Cover Story

San Diego FilmOut 2023: An informative Q&A with Program Director Michael McQuiggan

By Cesar A Reyes

We sat down with FilmOut’s Program Director Michael McQuiggan to talk all things FilmOut, from the history of the festival, the evolution of LGBTQ+ cinema and the 411 of these years season.

Introduce yourself and tell us how long you’ve been with the festival:

I’m Michael McQuiggan, and I currently hold the position of Program Director at FilmOut San Diego. I’ve been an active part of the festival since 2004 when I took on the role of Program Director. Before that, I spent three years serving as a volunteer coordinator. My journey with FilmOut has been incredibly fulfilling, and I’m excited to continue contributing to the festival’s growth and success.

Can you give us some history of the festival?

FilmOut San Diego has a fascinating history that traces back to its origins as a thesis project by Joe Ferrelli at SDSU in 1993. It began its journey as a manifestation of his vision. By the mid/late 90s, FilmOut emerged with three seasons under its belt. A pivotal point came when we connected with a different festival in LA aiming to launch an LGBT film festival in San Diego using their name; this led to a merger. Krista Page joined forces with Joe Ferrelli, and I also became involved due to my volunteer work with both organizations.

After three seasons in this merged setup, we decided to part ways due to a lack of control. It was during this period that Joe Ferrelli relocated to Buffalo, paving the way for Krista Page to assume the role of Executive Director, and I took on the role of Program Director. The revival of FilmOut as its own entity took place in 2004. Throughout this journey, we’ve seen changes in leadership from Krista Page to Matt Habecker and now our current Executive Director, Kaleb Nicola, who initially started as Volunteer Coordinator and has been a steadfast partner for over a decade.

Alongside Kaleb, there are others who’ve been dedicated to FilmOut for years, including Rick Goldenstein, Bob Bouchard, Tom Kirkman, and more. This rich history highlights the evolution and commitment of those who have been an integral part of FilmOut’s growth and success.

The drive behind it?

Our mission at FilmOut San Diego is to bring LGBTQ cinema to the vibrant San Diego Community. We view film as an art form, and we’ve been fortunate to maintain our dedication over the past two decades. San Diego has been a fortunate host to a diverse array of film festivals, and we’re grateful to be a part of this landscape. With over 20 film festivals currently active in San Diego, we take pride in standing alongside our fellow festival organizers in celebrating the power of film.

How many locations has it been in?

Our journey has led us through different venues since our inception. We’ve found homes at various locations, including The Ken Cinema, Landmark Hillcrest, Observatory North Park, and our current residences at The NAT and MOPA in Balboa Park. Each move has been a step forward in creating memorable film experiences for our community.

Any interesting anecdotes that come to mind?

Over the years, FilmOut has been graced with the presence of numerous board members, volunteers, sponsors, and attendees. Let me share a couple of amusing anecdotes from our journey.

About a dozen years ago, one of those remarkable individuals handed me a “jolly rancher”. Without giving it much thought, I consumed it. This was well before the era of “gummies” that are so prevalent now. Fast forward two hours, and I found myself preparing to step onto the stage to introduce filmmakers for our Closing Night film. And then it hit me—BAM. I stood there facing 700 pairs of eyes fixed on me. The ensuing moments remain a blur; I can’t recall what I said. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this occurred in a time before cell phones recorded everything, so there’s no record. Apparently, my state of mind led to hilarity. An unexpected consequence of an innocent “jolly rancher”.

Here’s another memorable moment from our history. In the earlier days, all our films were screened on 35mm. Yes, you heard that right. During one festival, we relocated to a venue that was restoring older 35mm projectors, assuring us they’d be operational before the event. However, reality turned out differently. During the Opening Night film, the projector started spewing film, a programmer’s worst nightmare. Thankfully, we had a DVD backup running simultaneously. But alas, even that plan went awry as the DVD began skipping – and kept on skipping. We attempted to navigate the technical glitches by skipping chapters, leading to a surreal situation where the audience knew the dialogue better than we did. It’s amusing in retrospect, but at the time, it felt like a cinematic heart attack. The projector that caused all this chaos wasn’t done tormenting us. The next day, it appeared fixed, only for it to shake uncontrollably throughout the rest of the festival. To keep it steady, we had to hold onto each side of this ancient relic for dear life. Such are the trials and tribulations of running a film festival.

These anecdotes remind us of the unpredictable, humorous, and challenging moments that have contributed to FilmOut’s colorful history.

How have LGBTQ films changed in the history of the film festival?

Over time, both budget and quality at FilmOut have evolved, yet the core of the stories remains intact. In the early days, we would receive just a few dozen submissions. Fast forward to today, and it’s a whirlwind as we now receive hundreds upon hundreds of submissions each year. However, with the accessibility of filmmaking technology, a wide array of submissions comes in, ranging from “interesting” to various degrees of quality. It seems like everyone believes they’re a filmmaker.

Recent years have brought about a remarkable change due to the rise of streaming platforms. This surge has been particularly beneficial for LGBTQ content, allowing more exposure for Directors, Writers, and Talent. On an international scale, the quality of films stands out, showcasing exceptional aspects like direction, acting, editing, score, and cinematography. These films consistently rank among the best at the festival annually, contributing to the festival’s reputation for excellence. The influx of LGBTQ content and the impressive international offerings have added layers of depth and diversity to our programming.

When you select films for the festival what is your process?

The process of film submission has transformed with the advent of platforms like Film Freeway, which have become the go-to method for submissions across various film festivals, both globally and locally. While this platform is widely utilized, our festival has also fostered relationships with filmmakers and distributors over time. This rapport leads to the direct acquisition of films that have been part of the festival circuit. It’s a testament to the collaborative nature of the film industry.

Moreover, we’ve actively sought to collaborate with other film festivals in San Diego. Our partnerships with the San Diego Asian Film Festival and the San Diego Latino Film Festival have been longstanding, spanning multiple seasons including the current one. These joint efforts enhance the cinematic landscape in our city and showcase the power of collaboration in promoting diverse and engaging stories.

How can folks get involved with the festival apart from attending?

Getting involved with FilmOut San Diego offers a variety of avenues: Becoming a sponsor, joining as a board member, engaging in community outreach, or contributing as a volunteer. If you’re interested in being part of our vibrant community, all the details you need can be found on our website at We’re always excited to welcome fresh perspectives and new energy. Whether you’re looking to be involved for a season or two, your contribution can make a significant impact on our mission to bring diverse LGBTQ cinema to the San Diego community.

Please invite our readers to the festival.

We’re thrilled to present a spectacular lineup at this year’s FilmOut festival, celebrating our 23rd season. Over the course of four exciting days, our venues in Balboa Park will come alive with dozens of captivating films. Kicking off the event is Opening Night at the San Diego Natural History Museum (THE NAT), featuring the enchanting new musical film “GLITTER & DOOM”. We’re bringing in the Director, Writer, Music Director, lead actors, and supporting actresses for an unforgettable experience, followed by an engaging after-party in THE NAT’s lobby.

Throughout the weekend, we’re honored to host many Directors attending to showcase and discuss their films during post-screening Q&A sessions. Keep an eye out for possible surprise appearances by Actors, pending SAG waivers. Our film lineup spans a wide range of genres, including shorts, documentaries, foreign films, and comedies. Notable Spotlight films include the U.S. Spotlight film “OUR SON” starring Billy Porter and Luke Evans, the Festival Spotlight film “THE MATTACHINE FAMILY” starring Nico Tortorella, the Men’s Centerpiece film “SHOULDER DANCE” featuring Matt Dallas, the Women’s Centerpiece film “SILVER HAZE”, the International Spotlight “THREE NIGHTS A WEEK”, and the local San Diego Filmmaker Spotlight film “INTERSECTIONAL LENS”. The festival will culminate with the Closing Night film “GOLDEN DELICIOUS” at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), followed by a delightful dessert reception.The diverse array of films in our lineup reflects our commitment to showcasing a wide spectrum of genres and perspectives. To explore the complete lineup, visit Lastly, we owe our 23 years of success to our steadfast sponsors, dedicated attendees, supportive board, and passionate volunteers. Join us from September 7th to 10th for a cinematic celebration you won’t want to miss!