Autumn has arrived in Atlanta, bringing with it two great traditions: a drop in humidity and festival season. The city’s flurry of fall events offer something for everyone, and cinephiles are eagerly anticipating the 35th annual Atlanta LGBTQ+ Film Festival, which runs in multiple Atlanta theaters from September 22 to October 2.
Since its inception in 1987, the festival has showcased a wide range of LGBTQ+ cinema, from feature-length films to documentary shorts, promoting up-and-coming queer filmmakers and established artists alike. LGBTQ+ activists launched the festival to connect audiences with independent queer films at a time when LGBTQ+ representation was a rare sight in mainstream cinema. Since then, queer representation has blossomed onscreen, and Out on Film has grown alongside that trend, explained festival director Jim Farmer.
“Our profile has grown,” Farmer said. “We’re known internationally for the strong programming we do.”
When Farmer took over as director in 2008, the festival attracted a small number of submissions, mostly romantic comedies about white gay men. Over the last 14 years, Farmer said, they’ve worked hard to both increase submissions and to grow representation of diverse filmmakers: this year, they received over 1,000 submissions for 143 spots. The festival, which now runs for 11 days and includes four theaters as well as virtual screenings, has grown to include horror films, musicals, foreign-language films, and documentaries, with dozens more films made by women, trans, and nonbinary filmmakers.
In 2020, the Out on Film Festival became an Oscar-qualifying festival, one of only a few LGBTQ+ festivals with that designation: the winner of the festival’s Best Drama Short award is eligible to be nominated for the Academy’s Live Action Short award. That’s raised the festival’s profile, as has Atlanta’s status as the Hollywood of the South: “So many people are able to make films here now,” said Farmer. “(There’s) The Georgia Film Academy, SCAD—there’s so many filmmakers here, and they’re doing such great work. It’s our job to really showcase what they’re doing.” The festival includes a “homegrown shorts” series featuring work by local filmmakers, providing critical opportunities for up-and-coming artists to get their work seen, and possibly picked up for wider distribution.
This year’s festival will feature several world premieres, along with screenings of some of the year’s top LGBTQ+ films, and Q&A sessions with an array of filmmakers from across the country. Out on Film will also present its annual Icon Award to Colman Domingo, the screen and stage actor who just won an Emmy for his appearance on the HBO series Euphoria.
Here are a few not-to-miss events during this year’s Out on Film festival. Tickets for theater screenings and virtual programming, as well as other festival information, are available at the Out on Film website.
Opening night screening of Bros
This Universal Pictures film is among the first LGBTQ+ romantic comedies to be created by a major Hollywood studio, and it boasts an all-star, mostly queer cast. Written by and starring Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street, Difficult People), Bros is co-written and directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and produced by Eichner and Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Funny People).
The “smart, swoony, and heartfelt comedy” follows Bobby (Eichner) in his bumbling misadventures along the way to love with Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), telling an honest story about gay male relationships in the 21st Century. Lovers of raunchy rom-coms, take note: according to the New York Times, this one features some memorable romantic encounters, as well as a superb joke about a gender reveal orgy.
How to catch it: Thursday, September 22, 7 p.m. at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
World premiere of Wonderfully Made – LGBTQ + R(eligion)
This feature-length documentary, directed by Emmy winner Yuval David and produced by Mark McDermott, explores the lives and struggles of LGBTQ+ Catholics. In recent years, other films have explored queer representation in Christianity—notably the Netflix documentary Pray Away—but Wonderfully Made is one of the first to focus specifically on Catholicism, which has long been associated with hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community. The documentary is co-produced by former *NSYNC singer Lance Bass.
How to catch it: Sunday, September 24, 5 p.m. at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Also streaming virtually.
Festival centerpiece Mama Bears documentary
Atlanta-based director Daresha Kiyi follows the lives of several women whose lives were transformed when their children came out as gay or transgender. These mothers—many of whom once belonged to anti-LGBTQ+ faith group—have embraced “Mama Bears” as an appellation, gathering into a loose but passionate organization of allies for their children. The feature-length documentary has made waves at several festivals, winning Best Documentary Feature at Sun Valley Film Festival last April.
How to catch it: Tuesday, September 27, 7 p.m. at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Also streaming virtually.
Queer Horror Series, featuring Swallowed, Love Island (Fire Island), and Things That Go Bump in the Night
If you’re already ready for spooky season, Out on Film has a whole evening devoted to LGBTQ+ horror and thrillers. First up are two feature films: Swallowed, a nightmarish backwoods thriller, headlined by Jena Malone (Saved) and Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Next is Love Island (Fire Island), written and directed by Myles Clohessy, which is set on the gay vacation idyll but promises to be anything but idyllic.
Rounding out the eerie evening is a series of horror shorts that take the audience everywhere from a post-nuptial alternate dimension to a creepy house-sitting gig.
Where to catch it: Friday, September 30, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Out Front Theater. Some films streaming virtually.