Out on Film is back in theaters (and homes) this year

Festival celebrates LGBTQ films with screenings in-person and online.
Dontavius Williams (kneeling) and Deion Smith (standing) star in the short drama "Flames," by Deondray and Quincy Gossfield. It's part of the 34th annual Out on Film Festival.

Credit: The Gossfields

Credit: The Gossfields

Dontavius Williams (kneeling) and Deion Smith (standing) star in the short drama "Flames," by Deondray and Quincy Gossfield. It's part of the 34th annual Out on Film Festival.

In the years before COVID-19, all you needed to attend Out on Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQ movie showcase, was a pass to get into the theater and a list of movies you wanted to see.

This year — after being virtual-only in 2020 — the festival is returning, in part, to in-person theater screenings. But for the 34th edition of the festival, which runs Sept. 23-Oct. 3, theater audiences will need a few more things to attend a screening. They will be required to provide proof of vaccination and wear a mask.

“Even though we decided to do a hybrid this year, safety is our biggest concern,” said Jim Farmer, executive director of Out on Film. “People will have to upload their vaccination card through our site to buy a pass (for multiple shows) or a single ticket.”

Like other movie festivals in Atlanta, such as Bronze Lens, Out on Film saw a strong uptick in attendance last year with a virtual format and an expanded audience that reached internationally. But the desire to return to in-person screenings this year was strong.

“We hope we have a good enough number of people who are comfortable with in-person, with masks and social distancing,” Farmer said. “But we can fully adapt and do virtual if we find people are squeamish or nervous about in-person.”

Auditoriums will be capped at 70 percent capacity and social distancing will be enforced in seating, Farmer said.

“Our core audience is 35+ (years old), LGBTQ,” said Farmer. “They understand. They know the drill. We’ve dealt with other pandemics.”

One signature event that historically has happened in person is the “Trailblazer Award,” given to a long-time LGBTQ entertainer who has made a mark in the field. This year’s recipient is Amanda Bearse, the director, actor, and activist who grew up in Atlanta, and became famous for her role in the TV show “Married...With Children.” Bearse went on to direct numerous network television shows, from The Jamie Foxx Show to MADtv. Her award and in-conversation event on opening night, Sept. 23, will also be virtual.

Here are a few highlights from the 150 dramas, comedies, documentaries and shorts featured at Out on Film.

In one of the most tender moments in director T.J. Parsell's documentary, "Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music," country music composer and singer Dianne Davidson sings to her longtime friend, the legendary Linda Rondstadt.

Credit: T.J. Parsell

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Credit: T.J. Parsell

‘Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music’

Director T.J. Parsell had just moved to Nashville in 2017 for his husband’s new job when a friend invited him for coffee to pitch an idea for a film.

“My expectations were low,” said Parsell, who’d been in software sales for decades in New York City.

But the pitch, from friend Bill Brimm, was startling: A lot of country hits over the decades had been written by lesbian songwriters in Nashville, many of whom had stayed in the closet for much of their careers. Coming out publicly would have ended their lucrative livelihoods, especially in the ultra-conservative world of country music. Brimm was friends with many of them.

“I was in the closet for years and I knew the cost I paid for that, so I had some empathy, but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in the limelight,” Parsell said. “I wanted to know what choices and sacrifices they made and what it cost them.”

So, with Parsell as director and Brimm as producer, “Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music,” began a four-year journey to the screen. The cowriters of hits such as “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed (Kye Fleming) and “Where the Green Grass Grows” (Jess Leary) were among nearly a dozen lesbian songwriters interviewed in the documentary. Willie Nelson, Ronnie Millsap, Charlie Pride, Barbara Mandrell, Tammy Wynette and even Tina Turner are all artists who had No. 1 hits written by the women who should be household names but are not: Bonnie Baker, Mary Gauthier, Pam Rose and Mary Kennedy and many more.

The most bittersweet moment in the film comes when Dianne Davidson, her rising career killed after she recorded a love song about another woman, sings for her longtime friend and former bandmate, Linda Ronstadt. Parkinson’s disease has robbed Ronstadt of her ability to sing. That is until Davidson shows up at her house with a guitar.

Stay for the credits, featuring the hit “Loving Her,” by Atlanta’s own Katie Pruitt.

6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Deion Smith, (seated) and Dontavius Williams star in the acclaimed Atlanta-filmed short film "Flames" by Deondray and Quincy Gossfield. The film is part of the 34th annual Out on Film festival.

Credit: The Gossfields

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Credit: The Gossfields


The lead actors in Deondray and Quincy LeNear Gossfield’s short, powerful film “Flames” were probably in elementary school when the filmmakers had their first success with the short-lived 2005 television series, “The DL Chronicles.” The show was about Black men who are closeted about their sexuality, while living lives that, for all appearances, are heterosexual. While the show was lauded in some circles, it didn’t lead to the film career the couple had hoped for. So they set about being reality television producers.

But 15 years in, they longed to return to film. By then some things in Hollywood had changed. They landed a $100,000 grant from the Lena Waithe/Tribeca Films/Indeed program Rising Voices, for emerging filmmakers. “Flames,” a bold, yet heartfelt, 13-minute short about two Black teenage boys trying to navigate the boundaries between friendship and intimacy, is the result. Well received when it premiered at Tribeca, it is a vignette about two childhood friends on the afternoon before a graduation party.

Atlanta newcomers, Dontavius Williams, who portrays Sadik, and Deion Smith, who portrays Ahmad, get into a little mischief, horse around and reminisce about their high school days. But one memory triggers a wash of emotions neither teen is able to fully process. The best short stories stick with you and make a viewer wonder what happened to the characters, and this short film does just that.

“I never got to do a young person’s story on male-to-male intimacy, and I’m not talking about sexual,” said Deondray Gossfield, who wrote the script. “This was me exploring these relationships and giving these people a chance to be honest in their skin.”

Directed by Quincy LeNear Gossfield, the film was shot over three days in Chattahoochee Hills during the height of the pandemic. LeNear Gossfield said the grant also included an extra $25,000 just for COVID-19 protocols during filming.

“We had a COVID manager on set, tests before, during and after shooting, masks, social distancing,” LeNear Gossfield said. “We even had to hire a company to do rapid testing and that could be $500 a test.”

But there was one surprise the filmmakers welcomed. When their initial location fell through at the last minute, two Black women producers scrambled and found a substitute location in Fairburn. Viewers may recognize it from “The Avengers: End Game.”

“We didn’t know what it was, but some of the crew did and they said, ‘That’s the Iron Man cabin!’ and they started taking pictures,” Deondray Gossfield said.

7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at Out Front Theatre Company.

Dyllon Burnside, star of the hit television series "Pose," stars in the short film adaptation of George M. Johnson's bestseller "All Boys Aren't Blue." It's directed by Nathan Hale Williams.

Credit: Nathan Hale Williams

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Credit: Nathan Hale Williams

‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’

The common narrative is that Black families are intolerant of and even hostile to members of their families who come out as LGBTQ. George M. Johnson’s bestselling young adult book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” belies that stereotype and speaks of the author’s loving, accepting family. Now, director Nathan Hale Williams, has turned the book into a 40-minute film radiant with the love of family, both biological and chosen.

Hale constructed the film as three monologues by three actors, each representing a stage in Johnson’s life. Dyllón Burnside, a star of the hit show “Pose,” Bernard David Jones and Thomas Hobson, portray Johnson. Jenifer Lewis provides the voice of Johnson’s grandmother. Williams said he was commissioned to do the work for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day but knew he had not only a limited budget but also that actor and producer Gabrielle Union had optioned the book for television.

“I wanted to recreate what I’d hear in a Harlem gallery or speak-easy, a narrative reading that turns into a cinematic experience,” Williams said.

Williams edited the book, with input from Johnson, so each 10-minute piece would have a standalone narrative arc. They shot on Jan. 8, observing COVID-19 protocols. After a furious three weeks of editing, the film was ready for HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. In it we hear reflections from a 5-year-old who knows instinctively that they are are different; the teen who was awkward but always had the love of grandma; and the young adult who gathered the courage to pledge a fraternity and found family in it.

“It’s one of those moments you catch lightening in a bottle,” Williams said. “This is a film everyone can relate to because these are experiences about growing up and reconciling your identity as you are growing and figuring out your place in this world.”

7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.


Out on Film. Sept. 23-Oct. 3. $40-$150 for multi-film packages. Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. NE, Atlanta. Out Front Theatre Company, 999 Brady Ave., Atlanta. 678-944-8158, outonfilm.org

“All Boy Aren’t Blue”