The closing night of Outfest 2009 featured the LA premiere of Adam Salky's teen drama Dare, live appearances by the film's stars Alan Cumming (sporting dyed blonde hair) and Emmy Rossum, and a pre-show fundraising solicitation. Outfest, the nation's oldest GLBT film festival and LA's longest-running fest at 27 years, is a non-profit that, like so many worthy organizations, is suffering as a result of the current recession.
Never mind that not all the films shown during this year's Outfest deserve equal support, with the festival's US dramatic centerpiece, Mississippi Damned, being a prime example. Although it won the fest's Grand Jury prize for outstanding US feature film, I found Tina Mabry's autobiographical piece to be an unrelentingly grim, overlong examination of a dysfunctional black family in the American South with little positive to say about its GLBT characters. Despite some excellent performances, Mississippi Damned offers little that hasn't been shown or said before in such films as The Color Purple or Monster's Ball.
Dare is another unfortunate exception to the notion that all GLBT festival films are equally worthy of acclaim. The film has its charms, notably fine performances by Zach Gilford and Ashley Springer as sexually-conflicted high school students involved in a pseudo-threesome with Rossum's character, and Michael Fimognari's excellent cinematography. However, it failed to ring true for me. Perhaps times for teens have changed and I've become out-of-touch, but too many of the sexual scenarios struck me as contrived and Rossum (who was wonderful as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera movie a few years back) struck me as too old for her part.
If not every GLBT film festival entry is an artistic success, is that reason not to support the filmmakers or the festival? Certainly not! Outfest and the other festivals that have happily proliferated across the country since the LA fest's founding in 1982 deserve our community's support more than ever. Please consider financially supporting Outfest (donations may be made online at their official website) or your local GLBT festival before it's too late.
UPDATE: Dare is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.