“It gives me great honor to be the recipient of this year’s Outfest Annual Achievement Award and represent the LGBTQ+ community,” Page said in a statement. “Now more than ever, it is so important for our voices to be amplified and represented in film and media, and for people to hear our stories.”
Page came out as a transgender man last December, announcing his pronouns are he/they, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine in March as his authentic self for a story not just about himself, but responding to the onslaught of anti-trans legislation nationwide.
The following month he sat down with trans journalist Thomas Page McBee for Vanity Fair and with Oprah Winfrey for powerful interviews about his identity, his transition and his joy in finally living his truth. He told Winfrey it’s the little things that bring him the most joy.
“Getting out of the shower, and the towel’s around your waist,” Page said, “And you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, and you’re like, ‘There I am!’”
The out transgender nonbinary actor will accept the award at the closing night gala August 22 at the Orpheum Theatre, according to Outfest. Kieran Medina, lead programmer of Outfest L.A.’s Annual Trans & Nonbinary Summit, will be the presenter.
“When determining the recipient of our highest honor, we look for those that have been a powerful representative for our community, that have soared to the highest levels of recognition for their talent and who have stepped into the shoes themselves as an independent filmmaker and creator,” said Outfest Executive Director Damien S. Navarro. “There is no one more poised to receive this year’s Outfest Annual Achievement Award than Elliot. His courage, advocacy and personal journey have made him one of the most admired and respected public figures of his generation and his talent and voice are leading a new generation within the LGBTQIA+ and entertainment community.”
In addition to honoring Page that night, Outfest will present actress and filmmaker Octavia Spencer with the James Schamus Ally Award, as reported by Variety last week.
“I am so honored to be recognized with the 2021 Annual James Schamus Ally Award,” Spencer said in a statement on Aug. 2. “I am proud to bring LGBTQIA+ stories to audiences all over the world and am thrilled that our own film, Right to Try, will be making its premiere at this important festival. It speaks to the kind of stories I want to see on screen—celebrating everyday heroes with a true sense of hope.”
Outfest kicks off on August 13 with an outdoor screening of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. This year’s festival is a hybrid—both in-person and streaming—and seeks to promote queer empathy among the public, build careers in entertainment and to exhibit and preserve LGBTQIA+ stories and voices.
“We began as a festival by a couple of students at UCLA who did not see a whole lot of platforms for visibility around what predominantly was cis white gays back in the day,” Novarro told me in a recent Zoom interview about the mission of Outfest. He said he identifies as cis Latinx and is relatively new to Outfest. “I come from the corporate business world and have been what I like to refer to as an ethical business leader for many, many years.” Prior to leading Outfest, Novarro was executive producer at Happy Lane Studios, president at VIMBY and a faculty member at Chapman University.
“We are trying to solve the challenge,” said Novarro, “of how do we support queer voices that are spanning the spectrum of sexuality, gender expression, gender identity and all of those that we would consider underneath this beautiful rainbow and umbrella that we have now?’ How are we supporting them in their entire career for those that want to get into storytelling?”
The veteran of advertising who attended film school said this year’s Outfest would be different in how wide a net it casts in trying to reach a wider audience: Noche Icónica is targeted for the Latinx filmgoers and is a free event; All Girl Friday is basically the Outfest equivalent of Ladies Night for women who love women; there are also music performances and documentaries.
Younger generations in particular present a challenge, Novarro said, in terms of expressing a wider range of identites and needs. “Outfest needs to really take this step with younger people and introduce ourselves for the first time and say, ‘We’re here to help you tell your stories.’ How do we do that? In some cases, especially among the BIPOC community, it’s cash and grants and financing programs, and among our trans and nonbinary community, it’s helping them to come together in really meaningful ways and putting a spotlight on those voices.”
This year’s Trans and Non-Binary Summit, the fifth one at Outfest, features Zackary Drucker and Our Lady J in live talks, a short film showcase, and a season 2 sneak preview live read of Rain Valdez’s Emmy-nominated series Razor Tongue.
Filmmaker Lyle Kash will also debut Death and Bowling at Outfest. “I wanted to make a film with a lot of trans people, mainly because I am trans,” Kash told me in a phone interview over the weekend. Almost his entire crew was trans and nearly every character in his directorial debut, executive produced by Rhys Ernst, is played by a transgender actor, including the characters who are cisgender. It’s described in promotional material as “a fictional meta-critique about trans-representation… a transgender actor navigating a fractured, dream-like world and struggling with what it means to be seen after the beloved captain of his lesbian bowling league dies and a mysterious stranger shows up at the funeral.”
“As for the title and the content of a film about death and bowling, I was working through a lot of ideas about grief and I didn’t want to make a project that was so literal or autobiographical,” Kash said. “There’s only a few spaces where when people get together, they all look in one direction, the horizon, and that’s in the movie theater, standing at the ocean or at a body of water, and also at a bowling alley. And I think there’s something about that gesture of looking forward at a horizon that maybe gives you something back as in the case of the ocean or bowling that felt a lot like grief and desire and those are key themes in the film.”
One of the actors in Death and Bowling is Gillian Cameron, who last appeared in HBO’s The Lady and the Dale with Drucker. “I play Matilda, a member of a lesbian bowling team who is dying of cancer,” she told me.
“I loved working on this film, even though I had a small part. The entire production was marked by love, professionalism, and cinematic art. It was a particular pleasure to work with Lyle Kash, an incredibly talented young writer and director.”
I asked Kash why he felt it necessary to cast trans actors in cis roles, and to address the awful Hollywood tradition of casting cis actors to play trans characters, often called “transface.”
“I think we owe to actors, audiences and filmmakers an analysis of power,” Kash said. “It’s just not the same thing to cast cisgender people in trans roles, as it is to cast creatively trans people in cis roles. At a certain point, when you’re putting a casting call out for someone who needs to read as a man on screen at age 40, there are a broad number of people who you can cast for that role. But if the specific role asks for transness, you need to have a trans person in that role.”
Click here to learn more about Outfest and to get tickets; click here for details on Death and Bowling and how to screen the film.