By Ken Williams | Editor
FilmOut’s 17th annual festival returns with big-name celebrities
Zachary Quinto and James Franco, both marquee stars of today, and Tab Hunter, the golden boy from the golden age of Hollywood, will be among the top attractions at FilmOut San Diego’s film festival later this month.
The 17th annual LGBT Film Festival will run May 29-31 at the historic former Birch North Park Theatre building, now home to Observatory North Park, presented by the FilmOut board of directors and supported by a slew of dedicated volunteers.
Hunter, the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy next door who crushed it at the box office and on the music charts in the 1950s all the while hiding in the closet from his legions of fans, will be featured in “Tab Hunter Confidential.” The documentary by Jeffrey Schwarz weaves a fascinating tale — using vintage and current footage as well as archival interviews — of how Hunter hid behind famous beards such as Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds and Sophia Loren to protect his privacy from the prying paparazzi. It is a story of survival and redemption as Hunter’s career waned but years later found new life as a favorite actor for director John Waters and cult diva Divine.
The opening night film will have its California premiere at 7 p.m. May 29. Hunter, who came out later in life, will be the guest of honor and presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He will participate in the Q&A session after the film and attend the Opening Night Party across the street at the Sunset Temple.
Quinto (“Star Trek”) and Franco (“Milk”) star in “I Am Michael,” Justin Kelly’s film that got tremendous buzz at Sundance. The film is based on the true story of gay activist Michael Glatze (Franco) and his partner Bennett (Quinto). After facing a health crisis, Glatze turns to fundamentalist Christianity, renounces his homosexuality and eventually marries a woman. He becomes the darling of the “ex-gay” movement, yet can’t quite give up his connection to Bennett, who has moved on with another same-sex relationship.
As the closing night film, “I Am Michael” will have its California premiere at 7 p.m. May 31. After the Q&A with Kelly and some of the cast and crewmembers, the Closing Night Party in the lobby between the theater and West Coast Tavern will conclude the festival.
In between, more than 30 feature and short films will be shown during the streamlined three-day festival, which draws thousands of movie lovers from San Diego and beyond. Many of the out-of-town visitors will be staying this year at the remodeled Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park, a short ride from the theater.
Michael McQuiggan, the longtime programming director for FilmOut who is the ultimate decision-maker decider on which movies are chosen, thinks this year’s festival has something to please just about anyone.
“My hope is that all the movies will be draws, but I would say that our opening night film ‘Tab Hunter Confidential’ and closing night film ‘I Am Michael’ will be the biggest draws — particularly due to the marquee value names Tab Hunter, Zachary Quinto and James Franco — all of whom are big draws in the LGBT community,” McQuiggan said.
McQuiggan and his programming assistant Jeff Howell had the Herculean challenge of reviewing hundreds of movies from around the world from filmmakers who wanted to be in the popular FilmOut festival.
“The biggest challenge programming-wise is watching all of the submissions. This year Jeff Howell and I received a record number of almost 800 submissions. And since we have streamlined the festival down from five days to three days the past couple of years, it makes film selection a bit more daunting,” McQuiggan said.
Some board members and volunteers also review some of the top submissions to help in the selection process.
McQuiggan thinks he knows why FilmOut is so popular with filmmakers.
“FilmOut is a low-key, low-maintenance festival, and we treat our filmmakers/talent with great respect and make them as comfortable as possible,” he said. “And it shows. Last year in an online poll by filmmakers/talent, we landed in the top 10 LGBT film festivals worldwide.”
Not only does FilmOut score with the filmmakers, it also becomes a second home to more than a handful of dedicated volunteers who have become mainstays of the nonprofit organization. Just ask longtime volunteers Tom Kirkman and Jeff Gilson.
Gilson said he volunteers because he likes to support movies that tell our stories.
“The stories told in independent LGBT cinema are important,” Gilson said. “Whether it’s the story of love or overcoming the odds, the stories are ours. Our voices are being heard through film. They are preserved for future generations to understand what happened today or in the past.”
Kirkman, who has been a volunteer since 2007, said he wanted to give back to FilmOut because the organization always donated free tickets to seniors when he was executive director of the SAGE Center, which closed in 2009.
“When I retired, I began to volunteer for every festival,” Kirkman said. “And now I also volunteer at the monthly screenings. This year’s festival will be my ninth year of volunteering.”
For Kirkman, who still speaks in a Boston accent after all these years in San Diego, said the LGBT Film Festival has a special place in his heart.
“There is so much that appeals to me about the festival, but primarily it is seeing our stories — our history — being told on film,” Kirkman said. “I’ve been around long enough to witness much of our history take place in real time, but seeing our stories presenting on screen by so many capable artists brings me much pride knowing that much of our history will be preserved for many generations to come.”
FilmOut San Diego takes place May 29 – 31 at Observatory North Park, located at 2891 University Ave., in North Park. Tickets for the VIP all-access pass are $100. Opening night tickets, which include the film and the kickoff party at Sunset Temple, are $25. Closing night tickets, which include the film and party at West Coast Tavern are $15. Tickets for individual movies are $10. For more information visit filmoutsandiego.com.
—Ken Williams can be reached at email@example.com.