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Outfest 2016: An opening night filled with laughs on screen and thoughtful words off screen

Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival kicked off Thursday at its usual place: the Orpheum Theatre downtown.

There was the usual red carpet arrivals and epic after-party. In between there was a screening of the comedy The Intervention (very, very funny!) and an award presented to Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper.

But this year the aftermath of the June 12 massacre inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando was still on people’s minds. Opening night also took place on a day that there was a national uproar over two black men in different states being shot to death by police under questionable circumstances and we would find out later that five policeman were shot to death after a peaceful rally in Dallas.

‘It’s very easy to feel like a hunted animal these days,’ actor Wilson Cruz told the sold out crowd during an emotional speech that was a departure from the usual program..

Cruz had a personal connection to the Orlando tragedy: his mother’s stepsister, Brenda Marquez McCool, was among the 49 people killed in the rampage. She was the mother of 11 children and died when she threw herself in front of her 21 year old son and was hit by five bullets. Her gay son survived.

‘We lost 49 people – 49 individuals with individual stories. Most of them part of marginalized Latino and LGBT communities. They were like so many of our invisible heroes.’

Cruz, a former national spokesman for GLAAD, challenged the crowd to tell those stories and to tell the stories of people of color.

‘My hope tonight is that this room of creators and storytellers will find inspiration in this tragedy somehow and in these 49 lost lives … It shouldn’t take their murders for them to be worthy of our attention.’

Outfest Executive Director Christopher Racster acknowledged the timing of this year’s festival with ‘the terror of Orlando still ringing in our ears’ and the violence against African-Americans.

‘We still face tough challenges,’ he said. ‘Let’s not forget that love is always stronger than hate. Thank you for not letting hate win and for being here tonight.’

Outfest, now in its 34th year, features 160 works this year. Among the offerings are the US drama Spa Night, the Spanish-language love story Esteros and the documentary Kiki. (I shared with you some of my picks last week).

James Franco will be honored at the screening of his film King Cobra in honor of hos efforts to bring LGBTI stories to the forefront. Franco has had many films screen at Outfest in previous years.

Festival-goers will also be treated to a pre-release screening of the new Ghostbusters film starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and out actress Kate McKinnon.

I’ve got a very busy schedule planned for the next 10 days and I’m looking forward to every damned minute of it. Will be posting daily recaps as often as I can and also posting pics on Instagram so follow me there too!

The full schedule is at Outfest.org.

FILE UNDER: Outfest

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