Last year was a milestone for Out on Film as the Atlanta festival of gay- and lesbian-themed movies celebrated its 25th year. “It seemed magical,” recalls festival Director Jim Farmer. “The movies were so strong and well liked and universal. Topping that is a challenge, but our lineup this year is very diverse. It sounds like a cliché, but we really do try to program for everybody.”
Starting Thursday, October 3, and running for eight days, with most screenings at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, this year’s festival as usual includes American-made comedies and dramas and titles from other countries. Also as usual, the programming includes a wealth of documentaries, from an entertaining look at the unlikely career of that jumbo John Waters mainstay, “I Am Divine,” to the heart-wrenching tale of love, loss and homophobia called “Bridegroom.”
As with many screenings, “Bridegroom” will feature one of the filmmakers in attendance, in this case its main subject, Shane Bitney Crone. “To be able to show this film and have Shane down here is a coup for us,” Farmer says. (Disclosure: Farmer is a contributor to ArtsATL.)
“We really put a premium on bringing talent to town,” Farmer adds. “We have more talent than ever this year, and they’re here to talk to and hang out with. We really try to make the film festival an event. You can see a movie in your home or on your iPad now. But we want to make this a real experience.”
Here are some of the festival films I had a chance to look at in advance. For the schedule and more details, click here.
“Birthday Cake.” This is writer-director Chad Darnell’s feature-length follow-up to his short “Groom’s Cake.” He plays half of a gay couple (Rib Hillis plays his long-suffering hubby) as they plan a raucous birthday party for their adopted toddler daughter, complete with bouncy house. Helen Shaver (from the 1980s lesbian touchstone “Desert Hearts”) is touching as Darnell’s mother, while singer-actress Jane Badler, playing herself, steals her chunk of the movie performing a comically offensive song about AIDS. Full disclosure: Darnell has been a friend of mine for two decades. That’s irrelevant, though. For the last several months, his movie has been earning awards and fans at film festivals around the nation.
“Bridegroom.” An expansion of an online short that went viral, this documentary chronicles Shane Bitney Crone’s six-year life with his partner, Thomas, and how it ended badly. Thomas fell off a roof and died. As painful as that was, things got worse for Crone when he faced the rejection of his partner’s family and the institutional homophobia that can make regular tragedy even worse for members of the LGBT community. The film starts off seeming a little scattershot, but it gains kick-in-the-gut power by the end.
“Free Fall.” Young German cops Marc (Hanno Koffler) and Kay (Max Riemelt) meet at training camp, get together for daily jogs and start growing increasingly close. Problem is, Marc is married back in his small hometown. Bigger problems arise when Kay transfers to the same police station and the men begin a secret affair. If certain beats and situations of the movie seem a little been-there, done-that, maybe that just reflects that even in the 21st century, coming out can still be as tricky as it was decades ago.
“G.B.F.” The overly wacky spirit of “Glee” sometimes hangs heavy on this high school satire. But by the end, the movie, whose title is short for “Gay Best Friend,” develops its own sunny personality. It’s the story of two gay best pals (Michael J. Willet and Paul Iacono) and what happens to their friendship when one comes out and the other stays in the closet. It’s a wish-fulfillment comedy of inversion in which one of the guys becomes the hottest new thing (or accessory) in high school, the G.B.F., and becomes sought out by rival gangs of the most popular girls. The movie is generous toward its characters, even the bitchiest among them, and there’s amusing support from Megan Mullally and other older comic veterans in the cast.
“I Am Divine.” A fine look at the plus-sized, protean Baltimore queen who changed the whole face of American drag via John Waters movies. Waters and others, including co-stars Mink Stole and Ricki Lake, offer up affectionate memories about this icon who left life and the screen too young.
“Melting Away.” In this Israeli drama, a young nurse named Anna (the lovely Hen Yanni) comes to care for a terminal cancer patient, though neither he nor his wife recognize that Anna is a transgender woman who, under the name Assaf, was the son they kicked out of the house four years ago. The masquerade and some borderline kinky plot turns (including a horny uncle who puts the moves, unwittingly, on the pretty nurse) sound like elements for a Pedro Almodóvar comedy. But the movie’s tone is gentle and humanistic. Its aim is reconciliation for its characters. (Like “G.B.F.,” the film’s dramatization of parents learning to love their LGBT children is a nice rebuke to the real-life familial homophobia in “Bridegroom.”)