‘Relax’ to kick off L.A.’s Outfest ’98

Event skedded for July 9

Outfest ’98, the 16th L.A. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, will kick off July 9 with the Sundance hit “Relax … It’s Just Sex.” Set in contemporary Los Angeles, it focuses on a group of friends of various sexual persuasions.

Directed by P.J. Castellaneta, the ensemble cast includes Jennifer Tilly, Lori Petty, Mitchell Anderson and Cynda Williams.

This year’s lineup includes more than 100 programs of films and videos from nearly three dozen countries. The curtain raiser will be held at the historic Orpheum Theatre and will include a Lifetime Achievement honor for Sir Ian McKellan. The main program unspools at the Directors Guild.

The event also will present a series of outdoor screenings at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, including “Edge of Seventeen,” a coming out, coming-of-age story directed by David Morton and Todd Stephens. The screening will be held in conjunction with the presentation of festival awards, a combination of juried prizes, audience awards and special programming committee honors.

First Chinese entry

Among the features to be screened are “East Palace, West Palace,” the first mainland Chinese film to deal with the covert life of a homosexual man; the Spanish lesbian action adventure “Pasajes”; and “Sixth Happiness” from Britain, centering on a physically handicapped man’s life coping with social prejudice. Other international entries are the Brazilian “Bocage: The Triumph of Love”; “Cavafy,” about the life of 19th century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy; and the German social comedy “Everything Will Be Fine.”

American indies will be well-represented with such titles as “2 By 4,” a story set among New York’s immigrant population; the psychological drama “Out of Season”; and “The Sticky Fingers of Time,” a lesbian romantic thriller.

A series of new American films will get a special early evening slot, including “Hayseed” about a boy and his dog; the gender bender gangster yarn “Mob Queen”; and the sexual identity comedy “Totally Confused.”

The program also will include a retrospective look at Radley Metzger’s seminal 1969 lesbian love story “Therese and Isabelle” and the projection of the TV series “More Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin.

Docu selections

Documentary selections include “The Female Closet” on lesbian cinema; filmmaker Donna Deitch’s cinema verite on the last days of actress Gwen Welles, “Angel on My Shoulder”; Rosa von Praunheim’s “Gay Courage: 100 Years of the Gay Movement”; and “The Real Ellen Story,” which centers on the coming out episode of the controversial TV series “Ellen.”

Themes of this year’s short subject selections embrace “Drag Queen Feminism,” “Fairy Tales,” “Girls Kick Ass,” “The World According to Butch,” “Headtrips” and “Let Me Animate You.”

For more information and complete program listings, call the organization at (213) 951-1247.