Inside Outfest's Opening Night With Trixie Mattell and a Documentary About L.A.'s Gay Porn Emporium

Los Angeles' LGBTQ film festival kicked off Thursday night and over the next 10 days, will screen films from 33 countries in 26 languages including two-thirds content directed by women, people of color and trans filmmakers.
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From left: Barry Mason, Rachel Mason and Karen Mason

The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles has a capacity of close to 2,000, and just about every single seat had someone in it on Thursday during Outfest's opening night festivities. Artist and filmmaker Rachel Mason didn't have to work too hard to get the crowd's attention when she took the stage wearing magenta pink latex pants, studded white boots and a sequin maxi kimono topped off with a wave of pinkish red hair. 

Mason, however, didn't seem to want all eyeballs on her, anyway. She quickly shifted focus to the team that helped her put together the opening night feature, Circus of Books, a documentary about her parents' iconic gay porn emporium, which was executive produced by Ryan Murphy and will be streamed by Netflix. 

Mason asked her producers, financiers and "anyone who has worked on this film in any capacity" to stand and be recognized. Then came this major moment: She asked any audience member who had "ever been to Circus of Books in any capacity" to please stand. "Let's have the customer base be recognized," Mason framed the request. And they were, as way more than half the crowd leapt to their feet, both on the ground level and in the balcony. "I am so happy that this is a crowd that really, really, really, really, really, really gets it and knows the store and cares."

Mason's film stars her parents, Barry and Karen, and tells the story of how a straight couple with three children sort of accidentally fell into a world of gay porn and sex toys when they took over the Circus of Books in 1982. The now-shuttered business, which maintained locations in West Hollywood and, later, Silverlake, once was a hot destination for gay culture in L.A. The Hollywood Reporter reviewer Keith Uhlich described Mason's film as "very funny, very moving" when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. 

His words could also apply to Outfest's program Thursday night, which also featured a pre- and after-party in a giant parking lot behind the Orpheum as well as a virtual passing of the baton onstage from outgoing executive director Christopher Racster to his replacement, Damien Navarro. It was Racster who spoke first, praising all the members, volunteers, sponsors, funders and community collaborators who support the organization. 

"In four years as executive director and nine years at this organization, I have to say that I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to do together," said Racster, who told THR that following his exit, he plans to take three months off to decompress before officially deciding on his next chapter, though he forecasts that it will likely include a return to filmmaking. "I am incredibly excited to see Outfest continue to soar under our new leadership. Our new exec director has my deepest respect and entire support, and I cannot wait to see what he and the rest of Outfest do."

First on the agenda is getting through the next 10 days of screenings as Los Angeles' LGBTQ festival runs through July 28. (A full lineup can be found here.) For his part, Navarro looked ahead to taking over the top post and expanding the organization's mission to fight against a complex political landscape in the U.S.: "As a lifelong lover of film and storytelling it is both exhilarating and pretty, pretty overwhelming to be standing here in this theater with you guys tonight. However, I couldn't be more excited to join this Outfest family. I cannot wait to dig in with this crew and continue to dream about what’s possible for Outfest in the future. Unfortunately as we sit here tonight, there are people in power in Washington, state capitals and all over the country who are actively working to reverse the progress we have made and to silence our voices yet again. Let’s face it — this is especially true for our trans, people of cover and non-binary family members. This cannot stand. We have to expand our reach, our impact and our influence."