Known for its first 12 years as the Los Angeles International Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival, the event is back this year with a new name, new leadership and a largely new board and staff.
Outfest '95, which has grown through the years into a major film event, will present nearly 200 features, shorts and videos at the Directors Guild in West Hollywood beginning Thursday and running through July 16.
The festival's new executive director is Morgan Rumpf, a former program associate of ARTS Inc., a technical services provider to the Los Angeles nonprofit arts community. He replaces founder Larry Horne, who resigned last year to become a producer.
"There's a new spirit infusing gay and lesbian films, and we want to reflect that in the name of the festival and its sponsoring organization, Out on the Screen," Rumpf, 27, said in a recent interview. "More and more gay films are about being out rather than coming out.
"We also felt that Gay & Lesbian Media Coalition, the previous name of our organization, didn't talk about our mission, which is very simply to present and promote films by and about gay men and lesbians to the diverse communities of Southern California. We want to give an opportunity to filmmakers to bring their films to their audience."
The festival's new film programmer, John Cooper, brings to the festival five years of experience as a programmer of the prestigious Sundance Festival. Pleased that the board now includes key film industry figures, Cooper said this development is "necessary to getting quality films. We're no longer on the edge or in the underground but the mainstream."
Rumpf and Cooper said that straights who attend the festival tend to come to see specific films, such as last year's "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," whereas gay and lesbians audiences tend to be much more open to the entire festival.
Outfest '95 will run a cafe at the DGA so people will have a chance to gather and talk about what they've been seeing on the screen. In addition to new films, there will be retrospective of gay-themed films through the decades and numerous special events.
This year the festival is particularly strong in lesbian films, with Canada's Patricia Rozema, director of "I Heard the Mermaids Singing," providing the opening-night picture, the romantic "When Night Is Falling." The festival's finest film is most surely Nancy Meckler's rigorous, stunning "Sister My Sister," drawn from the same incident that was the basis for Genet's "The Maids."
Rumpf and Cooper attribute this both to the increasing opportunities for women filmmakers and also, sadly, to the decimation of gay male filmmakers by AIDS. In recent years Derek Jarman, Bill Sherwood ("Parting Glances") and Marlon Riggs have all died; Outfest will screen Riggs' powerful final testament, "Black Is . . . Black Ain't."
"I think we watched every single possible gay film in the world," said Cooper, 39. "We saw 100-150 shorts and about 40 features." Kathy Phoenix, director of film and video-makers services at the American Film Institute, looked at the videos, he added.
Where in the past, especially in the early years, Horne struggled to get product from key distributors, Cooper said he failed to get only about five films he really wanted.
One of them is Gregg Araki's "Doom Generation," and Cooper said that he understood the refusal by its distributor, The Samuel Goldwyn Co., which has a specific strategy for its release.
Although the motion picture industry is increasingly aware of the impact of gays and lesbians at the box office, Cooper thinks that many industryites think that "gays have amnesia." "They think that if a picture plays in a gay festival that we'll have forgotten about it by the time it's released. They overlook that we may have been reading about it and looking forward to seeing it for a whole year. Yet a gay festival is their one big chance to target their audience. They don't quite know how to use us yet."
"We may not be having a feast just yet," Rumpf said, "but we're at the table."
* Outfest '95, Thursday-July 16, Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd. Program information: (213) 951-1247; Tickets: (213) 466-1767.