fair airing but to the resistance to serious African-American work in the cultural marketplace.
Brother to Brother was nominated for four awards at the 2004 Independent Spirit Awards, won awards at gay and lesbian film festivals in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, and was given a Special Jury Prize (for director Evans) at the Sundance Film Festival.
Incidentally, fans of The Wire should take note that Brother to Brother features three actors from that series: Larry Gilliard Jr. (DeAngelo Barksdale on The Wire) as Perry's straight best friend; Lance Reddick (Daniels) as James Baldwin; and Chad Coleman (Cutty) as Eldridge Cleaver.
Screens at 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, September 9th
Pageant: The tagline of Pageant, a documentary portrait of the Miss Gay USA Pageant, is "Fifty Men ... Fifty Dreams ... One Crown." Partly filmed in Memphis and co-directed by Memphis native and Christian Brothers High School graduate Stewart Halpern, Paegant chronicles the 34th Miss Gay America competition, which was held in Memphis and featured 50 female impersonators competing in beauty-contest categories such as evening gown, talent, and public speaking. The finals took place at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
The structure of Pageant is familiar but effective. Like other contest-based docs such as the spelling-bee-set Spellbound and the crossword-puzzle-themed Wordplay, Pageant introduces a handful of competitors in their home environment and tracks them as they come together at the main competition. Among the memorable protagonists are Victor Parker (aka Victoria "Porkchop" Parker), a Miss Piggy-loving professional drag performer from Nashville; David Lowman (aka Coti Collins), who does such an ace Reba McEntire that the country singer invited him on tour; and Carl Giorioso (aka Victoria DePaula), a young landscaper/cosmetologist from Kansas City whose pudgy adolescent brother delivers the bravura monologue of the film: "I love my brother Carl a lot. It's like infinity. It keeps on going on."
Screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 9th
3-Way: Outflix will screen a series of episodes of this engaging Web-based series. The premise is that straight actress Siobhan divorces her washed-up movie-star husband and invites lesbian friend Roxie to be her new roommate, not realizing that Roxie's new girlfriend, Andrea, and ex, Geri, would soon follow. High jinks ensue.
This engaging series is sort of like The "L" Word meets Entourage, but it's more sitcom-y (3 Way's website mentions Three's Company, which might capture the tone better) and less glamorous. Big-screen Buffy Kristy Swanson has a recurring role. Several members of the cast — including, potentially, Swanson — are scheduled to appear at the Memphis screening.
Screens at 1 p.m. Saturday, September 6th
Were the World Mine: This visually and conceptually ambitious film won the award for Best LGBT Film at the Nashville Film Festival. Shot in widescreen, it comes across as a gay, musical answer to Donnie Darko, tracking the troubles (and fantastical resolution thereof) of a high school boy who takes a starring role in his male-only school's staging of Shakespeare's
A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Screens at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, September 11th