New York, with one of the largest and most historically influential gay communities in the world, has long deserved a film festival devoted to the works of LGBT film artists and a community forum for the audiences (gay and gay-friendly) who attend. NewFest, New York’s annual gathering of the tribe, has been a fixture for the past three decades but has always struggled financially. The past few years especially, the Festival needed to drastically reduce in size and scope and the venues where films were shown were decidedly small and rather musty. Now with two new alliances, with Outfest LA, a bigger and better funded gay film festival with which it is merging, and the Film Society Of Lincoln Center, which is providing its stellar Walter Reade Theater as the main event venue, NewFest finally is finally in its gay glory.
While gay films are hardly the only place to find interesting gay characters and symbolic role models (turn on almost any television network and one can find gay buddies and lesbian sisters in abundance), gay films, fiction and documentary, still provide the deepest possibility of immersion in story and detail. It is also an opportunity to see works molded, shaped and executed by LGBT artists themselves (not often the case with television series that feature gay characters) that do not always seek to speak to a large mainstream audience. Many times, the gay audiences get the “inside joke” or “veiled reference” in a way that Cousin Ernie never did on WILL AND GRACE. Lastly, the very nature of a festival where people gather makes this a unique event in the sharing of community that is still an essential need for a group that has only built a tenuous hold on rights and still must battle them out on local and national stages every day.
But on to the films…….LGBT festivals, and there are thousands of them across the globe, always feel obligated to be a showcase of a vast array of gay-themed works, some more accomplished than others. As per usual, this year’s group of films is a grab-bag, with some strong highlights, a good number of modest crowd pleasers and some thought-provoking experimental work thrown in for good measure. Perhaps because of its recent administrative and economic problems, this year’s NewFest, despite an exemplary venue and its important new partners, is a rather small affair…..18 films in all (Outfest LA that concluded earlier this month had over 150). So, let’s consider this a tasting for what will be coming in the future, as well some of the most popular films currently on the festival circuit that will make their only landings in New York at the event. Among the hot tickets are YOSSI, Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s tender sequel to his acclaimed mixed-match love story YOSSI AND JAGGER; CLOUDBURST, a feel-good geriatric lesbian dramedy starring Brenda Fricker and Olympia Dukakis; I WANT YOUR LOVE, a mix of arthouse and porno about friends who get together for a good old fashioned orgy, coordinated by Travis Matthews; and FOUR, a dramatic quartet of offbeat love stories from Brooklyn-based director Joshua Sanchez.
The Festival is particularly devoted to giving a theatrical showcase to New York based artists. So, in addition to the Joshua Sanchez film, which opened the Festival on Friday evening, NewFest is offering other New York highlights including a Career In Focus homage to iconic drag artist Charles Busch and New York University graduate Kieran Turner, whose fascinating new documentary, JOBRIATH A.D. tells the story of now-forgotten 1970s glam rocker Jobriath, a music and social activist who took David Bowie’s androgynous persona many steps further before succumbing to AIDS in the early 1980s.
Other films on the NewFest radar that generated strong audience interest are SASSY PANTS by Coley Sohn, about a sheltered teen who takes refuge with his father who now has a boyfriend in tow (played by no less than former child star Haley Joel Osment); I AM A WOMAN NOW, a Dutch documentary about a group of pioneering transgender women; BORN NAKED by Spanish director Andrea Esteban that takes us on an entertaining journey into the lives of young lesbian and trans artists living in Madrid, Berliin and London; LOVE FREE OR DIE, an inspiration documentary about the first openly gay bishop Gene Robinson as he confronts homophobia in the church; MY BROTHER THE DEVIL, a controversial look at the sexual tensions in Arabic teen gangs in the UK, and a stellar directorial debut by Sally El Hosaini; and NORDZEE, TEXAS, a Belgian coming-of-age tale set in the 1960s about a gay teen, his best friend and former beauty queen mother.
The Festival ends with a bang on July 31 with YOUNG AND WILD, a wildly ambitious and thoroughly fresh film by debuting Chilean director Marialy Rivas. In the semi-autobiographical film, which caused a sensation at its international debut at the Sundance Film Festival, a teenage girl from a strictly evangelical family plays out her furious sexual fantasies via the internet and her sexy “nom de web” Young And Wild. One of the film’s social satiric delights is that the young girl’s orthodox schoolmates, all seemingly straight-laced and sexually uptight, are indulging in the same furtive activities online. The film’s innovative, staccato editing and choice of musical soundtrack, propels the story forward with great ingenuity and a youthful energy that is undeniable. For more information on this year’s NewFest, visit: www.newfest.org