Outcast Films looks back, moves forward
by Chael Needle
To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first reporting of what would come to be known as AIDS, Outcast Films has launched a grass-roots outreach campaign called [email protected]: Looking Back, Moving Forward. In conjunction with the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, and sponsored by LOGO, Outcast Films is offering four films to organizations that want to host free public screenings.
“Outcast Films is dedicated to education and activism, especially for the LGBT community,” says Vanessa Domico, the company’s founder and president. While Outcast distributes films by and for the LGBT community and its supporters, it is also committed to educating the public about HIV and AIDS. “It’s a big part of what we do here because HIV/AIDS affects the LGBT community in such a profound way.”
“We thought this would incentivize individuals and organizations to start talking about prevention,” she says. “The only people who are really talking about these issues right now are activists and educators. So we hope that by giving them the tools that they need—our films—that they can attract a larger audience and get the message out there.”
Domico suggests that programmers and administrators present the four films as a series as, together, they cover different aspects of the pandemic. (The screening fees are waived for this campaign, but the four films are also available for purchase by institutions and individuals, bundled at discounted prices for each.) Outcast Films, she says, is looking for a commitment from potential hosts to address HIV/AIDS, not as a one-off but as a marquee event. A perfect way to recharge the AIDS dialogue, says Domico, would be for programmers to also organize panel discussions or round tables, bringing in academics, medical professionals, and activists for a confab with community members. “But if someone said to me, ‘Look, we want one film, we can get a theater, and seat 500 people,’ I’m not going to say, ‘no,’ to that,” she says, “because it’s important to reach those 500 people.”
She adds: “If we can motivate an additional handful of people on the ground [with any of these screenings], it’s worth our while.” As educational springboards for discussions about prevention and HIV/AIDS as a social justice issue, Outcast aims to nurture positive social transformation. “HIV rates are on the rise. This is the first generation that doesn’t understand or knows what life was like before safer sex. They don’t know the history,” Domico says about targeting young people in particular. “We’re hoping we can help educate them and teach them this history so that they have a fuller understanding of what HIV and AIDS is all about and how they can end it. Because it is possible to end HIV and AIDS.”
“Unfortunately in this current political environment [the powers that be] don’t seem to want to support education, which means in the end that we all lose. I don’t want to sound hopeless because I’m an eternal optimist, but I guess I’m saying we need to unite and stand together for what we believe is right.”
In a way, [email protected] is a logical extension of a goal that Domico set four or five years ago for Outcast Films to become the source for films about HIV and AIDS. It not only acquires films but nurtures filmmakers. Domico is currently mentoring a filmmaker who is making a film about lesbians and how they’ve responded to HIV since the eighties.
Like all of the films that Outcast acquires, Domico is passionate about this AIDS-themed quartet. “The four films that we have on tour with this [email protected] campaign are really very diverse,” she shares enthusiastically. “For example, Sex in an Epidemic addresses concerns in the African-American and Latino communities, prison populations, and younger people. It also gives a good history of safer sex in America. So it brings us up to date all the way to Obama’s [National] AIDS Strategy.” She adds, “It’s one of those films where people walk out re-energized, ready to take action!
“Still Around is a new film we recently acquired; it’s a feature-length compilation of fifteen short films about people living with HIV/AIDS. It’s basically a video AIDS Quilt of our times. It gives voice to women, men, gay, straight, transgender, young, old, and from many ethnic backgrounds. We have Pills Profits Protest: Chronicle of the Global AIDS Movement. This is a film about global AIDS activism and it focuses on countries in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Brazil. Then we have Rock Bottom: Gay Men and Meth, which follows the journeys of seven gay men struggling with addiction to crystal meth.”
[email protected]’s goal is to reach audiences in twenty or more cities, and the campaign will extend past the summer into December.
Screenings so far have included The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, and The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. Domico has already fielded many requests and expects many more. “We are looking for more venues—and more sponsors. LOGO TV is the only sponsor that stepped up. It’s been very hard getting monetary support for this. It’s all coming out of our pockets—which is fine, we’re committed to doing it—but it would be great to have someone come on board and say, ‘Take this money and do something good with it!’”
For more information, log on to www.outcast-films.com.
Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U.