Outflix is more than a film festival: It is a celebration of community, says festival co-director Matt Barrett. "Here's what it's all about: Whoever you are, we want you to be able to see yourself onscreen. That's my life. That's me. I can relate to that."
Barrett and co-director Kat King took over running the festival from Will Batts, the longtime director who moved to Houston last year. Under Batts' leadership, the festival, which began as a fund-raiser for OUT Memphis (formerly known as the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center), grew in prestige and size. Now, it is OUT Memphis' primary outreach event. "When I came here, I was looking for community," says King. "I found the center. I'd always been a big movie buff, and Outflix was the first program I found. That was my introduction to Will ... Then, after a year of watching films, rating films, and helping put this whole thing together, Will looked at Matt and me and said, 'Hey, do you want to run it next year?'"
- Wild Nights With Emily, starring Molly Shannon (left) and Amy Seimetz, plays opening night at Outflix.
Of course, running a film festival that receives more than 350 entries a year is not as easy as it sounds. "To narrow it down to a week's worth of films is nearly impossible. There are a ton of great films we didn't use, just based on time and space available," says Barrett.
King and Barrett found that it took the two of them, along with help from Out Memphis' Director of Development Stephanie Reyes, to replace the work Batts was doing every year. "It is a part time job that we don't get paid for," says Barrett.
To give the festival a fresh start, King and Barrett said they put everything on the table. The restarted Outflix's dormant Summer Series, showing LBGTQ films that were hits at past festivals, such as the groundbreaking comedy from the dawn of the digital era, Sordid Lives. "Especially for a gay Southern person, you look at this movie and say, 'This is my life!'" says Barrett.
On August 21st, the traditional preview party was spiced up with Outflix's first local shorts competition, which was won by writer Skyy Blair's comedic directorial debut "Motions."
On Friday, September 7th, the main festival will open as it traditionally does with a documentary and narrative feature. The 34th, directed by Linda Cullen and Vanessa Gildea, is a documentary 12 years in the making. It tells the story of Marriage Equality in Ireland, a group that fought to extend civil marriage rights to LBGTQ people, beginning in 2005 when plaintiffs Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan sued to get their Canadian union recognized in the Emerald Isle.
The opening night narrative is Wild Nights With Emily, a historical dramedy in which director Madeleine Olnek tells the secret history of poet Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon). Though people like Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz), her sister-in-law who published her poems posthumously, called Dickinson a prudish spinster, Olnek reframes her heroine as a closeted lesbian doing her best to live a fulfilling life in stifling Victorian society. Shannon's performance as the would-be libertine poet forced to wear a mask of chastity drew raves upon the film's premiere at this year's South By Southwest film festival.
The festival runs through the weekend and into the next week with 13 narrative features, five feature documentaries, and 32 shorts. King says its an exciting time for LBGTQ film. "People are starting to tell different stories in the community. There will always be space for a coming-out story or the teen story. But this year there are more unique storylines, and some that kept that thread, but told it differently."
One such film is Saturday afternoon's offering, Freelancers Anonymous, a comedy about balancing work and personal lives. "It's a super cute movie about a lesbian couple who are taking the next steps in their life," says King. "They're planning for a wedding. At the same time, one of them quits their job and starts a freelancer's group with a ragtag group of people who are all out of a job."
On Tuesday, September 11th, Outflix will have its first all-Spanish-language Latinx night, beginning with a block of short films from as far away as Brazil and Costa Rica, and then Columbian director Ruth Caudeli's Eve & Candela. "We're trying to engage different parts of our community, especially since we just started a Latinx group at the center," says Reyes.
King says it's OUT Memphis' goal to expand their community to all underrepresented LBGTQ groups, and the festival's films reflect that push toward ever increasing diversity. "We're showing a lot of diverse transgender movies and shorts. Moreso this year, I think we tried to connect the programming at Outflix with the programs at the center."
Outflix 2018 runs from Friday, September 7th to Thursday, September 13th at the Malco Ridgeway Cinema Grille. For a full schedule, tickets, and passes, visit outflixfestival.org.