The OUTshine Miami LGBTQ+ Film Festival responded to the COVID-19 pandemic last August with a virtual alternative, streaming dozens of films online and turning to Zoom to stage post-screening Q&A sessions with filmmakers, actors and writers. 

The biannual festival returns Dec. 3 – 6 with its Fort Lauderdale edition and organizers say they learned a lot on the first attempt taking OUTshine online.

According to Executive Director Victor Gimenez, the virtual festival was a financial success because film fans across the state purchased tickets to screen films from the convenience and safety of their homes.

“We definitely expanded our audience. We did very well in terms of ticket sales,” Gimenez said, “especially because there was no competition between films scheduled at the same time. There was no ‘Sophie’s Choice.'”

Organizers will be applying lessons learned from their first virtual festival: All films will be available throughout the entire weekend, rather than attempting to stage staggered openings. Post-screening panels and filmmaker events will also be shorter and more focused.

“It was definitely a challenge to engage the audience [on Zoom],” Gimenez noted.

Not all films will be enjoyed on a small screen laptop or television. In keeping with social distancing guidelines, the Fort Lauderdale festival will include a live, opening night drive-in event featuring the critically-acclaimed drama “Cowboys” on Friday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. at Pier 66 Marina, 2301 SE 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale.

Awarded outstanding performance at Outfest LGBT Film Festival and best screenplay at the TriBeCa Film Festival, “Cowboys” stars Steve Zahn (“Treme,” “Modern Family,” “Dallas Buyers Club”) as Troy, a father who tries to liberate his young transgender son by taking him to Canada, but as a frustrated female detective spearheads an investigation, she discovers that the child’s family situation is more complicated than originally believed.

Gimenez said another highlight in this year’s line-up will be a free community screening on Saturday, Dec. 5 celebrating the 10th anniversary of “BearCity,” the hilarious comedy about a group of friends laughing, loving and sex-ing in New York City. A ticketed virtual cast reunion and interactive Q&A will follow the film.

Other highlights from the 21 features, documentaries and shorts include the U.S. premiere of the Nigerian romantic drama “Walking with Shadows,” the award-winning Vietnamese comedy-drama “Goodbye Mother” (“Thưa mẹ con đi”), German drama “No Hard Feelings” and American thriller “Through A Glass Darkly.”

A virtual closing awards ceremony will conclude the festival on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. via Zoom. 

Tickets for the 12th annual OUTshine Fort Lauderdale LGBTQ+ Film Festival, Dec. 3 – 6, are on sale at Prices for individual films are $7.50 each and packages range from $37.50 – $100. Opening night drive-in tickets are $40 per vehicle. OUTshine members and annual passholders receive discounts on all packages.