Damien S. Navarro OutFest
OutFest executive director Damien S. Navarro courtesy of OutFest

For the 40th anniversary of the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival this year, executive director Damien S. Navarro is embracing the festival’s history.

Taking place from today through July 24, both in-person and virtually, this year’s festival opens with the world premiere of Pose star Billy Porter’s directorial debut Anything’s Possible at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles’ Fashion District. From there, the event will honor the people who have helped make Outfest a crucial meeting point for LGBTQ+ filmmakers.

“There are a couple of things that are very 40th,” Damien S. Navarro told MovieMaker. “I wanted to document all of the people that have not made their way into the history books and how many people are missed.

“So we are doing our inaugural list — because it is going to be built on — of the architects of Outfest. All of those individuals, those unspoken heroes who at one point were integral to starting a program, a supporter of an early program, a star volunteer from the beginning, any of those individuals. So we are going to be announcing that list, and then we’re going to be bringing, for those that can attend in person, up on stage for a really special moment.”

Before Navarro took the job of executive director at Outfest in 2019, he had a long career in entertainment. In 1998, he founded Brighter, an L.A.-based media and technology studio. After he sold Brighter in 2012, he dove deeper into entertainment marketing and capital fundraising. He also spent nearly five years teaching at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

This year’s Outfest L.A. will be notable for the increased number of opportunities for filmmakers to network and make important connections with industry executives.

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“We’re continuing to expand our industry events. So for those filmmakers and creatives that are selected for the festival this year, we have a lot for them to participate in,” Navarro said.

Quality networking opportunities are something that Outfest is known for.

“Even on FilmFreeway, it’s something that everybody always heralds: that if you’re selected for Outfest, they really just introduce you to people. So we’re expanding the number of networking opportunities with executives.”

For example, this year Outfest is bringing back its filmmaker poolside party.

“That happens at a very fancy house for them to participate in and meet other studio executives, and that’s being co-hosted by Brian Michael Smith on our board and a very prominent actor, and Dan Jinks, Academy Award-winning producer, and Cheri Moon, a Grammy-nominated singer. So we’re also trying to just really bring people together.”

On the OutMuseum, the organization’s virtual LGBTQ museum that features films, panels, programs, workshops and virtual events, Navarro highlighted Let Them Speak, a recently launched audio and film series featuring the stories of LGBTQ youth from states with laws that limit their freedoms.

Navarro also said that this year, tickets to Outfest L.A.’s shorts program are “selling like hotcakes in a way that we haven’t seen in many years.” One of the most popular shorts programs is one that spotlights queer filmmakers under 25 years old. This year’s festival is also heavy on horror, with a program full of both feature-length and short horror films.

Navarro first attended Outfest when he was a film student at California State University, Fullerton. Ever since then, it’s always held a special place in his heart.

The first time he attended the festival, “it was a very emotional moment, because you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a support group for me and there’s a community for me and it’s kind of built-in,'” he said. “I remember even then, that the filmmakers and the studio executives and fans were very close. There was a lot of community building. And then years later I met my husband, and he was a member of Outfest.”

But after this year’s 10-day festival is over, don’t worry — Outfest has events all year round. From the Outfest Fusion Film Festival to OutFronts and even Outfest House @ Sundance, there is no shortage of opportunities to get involved with the LGBTQ+ non-profit.

Main Image: Outfest executive director Damien S. Navarro, courtesy of Outfest.