Saturday, August 24, 2013

NewFest (the NY LGBT film fest) tix on sale now; here's the line-up--plus four reviews

NewFest -- yes the film festival that, although devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered themes, is clearly afraid to give itself a name that might somehow/barely/just-a-tad indicate what kind of a movie fest it is -- recently announced its 2013 (also its 25th anniversary) lineup, press previewed four examples of this year's films, and put its tickets on sale to the general public. Now, if they could just do something about that dreadful name, NewFest, which says absolutely nothing and should ensure that whoever came up with this useless moniker gets a five-year crash course in George Orwell's Newspeak.  

The festival, which exists in partnership with Outfest (now there's a name that at least says something: Why didn't they simply call this one Outfest East) and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, opens in a little under two weeks, runs from September 6 through September 11, features the works of filmmakers from James Franco (above is a shot from his and Travis Mathews' Interior. Leather Bar. and Malgoska Szumowska (Elles) to Chris Mason Johnson (The New Twenty) and David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) and will screen fifteen narrative features, four documentaries, and thirty-one shorts -- plus some other special events. In addition, this year's fest has found films from the USA, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Israel/Palestine and Poland.

The opening night attraction is Stacie Passon's Concussion (above); closing night's devoted to Mr. Johnson's new film, Test (see review below), while screenings and panels will be taking place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and at the nearby JCC. You can peruse the entire NewFest schedule -- and order tickets while you're at it -- by clicking here, scrolling down and then clicking on whatever garners your interest. (Other than the official press screenings already caught, I'm going to try my best to see France's gift to the fest, You and the Night (below).

Of the four films screened for the press, three are very worthwhile, though the fourth was so poor on just about every level that it is difficult to believe it would be included in any festival, let alone shown to the press as an example of what NewFest has to offer. Here they are, in alphabetical order -- which also turns out to be their order of preference, so far as I'm concerned....

directed by Gary Entin
screenplay by 

It may take until the close of the film, when the charming end-credits are rolling that you'll realize you've just experienced the coming-of-age of the gay rom-com-melo-dram. Yup. This glossy, smart, sweet little high school movie gets just about everything right and entertains like crazy while doing it. The product of the Entin twins (Gary, who directed) and Edmund, who wrote the screenplay (based on the Brent Hartinger novel), the movie was produced by Michael Huffington (yes!) and Anthony Bretti, and they've stinted on nothing -- from the excellent cast to the cinematography, editing and all else technical. The movie looks like a lovely, glossy Hollywood product that just happens to be GLBT-themed. 

Yes, there's a dose of the After-School Special in all this, but, damn, it's still done well enough to pass muster. The story connects two closeted high-schools boys, one of them an important football player, with a group of kids who've formed a kind of GLBT support group they call the Geography Club. "Nobody'll join, so nobody'll know our secret" is the kind of logic going on here. The Entins get the tone just right: a blend of sweetness and toughness that's reality-based enough to draw us in and hold us through thick and thin. The movie's feel-good but a little sad, too, and thankfully doesn't tie it all up into a neat package. We can't have everything we want, it seems. But we can settle for a better situation. Geography Club is going to make a lot of moviegoers, kids in particular, very happy.

directed by Yen Tan
written by Tan 
and David Lowery

A gay art film? Yes, indeed -- and a pretty good one, too. The pace is slow, but the feelings, the emotions -- loneliness, need, and fear of connection -- are almost tactile. They will carry you along during this 80-minute depiction of Texan-brand desire amongst gays, straights and maybe bi-sexuals. The sexuality is a little slippery here, more like life and less like movies. Tan's film looks at two men, both tall, rangy and bearded; one pale-skinned, the other somewhat dark. Both have significant others who have not worked out. The lighter man (Bill Heck, below, left) has a ex-wife (current indie queen Amy Seimetz, below, right) and daughter, in both of whose lives he still plays a major part.

The darker man (Marcus DeAnda, below, left) is in the process of breaking up with a younger man and finding it tough. Characters connect, have sex (or don't), talk, wonder, think and stare out into the distance. Yet the dialog, when we get it, is solid and thoughtful, and the performances are very real. 

The loneliness of life in these parts, for these people, comes across as strongly as does their desire, and the film's finale is rich with feeling and possibilities. Like his earlier film Ciao, Pit Stop is elegiac, rueful, and maybe even hopeful.

written and directed by
Chris Mason Johnson

After 2008's The New Twenty, one of the best ensemble movies of the past decade, filmmaker Johnson now turns his attention to a period piece. But of a special period: San Francisco in the mid 80s, as AIDS was ravaging a portion of society and a "test" for the infection/disease was just now becoming available. TrustMovies didn't realize, until he saw this film and then did a little research, that Mr. Johnson began his career as a ballet and modern dancer. Most of the men in this movie are dancers, as well, as the dancing we see here is pretty damned good, particularly that of the lead actor/dancer, Scott Marlowe, who creates a rather indelible character in this, his first film role. 

This is such a different kind of movie from Johnson's earlier one that I doubt most film-goers would realize that the same man directed both. Test concentrates very much on Mr. Marlowe's character, Frankie, and his growth and change as both a dancer and a gay man. The rest of the ensemble is very good -- Johnson knows how to cast and then draw fine performances all around -- but this is Marlowe's movie. The young man is indeed a fine dancer, riveting to watch when he lets go; as an actor, he also knows how to keep his character close to the vest so that we hang on each expression and word, as Frankie negotiates friendship, sex, solo work and maybe even a little "love."

At 90 minutes, Test is just long enough to work as an interesting character study; a look at a lost, fraught period in gay history; and as a paean to dance and dancers. I can't wait to see what Mr. Johnson turns his hand to next.

Screenplay by Michael Urban,
from a story by Ms Albelo

Other than a funny/dirty title that can't help but be memorable, this sorry movie would seem to prove yet again that lesbians and good movie-making seldom exist in the same frame. (I know there are exceptions to this: But I'm a Cheerleader was fun back in the day, and D.E.B.S. was delightful, but these are too few, too seldom.) I can't but think that NewFest/OutFest and the FSLC must have had another of the L films on tap for us press, but the disc didn't arrive in time for the screening so this replacement was made. Or something.

It's not that Who's Afraid...  is so utterly terrible. There's a nice performance or two buried under all the cliches and tiresome talk. (Agnes Olech and Guinevere Turner turn in some good work.) But I swear there's not a single moment here that hasn't already been done ten times over and better, too. Sorry, but stringing together a bunch of retread material under a cute title is simply not enough. And the leading lady, Ms Albelo, who also directed and came up with this below-standard story, is no "find" on any front. A filmmaker who can waste the likes of Carrie Preston (see A Bag of Hammers for an idea of what Ms Preston is capable!) should hang her head in shame. 

A simple little lesbian rom-com ought not to be this difficult to make fun. Instead the movie proves something to make fun of. It is, in three little words, a vanity production. And it certainly does not belong in front of paying audiences -- at festivals like this one, or elsewhere.

But onward and sideways! As I say, you can check out the entire NewFest roster here. There will surely be at least a few films you'll want to view, including some that may not see a theatrical release here in the USA.

About NewFest 
NewFest is dedicated to bringing together filmmakers and audiences to build a community that passionately supports giving visibility and voice to a wide range of representations of the LGBT experience. We are committed to nurturing emerging LGBT and allied filmmakers. We support those artists who are willing to take risks in telling the stories that fully reflect the diversity and complexity of our lives. And with our newly formed partnership with Outfest, we will become the first national LGBT media arts organization – extending our reach to an even wider audience. For more information, visit

About Outfest
Founded by UCLA students in 1982, Outfest is the leading organization that promotes equality by creating, sharing and protecting LGBT stories on the screen. Outfest builds community by connecting diverse populations to discover, discuss and celebrate stories of LGBT lives. For over three decades, Outfest has showcased thousands of films from around the world to audiences of nearly a million, educated and mentored hundreds of emerging filmmakers and protected more than 20,000 LGBT films and videos. For more information, visit

About the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center works to recognize established and emerging filmmakers, support important new work, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of the moving image. Film Society produces the renowned New York Film Festival, a curated selection of the year's most significant new film work, and presents or collaborates on other annual New York City festivals including Dance on Camera, Film Comment Selects, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, LatinBeat, New Directors/New Films, NewFest, New York African Film Festival, New York Asian Film Festival, New York Jewish Film Festival, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, Rendez-vous With French Cinema, and Spanish Cinema Now. In addition to publishing the award-winning Film Comment Magazine, Film Society recognizes an artist's unique achievement in film with the prestigious "Chaplin Award." The Film Society's state-of-the-art Walter Reade Theater and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, located at Lincoln Center, provide a home for year round programs and the New York City film community.

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