What Out on Film festival offers as it celebrates 30th anniversary

At a time when Hollywood has suffered its weakest summer box office returns since 2006 and is losing some of its best talents to the small screen, a festival like Out on Film can renew the excitement of cinema as a communal event.

"Out on Film is very much a place for shared, public experiences," festival director Jim Farmer says. "It's possible to see a film pretty much anywhere these days, but we offer the opportunity to see films for, by and about our community and our allies in a safe, welcoming environment. And some of our patrons outside of metro Atlanta don't have that on a regular basis."

For its 30th anniversary year, Out on Film presents its biggest festival to date of films for the LGBTQ community. More than 120 narrative and documentary shorts and feature films will screen at three venues across the city.

The film festival opens Sept. 28 with “Happy,” an upbeat documentary about a Georgia-based artist, and closes Oct. 8 with “Saturday Church,” a drama about a 14-year-old boy struggling with religion and gender identity issues. Star Luka Kain is scheduled to attend the screening. Other highlights include “Freak Show,” in which a teenage boy runs for homecoming queen of his conservative high school (featuring Bette Midler and Laverne Cox); the documentary “The Fabulous Allan Carr” by director Jeffrey Schwarz, winner of the festival’s Icon Award; and the following features.


Out on Film’s opening night presentation stays close to home with this documentary, subtitled “A Small Film With a Big Heart,” that profiles Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman, an Augusta-based artist and former Atlantan. Director Michael Patrick McKinley portrays Zimmerman as a beloved mainstay of the city’s laid-back but lively arts scene. “Happy” digs into the tragic underpinnings of Zimmerman’s art, frequently inspired by the memory of his husband, who gave him the pet name “Porkchop” and died following a debilitating illness. The film conveys the therapeutic aspects of art, and Zimmerman’s signature images — often wryly smiling robots — provide accessible symbols of accentuating the positive in the face of sorrow. Even at its concise length, “Happy” feels like a stretch, but it sets a joyful tone that viewers will find infectious. Zimmerman and McKinley are scheduled to attend.

7 p.m. Sept. 28, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

‘God’s Own Country’

Winner of a World Cinema Directing Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, this drama from writer/director Francis Lee evokes the rustic romance of “Brokeback Mountain” while feeling at once harsher and more hopeful. Josh O’Connor plays Johnny Saxby, who feels trapped on his family’s Yorkshire farm yet bound to help his ailing father (Ian Hart). Bitter and prone to binge drinking and anonymous sex, Johnny unwittingly embarks on a new path with the arrival of a Romanian hired hand (Alec Secareanu). Unsparing in its depiction of the realities of farm life, the tenderness in “God’s Own Country” is hard-earned but affecting. O’Connor gives such an implosive performance early that it’s almost shocking to see the smiles that later spread across his face.

7:05 p.m. Sept. 30, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

‘Hello Again’

With classic musicals making comebacks on live TV, moviegoers may be receptive to this odd but unique musical film. Tom Gustafson directs an adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s 1993 musical “La Ronde” (itself based on a German play from 1897). The action consists of vignettes that pair up characters daisy chain-style across decades: In 1944, a soldier woos a nurse before shipping out; then in 1967, the nurse (who may be another person) seduces the young man she’s hired to treat, and so on. At times, the film offers clever connections across time, with a soft solo of the title song followed later by a swinging Ella Fitzgerald-style interpretation. “Hello Again” can be hard to warm up to — once you invest in one pair of characters, you’re whisked off to another — but it features a game cast that includes Martha Plimpton, Audra McDonald and T.R. Knight.

9:05 p.m. Sept. 30, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

‘Signature Move’

One of the pleasures of film festivals is their ability to showcase subcultures often neglected by mainstream movies. In this low-budget romantic comedy, a Pakistani lawyer (Fawzia Mirza) living in Chicago finds herself torn between pleasing her traditional, matchmaking mother (Shabana Azmi) and her attraction to a Mexican bookstore owner (Sari Sanchez). Director Jennifer Reeder shows more confidence with the mother’s quiet scenes than the more overt comedy involving female wrestlers, or “luchadoras.” Nevertheless, “Signature Move” deserves credit for its willingness to find multiple sides of the issue of whether gay people should be out to their families. Actor/co-writer Mirza is scheduled to attend.

7 p.m. Oct. 6, OutFront Theatre.

‘The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin’

As author of the acclaimed “Tales of the City” novels of life and love in San Francisco, Armistead Maupin has been so long in the public eye, you may think all of his stories have been already shared. Instead, director Jennifer Kroot reveals in this frank, fast-paced documentary that the Southern-born writer was at the scene of American cultural flashpoints across decades. A closeted teenage conservative, he served in Vietnam and subsequently met President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. Maupin moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and not only became involved with Rock Hudson, but was at the center of the movie star’s outing controversy during the 1980s AIDS crisis. Interspersed with clips from the PBS “Tales of the City” adaptation (which set off criticism over government arts funding in the 1990s) and interviews with such celebrities as Amy Tan and Ian McKellen, Maupin comes across as a gentle raconteur, both nostalgic for the old days yet capable of appreciating the gains the culture has made.

11 a.m. Oct. 7, OutFront Theatre.


Out on Film Festival

Sept. 28-Oct. 8. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. 931 Monroe Drive, Atlanta; Out Front Theatre Company, 999 Brady Ave., Atlanta; and Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. $11 individual tickets, $200 VIP all-access pass. outonfilm.org.