Saturday, September 17, 2011

FilmOut’s 13th Annual Festival Fizzles

Poor Movie Choices, Cold Theatre Drive Down Attendance


Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Kaleb James, taken by Leo E. Laurence (file photo)    

FilmOut San Diego, the six-day 13th annual, 2011 Gay film festival fizzled in August with attendance dropping by about 50 percent as compared with last year, according to Festival Director Kaleb James.

Running two full weekends, August 16-18 and August 23-35, the festival screened 59 movies at the elegant Birch North Park Theatre.

While films at the annual Latino Film Festival in the spring are usually in Spanish with English subtitles, most of the movies at FilmOut did not have Gay themes.

Many were older classics which may have appealed to the largely older audiences attending FilmOut.

To counter the seriously declining audiences, James said in an interview with Zenger’s that his board will probably change from an event in August to a springtime schedule.

The weather is so warm and nice that people may be going to the beach instead of our festival, James believed.

However, while tourists may be hitting the beaches, those who attend the Gay film festival are generally locals who work and live here, and do not spend their time at the beach.

Also, to schedule the film festival in the spring will bring it into direct conflict with the Latino Film Festival. While the two events do work closely together, moving the Gay event to the spring will mean both festivals will be in direct competition for scarce corporate sponsorship money and promotional media coverage.

As one movie patron suggested, however, the answer may be in a much more simple fact: the theatre was often freezing cold inside.

One moviegoer who had seen another movie earlier, and knew that theatre was extremely cold, even brought a heavy blanket with her to keep warm.

Several patrons simply left the theatre halfway into their movies because they were seriously uncomfortable with the cold.

Once when the temperature was really chilly, one person reported this to the staff.  About an hour later, when the temperature could have been adjusted, the theatre actually got colder.

While the festival organizers were hoping that many of their regular patrons would return to see other movies, with it so cold inside, that appeared more unlikely.

Low-Budget Productions

After the screening of several of the movies, the producers, directors and sometimes actors of the production would appear on stage for question-and-answer sessions.

While some of the questions from the audience were boring mini-speeches, these sessions gave the producers an opportunity to praise their movie. But sometimes they revealed information perhaps too candidly.

Some admitted their films were very low-budget operations. Unfortunately, that showed up in grossly inadequately lighting and only one-camera shooting. One producer said his entire film was conceived and shot solely in his one-bedroom apartment, where there was no room for several pods of lights.

Many of the movies, in FilmOut were independently produced, and even some of the low-budget films were more interesting that the violent, gun-toting stuff coming out of Hollywood.

Indeed, one movie from France and Iran was Circumstance, which was a provocative, coming-of-age story that cracked open the hidden, underground world of the Iranian youth culture. Even the film’s credits, as well as much of the dialogue, were in Arabic with subtitles, adding to the international charm of the movie.

Some of the films were painful to watch. Fresh from the Sundance Film Festival, Gun Hill Road was the story of a middle-aged, very macho, Latino father who returned home to the Bronx in New York City after three years in prison to discover his teenage son was Gay. He hated it!

Sparks flew and the kid moved out to avoid the violence of his homophobic father.  In the end, as his dad was picked up again by police, they seemed to reconcile. It brought tears to my eyes.

To produce the film festival and move the hundreds of people in the audience in and out of the theater for the change in screenings, there was an army of nearly 200 loyal volunteers.


Perhaps to get people ready for scary Hallowe’en on Oct. 31, FilmOut will produce “Thrill-O-Rama” on Saturday, Oct. 8 from noon to midnight at the Birch North Park Theatre.

Scary movies like The Fog, Dressed to Kill and Suspiria will be screened. Tickets for all six movies are $20, or $5 for single shows, according to James.

More information is available at