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Ira Sachs at NewFest: 'Queer Vision Doesn’t Come With Making People Comfortable'

Photo of Shipra Gupta By Shipra Gupta | Indiewire July 25, 2014 at 2:58PM

Despite all of his success, Ira Sachs remains humble -- as demonstrated by the eloquent acceptance speech he delivered prior to the screening of the opening night film.
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NewFest opened the 2014 edition of its festival last night with a moving tribute to beloved queer filmmaker Ira Sachs, who is this year's recipient of the 3rd Annual NewFest Visionary Award.

Sachs burst onto the international scene back in the late nineties with "The Delta," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on to garner an Independent Spirit Award nomination. His critical breakthrough, however, came in 2005 with "Forty Shades of Blue," a romantic drama starring Rip Torn and Dina Korzun that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Drama that year.

READ MORE: Ira Sachs Awarded 2014 NewFest Visionary Award

Despite all of his success, Sachs remains humble -- as demonstrated by the eloquent acceptance speech he delivered prior to the screening of the opening night film.

Unafraid to appear vulnerable in front of an audience, Sachs noted how after "The Delta," it would be another 13 years until he again had a gay character in his films. "While I made movies I deeply believed in, none of them had any gay characters or stories," he said, "My films might have been queer -- because I was -- but they were not Gay."

Said Sachs: "What I have learned over the last 25 years -- and what I need most to remember -- is that queer vision doesn’t come with making people comfortable, or from accepting what is. Being an artist is in part an act of rupture. But it is moments like this, with the embrace that comes with this award, that certainly makes keeping on a little easier."

You can watch the NewFest tribute and read Sachs' full speech below.


Thank you to Zach Booth for that lovely intro.  I feel very lucky that I met you 3 years ago, as you have been such a wonderful collaborator, and now a friend. Thank you also to the New Fest, and to Outfest, and to the folks at Lincoln Center. Audiences think festivals are for them, but they are just as much for those of us who are trying to forge a career making movies. I know for myself I wouldn’t be still making films if it wasn’t for the support I’ve gotten from these festivals. 

I’ve been thinking about the word vision today, and for me I understand it mostly as a form of resistance. I came to NYC in 1988, and got very involved with Act Up.  I also started making movies, including two very gay shorts, "Vaudeville" and "Lady."  It was the height of the AIDS epidemic, and New York City was both dying and very alive, at the same time. As artists we felt it was our right and our responsibility to be counter forces against the mainstream. Soon after, I made my first feature, "The Delta," which was about a teenage boy growing up in Memphis, my hometown, and in the film I was able to make images about all the things in my life I was unable to talk about.  In cinema, I could push back against both the cultural repression of gay images, but also against my own very powerful internal shame.  My images were much more open than I was.

But over the next 15 years, while I made movies I deeply believed in, none of them had any gay characters or stories.  My films might have been queer -- because I was -- but they were not Gay. What is important to keep in mind is that I was not closeting myself in a vacuum. I could not -- and I still can not -- see a sustainable career as a filmmaker in which I focus fully on our gay stories.

For me, the turning point, was in 2010, when I made a short film called "Last Address," about a group of NYC artists who died of AIDS, and I was reminded of the city of New York I had encountered when I first came here. Personally, I was also at a very different place – for the first time in my life, I liked and respected myself -- but I was also encountering the work of people like David Wojnarowicz, and Derek Jarman, Cookie Mueller and Jack Smith.  These artists and their art reminded me that “value” is a word that needed to be debated. Artists who found their voice not because they were accepted, economically or otherwise, but because they resisted.

It was also at this time that I founded, with Adam Baran, Queer/Art/Film and I learned the other tool that makes vision possible, and that’s community.  It was something you would think I would have learned during ACT UP days, but like so many that  collective power was harder to hold on to the we had hoped. In the wake of AIDS, many of us retreated, we isolated, we got smaller.  With Queer/Art/Film, and now Queer/Art/Mentorship, I re-entered the world, and built the foundation that in turn allowed me to make both "Keep the Lights On" and now, "Love is Strange."   

What I have learned over the last 25 years -- and what I need most to remember -- is that queer vision doesn’t come with making people comfortable, or from accepting what is.  Being an artist is in part an act of rupture.  But it is moments like this, with the embrace that comes with this award, that certainly makes keeping on a little easier. Walking into the Lincoln Center today and seeing this room full of people I know, faces who embrace and appreciate me, makes it a little easier too. I live in a city, and I am part of a community, that supports me.  

Thank you, and enjoy this wonderful movie, by my dear friend Karim Ainouz, and enjoy this great festival.

This article is related to: NewFest, Ira Sachs, Ira Sachs, Ira Sachs





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