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NewFest: A Meeting Of The LGBT Clan


"Film festivals for the LGBT community are not just about cinema”, Lesli Klainberg, NewFest’s Executive Director commented in a phone interview. “They have always functioned as community building events where like-minded audiences can commune in the presence of filmmakers in a shared experience.” This cinematic sharing begins later this week as NewFest: The New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film  Festival kicks off an ambitious season of films currently playing the extensive LGBT festival circuit. This year’s event, running from July 21 to 28, is an uptown/downtown affair, with the Opening and Closing Night Galas at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and most programming centered at the SVA Theater in Chelsea and the Cinema Village in Greenwich Village. In addition, special satellite screenings will be held at The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Jewish Community Center and Harlem Stage. NewFest is one of three jewels in the crown on the summer LGBT festival circuit, with events already concluding in the past few weeks in San Francisco (Frameline) and Los Angeles (OutFest). “We decided to move our Festival dates to later in July so that there would not be competition with those other festivals in terms of getting films”, Klainberg continued. “For our audiences, some of the films may have premiered on the West Coast but are still new to them”, she explained. “We also decided to shift in order to be able to work with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and their availability. We see this as a start to a great working relationship in the future.” Klainberg did not rule out that more Festival films may find a berth in future years in the Film Society’s recently opened Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center. 

Festivities begin on Thursday, July 21 with the East Coast premiere of WE WERE HERE, a provocative documentary that chronicles the origins of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The film, by director/producer David Weissmann, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and will have a theatrical release in September via boutique distributor Red Light Releasing. Prior to the screening at the Walter Reade Theater, NewFest will honor legendary film producer Christine Vachon with the first annual NewFest Visionary Award.  Vachon was one of the pioneers of the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s, having produced such seminal films as Todd Haynes' classic POISON, Tom Kalin's SWOON and the lesbian trendsetter GO FISH by Rose Troche. Vachon’s credits include such gay-centric films as VELVET GOLDMINE, BOYS DON’T CRY, PARTY MONSTER, CAMP, A DIRTY SHAME and the upcoming DIRTY GIRL, a film by Abe Sylvia starring Mila Jovovich, William H. Macy and Mary Steenburgen, that will screen at this year’s Festival. In addition, Vachon will also participate in a conversation at the Film Society's newly opened Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Friday, June 22nd.

 T The Festival boasts two highly regarded Centerpiece Films: WEEKEND by Andrew Haigh is a delicately drawn drama about a drunken sex encounter between two men that turns into an emotional catharsis for both that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives. WISH ME AWAY, the second Centerpiece Film, comes to New York directly from its win at San Francisco’s Frameline Festival, with a powerful story at its core. The film, co-directed by Bobbi Birleffy and Beverly Kopf, chronicles the coming-out story of  Chely Wright, the first commercial country music singer to come out as gay, shattering cultural stereotypes within Nashville, her conservative heartland family and, most importantly, within herself. The Festival ends on July 28 with the East Coast Premiere of GUN HILL ROAD, a powerful urban drama by Rashaad Ernesto Green, about an ex-con who returns home to the Bronx after three year in prison to discover his wife estranged and his teenage son exploring a sexual transformation that will put the fragile bonds of their family to the test. The film was one of the sleeper hits of the Sundance Film Festival and will receive a theatrical release later this summer via Motion Film Group.  With New York City, the center of the theater world, as its backdrop, it makes sense that there would be several films in the program that court the Broadway legend. Among the most anticipated in this sub-genre is a profile of theatrical diva Carol Channing that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE by Dori Berinstein focuses on the personal and theatrical triumphs and tragedies of one of our great ladies of the stage. In THE GREEN, Broadway stars Cheyenne Jackson and Jason Butler Harner star as New York City ex-pats who move to an idyllic Connecticut village that also hides an undercurrent of homophobia. Jackson, a “homo heartthrob” if there ever was one, also is featured in the world premiere showing of ONE NIGHT STAND, which follows various participants in last year's 24 hour musical competition.  Jackson is joined with such other personalities as Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), chanteuse Nellie McKay, Richard Kind (A Serious Man), Rachel Dratch (SNL), Mandy Gonzalez (Wicked), and Tracie Thoms (Rent). Other buzz titles on the schedule include the Iranian drama CIRCUMSTANCE (winner of the Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Audience Award); 3, the story of a modern love triangle by German director Tom Twyker (RUN LOLA RUN); the decidedly weird but thoroughly fascinating voyeur documentary SHUT UP, LITTLE MAN!; OLD CATS, the newest film from Golden Globe nominated directors Sebastian Silva & Pedro Peirano (THE MAID); P. David Ebersole’s HIT SO HARD portrait of Hole drummer Patty Schemel; James Belzer's fashion week documentary THE TENTS, which features interviews with such fashionistas as Tommy Hilfiger, Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan, Phillip Bloch, Robert Verdi, Carson Kressley and Betsey Johnson; and my personal favorite for best Festival title, CO-DEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME. 

“While our community finally does have some resources where they can find some LGBT programming, the truth is that what is available is extremely limited”, Lesli Klainberg pointed out in our interview. “Cable network LOGO is not acquiring films anymore, preferring to concentrate on original reality-based programming. The HERE! Network is not widely available. Certain films do make it onto NETFLIX and other streaming outlets, but the hard truth is that most of the films that we are showing will probably never get seen that way and only are available at an LGBT film festival.” All the more reason for LGBT film lovers and film buffs in general, should make their way to one of the NewFest venues and catch these films before (most of them) fade away. It is a chance to catch a rising star, enjoy a communal experience and have bragging rights to being “in the know” about the films and personalities on the scene.  The full program, iincluding descriptions and film trailers, is available at To purchase tickets and find out about all the exciting events, parties and buzz, visit:

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor 

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The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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