The OUTrageous Film Festival returns to Santa Barbara this weekend. Now in its 24th year, the festival continues its tradition of bringing an international roster of LGBTQ films to town, with a spotlight on those of the under-the-radar, left-of-center, and outside-the-box variety.
“We try to show films you can’t see in a theater. We try to keep it something unique and special,” said Committee Chair Robby Robbins. That, he said, is becoming more and more of a challenge, due to what he calls the Will & Grace Effect — the domestic mainstreaming and wider understanding of queer relationships. “It’s okay to have LGBTQ-themed films now, and it’s quite possible to have a good LGBTQ film that makes money,” he said.
The result is a wider breadth of international films. Lest it seem recent strides in American culture have totally alleviated pressures on LGBTQ individuals and the community at large, this year’s OUTrageous selection reminds us of the very real struggles many worldwide still face with sexuality internally and relationally. This weekend’s program includes powerful stories of cultural impositions, harrowing tales of heartbreak, and triumphant stories of love.
The festival begins Thursday, November 12, at UCSB’s MultiCultural Center with a free screening of Stories of Our Lives, an anthology of five short films retelling true stories of LGBTQ life in Kenya. The film has been banned in Kenya, a country where same-sex acts are punished as crimes. “It’s important to keep that light on the plight of people all over the world and to do what we can to share those stories,” Robbins said.
Metro 4 hosts all the film programming for the remaining weekend. Friday, November 13, begins with a screening of Michelle Ehlen’s uproarious lesbian comedy S&M Sally, after which Ehlen will join for a post-screening Q&A. Other highlights that night include Zebra, based on the poetry of award-winning area poet Ron Alexander, and Amor eterno (Everlasting love), a dark and graphic Spanish film about an encounter between a teacher and his student.
The festival features some notable documentaries. Reel in the Closet, also showing on Friday, is a collection of home movies made by queer people, some dating as far back as the 1930s, while on Saturday, From This Day Forward, described by Robbins as “beautiful and poignant,” focuses on one father’s gender transition and its effect on his family of four. Sunday’s Out to Win looks at the lives of gay and lesbian athletes around the world.
Saturday and Sunday both feature a diverse set of films from morning until midnight, including Men’s Shorts and Women’s Shorts screenings, at which selected directors will be present for Q&As. Saturday’s schedule includes two lauded lesbian romances, the striking Venezuelan film Liz en Septiembre (Liz in September) and the Dutch coming-of-age story Zomer (Summer). Race and religion clash with sexuality in Sunday’s selections in films such as Naz & Maalik, about two closeted Muslim men in New York, and While You Weren’t Looking, about white-black romances in contemporary South Africa.
Robbins encourages the whole S.B. community to come. “If they’re a regular, they’ll be very happy, and if they’re a newbie, they will be pleasantly surprised with the caliber of films,” he said. The best way to enjoy the fest is the $50 All-Access Pass, a bargain for the number of films included within, plus the free admittance to the Saturday-night reception at Globe.