OutSouth Queer Film Festival 

Friday, Nov. 13-Sunday, Nov. 19  |  $12-$90 

As queer Americans weather a contentious election season and a Supreme Court appointment that could jeopardize their rights, Durham’s decades-old OutSouth Queer Film Festival stands as a beacon of LGBTQ community resilience.

“It’s a reminder that we are still here,” festival director Chuck Wheeler says.

Since 1995, the festival—formerly known as the North Carolina Gay + Lesbian Film Festival—has packed thousands of attendees into the Carolina Theatre of Durham. It’s 2020, so of course things look different this go-around: This year, the festival will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary virtually. 

Beginning Friday, November 13, patrons can digitally rent collections of short films or individual, full-length features. Alternately, patrons can purchase an all-access pass to the festival’s lineup of 41 films.

Wheeler says that he expects around 25 to 30 percent of usual ticket sales. Hosting a virtual festival is far less expensive than managing a physical event, though, so despite the inevitable revenue decrease, the festival will come in well below budget. Wheeler also adds that donors and sponsors have remained “incredibly supportive” through the transition to a virtual format.

The festival has always aimed to select programming that features diverse identities. “I think this year, though, is exemplary,” he says.

In rom-com Breaking Fast, which has racked up awards at festivals from Vancouver to Austin, that diversity is particularly evident, with a Ramadan love story between two gay characters: a devout Muslim doctor named Mo and a non-Muslim, “All-American guy” named Kal. Writer and director Mike Mosallam says he wanted to create a story in which the characters live the totality of their queer and religious identities without compromising them for others.

“Probably the most meaningful part of the process are so many folks from the LGBTQ community, either Muslim or otherwise, who have reached out and said, ‘I’ve never seen myself represented. I’ve never heard my story represented,’” Mosallam tells the INDY.

Intersecting identities also come into play in 2 Dollars, a short film written and directed by comedian Robin Cloud. In the film, Syd, a Black nonbinary artist, works a dreary day job in an office fraught with discrimination and false allyship—until a lottery ticket worth millions offers the promise of liberation. 

“I want to show us in the light outside of just coming-out stories or stories around the typical tropes that you see, the typical struggle,” Cloud told the INDY. “I wanted to see us exploring other issues and living life outside of the coming-out space.”

Other festival highlights include the documentary Ahead of the Curve, which covers the evolution of the prominent lesbian and queer magazine Curve. The charming semi-autobiographical film Cicada, meanwhile, explores an interracial romance between Ben and Sam, two men who meet at a bookstall on a New York City street. 

2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first Pride march in the United States, so Wheeler says he’s grateful for the community’s support in keeping the OutSouth tradition afloat this year—especially when many festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival, are being canceled altogether.

Although taking the festival remote was an adaptation implemented specifically for the pandemic, Jim Carl, the Carolina Theatre’s senior director of film programming, believes virtual film is here to stay. He says that 2020 has forced programmers like himself to embrace new technology and learn how to adapt to virtual platforms.

As a result, he says, it’s possible that the Carolina Theatre will start hosting the festival virtually as well as physically—and he predicts that festivals across the country will follow suit. 

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