SCREEN TIME: Out on Film and more

Filmmakers call Atlanta home

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Photo credit: THE ONE WHO KNOCKS: Things get spooky for Rebecca Hall in David Bruckner’s ‘The Night House.’
Searchlight Pictures

Deondray Gossett and Quincy LeNear were married by Queen Latifah at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards broadcast. Longtime creative and domestic partners, the pair created the TV series The DL Chronicles and other projects. In 2020 they moved to East Point, so it’s as local filmmakers that they’re debuting two shorts at this year’s Out on Film Festival.

The LGBTQ festival went online in 2020 (apart from one drive-in screening), but for its 34th year, it brings a robust program of more than 140 narrative and documentary shorts and features from around the world, with both in-person and virtual screenings from Sept. 23-Oct. 3.

Credited as Deondray Gossfield and Quincy LeNear Gossfield, the pair codirected “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” (Sept. 26), a 30-minute short set during the Harlem Renaissance narrated by “Pose”’s Billy Porter. Based on a short story by gay author Richard Bruce Nugent, the film depicts a young artist, (Xavier Avila) torn between his attraction for a woman and a man. While the settings don’t look much like 1926, the film has an ear for the literary discussions of the era while addressing desire and intersectionality.

For the Oct. 3 Drama Shorts program, the pair also directed “Flames,” which depicts an emotionally raw encounter between two young friends as their paths in life diverge. Taken together, the screenings suggest the Gossfields will be two local filmmakers to watch, especially regarding issues of race and sexuality.

Other Out on Film selections of local interest include the Georgia-filmed Landlocked (Oct. 3) about a man journeying to scatter his late mother’s ashes with his estranged, transgender father played by transgender actress Delia Kropp. Steven Norris, an Atlanta native and Georgia Tech grad, directed “Euromerica” (screening virtually), about American superfans of the Eurovision Song Contest, the most watched live music event in the world.

On Sep. 30, the festival’s annual Local Shorts program presents nine films from area filmmakers, including Lyrik London’s “Black Boi Majik,” Mya-Breyana Morton’s “The Traveler,” Patrick Seda’s “Reverend Falls” and Carmen LoBue’s “Pink and Blue.”

Out on Film opens Sept. 23 with the Southeastern premiere of Firebird, depicting a romantic triangle on a Soviet Air Force base during the Cold War. On Oct. 3, the closing night film is Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way, about the AIDS activist and cast member of MTV’s “The Real World” in 1994.

The festival’s Centerpiece Screenings include Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music (Sept. 25), No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics (Sept. 28) and the family drama Jump, Darling (Sept. 24), featuring the final performance of Cloris Leachman.

Out on Film. Sep. 23-Oct. 3. Landmark, Midtown Art Cinema Out Front Theatre Co. and virtual screenings. $11 for individual tickets and $150 for a full festival pass, which includes in-theater and virtual fare.

Home Invasion, One: Released on Aug. 20, the haunted house thriller The Night House marks the latest step in the career of Atlanta filmmaker David Bruckner. Bruckner first drew national attention as one of three directors behind the 2007 sleeper hit The Signal. He debuted his eerie first feature, The Ritual, on Netflix in 2017.

Like many thoughtful horror films of the past decade, The Night House unfolds more like a character study than a fright fest. Rebecca Hall plays Beth, the widow of an architect who killed himself. As she rattles around the large lake house he designed, she detects signs of hauntings, like phantom whispers and mysterious footprints. Is it her husband’s ghost? Is she cracking up? Or is there something uncanny about the house itself?

Hall can seem like one of Hollywood’s least-utilized actors, but she relishes her role here, conveying how Beth’s grief comes out in sorrow and rage. When she lashes out at unsuspecting people, Hall can be more unnerving than the film’s supernatural elements.

As director, Bruckner oversees some excellent performances as well as some intriguing, unusual special effects. The film cleverly employs its unearthly visuals, including hidden profiles in the home fixtures, which at times evokes the mirrored images of M.C. Escher’s artwork. The puzzle box nature of The Night House’s story and set pieces suggest that Bruckner may excel at his next reported project, a reboot of the Hellraiser franchise.

Home Invasion, Two: The Atlanta-filmed thriller Karen shows a little too much awareness of its central conceit as a racist white woman named Karen torments her new black neighbors. “Wait, we have a white, entitled neighbor named Karen? This is like something out of ‘SNL!,’” Imani (Jasmine Burke) says to her husband Malik (Cory Hardrict).

Like the “Karen” meme expanded into a 1990s thriller, the film follows Karen Drexler (Taryn Manning of Orange is the New Black) as she pretends to be polite but demonstrates every maddening, race-baiting behavior one can imagine. The film’s first shot shows her mopping up sidewalk chalk that reads “Black Lives Matter.” She trains security cameras on her new neighbors and calls the cops on “suspicious” black pedestrians, while lying about their actions. And she enlists her brother, a violent police officer, to escalate her campaign against her neighbors.

Releasing in theaters and on demand on Sept. 3, Karen has an extremely low budget and production values with heavy-handed storytelling from writer-director Coke Daniels. Nevertheless, its themes of bigotry and police harassment can prove compelling even with cliched treatment, and Manning genuinely gives a live-wire performance in the title role. Manning’s Karen isn’t just predictably condescending. She brings a host of insecurities and hostile emotions to seemingly every encounter as well. With her, a casual chat about weekly garbage pick-up can turn into a minefield. —CL—

Screen Time is a monthly column about film and video from the big screen to streaming services.