It was just last century, in 1988, that Atlanta’s alternative film festival Out on Film was a gathering primarily for the city’s lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender communities. It was a way to take a break from date nights spent watching mainstream, hung-up-on-heterosexuality Hollywood movies. Here, finally, was a fest with films that spoke to, for and about their lives.
Attendance and support has grown steadily, expanding the festival to one of the Top 10 of its kind in the nation. Is this because the region’s LBGT population has increased or because it’s become more visible in creating and cheering its art and artists? Both, surely.
And there’s another reason: According to festival director Jim Farmer, people are bringing Grandma these days.
“The movies are great,” Farmer says. “The movies are also diverse. There may be a LBGT theme … and the fest focus is on LGBT … but the films are very, very universal. A lot of our films can be enjoyed by anybody.”
The eight-day event begins Thursday (Oct. 2) and runs through Oct. 9 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. More than 80 feature films, documentaries and short films (animated shorts appear this year for the first time) will be screened. A $2,700 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is helping bring in more visiting filmmakers. The academy, incidentally, awarded 23 grants this year, two for LGBT events.
Things begin with the already sold-out Blackbird. Patrik-Ian Polk directed Mo’Nique in her first leading role since her Oscar for Precious. Isaiah Washington (“Grey’s Anatomy”) plays the feckless father of 17-year-old Randy, a faithful but confused choirboy in a tightly conservative Mississippi town.
Also screening on opening night is Eastern Boys, a 2013 feature by Robin Campillo set at a Paris train station popular with boys of all ages and from all over Eastern Europe. (Tickets were still available as of this writing.)
For fans of documentaries, Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank screens Saturday afternoon. It’s described as an intimate peek into the life of Frank, the quick-witted, cantankerous and first openly gay U.S. Congressman reflecting on his 40 years in office and the role his homosexuality played in his campaigns for social justice.
The fest’s 27th season will close with David Au’s Eat With Me, an uber-charming cinematic take on food, family and the fear of intimacy. Au will attend the screening. Perhaps he’ll share how he got George Takei (TV’s “Star Trek”) to do a cameo.
Sandwiched between Blackbird and Eat is a cornucopia of cinema including the Oscar-nominated Facing Fear and If We Took a Holiday, the story of a gay man who spends his birthday with a Madonna impersonator.
Other events include For Filth!, a drag-tastic collaboration with Legendary Children Atlanta that will highlight experimental films from regional filmmakers. And the week will include free noontime shorts.
New is what Farmer calls family programming: a Sunday morning showing of the Marlo Thomas feel-good-about-yourself-and-embrace-diversity classic “Free to Be … You and Me.” The seminal TV special first aired in 1974 and, with the help of people like Mel Brooks and Michael Jackson, tunefully touted equality long before “gender neutral” became a catchphrase.
“We are ecstatic about this year’s schedule,” says Farmer. “I think we have something for all audiences, and we’ve never had this many offerings available in our history.”