17th L.A. Gay, Lesbian fest has int'l flair

International award winners, a global summit, an expanded program of outdoor screenings and retrospectives will highlight the 17th L.A. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival running July 8-19.

In its most comprehensive and international selection to date, Outfest ’99 features prize-winning features from such far-flung locales as Australia, France, Germany and Sweden. Other entries rep Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Spain and Great Britain, and there’s a healthy bunch of U.S. indies.

This year’s event will include a French sidebar that features Cannes Critics Week selection “Sitcom,” a dark family comedy that twists familiar TV themes; “Man Is a Woman,” a comedy in which a homosexual agrees to marriage to gain an inheritance; and “Why Not Me?”, a coming-out tale in which friends bond as the first step toward revealing their sexual identities.

Other featured pics include Berlin-prized “Aimee and Jaguar,” which retells the true story of a clandestine relationship between the wife of a Nazi officer and a Jewish woman in hiding during World War II, and “Head On,” which centers on a young Greek man attempting to assert his independence in a fiercely traditional enclave in Melbourne.

“The theme of this year’s event is ‘welcome home,’ ” said fest exec director Morgan Rumpf. “We want this to be a festival for everyone. This arena has evolved from coming out to being out, so the work has become more accessible as the need for taking a political stance has diminished. And it’s no longer just gay and lesbian filmmakers who are tackling the traditional and innovative subjects which the festival has explored.”

An unusual strain among recent gay-themed pics is the adoption and revision of popular genres. In “Razor Blade Smile” from Britain, the vampire hero verges on the campy and dispatches vigilante justice. The American indie “Treasure Island” takes a tale of wartime spying and introduces an unusual sexual twist, while the Spanish “Excuse Me Duckie, But Lucas Loved Me” turns out to be a variant on the sort of drawing room whodunit popularized by Agatha Christie.

Other acclaimed foreign entries include the Norwegian thriller “Blessed Are Those Who Thirst,” based on a series of cop novels by the country’s former minister of justice that feature a lesbian investigator; “Lola and Billy the Kid,” a German film in which a young man’s pursuit of his brother’s killer takes him to the underbelly of Berlin society; and “When Loves Comes” from New Zealand, a study of a popular singer’s fall from grace starring Rena Owen.

American indie fare includes the docu portrait of comedy writer Bruce Vilanchl, “Get Bruce,” and “Bellini’s Drive,” a docu in which Kids in the Hall alum Paul Bellini returns to Timmins, Ontario, for a town homecoming where he’s upstaged by local Shania Twain.

Fiction fare ranges from the elegant gender bender romantic comedy “Bedrooms and Hallways” to such backstage fare as “Can’t Stop Dancing” with Margret Chao, Janeane Garofalo, Illeana Douglas and Noah Wyle and “The Velocity of Gary” headlining Vincent D’Onofrio and Selma Hayek.

Rumpf added that the initial wave of “first” movies grappling with gay/lesbian issues, which broached areas once thought taboo, ended several years ago. He said that because of those films, today’s filmmakers have a greater freedom to explore or parody as in “Sex Monster,” a menage comedy with Mariel Hemingway at its center. Unusual family units pop up regularly, as in “Better Than Chocolate,” in which a young woman finds her female soulmate just as her mother and brother move into her apartment, or the eight-part Brit series “Queer as Folk,” an epic soap opera of gay friends and family in Manchester.

For further information on the festival, call (323) 960-2330.

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