With COVID-19's invasion of our picturesque shores, South Florida's film-festival circuit has struggled, not knowing precisely how to respond. Months after local arthouse cinemas were compelled to close their doors for the safety of the public, Outshine Film Festival, South Florida's longest-running LGBTQ+ film festival, announced that it would be the first to pivot to virtual screenings.
"It's a little scary and a lot exciting," executive director Victor Gimenez says of putting together the virtual festival, which will take place from August 20-30. "Our main focus has been to make sure the experience will be as easy as possible, and we believe we have done that."
Not only is the festival able to offer virtual screenings to the entire state of Florida, accessible for up to four days, but Gimenez notes that the event "will have more live Q&As virtually with filmmakers and talent than ever before."
Gimenez also emphasizes the greater availability possible with the virtual platform. Floridians who live in an areas that lack an LGBTQ+ film festival "now have access to outstanding films" — all without having to worry about the cost of transportation, parking, and concessions. (All screenings will be geo-locked to Florida-based IP addresses.)
To be sure, this year's Outshine lineup offers some gems. Asked to share his favorites, Gimenez mentioned the festival's centerpiece film, The Goddess of Fortune, as well as Skeleton in the Closet, Minyan, and Steelers: The World's First Gay Rugby Team.
Below, listed in order of screening dates, New Times highlights five of our own picks from this year's fest.
Stage Mother is a familiar story in practically every way. It's the kind of movie designed to appeal to straight audiences and gay folks looking for something sweet and fluffy, making it the perfect opening night for Outshine. There's not much depth to be plumbed in its 93 minutes, but it's pure comfort food for the soul, and it'll make you miss seeing all the drag performers you've befriended over the years.
Thom Fitzgerald's movie follows Maybelline (Jacki Weaver), whose estranged son passes away from an overdose, leaving her with the drag bar he owned. Her presence is initially unwanted but soon accepted as the film leans hard into the cis-het savior trope, quite literally having Maybelline fix everyone's problems. This includes everything from stopping drug addiction and helping a trans woman come out to her partner to single-handedly reviving the drag scene in San Francisco by pivoting from lip-synching to actual vocal performances.
If it sounds dumb, well, it is. But it is a testament to Weaver's talent as an actress that she consistently manages to elevate any script she's given, including this one. She possesses an innate chemistry with costars Lucy Liu and Mya Taylor, among others.
Adrian Grenier's misguided attempt at playing gay by pursing his lips too much is the film's most blatant misstep. but there's plenty else to nitpick about, from choppy editing to musical numbers that could be more engagingly presented (barring a unique rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" that's positively delightful). Still, Stage Mother is charming enough to make you forget the flaws as it rolls along. Sometimes all we need is a little bit of sugar, a lot of makeup, and an unbearably optimistic movie amid all our real-life tragedy. Premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 20, at the Drive-In Theater at Dezerland Park, 14401 NE 19th Ave., North Miami. Juan Antonio Barquin
Dry Wind (Vento Seco)
Daniel Nolasco's first nondocumentary feature is a work of inexplicable beauty. Dry Wind drips with eroticism and intimacy, as the camera's gaze closes in on everything from the grip of a hand in a moment of desperately needed connection to a bearded face buried between bushy butt cheeks. It's as camp as it is mysterious, as arousing as it is heartbreaking, radiating queerness from its every exquisitely composed frame.
On the heels of his documentary Mr. Leather — which playfully explored Brazil's Mr. Leather competition and contextualized bondage and leather for an audience unacquainted with those kinks — Nolasco offers viewers an atypical romantic drama. It revels in the monotony that is the life of Sandro Karnas (Leandro Faria Lelo), a distant fellow who divides his days between sports with coworkers, his job at the fertilizer factory where his friend Paula (Renata Carvalho) is trying to start a union, and his sexual encounters with his colleague Ricardo (Allan Jacinto Santana).
Sandro's inability to develop a real level of intimacy with anyone — his lover Ricardo in particular — is his downfall. The introduction of Maicon (Rafael Teophilo), who looks straight out of a Tom of Finland artwork, threatens to ruin whatever semblance of a relationship he has. Nolasco may be accused of indulging too much in style, particularly when it comes to sex. But his visual metaphors are full of substance, each beat of both reality and dreamscape being reflective of its protagonist's state of ennui.
It's as much of an erotic feature as it is a studied one, with pornographic sequences as erection-generating as they are clearly referencing the works of gay adult film directors from the past. (There are direct winks to Wakefield Poole's Boys in the Sand and Bijou, among others). More interesting is how Nolasco navigates the tone of these dreamy presentations of sex that populate much of the film, including everything from watersports and pup play to choking and cum swapping.
Despite the heightened compositions, immaculate production design, and unreal bodies in motion, Nolasco knows when to laugh at himself and when to pull at the viewer's heartstrings. Dry Wind uses the aesthetics of queer history to create a love story that is both thrilling and affecting. Premieres Friday, August 21, at 9:15 p.m. Juan Antonio Barquin
House of Cardin
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations were persons in 1978, they may have had Pierre Cardin in mind. It feels entirely possible while watching P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes' sleek and fascinating documentary House of Cardin. The directors are careful to title their film, not after the man, but after the business, which is apropos. The film feels less interested in Cardin on a personal level, and more focused on his mind for design and business. This pivot serves it well.
A massive cultural figure two years shy of his centennial birthday serves as a fascinating lens to view the role of design in the modern world. Cardin has witnessed a lot in his years: fleeing Mussolini's fascist Italy as a young child, surviving World War II in occupied France, arguably designing the cultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s, and pioneering the concept of modern branding.
While many interviewees struggle to answer the seemingly simple question, "Who is Pierre Cardin?" — giving responses such as "chic," "a French monument," and, interestingly, "a logo" — Cardin himself remarks that in his travels, some people are surprised to meet him in the flesh, assuming he is more a name than a person. The documentary deftly dives into this notion and explores how Cardin operated his design business in order to build his own universe that was always "creating for tomorrow."
He's a visionary who recognized that design should be democratic, global, and functional. Cardin's work shows no distinction between a dress, a dresser, or a water bottle. He views design as universal, making him a true modernist. One interviewee astutely surmises that the work of futurist artists gains greater meaning as time goes on, and House of Cardin is an illustrious testament to Cardin's work and his ongoing impact on the world of design. Premieres Saturday, August 22, at 5 p.m. Trae DeLellis
Covertly filmed on an iPhone without the Cuban government's consent, Transformistas documents the lives of drag performers in Santa Clara. Inspired by the seminal Paris Is Burning, director Chad Hahne, an outsider to the island, respectfully allows his subjects to narrate and guide the story.
In both form and content, Hahne's approach yields a touching and informative film that strikes a perfect harmony between the personal and the political with a sense of intimacy and immediacy. Perhaps a better title for the project would be El Mejunje (translated as The Mixture), the queer club and cultural center around which the story revolves. Each subject tells their story, uninterrupted by superfluous graphics or music. The film uses the generational divide between performers to explore how each epoch reflected and influenced queer culture in Cuba, mapping out the nation's history and future.
The old generation is represented by the founders of the drag collective El Futuro. They performed as an act of resistance to a regime that policed and criminalized their existence and art against the HIV pandemic that tore through the island. The middle generation focuses on trans representation within the drag community, even delivering a geographically specific and universal examination of the significance of accessible healthcare. Finally, the new generation represents one benefiting from a more open Cuba through exposure to the world of drag online, from watching makeup tutorials to following RuPaul's Drag Race alumni.
Beneath these factions lies a tension, common in most queer communities: an older generation feeling as though newcomers have no sense of history and a younger generation assuming their elders are out of touch. A standout sequence shows all three generations working together to organize a show at El Mejunje, with Hahne cleverly cutting quickly between the rehearsal and the final product, giving the spectator a chance to appreciate all the prep work that often goes unseen in the art of drag. In the end, Transformistas hits the beats that all great queer documentaries need. It shows the perseverance and survival of those who came before while holding out hope for continued change. Premieres Tuesday, August 25, at 7 p.m. Trae DeLellis
The Capote Tapes
"I haven't had a good laugh since he died," laments one interviewee in The Capote Tapes, a new documentary exploring the life of famed American author Truman Capote. This confession cements one of the ingredients for a captivating documentary: a compelling subject. As many docs have proven, this does not guarantee success, and much credit is due to the work of first-time director Ebs Burnough, who crafts a film as seductive and intoxicating as Capote himself.
Burnough frames his film around unreleased tapes of interviews conducted by journalist George Plimpton with members of Capote's inner circle, including American luminaries Lauren Bacall, Norman Mailer, and Capote's longtime partner, Jack Dunphy. But Plimpton's tapes are only a jumping-off point for the film, as the director expertly balances the audio files with in-person interviews with Truman's (living) inner circle — including his adoptive daughter and his best friend — archival footage, and Capote's own writing.
The film revolves around a quasi-mystery regarding Capote's unfinished manuscript, Answered Prayers. Quasi because the text functions more as a MacGuffin to explore the rise and demise of the legendary author and cultural icon. What sets this film above the standard literary doc is how it makes a life already lived spring alive with suspense and unexpected twists and turns. The film succinctly and thoroughly charts Capote's humble beginnings as an unabashedly queer abandoned boy from the South to a literary phenomenon that conquered the highest echelon of New York City high society.
After publishing excerpts from Answered Prayers, a satirical novel fueled by high-society secrets, Capote gradually imploded, putting on full display the hubristic and self-destructive streak that ran through his entire life. The Capote Tapes soars by allowing one of the world's most flamboyant, authentic, and revolutionary American writers to take center stage — as he always had. Premieres Wednesday, August 26, at 9:15 p.m. Trae DeLellis
Outshine Film Festival. Thursday, August 20, through Sunday, August 30; outshinefilm.com. Tickets cost $12 to $40.