Outfest focuses on newbies

Film fest opens Wednesday night

With more than 200 films, 50,000 expected attendees and 26 years of history at its back, Outfest: the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which kicked off Wednesday night, has reached an age that typically connotes old guard orthodoxy and establishment entrenchment. But if you ask interim executive director Kirsten Schaffer what makes Los Angeles' longest continuously running film festival important, it's all about the newbies.

"The festival is a launching pad for emerging queer filmmakers," Schaffer said. "This is the place to make connections with other filmmakers and industry, and begin to bring their careers to new places."

Because of Outfest's proximity to Hollywood, a certain amount of industry presence is endemic to the festival. However, as director of programming Kimberly Yutani said, the industry crowd is somewhat incidental to the festival's primary draw.

"Outfest is very much an LGBT community festival," she said. "Yes, there are people in the industry who are gay that come with an eye for talent, but they come as a member of that community."

The festival's neutral attitude toward Tinseltown is perhaps best evinced by its lack of a formal marketplace. As Schaffer said, "A lot of things get bought and sold during Outfest, but we're not the queer AFM."

This aversion to becoming a trade show is essential to the festival's commitment to showcase compelling work. "We're an arts organization, so we're not confined by profit margins," Schaffer said. "We can show movies that mainstream entities aren't dealing with."

That especially applies to Outfest's Platinum section, which focuses on avant-garde and experimental media. This year's Platinum programming pays tribute to underground punk mutineer Bruce LaBruce with screenings of his "Super 8 1/2" (1993) and new "Otto; or, Up With Dead People" (Strand Releasing) at Redcat.

This year's highest honor, the Outfest Achievement Award, will go to filmmaker Donna Deitch, whose 1985 "Desert Hearts" made waves for its earnest and positive portrayal of lesbian romance.

Outfest also has selected a small number of "centerpiece" films for Gala screenings. This year's opening- and closing-night galas at the Orpheum Theatre are 2007's "Breakfast With Scot" and 2008's "Tru Loved," both of which depict families helmed by gay and lesbian parents in tree-lined suburbia.

Likely to create buzz this election year are films in the Outing Politics series, including the Oscar-winning 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk," a narrative version of which will be released by Focus Features this year, and Dan Butler's satire 2007's "Karl Rove, I Love You," which centers on an unknown actor's obsession with the Dubya handler.