Scene 2: Outfest, Part 2
Directors Guild of America, July 20
This particular evening of films is always one of my favorites at Outfest. Shorts are a good fit for my attention span, and it seems like every lesbian in a 40-mile radius comes out of the woodwork to watch the work of up-and-coming filmmakers.
Plus, there’s an open bar.
I rolled out to this event solo, as my photographer was M.I.A. (Don’t worry, I found her later). I ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile and stopped to talk for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the Directors Guild of America building was packed, so when I got into the auditorium I had to settle for a crappy seat near the front. But it didn’t matter. The shorts program that followed was one of the best I’d ever seen at Outfest.
Anne Renton’s Love Is Love imagined an opposite world in which straight people are the "queer" ones. Casting Pearls by Andrea James was about the misadventures of a transsexual actress (played by the very charismatic Calpernia Addams) who can’t get a break. Cherien Dabis’ Palestinian film Make a Wish was an absorbing character study of a young Palestinian girl on a mission.
At the End of the Street by Jennifer Malmqvist was an atmospheric Polish short about a bad lesbian breakup (featuring top-notch acting, too). Jen Heck’s Airplanes was a gorgeously filmed snapshot of a chance meeting between two star-crossed teen lovers. Christy Wegener’s Long Ago was a loving homage to the lesbian fashion tragedy known as the rat tail. Hilarious.
But for me (and, judging from audience response, many others), the high point of the evening came in the form of Pariah, a short film about a Bronx teen struggling to come out and define her identity despite opposition from her family.
Great production values, outrageously good performances from young lead actresses, and compelling writing held the entire theater rapt for nearly half an hour. When all of the filmmakers were invited on stage to field questions, audience members were eager to talk to director Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper to find out when (not if ) Pariah would be made into a feature-length film.
Yeah, it was that good.
After the shorts, I networked at the after party (i.e., I talked to a cute bartender) and then managed to steal Rees and Cooper away from their adoring fans long enough for a quick chat.
They told me that they’ve been thrilled with the positive response to the film (it was chosen as one of the official selections for the 2007 Sundance Screenwriters Lab and has won awards at Newfest, Frameline, the VIBE film festival and the Los Angeles Festival), particularly how well-received it’s been by such diverse audiences.
They also told me that they finished shooting and are now in post-production with a documentary about Rees’ grandmother, who escaped Liberia during the civil war, and her subsequent return back to her home. "The story is about rebuilding," Cooper told me. The project was funded by Sundance, and they’re taking it to the Producers Lab there this month.
I took a great photo of Cooper and Rees at the DGA that night, but it was lost along with my camera at the Stevie Nicks concert at the Mid-State Fair the following week when I was all jacked up on cold medicine. They kindly replaced it with this one from their private collection:
Later that week, Pariah won two Outfest Awards, the Grand Jury Prize for Outstanding Dramatic Short and the Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short.
I told ya so.
(Look for a proper interview with Rees and Cooper on AfterEllen.com in the near future.)