July is a particularly good month to be a lesbian in Los Angeles. This is largely due to Outfest (the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival) but also to the disproportionate amount of bikinis per square mile (BPSM) you’ll find, even when you’re nowhere near the beach. But I did go to the beach, and to Outfest, and below are some of my notes from the field.
Scene 1: Outfest, Part 1
"Butches & Femmes" and "The Best of Lezploitation"
Barnsdall Art Park, July 17
One of the high points of Outfest for me was the night of short films devoted to butches and femmes and lezploitation cinema held at the beautiful Barnsdall Art Park. The program description alone is compelling, right? I convinced my friend Buddy to come along as a photographer, using free movie tickets and the promise of intermission drinks as the bait.
Buddy is a genius choreographer (she choreographed everything we did in our drag troupe), as well as a talented DJ, photographer, painter, libertine and all-around Renaissance lesbian. She is my wingman. But she hates going to movies because she gets bored, even at the good ones. Naturally, she’d be the perfect choice as my companion to a double-feature.
The "Butches & Femmes" program was a mix of wildly diverse films. Inge Blackman’s Fem was like a visual poem, an open love letter to the femmes in her life. It wasn’t really my cuppa, but I dug the worshipful place from which it clearly came.
Worst Case Scenario Butch Edition by Mary Guzmán was a hilarious primer for butch girls who are trying to negotiate various awkward social situations. (When holding the door for your girlfriend and your mom, which one of them goes first? Gads!)
FtF: Female to Femme was a long (48 min.) short that explored femme identity and sexuality, and it included much philosophizing by the likes of Guinevere Turner, Lesley Mah of Tribe 8, and other lovelies. The subject matter itself was fascinating, but I felt like the über-academic approach to the material smothered the life (and sizzle factor) out of the film.
For example, if you’re going to show me a burlesque routine, then just (as Rick James would say) give it to me, baby! Don’t deconstruct it afterward for crying out loud!
Buddy, unexpectedly, didn’t complain about FtF. But she did get up to get a drink from the concession stand and was gone long enough that I almost forgot she was there with me. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when she returned with a couple of beers!
Black Men and Me by Michele Clark was a 6-minute short filmed in a barbershop. In a voiceover, Clark ruminates about being a Trinidadian lesbian and her own complex relationship with black men as we (and the men in the shop) watch her getting her hair buzzed off. It was smart, thoughtful and personal. I loved it.
But one of my favorite parts of the evening was watching filmmaker Anna Margarita Albelo’s A Lez in Wonderland. This documentary about the debauchery that is the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs was propelled by Albelo’s hysterically funny narration, as well as the obvious glee with which she approached drunken gaggles of lesbians and asked them about where they were from and
who what they were doing at the Dinah.
If you haven’t yet been to Dinah Shore Weekend, this documentary is a safe, sane, consensual (and cheap) way to have the experience. And if you have been to the Dinah, you will probably be squished down in your seat praying to God that you don’t see yourself doing body shots and some unfortunate dirty dancing with a bunch of topless lesbians. As I said to Buddy, that is one release form that I would never sign.
At the end of the program, the filmmakers were invited onstage to introduce themselves and field questions about their films. There, Albelo continued to hold court with her amusing anecdotes from the shoot. Completely charmed, we tracked her down at Ye Olde Vodka Well (aka the Absolut stand in the courtyard) and cornered her for a conversation.
She told us that she was set to depart the United States the following week for her next project, a super-secret documentary about lesbian life in Cuba.