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In New York? What to See at This Year's Newfest

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Oct 20, 2016

The 28th annual NYC celebration of the best in LGBTQ films, NewFest, this year boasts its largest program to-date including over 100 narrative features, documentaries and short films. Presented by HBO, the festivities run from October 20-25.

"Coming off the tragedy in Orlando and leading into an election where so much is at stake, now is an important time for our community and straight allies to come together to share and celebrate universal LGBT stories," said Executive Director Robert Kushner. "Cinema is an immersive experience that conveys perspective and opens minds, and it's my sincere belief that this year's films, conversations, and events will speak to the hearts and minds of all."


NewFest opens with the North American Premiere of Ben A. Williams' "The Pass," stiffly adapted from the John Donnelly play with Russell Tovey reprising his role onscreen as a tormented, closeted soccer star who can't shake his crush on a fellow player, played by Arinze Kene.

Tovey is the main reason to see "The Pass" as he delves deep (much moreso than the script) into the psyche of his self-hating character and reveals the player's inner demons and desires. It's a powerhouse showcase and proves Tovey has the chops to do most anything.

Closing Night offers So Yong Kim's heartbreaking "Lovesong" with Riley Keough and Jena Malone as two women who make a connection, albeit an ambiguous one.

The Legacy Centerpiece is an historic restoration (that took 6 years) of the 1919 German classic, "Different From the Others." This daring depiction of gay life in Germany under Paragraph 175 was "banned by censors and burned by the Nazis." The classic is being presented with live musical accompaniment, followed by a panel discussion.


This year there are a number of singular achievements-films that are moving beyond the normative "coming out" experiences and veering into more exciting and personal territory. Here is a sampling of some of the best and the rest of the Fest.

"Paris 05:59: Theo And Hugo"

One of the best of this fest (and a film that has been making the Queer Fest circuit all year) is Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's enthralling "Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo." This remarkable French feature opens with close to 18 minutes of graphic footage inside a Parisian sex club where Theo (Geoffrey Couet) and Hugo (Francois Nambot) hook up and have some real steamy sex (some of it may have been simulated but it sure looks real).

The film then follows the two young lovers through a nightmarish yet strangely sweet odyssey as they spend the next two hours of real time getting acquainted while they wait to see if their encounter has negative repercussions (I am deliberately trying to be vague since part of the enjoyment of this wonderful film is not knowing how it unfolds and going along for the ride). Both actors are fearless and the film is not to be missed.


"Akron"

Co-directors seem to denote extraordinary work this year so add Brian O'Donnell & Sasha King's "Akron," to the list of must-see films.

"Akron" is the story of two college freshmen that fall in love and, soon after, must deal with circumstances way beyond their control that can potentially tear them apart.

One of the unique aspects of this gem is how both boys live in worlds where they're completely accepted (a gaytopia, if you will) and the clever and incisive script allows them the luxury of a romance without judgment. Matthew Frias and Edmund Donovan are naturals as the teens in love. And Andrea Burns, who plays one of the moms, is quite affecting.

The film ends in just the right place, not veering too far into neat territory.


"The Nest (O Ninho)"

"The Nest (O Ninho)" took me by surprise. While on leave from his soldier duties, a handsome 19-year-old, Bruno (an affecting Nicolas Vargas) travels to Porto Alegre in Brazil, in hopes of finding his long estranged older brother who fled their home (for reasons that become clearer as the narrative unfolds). Bruno soon encounters a host of new queer friends with whom he feels completely at home, a group that love and protect one another. "The world can be very cruel to people that are different," says one of his new mates.

Bruno's search for his beloved sibling morphs into a journey of self-discovery. Told in four parts, director Filipe Matzembacher beguiles the viewer with dazzling visuals as well as enveloping narrative intrigue, so much so that I hope these four chapters are just the beginning of many more to come.


"Handsome Devil"

John Butler's "Handsome Devil," a late entry into the Fest, is quite charming and centers around oddball 16-year-old redhead Ned (a wonderful Fionn O'Shea) who is bullied at his Irish all-boys boarding school where Rugby rules. Ned is just beginning to come to terms with the fact that he may like boys when a gorgeous new student, Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) becomes his roommate. The main problem is that Conor has been transferred there to be the star Rugby player.

They boys bond (no, unfortunately not in that way) and a secret about Conor is revealed that turns the final reel into a truly inspirational rouser of an indie. The cast is first-rate with the delightful Andrew Scott playing a closeted and disillusioned professor.

Galitzine is a true find. He's appeared in few films to date ("High Strung" and the Brit sleeper "The Beat Beneath My Feet") yet, beyond his smoldering and alluring looks, he's showing a James Dean-esque charisma that I hasn't been seen onscreen in quite a while.


"Don't Call Me Son"

Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert's truly riveting film, "Don't Call Me Son," delves into the sexually fluid world of Pierre (Naomi Nero) who is as comfortable fooling around with girls, as he is boys. He also enjoys wearing dresses and putting on makeup. Pierre's life is upended when he learns that his mother actually stole him from a maternity ward when he was a baby and his biological parents are now claiming him. Pierre is now forced into an entirely new life where he isn't completely accepted and must fight to continue to explore who he is.

Muylaert wrote and directed one of last year's most underrated films, "The Second Mother," and continues to add to her richly nuanced character studies. Pierre's crisis of identity, sexual and otherwise, is explored in large part in the film's subtext. Muylaert assumes audience intelligence and allows them to fill in many blanks.

"Don't Call Me Son" builds to a most surprising and satisfying ending that doesn't compromise its characters.


"Where Are You Going, Habibi?"

The German film, "Where Are You Going, Habibi?," follows a young Turkish gay man (Cem Alkan), living in Berlin, who comes out to his very homophobic parents and falls for a tough, straight hoodlum (Martin Walde) who is also a wrestler. And as silly as that sounds, Tor Iben's film is actually a funny and loving story of an unlikely friendship as well as an uplifting call for acceptance. There's a joy in Iben's filmmaking style that's infectious. And, considering the horrific treatment of gays in many non-western cultures, the audacity of "Where Are You Going, Habibi?" is a minor miracle.


"Retake"

Nick Corporon paints an intriguing portrait of a distraught gay man who picks up a hustler and asks him to role-play in the compelling film, "Retake." Driven by impressive performances by Tuc Watkins and Devon Graye, the cryptic narrative slowly peels back the layers of each character's defenses to reveal his vulnerabilities.


"Departure"

The divine Juliet Stevenson stars as an English mother who, along with her teen son, Eliot (a superb Alex Lawther), journey to a French vacation cottage, after she splits from her husband in "Departure." In this small town, Eliot crushes on the good-looking Clement (Phenix Brossard), who may or may not return his feelings.

First-time director, Andrew Steggall, obviously loves the film medium and uses the camera and locations to help tell this story of desire and heartache.


"Women Who Kill"

Ingrid Jungermann wrote, directed and stars in the off-the-wall satire "Women Who Kill," (who does she think she is, the lesbian Barbra Streisand?) about two popular podcasters obsessed with female serial killers. Jungermann plays the feelings-phobic Morgan and Ann Carr is her nagging ex, Jean, with whom she still lives. "I have more work to do on dismemberment," Jean says. "Fine I'll work on smothering and strangulation," Morgan replies.

Morgan is seduced by the alluring Simone (Sheila Vand) who may or may not be--you guessed it--a serial killer. As her unhealthy but consuming passion begins to bleed into her real life, Morgan must make certain decisions based on assumptions. And the repercussions can be deadly.

"Women Who Kill" is deliciously nasty fun. Jungermann's script is sharp and wicked. And Annette O'Toole near steals the film in just two brief but terrific scenes.


"Pushing Dead"

Tom E. Brown's funny yet penetrating, "Pushing Dead" lets us into the world of an HIV positive man (James Roday), who has been so for 22 years and, due to ridiculous circumstances, is being denied insurance coverage for the meds that keep him alive.

Buoyed by strong supporting performances (Tom Riley, Danny Glover, Khandi Alexander and fabulous Robin Weigert), "Pushing Dead" can be described as a black comedy but unfortunately, the health care portion is quite serious and real.


"Esteros"

Papu Curotto's "Esteros" looks back at adolescent love and how it's marked two boys as young adults. Matías (Ignacio Rogers) and Jerónimo (Esteban Masturini) are reunited in their Argentinian hometown where they bonded, in more ways than one, when they were in their early teens. Matías now has a girlfriend, while Jerónimo is out but unattached. A reawakening of feelings is sparked and the guys must now suss out who they are to each other in this piercing film.


"Miles"

Nathan Adloff's "Miles," is part inspirational sports movie, part coming-out movie and too tentative and messy. It's the all-too -familiar story of a young gay teen boy wanting desperately to escape his small town. In this case his only hope is to join the volleyball team and try for a scholarship. The problem: there's only a girl's volleyball team at his high school. The film plays it too safe with both the small town satire as well as the boy's sexuality. But endearing performances by Tim Boardman as the titular character and, especially Missi Pyle as the coach, elevate the endeavor.


"Lazy Eye"

In Tim Kirkman's "Lazy Eye," two former lovers come together near Palm Springs for the first time in 20 years. The film wants to be the gay "Before Sunrise." It's not. But Lucas Near-Verbrugghe's engaging performance makes it worth a look.


For more information visit the Festival's website.


Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for Edge. His film column can be read at newyorkcool.com. Frank is also a proud Dramatists Guild member having written a slew of plays including "Consent," which confronts bullying and homophobia and was a 2012 semifinalist for the 2012 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, "Vatican Falls," a play set against the backdrop of the Catholic sex abuse scandal which received Special Mention at the 2013 O'Neill (and will be produced next season) and his latest, "Orville Station." Ten of his plays have been produced (seven in NYC). Frank is the recipient of a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts for his play, CONSENT.


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