For many years, most LGBTQ+ festivals reserved their best short films for the Boys and Girls Shorts programs. Usually deemed the sexiest, funniest, or most cinematic of the bunch, they typically play to sold out audiences. Fortunately, shorts submissions have diversified and have showcased such incredible talent that festivals like Outfest offer a whole host of solid programs to enjoy.
Still, there’s nothing like packing into the Directors Guild of America’s main theatre on a Saturday morning to collectively enjoy some carefully vetted films. Unfortunately, this year, it’s just me and my admittedly cute-as-hell doggy sitting in my living room. No gaggles of gays to ogle. No over-the-top hugs, air kisses, or overhearing the constant refrain of, “What are you working on?” My sliding A/C unit makes a valiant but futile effort to cool us down as this endless Los Angeles heatwave threatens to kill our buzz. Outfest may feel a little less communal this year, but the quality of the filmmaking remains high. I also applaud the programmers and filmmakers for helping to redefine and expand what has made this particular program so meaningful and enjoyable time and time again. Here are my quick tales on the Boys Shorts program:
QUERY (Dir: Sophie Kargman. USA, 7 mins) ★★★
Two straight identifying lifelong best friends, Jay and Alex, played by Justice Smith and Graham Patrick Martin respectively, spend a day challenging heteronormative concepts until Jay makes the suggestion that they kiss. What starts out as a bromantic, mumblecore trifle turns fascinating in its final moments, helped tremendously by some beautifully wordless acting by our two leads. I can’t say I loved the tired idea that one of the guys justifies the kissing by saying he’s wasted, but it’s handled in a fairly dignified way missing from so many gross-out comedies from the past. Shot and framed with a nice sense of classical style, the film, a mere 7 minutes, doesn’t outstay its welcome and leaves you with a provocative final line. Extra points for Armie Hammer’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jog-on role.
S.A.M (Dir: Eyre and Ely. United Kingdom, 16 mins) ★★★★
Two outcast Manchester teens (Sam Retford and George Webster) meet on a swing set and discover they’re both named Sam. One appears to have a learning disability and the other smokes and seems to have an angry, rebellious streak. Over the course of several weeks at the playground , their friendship deepens, slyly revealing their attraction to each other. Both actors do a wonderful job dispelling common misconceptions of their challenges as they drink, swear brazenly at others, and develop a real bond. Its handling of sexuality couldn’t be more lovely and instructive. You wish more people would react to coming out the way we’re shown here. Although shot entirely at the swing set, this film covers a lot of ground as we witness the beginnings of a ride-or-die friendship. I hope the directing team of Eyre and Ely develop this into a feature. I could watch Sam and Sam all day.
KIND OF (Dir: Noel Schamus. USA, 9 mins) ★★★
With friends imminently arriving for brunch, a trans masculine couple hash out their differences over their recently established open relationship. Garcia (Tales Of The City) arrives home after a night out with a cis man to find Avi Roque preparing the meal. Noel Schamus and co-writer Arno Mokros mine the tension between the two expertly, allowing us to see the genial but uncomfortable hugs and the passive-aggressive dialogue. Things take an astonishing turn when they get brutally honest with each other, revealing a frank discussion many people have not had the opportunity to hear before. The filmmaking itself may feel functional at best, but its honesty manages to stun.
SEE YOU SOON (Dir: Tyler Rabinowitz. USA, 16 mins) ★★★★1/2
This gorgeously directed and acted film by Tyler Rabinowitz has a simple premise, aligned most closely with Boys Shorts of years past. Vincent (James Cusati-Moyer) and Anthony (Jonny Beauchamp) live in Los Angeles and Manhattan respectively, yet have met online, FaceTiming in anticipation of Vincent’s upcoming weekend trip east. Both actors have that glow and eagerness between them which gets awkwardly dispelled when they first meet in person. Still, they slowly gravitate towards each other as they traverse the city. Anyone who has ever been in a long distance relationship will recognize the hesitation, the fumbling, and the painful moment when they realize they’re rushing into things. With beautiful cinematography by Oren Soffer and a gentle, believable chemistry between the two leads, I felt immersed in their struggle to figure out their path. We may have seen this before with the seminal feature, Weekend, but it doesn’t take away from how well done it is here. Also, Cusati-Moyer is a star in the making with his expressive face and ability to break your heart.
LAST SUMMER WITH UNCLE IRA (Dir: Gary Jaffe, Katie Ennis. USA, 13 mins) ★★★
As Daniel (Igby Rigney, a potentially closeted teen, packs his bags for summer camp, his beloved gay uncle Ira (Wayne Wilcox), faces his pending death from AIDS complications. Daniel’s mother (Tony-winner Stephanie J. Block) relieves her son of his duties so that he can go outside and have what will likely be one final chat with Ira. Set in the early 90s, the bulk of the short comprises of their conversation, with Ira trying to gently coax Daniel to come out, but the young man resists. While heartfelt and well-performed by all three, the production suffers from a somewhat maudlin tone and style. It harkens back to such films as An Early Frost, yet adds something fresh with the dynamic between the two leads. Although I can’t say I was wowed by it, the final moments did make me cry with its lovely expression of intimacy. Any film which can awaken my cold dead heart is worth something!
WHO CAN PREDICT WHAT WILL MOVE YOU? (Dir: Livia Huang. USA, 9 mins) ★★1/2
On the surface, this very aptly titled short appears to be about nothing as we watch two young Asian American gay men share a final night together on a basketball court and then in an apartment. With limited dialogue and scenes consisting of dribbling a ball, hugging, and staring into each others’ eyes as their hands intertwine, the film leans more toward the experimental side of things. Despite a nearly non-existent story, what Huang and her actors excel at is creating and sustaining a mood, a feeling. It’s simple and yet somehow conveys a sense of intimacy. I won’t remember having seen it tomorrow, but it sure did make me want to lie on the floor with someone.
THE CYPHER (Dir: Leia Solomon – USA – 15 mins) ★★★★1/2
Khalil (Nigel Cox), a closeted young Philadelphia man, may just win an upcoming rap battle, but when word gets out he has a boyfriend (Juan Gil), his plans may go up in smoke. Think 8 Mile meets Moonlight in this colorful, vibrant, story of a guy who learns what summoning courage and using it to hone his creative talents really means. With nonstop energy and a wonderful supporting turn by Kerrice Brooks as his sister Kiki, who unintentionally outs him, The Cypher hits all the right notes. Although still laden with homophobia, out artists such as Lil Nas X and Frank Ocean have made inroads in hip hop and rap culture. In this spirit, this sexy, thrilling short brings power, strength and fearlessness to queer Black voices staking their claim to a previously forbidding genre. Nigel Cox, a relative newcomer, deserves attention for his loud and proud performance.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
Boys Shorts is currently playing as part of the 2020 Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival and can be accessed along with a filmmaker Q&A until August 25th via OutfestLA2020.com .