Pride Profiles: Jim Farmer, Celebrates 15 Years As Director Of Out On Film

Started in 1987, the Atlanta-based film festival has become one of the nation’s premier Queer film shows, and an Oscar-qualifier, under Farmer’s leadership. 

Pulling off a film festival is never easy. Pulling it off almost four decades in a row while also becoming one of the most respected queer film festivals in the country? Now that’s a feat.

Yet that’s exactly what Out On Film has done, Atlanta’s signature LGBTQ+ film festival. “Every year is a unique challenge,” laughed Jim Farmer, Director of Out On Film. “Working with 150 films and filmmakers and dealing with the economy and grants that may be here one year and gone the next, we literally take it a year at a time and roll with the punches. There’s always some unexpected obstacle that comes your way.”

Indie Cinema Leaders

Despite some big unexpected obstacles—COVID and producing a virtual festival during the pandemic being the biggest—Out On Film has erupted in popularity. For the last 15 years, Farmer has led Out On Film with a vision and determination that has grown Atlanta’s queer film fest into one of the most respected in the indie cinema circuit.

Started in 1987, Out On Film has screened and premiered thousands of projects in its history. It’s become such a big deal that in 2020 it was named an Oscar-qualifying festival, one of only 2 queer film festivals in the US to have that designation (and 6 across the globe). That means the movie that wins the Jury Award for Best Drama Shorts at Out On Film becomes eligible for consideration for the following year’s Academy Awards. (Check out the Heritage Area’s own rich cinematic history.) 

A trailer from last year’s Out On Film.

“We really want to showcase Atlanta and the Southeast and be as diverse and inclusive as possible,” said Farmer about what makes Out On Film stand out.We don’t offer just films—we offer the experience of coming to see a movie with your tribe and experiencing it together.”

The Jam-Packed Fest

That experience includes a lot: around 150 feature films, documentaries, and shorts each year, along with Q&As and panel discussions with stars and directors as well as special events throughout the summer and even a new “mini-festival” in the spring. As for the main event, the almost two-week Out On Film bonanza, that will be from September 26 through October 6.

All this is achieved by just two full-time employees: Farmer, and Justice Obiaya, who joined in January as the nonprofit’s first-ever Executive Director. In addition to this, Farmer says there are about 25-30 part-time employees and volunteers helping out throughout the year and another 25-30 who help specifically with the 11 days of the festival in October (Atlanta’s Pride month), helping with the box office, ushering, and other responsibilities.

In fact, one of the biggest responsibilities for many of the nonprofit’s volunteers is simply watching and rating movies. “This year we’re nearing another record,” said Farmer about the number of submissions they’ve received. The festival’s late submissions window recently closed, and Farmer said they received close to a thousand movies. “We’ve chosen a handful right now, some narratives and docs, and lots of shorts,” said Farmer. “It’s very important to have some of our own products, things that are premiering here, and to showcase Atlanta and Southeastern filmmakers. So when you come to Out On Film you will see some films that you won’t see other places. ” Expect an announcement of the first wave of films at the end of July!

A Long Love Of Film

Growing up in the small city of Milledgeville, Farmer spent many hours in movie theaters and fell in love with the silver screen from a young age. After earning his Bachelor of Journalism from UGA, he took a position in a conservative Georgia county that fired him shortly after he came out of the closet for his “job performance.” After this, Farmer vowed to never again take a job for the money.

In 1996, Farmer moved to Atlanta where he “dilly-dallied” between jobs before landing at Out On Film, which used to be produced by the Atlanta Film Festival. “When the Atlanta Film Festival gave up on Out On Film in 2009, I found out about it and kind of raised my hand because it was a perfect fit—and everybody who knew me said, ‘Oh my god, that’s a perfect fit,'” laughed Farmer. “And it has proven to be a perfect fit.”