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Preview: Out on Film festival turns 25 with movies that document how times have changed

The comedy "Gaybe" opens this year's Out on Film festival.
The comedy "Gayby" opens this year's Out on Film festival.

Celebrating a milestone year, the gay-lesbian-themed movie festival Out on Film, coming October 4-11, will look back to some memorable works of the celluloid past while screening new titles that might otherwise not make it to Atlanta audiences.

“This is our 25th anniversary, and I’m happy that we’re still around,” says festival Director Jim Farmer (who, full disclosure, is a contributing writer to ArtsATL). “A lot of film festivals have gone away or taken breaks. It’s nice to still be successful and thriving.”

That wasn’t a given when Farmer took over management of the event four years ago. He characterizes the 2008 festival — following its departure from under the auspices of IMAGE Film & Video/ATL Films 365 — as a “rocky” experience. Much of it was bankrolled by his partner, Craig Hardesty.

Funding and programming Out on Film is a different kind of challenge every year, but this year’s installment does what a good film festival should: offer a wide, eclectic range of movies that provide something for every taste, from the frivolous to the solemn.

“Obviously there’s a place for romantic comedy and naked boys, but we want to show films about different things,” Farmer says. “We want to look at what’s new and also at what’s come out in the last 25 years and how cinema has changed in that time.”

Along with new feature narratives, this year includes a retrospective of past favorites such as “Trick,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Yossi and Jagger.” (The festival also will screen the latter’s melancholy, lovely sequel, titled simply “Yossi.”)

In addition to features and short films, the festival will deliver documentaries that show how times have changed for gays and lesbians, in courtrooms and in churches, over the past decades.

Here are some quick appreciations of some of the titles.

“Gayby.” The opening-night film (which boasts former Atlantan Anne Hubbell as one of its producers), this crowd-pleasing comedy features Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas as New York best pals. Now in their 30s, both are having a hard time finding Mr. Right and deep emotional connections. So they decide to have a child together, the old-fashioned way, despite the obstacle of Matt’s sexual orientation. Complications (and confusion for the guys they’re dating) ensue. The movie happily flirts with stereotypes, throwing in a couple of bitchy-nelly sidekicks, but it’s all done in good fun and without malice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3tVMYfut5Q

“Keep the Lights On.” Writer-director Ira Sachs draws on his real-life, troubled relationship with a handsome literary agent with a big secret: he has a really bad drug habit. Thure Lindhart plays a Danish documentary filmmaker who falls for lawyer Zachary Booth. All seems dandy until Booth’s character starts a severe downward spiral. Depressing but often sexy, this isn’t anything like a feel-good gay romance. Booth seems a little too young and callow an actor to carry the role in a narrative that covers almost a decade. But it’s often an unflinchingly honest, smart film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HitH8qJxCg

“Yossi.” Ten years after “Yossi & Jagger,” director Eytan Fox returns to the story of a soldier-turned-surgeon (again played by Ohad Knoller). Yossi has put on a number of pounds, almost a physical manifestation of the emotional walls he’s built against the world. A study of repression and grief that slowly reaches toward possible redemption (and an unexpected second chance), it’s a worthy follow-up to the 2002 heartbreaker.

“Beyond the Walls.” Have you ever had this experience?  You’re watching a movie, and suddenly the filmmakers decide to focus on a character and storyline you’d prefer not to follow? That’s what happens with this engaging, often sexy story of a mismatched couple of Belgian guys. The young blond twink is Paulo (Matila Malliarakis), whom we meet getting smashed at a bar. That’s where he meets bartender Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), an Albanian hunk smart enough to sniff trouble but human enough to fall hard for the needy young man. So far, so good. But when a twist of fate (and law) separates the couple midway through the running time, the movie sticks with Paulo — a feckless, unformed user-loser. It’s well made, though I would have preferred to follow Ilir’s story in greater detail. The character is more interesting and the actor more skillful.

“North Sea Texas.” A teenage boy named Pim (Jelle Florizoone) lives in a small town on the Belgian coast, where he has a big crush on his neighbor Gino (Mathias Vergels). It’s mutual, at least when they’re alone and can fool around. That is, until Gino starts feeling pressure to find a nice girl to date and his kid sister starts batting her eyes longingly at Pim. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story with some of the wistful flavor of Britain’s “Beautiful Thing.”

“Love Free or Die.” This documentary about Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church, starts off perfectly nicely. Robinson is such an unobjectionable guy, though, that the movie can feel a little dull. It kicks up considerably in its second half, centering on the vote by Episcopal clergy, at the conference they hold every three years, on whether to consecrate any more openly gay or lesbian bishops and whether to recognize gay unions in states where same-sex marriage is legal. The stakes get a lot higher, for a lot of people.

“Unfit: Ward vs. Ward.” A somewhat awkwardly organized documentary, “Unfit” comes on too fast in its first 30 minutes, but the power of its story grips you by the end. It’s about a Florida mother who divorces, enters a relationship with another woman, then battles her ex-husband — convicted and unrepentant for murdering his previous wife — for custody of their young daughter. There are no winners here, and it’s eye-opening to realize that it happened less than 20 years ago.

Out on Film. October 4-11, with screenings at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and the Phillip Rush Center. For the schedule and festival updates: http://outonfilm.org/Home.htmlwww.facebook.com/outonfilmatl, or 404-671-9446.

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