EXCLUSIVE: Damien Navarro, a content development and digital media executive, has been selected as the new executive director of Outfest. The move comes after an eight-month search to replace Christopher Racster, who is exiting the role at the conclusion of the nonprofit organization’s flagship event, the Los Angeles-based Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival, which this year runs July 18-28.
Navarro, the founder of digital agency Earthbound Media Group and boutique consulting firm The Institute, most recently was president of Vimby, formerly MGM/Mark Burnett’s Content Studio, a brand content agency and entertainment studio.
He was selected by a search committee of current and former Outfest board members from more than 24 candidates, and when he takes over later this month will be tasked with overseeing the organization’s programs, staff, fundraising efforts, fiscal management and day-to-day operations.
“Over the last two years, our board, staff and stakeholders have been working diligently to develop an expanded vision and strategy that will allow Outfest to be an even more vital and impactful advocate for the LGBTQ+ community,” Outfest board co-presidents Terry Franklin and Marissa Román Griffith said Wednesday. “As we move into the implementation of this vision, Damien emerged as exactly the right person to lead us into the future. His passion, his proven record as an entrepreneur and a marketing and advertising leader, as well as his understanding of the power of storytelling to create real, lasting social change are qualities that made him standout during our search process. We couldn’t be more thrilled about the future of the organization under his leadership.”
Navarro’s experience in the branding space has included campaigns State Farm’s 50 Million Pound Challenge, NBC / Walgreen’s / Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day; Cheerios / Walmart / Ellen’s Moments of Good Campaign and Intel / Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman in the Sky.
“Helping represent, protect and prepare the current and future generations of Queer storytellers and industry professionals while building empathy through sharing stories with audiences worldwide, is a dream role that I could never have imagined,” Navarro said. “I am excited to kick off my tenure at Outfest with the implementation of its new strategic plan, alongside an incredible team and with an impeccable and seasoned co-pilot, Outfest Deputy Director Kerri Stoughton-Jackson.”
Outfest’s programs that also will be under his purview include Outfest Forward, a series of educational and mentoring programs dedicated to developing emerging content, such as the Outfest Screenwriting Lab; the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, a partnership between Outfest and the UCLA Film & Television Archive exclusively dedicated to preserving and restoring LGBTQ moving images; and the Outfest Fusion LGBTQ People of Color Film Festival.
He will get his sea legs quickly at the 38th edition of Outfest Los Angeles, which kicks off July 18 with the opening-night pic Circus of Books. This year’s fest under Racser, who has been his post since 2015, features 240 films from 33 countries, with more than two-thirds of the selections directed by women, people of color and trans filmmakers.