Highlights from “Young, Queer and Woke” and “The Queer Resistance” film shorts programs at
Newfest – New York’s LGBT Film Festival
Another fall in New York City. Another NewFest festival of LGBTQ films. Last year I stuffed a dozen festival films plus Moonlight into a long queer movie weekend (and included The Handmaiden into my three posts about the festival movies). This year I’ve upped the NewFest challenge to 14 screenings, plus a panel discussion on Bisexual Representation in Media.
I started with two screenings of short films, collected under the umbrellas “Young, Queer and Woke” and “The Queer Resistance”. I included six short film programs in my schedule. Turns out there are a whopping ten altogether this year at NewFest. A festival curator explained they received so many high quality submissions this year that they greatly expanded the short film programs (in addition to the many shorts played before feature film screenings). On the basis of the first two shorts compilation screenings I attended they were right to.
Now an old fashioned film fogey like me is most likely to see short films almost exclusively within a festival setting, but it is my understanding that short films are becoming ever more easy to discover and ever more popular on-line and on cable streaming services. So my guess is that most of the short films presented at NewFest will eventually find themselves easily accessed from the comfort of your home.
I’ll share the first set of highlights now.
Dare and Truth‘s pithy blurb “an afterschool game of Truth and Dare quickly spirals out of control” captures the events of this handsomely shot black and white short, but not how richly complicated the interactions are between the seven teenagers in this taught, fraught morality play. Writer/director Thomas Rivera Montes developed the dialog in part through extensive improvisations with the cast, and the result is utterly believable conversations and naturalistic performances from the young actors. The scenario is full of little surprises and reveals, including an only gradual understanding who the two “leads” of this story actually are.
Ace opens up a potential tinder box of mysterious possibilities between two teenage girls, when the “popular blond rich girl” invites a black “baby butch” into her house. The film ends on a surprise reveal that puts everything we just saw into fresh perspective, a perfectly satisfying ending that still opens up a whole new world of possibilities of what happens next. Several audience members in the Q & A were full of desire to be told, and the director Morgan Kahn Nichols volunteered that he was as curious as the rest of us. “Ace” would go on to win the NewFest Jury Award for Best New York Short.
Teenagers also figure in the arty french Gabber Lover, about teenage girls wrestling with attraction and alienation in rural France, as well as the affecting Imago, based on an email a Texan teen wrote to sever the relationship with a bullying father. And the young college students of Intersection “dissect the different segments of their identities on an intimate road trip” (blurb word for word) with winning dialog, characterizations, and a politically topical gut punch of an ending.
Even younger protagonists, pre-teens, figure in several memorable shorts from several continents. Antiman is an illuminating look at the South American country of Guyana, and its twin obsessions with cricket and a festival called masquerade, in which boys and men dance in dresses. A beautifully told tale of a young man coming to terms with his macho father and his own burgeoning homosexuality, “Antiman” (which is a Guyanese slur for homosexual) finds an ingenious way to blend cricket and masquerade dance. Writer/director Gavin Ramoutar explained that because of the prevailing homophobia in Guyana, he had to keep the main themes of the film secret in order to get it made. Most people involved thought it was merely a film about cricket. Ramoutar revealed that many crew and actors did eventually recognize there was a gay story being told, but then stuck around anyway because of the cricket.
The filming of Sariwala in India was also conducted with a fair amount of stealth, as homosexuality is still very much taboo there. So it is not just all the other characters in the story but also most of the cast and crew that didn’t realize how heartbroken the shop assistant lead is when his favorite, beautifully wrought sari is picked for sale by a sartorial indifferent bride-to-be.
The Swedish/Norwegian My Gay Sister is a delightful slice of life about an inquisitive 10 year old joining her older sister and sister’s lesbian lover on a vacation in the Norwegian fjords. Cleo and her sister just happen to be of subcontinental Asian descent, but that fact is absolutely incidental to this sweet look at a precocious kid and two cool, loving young adults.
Him, directed by Christian Coppola, is the swoony reverie about a deaf 12 year old, played by Elias D’Onofrio, who becomes infatuated with his big sister’s gorgeous and slightly unnerved boyfriend. Any relation with the Coppola or the D’Onofrio? The dreamy filmmaking did remind me a bit of Sophia, and Elias’ brooding looks are very like Vincent’s (and a google search pops up paparazzi pictures of Elias out and about with Vincent). The short weaves a mesmerizing spell before unfortunately stopping the storytelling short, substituting a voice-over speech for a dramatic denouement.
Some of the shorts in these two programs dealt with transgender themes, including whimsical Margo and May and the heartfelt Who I Am, written and directed by the Polish Monika Wilczynska. She personally struggled with the intolerance of her native church, was inspired by the story of a Swedish transgender woman and her struggles with
her strictly religious parents, yet set her film combining all these influences in Ireland, where it plays quite believably.
We Forgot to Break Up builds strong narrative suspense and empathy in its telling of a former tour manager surprising the members of a rock band after several years of estrangement; and after having now transitioned to a man. Every character in the ensemble is treated as a complex, multifaceted individual.
This is just the first post of many about this year’s NewFest. More on Queer shorts, and documentaries and animation, panels on bisexuality in the media, and yes, even narrative feature films (imagine that!) to come.