Diversity and Community At New York's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
by Anthony Kaufman
The 9th annual New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival closed last Sunday
night, wrapping up ten film-filled days of love, passion and eclectic cinema.
For a theme festival, the NYL&GFF was incredibly inclusive (and expansive).
Managing to fit 29 features, 25 documentaries, and 21 special shorts
programs, the festival spanned a multitude of themes and settings, serious
and campy, documentary and fiction. The festival's breadth and scope point to
both the vast range of gay and lesbian filmmaking and the mainstreaming of
this once taboo subject.
There were New York stories of love and confusion, British plots of dancers,
soldiers and friendships, a lesbian love documentary between a claimed Nazi
and an underground Jew in 1942 Berlin. There were white, middle-class
homosexuals in middle America struggling for equality in the workplace,
married Latino lesbians in Los Angeles, elder Swedish lesbians, Cantonese
opera divas and drag queens in New York, Singapore, and France, and special
programs which focused on South Asian lesbians, Indian homosexuals, queer
animation, new media technologies and even a night dedicated to "Dyke
This diversity is what made program director, Robin Vachal, excited about
this year's festival. It is the special programs, like new media and
animation, that keeps this year's festival fresh and innovative. Vachal said
that the audiences were also as diverse as their subject matter. Some
screenings were dominated by men, others by women, while others were mixed
along gender and racial lines. The mixture of people and subjects proves that
Gay and Lesbian is not simply "gay" or "lesbian."
Another special program instigated by Vachal was a spotlight on experimental
filmmaker Su Friedrich with three retrospective short programs and the
premiere of her latest film, "Hide and Seek", a definite highlight of the
festival. Skillfully cutting between interviews of lesbians' adolescence and
the fictional story of Lou, a teenage girl growing up in the 60's, the film
does not preach a conclusion, but leaves the audience and the girl open to a
multitude of sexual options. The film was picked up by independent
distributor, Women Make Movies.
Other films soon to be released, either soon or someday: "Shooting Porn" a
documentary about the gay porn industry, "Love's Debris", a doc on opera,
Yvonne Rainer's "Murder and Murder" (Zeitgeist Films), "Never Met Picasso" (Turbulent Arts), "The Delta", a Memphis story of sex and race and "Late Bloomers", a mid-life, lesbian comedy in suburbia, both of which are being distributed by Strand Releasing.
The number of films with distribution is a testament to the growing
popularity of lesbian and gay subjects and yet Vachal claimed, "there were
more features without distribution this year." She also noted that most of
the audiences preferred romantic comedies to experimental fare. Lighthearted
films which didn't take themselves too seriously like "Kiss Me Guido", It's in the Water", "David Searching" and winner of the festival's Best Feature award, "Chocolate Babies" (about an X-Men-type super group of HIV+, multi-ethnic queers fighting against corrupt politicians) garnered the most audience applause.
But most of the films were popular and "almost every evening program was sold
out," Vachal added.
An outside panel of judges also awarded Best Documentary to the thoughtful
and candid, "You Don't Know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transsexual Men", a rather straightforward doc about an un-straight-forward subject: female-to-male transsexuals. Best Short was given to "Two or Three Things But Nothing For Sure", the experimental documentary about southern lesbian author, Dorothy Allison, ("Bastard out of Carolina") which premiered at the New York
Women's Film Festival. Mark Huisman, associate producer of "The Incredible Adventure of Two Girls in Love" presented the special Vito Russo award and
accompanying grant, to Sandi DuBowski ("Tomboychik") whose new documentary "Trembling Before God" about gays in the Hassidic community is still in need of production funds.
The closing night gala screening of "Murder and Murder", Yvonne Rainer's
meditation on love, breast cancer, sexual and cinematic politics, delivered
an intelligent and witty end to a festival with a large population of loyal
followers. One audience member said, "It was great seeing a movie with an
audience fitted to the screening." Rainer said, "I looked forward to the film
screening here, because it really plays well to gay and lesbian audiences."
With almost every screening packed and every party stuffed to the seams with
filmmakers, fans and industry professionals, straight and gay, the 9th annual
NYL&GFF proved there is definitely a wide market and multicultural/sexual
audience for these films.
Next year, the festival will go into its 10th year in what is sure to be an
even more expansive slate of films and events. Vachal said that they are
going to extend the festival to New York's Burroughs with screenings at the
Brooklyn Museum of Art. And Brooklyn will undoubtedly be but one location
among a coming many for gay and lesbian screenings.
[The New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is run by The New Festival. Their
telephone number is 212-254-7228 and web address is http://www.newfestival.com]