Outfest Fusion gives LGBT filmmakers from diverse backgrounds not just a voice — but screen time

As the recent #OscarsSoWhite movement has highlighted, being a person of color in Hollywood isn't easy. But when that person of color is also an open member of the LGBT community, the experience is even more difficult, and proper access to the industry is doubly difficult.

Aiming to ease such hurdles is Outfest Fusion, a festival where films by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of diverse racial backgrounds are screened and filmmaking workshops are held. Outfest Fusion kicks off Friday and runs through March 16.

"It's more than just having a festival to celebrate and showcase [multiracial LGBT filmmakers]," said Christopher Racster, executive director of Outfest, Fusion's parent festival. "It's our responsibility to make sure that we are helping those voices find a home, be seen, make better films, make more films."

Outfest Fusion was founded in 2004 after a number of "community members who happen to be people of color" voiced concerns that some of their films were getting lost in the much larger, busy fray that is July's Outfest Los Angeles festival, according to Racster. The belief was that such diverse voices within the LGBT community needed to be lifted so that the communities they represent could be sure to see themselves reflected on screens.

This year's festival includes three full days of screenings at the Egyptian Theatre and Arena Cinema, with the remaining 10 days reserved for workshops.

Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest's director of programming, drew a contrast to the recent Academy Awards, noting the overall goal is "in an opposite way to the Oscars, make the filmmaking process completely accessible to everybody."

The festival will show 10 feature-length pictures and 20 shorts. In addition to all of the films being by or about LGBT people of color, a total of five languages and 11 countries are represented. Also, 12 of the pictures have female directors, and eight of the feature-length films are from first-time directors.

Among the showings will be "The Watermelon Woman," which opens the festival Friday. From director Cheryl Dunye, it premiered in 1996 and is believed to be one of the first feature-length films to be directed by an openly lesbian black filmmaker. It follows main character Cheryl (played by Dunye) as she makes a documentary about an actress people call the Watermelon Woman.

The film, which also explores Cheryl's interracial relationship with a woman played by Guinevere Turner, won the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival that year. For the film's 20th anniversary, Dunye will join a panel of film and gender studies professors on Saturday to discuss the effect of the film all these years later.

The festival's gala takes place Saturday night, when seven short films will be screened. Among them are "Whittier Blvd." by Michael Patrick Spillers, a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and playwright. In his 17-minute short, a Latino youth finds an unexpected ally while contemplating gender identity, all to a Morrissey soundtrack.

Also showing that night is "House Not Home" from director Joshua Butler, who attended USC's film school. The 15-minute production follows a black teen named Terran uncertain about his sexual identity who's navigating bullying, violence and being in the closet.

Weekend screenings will also include "Utopians," which premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival earlier this year, and "Fire Song," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Each year Outfest Fusion also honors a filmmaker of color with the Fusion Achievement Award. The honoree this year is director, producer and writer Nisha Ganatra. Most recently a member of the award-winning team behind Amazon's "Transparent," she also directed "Chutney Popcorn," a 1999 film about an Indian American lesbian attempting to reconcile her ethnic identity with her sexuality.

The film went on to win audience awards at Outfest L.A. and the Berlin International Film Festival, among others. Ganatra said the award from Outfest Fusion is particularly important considering its mission.

"All of you can be together," she said, detailing how homosexual people of color often have to choose to embrace either their race or sexuality over the other. "You can be whole and watch whole representations of people you know and people who are like you. That is, sadly, revolutionary still."

Following the festival screenings, a series of 10 filmmaking workshops will take place around the city. The classes will cover a number of topics, including screenwriting, smartphone cinematography, social media marketing, editing and directing. The instructors include such notable filmmakers as Angela Robinson ("Herbie Fully Loaded"), Quentin Lee ("Drift"), Doug Spearman ("Noah's Arc") and Deondray Gossfield and Quincy LeNear Gossfield ("The DL Chronicles").

Mukerjee-Brown said festival attendees should be looking for three things that characterize Outfest Fusion: entertainment, education and celebration.

"Those three things are a crucial part of why it exists, is a one-of-a-kind opportunity and a special moment on the calendar," she said. "And its real purpose is that it promotes social change through the power of film."


Outfest Fusion

"The Watermelon Woman"

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Tickets: $10 general admission

Fusion Gala Screening and After-Party

When: Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Tickets: $25 general admission

Fusion Workshops

When: Sunday through March 16

Where: Various locations

Tickets: $5 general admission, free for students

More info: outfest.org/fusion2016 or 213-480-7088

Twitter: @TrevellAnderson

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 03, 2016, in the Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Their chance to shine - The Outfest Fusion fest gives screen time to `doubly diverse' filmmakers." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe