The pandemic has brought a lot of changes in our lives, many of them negative. But here’s one positive for some of us—many film festivals are going with online screening. OK, it’s not exactly the same experience, but cramming a lot of people into a theatre for several hours is not a great idea right now, not to mention that it is illegal in some parts of the country, and with a virtual festival, you can watch the films in your own living room. And, for those of us outside a major city, we have access to festivals that in previous years we could not have attended without traveling to wherever the festival was taking place.
The upshot of all that is I’m covering NewFest, New York’s leading LGBTQ film and media festival, for the first time in years. NewFest, now in its 32nd year, runs from Oct. 16 to Oct. 27, and offers over 120 films plus a variety of panels and other events. A majority (63% of the films are directed by women or nonbinary filmmakers, and 76% of the festival content is by and/or about underrepresented voices (women, people of color, trans, bi, or differently abled people).
Most films in the festival are available for remote screening on demand, and it’s possible to purchase tickets to single films or a pass covering the entire festival. I’m something of a techno-klutz, but I can testify that the interface is easy to use and I’ve had no problem streaming any of the films so far. Another bonus: each of the films is preceded by a brief video introduction shot in front of a New York City LGBTQ landmark, so you get a little travelogue along with your film. So far, I’ve travelled vicariously to the Stonewall Inn, Julius’ (where the Mattachine Society held their “sip-in” in 1996, the New York City AIDS Memorial, and the building where James Baldwin lived while writing Another Country.
Some of the festival films can be covered only by capsule reviews, so I’ll start with a few of those. Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer’s Cured takes viewers back to the bad old days when homosexuality was officially considered a psychiatric disease and gay and lesbian people were treated with electroshock and aversion therapy to “cure” them of their orientation. Through the efforts of many brave individuals, including John Ferguson (a gay psychiatrist who appeared on a 1972 APA panel wearing a Halloween mask to conceal his identity) the APA eventually saw the error of its ways, deciding in 1973 that homosexuality was not a disease. The battle is not over, however, as a closing screen card reminds viewers that conversion therapy continues to be practiced in the United States.
François Ozon’s feature Summer of 85 is a coming-of-age story with a difference. Yes, there’s 16-year-old Alex (Félix Lefebvre) falling hard for 18-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin) on the sun-dappled Normandy coast, but the film opens with Alex in police custody, ruminating over corpses. There’s a mystery to unravel here, and Ozon’s film jumps backwards and forwards in time, one timeline following Alex’s sexual awakening, the other the event that led to his involvement with the police. Summer of 85 captures the joys and heartbreaks of first love, and the Seine-Maritime coast has never looked better than it does as lensed by cinematographer Hichame Alaouie.
Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back, a documentary by John Carluccio, explores the life and career of its subject, a dancer, choreographer, director, singer, actor, and teacher whose notable career somehow never brought him quite the fame of his younger brother, Gregory. There’s certainly much to admire about Maurice Hines’ career, which is amply represented by performance clips, some dating back to his childhood (Maurice and Gregory began performing together when they were ages 5 and 3, respectively). Hines also has a lot to say about being black and gay and working in show business, but there’s one thing he will not discuss—what led to a well-publicized break of ten years with his brother (they later reconciled).
Hong Khaou’s feature Monsoon features Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians fame as Kit, a British-Vietnamese man returning to the country from which he fled 30 years ago with his family. His ostensible purpose is to return his parent’s ashes in their homeland, but he’s also on a mission to reconcile his Vietnamese roots with his British present. Kit is comfortable with his identity as a gay man, but feels like a stranger in his native land, his prosperous Western life making it difficult to connect with his cousin Lee (David Tran). Monsoon is a quiet film, with little dialogue but a great deal of quiet observation, and excellent location cinematography Benjamin Kracun. | Sarah Boslaugh
NewFest 2020 runs from Oct. 16 to Oct. 27, and most films in the festival are available for remote screening. Both single tickets ($12, $10 for members) and all-access festival passes ($95) are available. Further information, including details on the films and other events, is available from the festival web site.