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by Brian Brooks
June 12, 2009 6:19 AM
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Newfest Goes "Pop Star" with Youth and Gender-bender Winners

"Pop Star on Ice" directors David Barba and James Pellerito (either end) with Olympic skater and film subject Johnny Weir (left), Newfest acting executive director Lesli Klainberg (middle) and doc programmer Cameron Yates Thursday night at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Jan Kruger's "Light Gradient" and Kimberly Reed's "Prodigal Sons" were among the top jury winners Thursday night in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, concluding the 2009 Newfest, New York LGBT Film Festival prior to closing night film, "Pop Star on Ice." "Gradient," which depicts the trials of young love, won the jury prize for best feature, while "Prodigal" - a personal documentary involving twists of gender and sibling rivalry - took the best documentary award. In probably a surprise win, director David Sigal's work in progress doc "Florent: Queen of the Meat Market" took the audience prize in the documentary section - the film, according to the filmmaker, still has some ways to go before it's completed. Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," meanwhile took the narrative audience nod.

"If we don't tell our own stories, no one will tell our stories," said acting Newfest executive director Lesli Klainberg during the ceremony. "The power to change hearts is what we're all about..." Klainberg and other speakers repeatedly spoke of the challenges Newfest faced this year, with one festival board member passing out membership sheets to the audience before announcing the winners in the shorts category (Newfest membership is $50).

Following the brief ceremony, the mostly packed SVA Theatre on W. 23rd Street - the festival's new home in one of Manhattan's heavily queer neighborhoods - the festival screened documentary "Pop Star on Ice" by David Barba and James Pellerito. The film is a behind-the-scenes look at flamboyant Olympian and three-time U.S. figure skating national champion Johnny Weir. The screening was something of a coup for Newfest, although the film had already premiered recently at the Seattle and Newport film festivals, because Weir was in attendance for Q&A. The film will be screening at the upcoming Provincetown, SILVERDOCS, Frameline and Outfest festivals, though Newfest doc programmer Cameron Yates told indieWIRE that Weir will most likely be unable to attend those festivals because his trainer has him under a strict regimen. Weir's home in nearby New Jersey was also a help no doubt.

Throughout the film, the audience laughed and sometimes cheered to Weir's unconventional public persona, often using drug metaphors and gender-bending references when talking to the press following competitions. He also questioned skating's strict performance rules, which often received somewhat soft rebukes from skating organizers and fellow athletes.

"There is a struggle. My sport is technical and regimented, and I'm free spirited and artistic," said Weir Thursday night dressed in a flashy blazer and shiny silver boots. "I'm a clear person in the figure skating world - I'm one, I'm me... And where would ice skating be without razzle dazzle?" Addressing his gender-bending both on and off the ice, Weir extolled, "I'm not going to throw a football and eat pork and beans on the ice. I'm going to be me and I want to be pretty..."

"This year's festival was a milestone for our organization," Klainberg told indieWIRE via email Friday morning. "With our move to the amazing SVA Theater in Chelsea and the Logo Lounge located directly across the street, we were able to create the community atmosphere we've been striving for. The selection of films shows the true diversity of our community and the transformative power that cinema holds."

Director Kimberly Reed accepting her award for best documentary for "Prodigal Sons" at Newfest Thursday night in New York. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

The complete list of Newfest 2009 winners:

NewDraft Screenplay Competition Award (two winners chosen each year):
"The Most Famous Woman in the World," screenplay by Kerthy Fix & Craig Harwood
"Hannah Henri," screenplay by Akiva Penazola

Audience Awards:

Short Film: "Dish," directed by Brian Harris Krinsky
Documentary: Florent: "Queen of the Meat Market" - screened as work in progress, directed by David Sigal, produced by Trevor Laurence
Narrative: "Mississippi Damned," directed by Tina Mabry, produced by Morgan Stiff

Jury Awards:

Special Jury Award: John Hurt (Quentin Crisp) - "An Englishman in New York"
Best Short Documentary: "Kaden Later," directed by Harriet Storm
Best Short Narrative: "Countertransference," directed by Madeleine Olnek
Best Feature Length Documentary: "Prodigal Sons," directed by Kimberly Reed
Best Feature Length Narrative: "Light Gradient," directed by Jan Kruger

Breakout Performance:
Mireille Perrier - "Out of the Blue"
Gustaf Skarsgard - "Patrik 1.5"

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