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June 12, 2007 7:18 AM
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DISPATCH FROM NY | Riley" Wins NewFest Prize; "Save Me" Closes Event While Eyeing U.S. Release

"Save Me" director Robert Cary with NewFest Artistic Director Basil Tsiokos (right) at the closing night party Sunday. Photo by Brian Brooks

A tender love story set within an ex-gay ministry in the Southwestern United States closed the 19th annual New Fest: The New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Film Festival on Sunday night in Midtown Manhattan. Robert Cary's "Save Me," starring Chad Allen, Judith Light and Robert Gant, drew a large crowd to the event's closing night, even as the annual Tony Awards were being presented at the same time across town. The film, a 2007 Sundance premiere, is set for an Autumn U.S. release from Roadside Attractions, according to those involved with the film, although Roadside said on Monday that an official deal announcement is premature.

Jurors at Newfest named Pete Jones' "Outing Riley" the best U.S. narrative film at the 2007 festival. The feature, which Jones wrote, directed and stars in, is described as the story of "a close-knit Irish Catholic family that struggles to come to terms with one brother's homosexuality." Regis Musset's "Times Have Been Better," about a couple struggling with their marriage and their son's coming out, was awarded the prize for best foreign narrative film and jurors honored Kirsi Marie Liimatainen's "Sonja" with an honorable mention. Documentary jurors named Mike Roth & John Henning's "Saving Marriage," about gay marriage in Massachusetts, the festval's best documentary film.

Lee Friedlander's "Out At The Wedding" won the audience award for best feature film. The movis is described as, "a screwball comedy in which a straight woman hiding her boyfriend from her family, and hiding her family from her boyfriend, is incorrectly outed as a lesbian at her sister's wedding." And the Showtime Vanguard Award honoring a a breakthrough or visionary achievement went to Negin Kianfar & Daisy Mohr's documentary "The Birthday," about Iran's liberal policies regarding transsexuality.

Short film award winners included Cynthia Wade's "Freeheld" honored as best documentary short and Dee Rees' "Pariah" singled out as the best narrative short film. Soman Chainani's "Kali Ma" won the audience prize for best short at the festival.

Accepting short film prize on Sunday night, Soman Chainini praised NewFest, which he said he first attended 10 years ago, at the age of 17. Smiling, he thanked the event for, "forming my identity long before I came out of the closet."

"Save Me"

Prizes were presented at the festival's home venue, the AMC Loews 34th Street Theater on Manhattan's West Side where the festival closed Sunday night with the screening Robert Cary's aforementioned "Save Me." The story of an ex-gay ministry, the film stars Chad Allen as a drug addicted gay man who reluctantly moves into the home headed by a strident Christian (Judith Light) who hopes to lead the young man away from homosexuality and drugs. Along the way, the man develops a bond with his house mentor, played by Robert Gant. The love story that emerges, devoid of the sort of caricature that might be expected in the story of an ex-gay program, stirred more than one comparison to "Brokeback Mountain" during a post-screening Q & A session.

"Save Me" began as a comwdy eleven years, emerging from an original script by Craig Chester, who had approached Judith Light about the project. The group decided to take the project in a different direction and spent nearly five years working to adapt it into a drama. Light's husband, Robert Desiderio, worked with the group to adapt the script. Since screening the film at Sundance, those involved have garnered interest in the movie from Christians in particular. Seminarians who saw the film back at Sundance praised the movie and its sensitive portrayal of life inside an ex-gay program, according to the "Save Me" team, who are hoping that the movie will play to the faithful.

"A Four Letter Word" director Casper Andreas, actor Charlie David, actor/co-writer Jesse Archer and the film's producer at the NewFest closing night party. Photo by Brian Brooks

"We observed that this country is obsessed with this issue, but that this country is not talking about this issues," noted producer Herb Hamsher, during a post-screening Q & A session. This film, Hamsher noted, is intended to start the conversation.

"A Four Letter Word"

New York director Casper Andreas returned to NewFest with his comedy, "A Four Letter Word," his first film, "Slutty Summer" premiered at the festival in 2004. His latest screened Saturday afternoon on 34t Street about a group of New Yorkers navigating their daily lives. Local actor Jesse Archer ("Boy Culture") is at the center of a group of friends. He's a "typical" Chelsea boy who works at a sex shop by day and a hard-partying bar kid jumping from one one-night stand to the next, until he meets Stephen, played by Charlie David ("Dante's Cove") a hunky self-proclaimed artist.

"This is not exactly a follow-up to 'Slutty Summer,'" said Andreas following the film's screening Saturday. The film was co-written by Archer who also starred in Andreas' debut effort. Next up, the Swedish-born director plans production on a more "serious" film this coming September, though he will first be taking "Word" to the Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival this summer.

NewFest Looking Ahead

As their event looks ahead to its 20th Anniversary next year, NewFest's Basil Tsiokos and Kerry Weldon noted that they are planning a number o finitiatives and special events leading up to next year's festival. On tap are a screenplay competition, a staged screenplay reading series and a youth filmmakers initiative. While further details will be forthcoming, NewFest will unofficially launch its script reading series on Tuesday in New York City. Todd Stephens will direct RuPaul, The Lady Bunny and others in a staged reading of his new film, "Another Gay Movie 2: Gays Gone Wild."

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