What To Watch @ NYC's NewFest (Turning 30 This Year)

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The 30th Annual celebration of LGBTQ films takes over NYC this week and runs through October 30th. The Fest boasts over 140 films (counting shorts) from 32 different countries. There is something for everyone, old and new this year.

"Looking back at our history and the voices which shaped our community over 30 years is as important as focusing on emerging filmmakers and stories," said NewFest Executive Director Robert Kushner. "This year's slate of films, from anniversary screenings to the powerful lineup of contemporary cinema from international and domestic filmmakers, all serve as beacons of representation along our journey from the AIDS crisis in the 80's to the current geo-political challenges — and ultimately the next 30 years where full representation and acceptance of our community is in place." 

The program contains narrative features, documentaries, episodic series and shorts as well as some retrospective events. All films play at the SVA Theatre, Cinépolis Chelsea, and The LGBT Community Center in New York City.

The Opening Night selection, Yen Tan's "1985," happens to be one of the best gay-themed films of 2018. 

Not so surprising, the Closing Night feature, the New York premiere of Robert Clift and Hillary Demmon's "Making Montgomery Clift" is one of the year's best documentaries.


"Boy Erased"

In between we have a host of eclectic cinematic offerings including the New York Centerpiece screening of Ondi Timoner's "Mapplethorpe" starring Emmy-nominee Matt Smith ("The Crown") and the U.S. Centerpiece, Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased," starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea and Xavier Dolan. 

There are also gala presentations including the International Centerpiece and New York premiere of Wanuri Kahiu's "Rafiki" a daring Kenyan film depicting a lesbian relationship and the NYC premiere of the Documentary Centerpiece, "Dykes, Camera, Action!"

A highlight is the 20th anniversary screening of Michael Christofer's groundbreaking HBO film, "Gia," which helped catapult Angelina Jolie to fame thanks to her complex performance as supermodel Gia Carrangi. The film also stars a magnetic Faye Dunaway.

Here are a few of my favorite films (from those I was able to sample)


"1985"

"1985" (Opening Night Gala)

Yen Tan's gorgeously shot, poetic "1985" boasts a subtle yet potent performance by Cory Michael Smith as a young closeted gay man returning to his Texas home for the holidays after discovering he is HIV positive. Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen plays his mother, and in one scene, encapsulates the pain of knowing you will outlive your child. This gem feels both modern and period, bridging that gen gap magnificently. 

"Boy Erased" (U.S. Centerpiece) 

I admired Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased" more than I loved it. What makes the film come to life are the extraordinary performances of Lucas Hedges as the teen who is sent off to be cured of his gayness and Nicole Kidman as his slow-to-wake-up-to-the-insanity mother. Conversion therapy is a serious issue and it's taken very seriously here — almost too seriously. Still, the film is a worthy effort. 


"Mapplethorpe"

"Mapplethorpe" (New York Centerpiece) 

Matt Smith ("The Crown") delivers a fearless turn as the unapologetic titular artist in Ondi Timoner's biopic, "Mapplethorpe." The filmmaker pulls no punches when it comes to nudity and sexuality, although explicit scenes are avoided despite the fact that they're an integral part of understanding the man and the artist. Smith's immersive embodiment clues us in to the nuances of the man's frustrations and longing even when the script does not.

Robert Clift, nephew of Montgomery, and his wife Hillary Demmon have crafted an incisive and dedicated documentary that seeks to dispel many of the erroneous and oversimplified assumptions about one of the greatest screen actors of all-time. And they succeed. The simplistic and accepted narrative (via two major biographies and compounded by shoddy and lurid TV programs) paints Clift as a self-hating homosexual who was so tormented by his same sex attraction that he was hell-bent on self-destructiveness. The truth is a lot less salacious. The duo do a crackerjack job of providing evidence against many assumed "truths," and shifting focus to where it should be, on the actor and his filmic body of work. And the footage, audio clips and photos featured are a treasure trove for fans.

In this day and age where facts don't seem to matter, Clift and Demmon make a case that actual facts and the investigation of accepted truths and how we disseminate them are vital to the way we move forward as a culture.

"Daddy" 

I was completely surprised this gritty and stylized look at a homeless hustler (newcomer Alexander Horner, in a remarkable and career-making turn) who fucks older men so he has a place to sleep and then falls for one of them. Never to be confused with a horrible gay-themed film by the same title involving incest, this gem, written and directed by first timer Jonah Greenstein feels like it could have been made in the 1970s. There is no better compliment.


"Mario"

"Mario" 

Marcel Gisler's absorbing and timely narrative explores the travails of a closeted Swiss soccer player named Mario (Max Hubacher) who falls in love with a sexy teammate, Leon (Aaron Altaras) and is placed in the impossible position of choosing between the sport he loves and excels at and the young man he is falling for. "Mario" explores the pain and self-hate involved in living a lie in order to do the thing you love most. Both actors make this film more than worthwhile.

"Canary (Kanarie)" 

The South African film, "Kanarie," directed by Christiaan Olwagen, tells the tale of an 18-year-old boy, struggling with his sexuality, who gets called for military service in the '80s and is accepted into the Canaries, a defense force choir. With Apartheid in full swing, the film deals with repression, racism, patriotism and homophobia, to name just a few themes. I was struck by the power of this movie and its challenging but rewarding blend of comedy and pathos.

"Every Act of Life" 

For all theatre lovers, Jeff Kaufman's "Every Act of Life," provides an affectionate look at a true LGBT icon and one of our greatest living playwrights, Terrence McNally. The film brims with great footage and irresistible tidbits from theatre greats like Chita Rivera, Nathan Lane and Audra McDonald. This long-overdue tribute to a true icon dares to do something docs rarely do, delve into the personal life of a queer artist and examine how his relationships impacted him and his work. Bravo! Standing O!


"Reinventing Marvin"

"Reinventing Marvin" 

Anne Fontaine's ambitious and refreshingly non-linear tale of a young man's coming of age (and coming out), "Reinventing Marvin," culminates in a creative purging via the transformation of life into art. The titular character is embodied by two extraordinary actors (Jules Porier and Finnegan Oldfield, adolescent and 20-something) maneuvering the bullying and humiliation and eventual channeling of that early baggage into his work as a theatre artist. And Isabelle Huppert is on hand to provide an odd kind of catharsis.

"A Moment in the Reeds" 

Mikko Makela's quiet and moving drama is one of Finland's first LGBT-themed films and pushes for same-sex acceptance via a subtle and intimate portrayal of an affair between a Syrian refugee (Boodi Kabbani) and a Finnish country boy (blond boy beauty Janne Puustinen) who has returned home to help his father. 

"Hard Paint" 

Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon's "Hard Paint" is a moody take on loneliness. Two young Brazilian guys meet after one discovers the other is stealing his sexual schtick on the Internet — stripping while smearing neon paint all over his body. The film is a bizarre feast for the eyes, in more ways than one.


For more information or for tickets visit visit the Festival's website.


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