By Ken Williams | Contributing Editor
“The Lavender Scare” — a powerful documentary about a largely forgotten chapter of American history when President Eisenhower unleashed a witch-hunt in the 1950s to rid the U.S. government agencies of homosexuals as “security risks” — has been honored with the Freedom Award at FilmOut’s 19th annual San Diego LGBT Film Festival.
The relentless persecution of homosexuals ruined tens of thousands of lives and lasted for many years until astronomer Frank Kameny, one of those fired government employees, fought back. Kameny’s dogged pursuit for justice would go on to inspire the modern-day gay rights movement.
The film’s director, Josh Howard, attended the festival, held June 9-11 at the Observatory North Park, and participated in a spirited Q&A session with the audience.
The Freedom Award is one of three special awards chosen by Festival Director Kaleb Nicola and longtime Program Director Michael McQuiggan.
The other two top awards were given to Eli Mak and “Devil Wears A Suit” for Outstanding Artistic Achievement; and McGhee Monteith and “He Could’ve Gone Pro,” for Outstanding Emerging Talent.
“Devil Wears A Suit” celebrated its world premiere at FilmOut and Mak, a young filmmaker from Australia, traveled from Melbourne to attend the festival. His 20-minute short film is a high-concept drama/sci-fi about a religious Jewish teen who must decide whether to “cure” his homosexuality with an injection or suffer eternal ostracism by his religious community and family.
“He Could’ve Gone Pro,” a 13-minute short film, had its West Coast premiere on Opening Night before the feature film, “A Very Sordid Wedding.” Monteith, an actress making her debut as a director, impressed with a drama in which she stars as a grown daughter who comes home for Christmas and forces her mother to confront the ugly truth about a family tragedy.
FilmOut also presents Festival Awards and Audience Awards. McQuiggan explained the difference between the two.
“The Festival Awards are chosen by the programmers/screening committee and the Audience Awards are determined by the audience,” he said.
This year, there was no runaway winner, as has been the case in past years.
“The Festival Awards were pretty much across the board different,” McQuiggan said. “A lot of films were represented. The programming committee did have a rather daunting selection process this year.
“Attendance this year was significantly higher than the past few years, so those awards were up to the audience and the voting this year was the highest ever — there were a few similarities, but they were mostly completely different than the Festival Awards,” he said.
Among the Festival Awards, the significant “best picture” winners were “Pushing Dead,” directed by Tom E. Brown, for Best Narrative Feature; “A Million Happy Nows,” directed by Albert Alarr, for Best First Narrative Feature; “CAS,” directed by Joris van den Berg of the Netherlands, for Best International Feature; and “Sisak,” directed by Faraz Ansari of India, for Best Overall Short Film.
Festival Awards for acting included some well-known talent, including James Roday and Danny Glover in “Pushing Dead,” and Bonnie Bedelia in “A Very Sordid Wedding.”
The big winner of the Audience Awards was writer/director Del Shores’ “A Very Sordid Wedding,” which collected four awards: Best Comedy; Best Screenplay (Shores); Best Ensemble (cast); and Best Supporting Actress (Dale Dickey).
Also, Irish director John Butler’s “Handsome Devil” was named Best Narrative Feature and its lead, Fionn O’Shea, won for Best Actor in a Feature Film. Director Jennifer M. Kroot’s film, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin,” won for Best Documentary.
FilmOut remains ranked as one of the 10 best LGBT film festivals in the U.S., and its awards are listed online at IMDb.
“We have been accredited through IMDb for several years now,” McQuiggan said. “The awards allow filmmakers and talent to showcase their work with some potential award recognition and they are extremely appreciative.
“It also allows the filmmakers and talent to be aware that we are accredited and perhaps it leads other people looking to book these films to recognize that a film is award-worthy.”
For the past few years, the film festival has run for three days, but with next year marking its 20th annual installment, that may change.
“Not much has been planned as of yet for the 20th anniversary,” McQuiggan said. “But we are thinking of expanding by a day or two to celebrate our significant anniversary in a big way.”
The full list of award winners follows:
2017 FilmOut Festival Awards
(chosen by programmer/screening committee)
- Best Narrative Feature — Tom E. Brown, “Pushing Dead”
- Best First Narrative Feature — Albert Alarr, “A Million Happy Nows”
- Best Documentary — Josh Howard, “The Lavender Scare”
- Best Direction — Jennifer Reeder, “Signature Move”
- Best International Feature — Joris van den Berg, “CAS”
- Best Overall Short Film — Faraz Ansari, “Sisak”
- Best Male Short Film — Eli Mak, “Devil Wears A Suit”
- Best Female Short Film — Graham Cantwell, “Lily”
- Best International Short Film — Jake Graf, “Dusk”
- Best Actor in a Feature Film — James Roday, “Pushing Dead”
- Best Actress in a Feature Film — (TIE) Bonnie Bedelia, “A Very Sordid Wedding,” and Crystal Chappell, “A Million Happy Nows”
- Best Actor in Supporting Role — Danny Glover, “Pushing Dead”
- Best Actress in Supporting Role — Jessica Leccia, “A Million Happy Nows”
- Best Screenplay — Del Shores, “A Very Sordid Wedding”
- Best Cinematography — Cathal Watters, “Handsome Devil”
- Best Soundtrack — Cian McCarthy, “Something Like Summer”
2017 FilmOut Audience Awards
(chosen by audience members)
- Best Narrative Feature — John Butler, “Handsome Devil”
- Best First Narrative Feature — David Berry, “Something Like Summer”
- Best International Feature — Laurent Micheli, “Even Lovers Get The Blues”
- Best Documentary — Jennifer Kroot, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”
- Best Comedy — Del Shores, “A Very Sordid Wedding”
- Best Overall Short Film — Eli Mak, “Devil Wears A Suit”
- Best Male Short — Nish Gera, “Scar Tissue”
- Best Female Short — Christie Conochalla, “August In The City”
- Best Actor in a Feature Film — Fionn O’Shea, “Handsome Devil”
- Best Actress in a Feature Film — Fawzia Mirza, “Signature Move”
- Best Supporting Actor — Ben Baur, “Something Like Summer”
- Best Supporting Actress — Dale Dickey, “A Very Sordid Wedding”
- Best Ensemble — Cast of “A Very Sordid Wedding”
- Best Screenplay — Del Shores, “A Very Sordid Wedding”
2017 FilmOut Programming Awards
(chosen by the festival and programming directors)
- Freedom Award — Josh Howard, “The Lavender Scare”
- Outstanding Emerging Talent — McGhee Monteith, “He Could’ve Gone Pro”
- Outstanding Artistic Achievement — Eli Mak, “Devil Wears A Suit”
—Ken Williams is a contributing editor of Gay San Diego and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. He is also a volunteer board member of FilmOut San Diego, serving as Film & Media Relations Director.