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Festival Review
19th Annual Out on Film Festival

Nov. 10-16, 2006
Plaza Theatre
Atlanta, GA

Wrap-Up Review

By Pamela Cole

Atlanta, GA, Dec. 5, 2006 – For 19 years, way before it was chic to make & screen films with gay & lesbian content, IMAGE has sponsored Out on Film, Atlanta's LGBT film festival. This year marked a few changes for one of the oldest LGBT festival's in America, including a new venue at the historic Plaza Theatre in midtown and a new festival director, Dan Krovich, who was hired just weeks before the festival opened.

"In some ways, it was an advantage," said Krovich from his IMAGE office where he is busily planning the 31st Atlanta Film Festival, set for April 2007. "There wasn't any other choice except to dive in headfirst. Obviously, I would have liked to have had more time."

Krovich said at least half of the program was already set when he was hired in late September, corralled by former long-time Out on Film Festival director, Mark Smith, who now lives in Chicago. But Krovich coordinated

with Smith by e-mail about the festival line-up before arriving in Atlanta. He moved here from Maryland in October, after being hired for the position of festival director.

 

 

The new venue for Out on Film was the historic Plaza Theatre in midtown Atlanta. On opening night, a big spotlight was parked out front, announcing the festival across the sky. Festival goers buzzed in the parking lot waiting for friends on the warm November evening. It was great to see the newly re-opened Plaza in the middle of all this activity, but when in the world are they going to replace those seats! I swear, those are the same seats that I sat in and watched The Jungle Book 40 years ago.

"We had two big screens at the Plaza and it has a decent parking situation, which isn't always the case in Atlanta, I've learned," said Krovich approvingly when asked about the new venue. "It definitely would be considered again for next year."

The seven-day festival screened over 40 short and feature films from all around the world. It opened with Puccini for Beginners, a 2006 Sundance favorite directed by Maria Maggenti (who also directed lesbian cine-cult, The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love in 1995 -- that film also screened at this year's Out on Film). Puccini is a comedy about a lesbian who finds it hard to commit. The film definitely appeals to lesbians (which might also explain the light crowd attending this opener -- lesbians are notorious non-spenders). It was quite a contrast to last year's triumphant overflow opening-night audience that welcomed a pre-Oscar-nominated Transamerica and it's director Duncan Tucker to the Landmark Midtown Arts theater (see Review: Transamerica).

The opening night gift bag this year seemed a bit heftier than last year (although the bag itself wasn't as nice -- I still use the Sundance tote we got for last year's gift bag). This year's gift bag included a slew of CDs, the usual flyers, complimentary condoms, and a tank top announcing a new A&E movie, Wedding Wars. I guess the gift bag goodies and admission to the after-party at WetBar were the reason for the $25 ticket price. There was no director Q&A included after the screening of Puccini, like last year when Duncan Tucker took a ton of audience questions.

I had the same feeling watching Puccini as I did watching Quinceañera at this year's opening of the Atlanta Film Festival (ironically, also a film with a gay plot). Quinceañera won acclaim at the 2006 Sundance festival as well, but I was unimpressed with the film. I'm curious about the quality of filmmaking actually being shown at Sundance if these are two of its best. Speaking at a Sundance panel, Maggenti revealed that at three screenings of Puccini before Sundance, "the film was falling flat with audiences" until they moved the climax of the film to the beginning. The film still fell flat with me. Oh well…as long as Sundance judges liked it. Also, the cinematic look purported to have been achieved by DP Mauricio Rubenstein using the Sony XDCAM was completely lost in the poor projection at the Plaza for some reason.

When I asked Krovich what was his favorite film at the festival, he hedged. "It's hard to pick out a favorite, but I guess Small town Gay Bar was one of them. It was a very inclusive film. I mean, when you have a festival called 'LGBT,' it's hard to find films that appeal to all four quadrants of that audience, but Small Town Gay Bar did a good job of that." Small Town Gay Bar producer Matthew Gissing and director Malcolm Ingram and were both on hand for a Q&A after the film screened on Sunday.

There were three after-party events with free admission (with your film ticket stub) at local gay watering holes WetBar, Burkhart's, and Einstein's, where festival attendees could schmooze and drink with directors attending the festival. But not everyone who goes to see a film wants to party afterwards, and some folks balked (and walked) at the $25 ticket price on closing night, which included entrance to the after party.

Attendance at this year's Out on Film Festival was about 3,500, which Krovich admitted "was down from last year."
"But we had a big spike in attendance last year, so this year's figures are right in line with previous years," he added.

"Last year we had Transamerica. That was significant. And it had a major independent distributor [Miramax] behind it…We didn't have anything quite like that this year."

Krovich said that this "seems to be a national trend at gay and lesbian film festivals this year." "I've heard, just anecdotally from people, that even at some more prominent LGBT festivals, the numbers seem to be softer this year."

"Maybe gay & lesbian films are more in the mainstream film world now, and there's less of a shock at seeing this theme," he reasoned as we discussed this trend, noting that Quinceañera was a film that just a few years ago would have only been seen at a LGBT festival. Krovich also speculated that additional "entertainment options for gay & lesbian audiences with television networks like Logo and Here!" (both Out on Film sponsors) may also have contributed to lower attendance.

"Or maybe it was just a one-year dip," he ventured.

He then added: "The next challenge of gay & lesbian film festivals in general is, now that it's becoming more mainstream, films that would have only played gay & lesbian film festivals maybe even 5 or 6 years ago are now playing general film festivals and actually getting theatrical releases. I think it's a good challenge to have…I'd rather have the challenge of putting on a great gay & lesbian film festival in a world where gay & lesbian films are more accepted than the other way around."

"The truth is, the same thing is happening in all film festivals as indie films have become more accepted and are even getting more theatrical releases, so film festivals in general are adjusting. There are still plenty of great films that can be helped by festivals and can only be seen at a festival."

SUMMARY: So how was this year's Out on Film?

  • Nice to have all the screenings in one place, especially the retro, centralized Plaza Theatre. Maybe they'll have new seats by next year.
  • A good slate of screenings, although more director Q&A sessions would have been good. I liked the Ang Lee retrospective with the Wedding Banquet (1993) and Brokeback Mountain (2005), both gay films. Also, the dual set of Maria Maggenti films was nice.
  • Projection quality seemed to be a problem.
  • Closing night ticket prices were a bit hefty...how about a cheaper option for non-partiers?
  • Out on Film is still a great place to gather with gay friends and maybe meet new ones. A nice alternative to the bar -- 19 years ago, Out on Film was one of the only places outside of a gay bar where LGBT types could safely congregate.

Not bad, Dan Krovich... And welcome to the ATL!


Out On Film Audience Award:

Loving Annabelle
Best Feature Film
Director: Katherine Brooks

STR8 Chaser
Best Short Film
Director: Kimberly West

For more information, go to www.outonfilm.com.