Damien Navarro’s first day on the job as the executive director of Outfest LA was the day after the festival’s closing night last year. Of course, no one could have imagined that this year’s edition of the LGBTQ festival would be taking place during a pandemic.
Navarro and his team quickly pivoted to putting together a virtual event. As a leading digital media entrepreneur, Navarro knew the virtual space well and it was his mission even before the pandemic to expand Outfest’s digital footprint.
“They specifically sought out somebody that had the skillset to be able to do that,” Navarro tells Variety. “It was just supposed to be over three to five years….But with covid, now it’s not a matter of trying to stay ahead — it’s a matter of survival.”
The 38th Outfest opens Thursday with a line-up of more than 160 films. The 11-day fest includes 35 world premieres, 10 North American premieres and four U.S. premieres.
While most of the festival is virtual, a drive-in series of screenings will take place at the Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, starting with a showing of the Sundance favorite “The Nowhere Inn,” starring Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein in a send-up of Clark’s musical persona St. Vincent, on Aug. 21.
More than 70% of the slate was directed by female, trans and POC filmmakers.
“We were really excited when so many filmmakers agreed to have us as their first festival,” Navarro said. “Enough time had happened between South by Southwest and now where I think all of us started to get really nervous that an entire year was going to go by with no stories. And in an election year, it’s really critical that everybody sees us and our visibility and the hope within ourselves is there as well. So it just became a mission, I think, for everybody to figure this out, to find those compromises.”
The financial impact won’t be known until the festival wraps up, but Navarro thinks the virtual accessibility to the films and festival programming could significantly increase interest and engagement from more Angelenos as well as moviegoers throughout the U.S.
“We could have one of the best margins the festival has ever had,” Navarro said. “When you think about accessibility and how many people could potentially subscribe to the film, with the modeling that we’ve run, we may end up with more support than we ever have had.”
Highlights of the festival include:
- Centerpiece selections include U.S. Centerpiece: “Shiva,” Documentary Centerpiece” “Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, International Centerpiece: “Monsoon” and Breakthrough Centerpiece: “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson.”
- Outfest’s closing night will feature the world premiere of Outfest alum Travis Fine’s (“Any Day Now”) century-spanning triptych, “Two Eyes,” about queer and trans-identified people from three different time periods in the American West. The film will premiere both on the digital platform and as the final drive-in feature.
- A screening of “Three Chords and a Lie,” a bio-doc about gay country music artist Brandon Stansell’s return to his conservative hometown, at the drive-in will include a live performance by Stansell.
- Emmy-nominated actor Scott Turner Schofield will premiere his film version of his one-man show “Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps,” in which viewers can interactively choose which of Schofield’s 127 segments they can experience as they watch.
- The long-unavailable 1986 doc “Lily Tomlin: The Film Behind the Show,” about Lily Tomlin and her wife Jane Wagner’s creation of their hit Broadway show “The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” will screen, with Tomlin, Wagner, and the film’s co-director Joan Churchill participating in a live virtual Q&A.
- Other buzzy titles include Tribeca Film Festival selects “P.S. Burn This Letter,” a documentary about New York City’s underground drag scene in the 1950s; “Cowboys” starring Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Ann Dowd, and young trans actor Sasha Knight and Big Freedia’s anti-gun advocacy doc “Freedia Got A Gun.”