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The Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Festival flew under the radar for many years. Established in 2004, long before the Black Lives Matter protests and movements for equity in the film and television industry, Outfest executive director Damian Navarro said that Fusion was viewed by some as being too “niche.” As disparities in racial, gender and queer representation have received more exposure, however, the necessity for the festival has become increasingly obvious.
“There were several of multicultural nonprofits that wanted to get together for one night and watch a bunch of their work, as well as celebrate the work that they did,” Navarro said. “It was so unprecedented at the time.”
He explained that some people asked questions like, “Why do you know a bunch of people of color want to get together – that seems so exclusive?”
The program has grown into the 10-day event it is now. Fusion is the largest festival of its kind, providing film screenings, workshops, panels, live music, masterclasses and a 1-minute movie contest. This year, Fusion will also host its inaugural family day, which offers kid-friendly programming that celebrates LGBTQ+ childhood.
Starting with an opening night gala at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, located at 244 San Pedro St. downtown, the event runs from March 24 to April 2. Screenings will also be held at the TCL Chinese 6, located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., the Japanese American National Museum, located at 100 N. Central Ave., and the Los Angeles Theatre Center, located at 514 S. Spring St.
The event comes at precarious time for both people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals, as conservative states across the country have backed legislation that limits the rights of trans people and women, and rolls back protections for BIPOC people.
“This year’s program literally was taken from the headlines and flipped on its back and saying, ‘Here is how we reflect back to the community. Here are the systemic issues that we are continuing to face,’” Navarro said.
Several prominent titles will be featured at the festival, including the Xpedition and the Al Roker produced “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn,” featuring Lee Daniels, which will make its North American premiere. The Sundance documentaries “The Stroll” and “Little Richard: I Am Everything” will also be included. The majority of programming, however, highlights new and emerging talent, with over half the movies featured helmed by women, gender-nonconforming or non-binary filmmakers.
“You have the things of discovery that people I guarantee you are not going to ever see [otherwise],” Navarro said. “Like the film ‘Soft,’ which is a feature about three [adolescent] queer best friends with a mother figure coming from a first-time Canadian filmmaker named Joseph Amenta.”
The gala opening on March 24 will feature several short films, including “Amina,” which follows a lesbian former astronaut trying to connect with her unborn child after the death her former partner, “Hex the Patriarchy,” a comedy about two queer high school students who strike back at their bullies with witchcraft, and “I Am Poem,” which finds a young boy exploring and asserting his gender identity on Halloween. The screenings will be followed by an after party.
In addition to the screenings, workshops help aspiring industry professionals to find their way in Hollywood, with events like “How to Craft the Perfect Pitch” and “Disrupting the Hollywood Pipeline.” Experimental events will also be presented, including a fitness class that touches of cirque skills, a Vogue masterclass with Isla Ebony from the HBO series “Legendary” and an incense and meditation session with Le Trois Apothecary.
“There’s a lot of real cultural experimentation, hence fusion. It’s not meant to be cultural fusion. It’s meant to be the artistry of fusion, in which you are seeing a multimedia canvas of different types of experiences,” Navarro said.
He went on to explain that Fusion allows unique voices to be seen, promoted and highlighted in a way that other aspects of the film and television industry don’t or can’t.
“The industry itself has come up with some really clever ways of backing away from supporting programs like this,” Navarro said, adding that people in the industry often label such programs as “niche” as a workaround. But he explained that aspiring BIPOC filmmakers often have no connections in Hollywood, even if they are Los Angeles locals, and have a harder time working their way up the ladder. Fusion provides an outlet not only to have BIPOC filmmakers’ work seen, but also to connect underrepresented groups with industry professionals and vital tools necessary to grow in the business. Some programming is free or low-cost, and free passes are available to select people who are experiencing financial hardship.
“We really are trying to make it accessible, completely accessible,” he said.
For information, tickets and a full festival schedule, visit outfestfusion.com.
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