At 25 years old, Out on Film is one of the longest-running gay and lesbian film festivals in the country. It has survived enormous changes in the ways gay and lesbian people are represented on film, in the ways viewers access content, and even in the ways film festivals are organized.
"There's more representation of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in movies and TV than ever before, but in many ways our community is still struggling with the same issues we were dealing with 30 years ago," says Jim Farmer, director of the festival since 2008. "It's still important to have a forum like this where we can all come together and watch films together in a safe environment."
The first Out on Film festival took place in 1988. After being presented under the umbrella of various entities — SAME, IMAGE, the Atlanta Film Festival — Out on Film finally became its own independently run event in 2008. In its 25 years, the fest has been presented at a number of locations, including the Chamblee Hollywood 24, the Plaza Theatre, and Phipps Plaza, before finally finding its home in the heart of gay Atlanta at Landmark's Midtown Art Cinema in 2003.
The 2012 film festival, which will screen dozens of movies Oct. 4-11, seeks to present a broad range of films by, for, and about the LGBTQ community. The explosion in the number and types of films representing gay people has made programming more difficult every year, Farmer says. "Twenty years ago, films about gay and lesbian people were a bit more limited in terms of variety," he says. "This was the hardest year simply because we had so much to choose from."
Although the annual festival doesn't have a theme, the notion of "looking back at history" became a strong thread in the films the jury selected for 2012, Farmer says. Contemporary classics like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Oct. 6, 11:30 p.m.) and the indie hit Trick (Oct. 10, 9:10 p.m., with a festival appearance by scene-stealing drag queen Coco Peru) are among the films in the retrospective series. A screening of the acclaimed 2002 Israeli film Yossi and Jagger (Oct. 9, 4 p.m.) will be followed by the Atlanta premiere of its sequel, Yossi (Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.), which picks up with the same characters 10 years after the end of the first film. The documentary United in Anger (Oct. 6, 12:30 p.m.) examines the history of the AIDS activist group Act Up, and Jobriath A.D. (Oct. 11, 6:15 p.m.) looks at the fate of the world's first openly gay rock musician in the 1970s.
Out on Film also seeks to present films with a strong local or Southern angle: Shorts with Local Flair (Oct. 11, 5 p.m.) is a collection of short films by local filmmakers, including the documentary Whistlin' Dixie, which focuses on queer musicians in the South and features interviews with Indigo Girl Amy Ray and the Athens Boys Choir. "I'm very proud of the fact that we try very hard to make it about the entire community," says Farmer. "We try to make it about everyone, even for films that might not have huge commercial impact."
The festival also includes a lot of non-film events: Q&As, artist and director appearances (at least one every day of the eight-day festival), opening and closing night parties, and panel discussions. It's these events, Farmer says, that continue to set the festival apart. "Gay Atlanta is big, and there's a lot going on. You really have to struggle to stick out. ... 10 years ago, it was hard to even find a gay film. Nowadays there are so many ways of accessing gay and lesbian content. But at Out on Film, you're not just watching a movie. You're going to see a film with other people in your community. We want to make it an experience."