Newfest, New York’s LGBTQ+ film festival, opens October 13 with “Mama’s Boy,” a documentary based on “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s relationship with his Mormon mother. The festival closes on October 25 with a screening of Laura Poitras’ documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” about Nan Goldin. In between there are premieres of 130 films from 23 countries along with anniversary screenings of Tom Kalin’s “Swoon,” the documentary “The Cockettes,” and special events, including a “Xanadu” sing-along.
Here is a rundown of 16 films to catch at this year’s fest.
The New York centerpiece screening, “Chrissy Judy,” is writer/director/star Todd Flaherty’s luminous comedy-drama about two New York drag artists, Judy (Flaherty) and his ride or die, Chrissy (Wyatt Fenner). When Chrissy drops a bombshell that he is moving to Philadelphia to live with his boyfriend Shawn (Kiyon Spencer), Judy’s world — along with his sense of security — falls apart. Judy’s solo show is unsuccessful and his hookups with Marcus (Joey Taranto) causes him personal and professional problems.
Things reach a boiling point when Judy visits Chrissy in Philly. Flaherty is very feisty and Judy can be a nuisance. However, the film turns a corner when Judy takes a job in Provincetown to make a fresh start and experiences some personal growth. Gorgeously lensed in black and white, and featuring songs and performances that comment on Judy’s emotions, “Chrissy Judy” is an astute examination of codependent queer friendships.
“Nelly and Nadine”
The documentary centerpiece, “Nelly and Nadine,” uncovers the hidden history and “double lives” of its titular subjects, Nelly Mousset-Vos and Nadine Hwang. They met in the Ravensbrück concentration camp and began a romance that continued after the war. Filmmaker Magnus Gertten follows Nelly’s granddaughter, Sylvie, as she pieces together the story through letters, diaries, photographs, Super-8 films, and interviews with folks who knew the couple. This lyrical, inspiring, and moving documentary recounts Nelly and Nadine’s experiences during the war, as well as their hope and will to both survive and be together.
“My Emptiness and I”
“My Emptiness and I” is a wonderful comedy-drama about Raphaëlle (cowriter Raphaëlle Pérez), a trans woman navigating the dating scene and her gender identity. She wants someone to love her as she is — she is deciding about having surgery — but most men are wary, if not downright obnoxious when it comes to dating a trans woman. Raphaëlle meets regularly with other trans women and participates in artistic endeavors, such as a play, that help her determine what she wants and who she is. “My Emptiness and I” is a fantastic showcase for Pérez, and a charming and hopeful love story wrapped in a poignant drama about self-acceptance.
Sure to have tongues wagging and hearts beating fast is Australian writer/director Craig Boreham’s erotic romance, “Lonesome.” Casey (Josh Lavery in a star-making performance) is a cowboy hitchhiking his way to Sydney hoping to see the ocean and escape his sordid past. Hooking up with Tib (Daniel Gabriel), Casey ends up befriending the young man, staying and working with him; their bromance-with-benefits is sweet. “Lonesome” will be most appreciated for the attractive actors’ near-constant nudity and copious sex scenes. Magnetic Lavery plays Casey with a flinty performance. Casey is a victim of severe psychological and physical abuse. “Lonesome” features a familiar and obvious plot, which makes the film feel only skin deep — but the emphasis here is on skin.
“All Man: The International Male Story”
This is a zippy documentary, narrated by out gay actor Matt Bomer, that recounts the history of the male — er, mail — order magazine/catalog that featured masculine guys modeling non-masculine outfits. The “magalog” appealed to both straight men’s aspirations as well as gay men who — ahem, appreciated — the handsome guys. “International Male” was the brainchild of Gene Burkard, a gay man who sold a “lifestyle” and caught a wave — only to be disrupted first by the AIDS epidemic, then by selling out to Hanover Direct, who mainstreamed the brand. “All Man” features interviews with employees, several male models, fashion experts, and gay celebrities who acknowledge the impact of this “cash cow parody.” It may have been selling sex, but as “All Man” shows, its value-added benefit was providing an outlet for gay men to look at men.
“Esther Newton Made Me Gay”
“Esther Newton Made Me Gay” is a valentine to the titular cultural anthropologist and dog agility trainer. Director Jean Carlomusto traces Newton’s life, from her childhood and self-awareness about her sexuality and butch identity — as well as her first lesbian experiences — to her activism (“The personal is political”). Inspiration from Margaret Mead & Gertrude Stein, Newton set out to pursue queer studies in academia and write about drag artists and gender roles. “Esther Newton Made Me Gay” celebrates the life, loves, and influence of this pioneering figure in queer studies.
“Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way”
Another documentary, “Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way” is a sincere tribute to the late HIV-positive Pedro Zamora, whose appearance on MTV’s “The Real World” has tremendous socio-cultural impact. Directors William T. Horner and Stacey Woelfel use interviews with Zamora’s sister Mily and his father, as well as archive footage to (re)acquaint viewers with Zamora, a gay man who came to Miami from Cuba when he was 8. They talk about his AIDS activism, and his life before he joined the cast of “The Real World” in 1994.
“Keep the Cameras Rolling” features interviews with a handful of the show’s cast members about their memories of Pedro, recounting the impact of having an HIV-positive housemate as well as the influence Zamora had educating viewers and changing minds about living with AIDS. His groundbreaking work includes kissing and “marrying” his boyfriend Sean Sasser on the show, but as Horner and Woelfel emphasize, it was how Pedro represented love and life, even as his health worsened. This is a poignant documentary about Zamora’s important legacy.
“Please Baby Please”
The gender-bending musical drama, “Please Baby Please,” is a very peculiar, highly stylized but uneven film. Arthur (Harry Melling), and Suze (a very expressive Andrea Riseborough), have a life-changing meeting with Teddy (Karl Glusman), and his gang, The Young Gentles. Amanda Kramer co-directed and wrote the film. It is filled with both 50s-era and camp sensibilities that will either charm or annoy. Kramer candy-coats each scene and fetishizes its characters — Teddy especially (Glusman oozes sex appeal) — as they pose, fight, sing, and dance.
“Please Baby Please” is not just all mood, though. Its characters make heady remarks about gender, masculinity, vulnerability. Harry claims he “doesn’t feel a need to act male,” while Suze becomes more masculine over the course of the story. There are also some nifty musical numbers and striking vignettes, from one featuring Maureen (Demi Moore) as a “slum starlet” neighbor, to a scene in a club with a flirty gay character, and another sequence at a Bijou movie theater. “Please Baby Please” can feel like it is trying too hard, but it is a unique and, at times, impressive accomplishment.
“El Houb—The Love”
“El Houb — The Love” has Karim (Fahd Larhzaoui) literally locking himself in a closet in his parents’ house to get them to acknowledge his homosexuality after Karim’s father, Abbas (Slimane Dazi) caught his son with Kofi (Emmanuel Ohene Boafo). The film, which can feel stagy, is opened up with flashbacks to Karim’s childhood, scenes depicting his bond with his gay cousin, Soufian (Nasrdin Dchar), as well as his relationship with his girlfriend, Eline (Britte Lagcher), and his lover, Kofi. The approach creates a prismatic view of Karim’s life, which is full of self-hate, and struggles. In his interactions with Fatima (Lubna Azabal) and Redouan (Sabri Maddik), things are magnified and reevaluated. “El Houb” is a compelling drama about acceptance and shame, shrewdly conceived and filmed and well-acted by the entire ensemble cast.
“Before I Change My Mind”
Set in 1987 Canada, “Before I Change My Mind” has Robin (Vaughan Murrae) reluctantly befriending Carter (Dominic Lippa), a school bully. They bond during a school trip, but things get complicated when they meet Izzy (Lacey Oake) at an ersatz theatrical production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the show is the film’s lowest point). Izzy is attracted and attracted both to Carter and Robin. The LGBTQ angle here is that Robin’s gender is ambiguous. This makes for an interesting exploration of identity. However, director/cowriter Trevor Anderson fails in his attempt to explore these themes in depth. The film is best suited for younger audiences.
NewFest this year will feature a half-dozen queer Brazilian films.
Writer/director Gabriel Martins’ involving drama depicts the dignity of a lower middle-class Black Brazilian family. Wellington (Carlos Francisco), the patriarch, works in a luxurious apartment building. While he isn’t paid well, he earns respect from his manager as well as his coworkers. His wife, Tércia (Rejane Faria), cleans houses, but she has had a hard time finding work of late. Her troubles are compounded after she is in a café where a bomb goes off. After surviving the attack, she feels like she is bringing bad fortune to everyone around.
Meanwhile, their daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) is planning to move in with her girlfriend, Joana (Ana Hilario). They have been “looking” at apartments and having sex in the empty spaces. Her brother, Deivinho (Cícero Lucas) plays soccer, but he would rather study astrophysics. This film captures their lives and stories in a very interesting way. A scene of the girls holding hands when Joana is introduced to Eunice’s parents is both sweet and prickly. The love that this family has for one another despite the hardships they go through is beautiful.
“Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tighter Tie”
“Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tighter Tie” is Gustavo Vinagre’s whimsical comedy about two roommates — sex worker Pedro (Pedro Ribeiro) and student Isabella (Isabella Pereira) — spending the day with Pedro’s nephew, Jonata (Jonata Vieira), who has come to the city for his HIV treatment. As many characters suffer from memory problems, amnesia appears to be the predominant symptom. There is a sweet scene of Jonata cracking a man’s back in Roosevelt Park and a tender moment between Pedro and his client Omar (Everaldo Pontes), but much of this subversive film is addressing issues of race and class — there are several references to ‘crapitalism” — as well as regression and oppression.
Vinagre has created a bizarre musical sequence and shaggy hangout movie with magical realism moments. Although this film is not for everyone, it’s an ambitious and creative one. The film will be screened at the New York Film Festival (October 13-14) with Vinagre as an audience member.
“Follow the Protocol”
The topical drama, “Follow the Protocol” has Francisco (writer/director Fábio Leal) lonely and horny after almost a year in lockdown. He does mundane things like watering his plants and dyeing his hair. But he wants to have sex. When he reconnects with Raul (Paulo César Freire), an old friend/flame, they initially touch each other through a plastic curtain, but soon they get more intimate, and Francisco gets more anxious. But their tenderness is far more sweet than the encounter Francisco had over with Lucas Drummond (Lucas Drummond). Follow the Protocol is about Francisco finding his comfort zone. Viewers will either cheer him on or be squirming with him. This is gentle, romantic, gay drama for the pandemic.
“Uýra – The Rising Forest”
The exotic documentary “Uýra – The Rising Forest” is a deep dive into the rainforest of Manaus in the Amazon, where Emerson, aka Uýra Sodoma, a non-binary, trans indigenous artist, leads workshops and non-traditional drag performances to raise awareness for environmental issues and protest against deforestation.
Juliana Curi directs the film. The film features body painting and other performances. There are also political messages about identity, land and water rights as well racism and the erasure or erasure history and ancestors.
“Rule 34” is director Julia Murat’s intriguing investigation of racial, class, gender, and sexual power dynamics. Simone (Sol Miranda), who is also enrolled in sexcam work, is currently enrolled at law school to become an attorney. Her classes discuss oppression, and her work with physically and mentally abused women quickly takes a toll on her. This is why she explores her sexual desires, and gets involved in BDSM to help her followers.
“Rule 34” also depicts Simone’s relationships with her girlfriend Natalia (Isabela Mariotta); Joaquim, aka Coyote (Lucas Andrade), her queer classmate and occasional webcam partner; and Lucia (Lorena Comparato) who has concerns about Simone’s increasingly harmful behavior. While the film may be at times disturbing, it doesn’t judge Simone. Miranda is a strong, convincing performance as a young woman who can lose control of her life but is in control.
“The First Fallen”
“The First Fallen” is set largely in 1983, when gay Suzano (Johnny Massaro), his trans friend Rosa (Renata Carvalho), as well as their friend Humberto (Vitor Camilo) are all living with AIDS. While the first act introduces these characters, detailing their lives, the film’s power comes from an extended sequence where the three friends examine their lives, giving impassioned speeches that express their attitudes about living and dying and how their lives have changed. It is a moving film that captures the uncertainty around AIDS’ early years. It is also heartbreakingly performed.
“NewFest” | October 13-25, at various theaters and virtually | For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit https://newfest.org/festival/