This week, friends and family honored the late Spalding Gray while NewFest launched its 19th annual event with a party and a peek at things to come.
Spalding Gray Honored
On Monday night, IFC held a screening of the late actor Spalding Gray's 1997 monologue "Gray's Anatomy" in honor of the nearby off-Broadway production of "Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell", a collection of both released and unreleased Gray writings presented by a cast that has included Rachel Dratch, Bruce Vilanch, and Estelle Parsons. The film - Gray's chronicle of attempting to deal with the ocular condition of "macular pucker" through a number of increasingly far-out and ineffective alternative therapies (including a Christian Scientist prayer healing, a pseudo-scientific organic vegan diet and a Japanese faith healer operating in the Philippines) - was directed with minimal punch-ups and insertions by Steven Soderbergh, who had previously directed the actor in his 1993 gem, "King of the Hill", and who was on hand for a Q&A together with Gray's widow (and "Gray's Anatomy" executive producer) Kathleen Russo, as well as "Stories Left to Tell" director Lucy Sexton and cast member Dylan Walsh, of "Nip/Tuck" fame.
"I haven't sat in a theater for an hour and a half and watched Spalding for a long time," said a visibly emotional Russo before the screening began, before expressing excitement about the various projects currently in the works about Gray - among them, a new documentary hybrid by Russo and Soderbergh which he discussed in the Q&A as being a compilation of Gray's journals, films and other sources. Gesturing to Sexton, Soderbergh said "When we first started talking about it, I thought 'Well, we're going to have to put other people in this to perform some of these pieces. I wondered, 'is that going to work?' And I saw this show, and I thought, 'It will'... the stories hold up. They're just good stories." When asked by an audience member if the film seemed tragic in light of Gray's 2004 suicide, Sexton said she hoped it would not, but there was certainly a sense of loss, stating, "You see here, he says "my mother killed herself at 52." Well, that reads differently when you know that he killed himself." Said Russo of her current project, "We purposely did not want... that he be remembered only for his final act." Later this summer, IFC will host Jonathan Demme with his 1987 film "Swimming to Cambodia", the first (and in many ways definitive) Gray monologue film.
On Tuesday night, NewFest: the New York LGBT Film Festival, held its launch party at Gstaad in celebration of its 19th annual run which opens next week with "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Duncan Roy ("AKA"). Said festival Artistic Director Basil Tsiokos, "We're very excited for our 19th year, and we're busy making preparations for our 20th anniversary next year," before explaining the four organizing themes that emerged while programming this year's festival:
Family Dynamics - narratives that focus as much on the straight members of a family as on the ostensible gay protagonist, as in Don Wolman's Israeli film 'Tied Hands', the alternately comic and tragic story of a mother's misadventures looking for medical marijuana to ease the suffering of her son, a dancer in the final stages of AIDS.
Religion- both documentaries and narrative films in some way focused on the interaction of faith and sexuality or gender, such as the documentaries "The Birthday", by Negin Kianfar and Daisy Mohr about the surprising situation of transsexuals in Iran, or "We're All Angels", by Robert Nunez, about gay Christian pop stars.
Then & Now - documentaries about older LGBT men and women in the face of a youth culture, including Marc Huestis' "Lulu Gets a Facelift", in which an aging drag queen goes under the knife, and Will Parrinello's "Emile Norman: By His Own Design", the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival award-winner about an octogenarian artist.
Voices From the Front - movies concerning the political struggles worldwide of LGBT people, such as in Sebastian Cordoba's "Through Thick and Thin", which documents seven gay couples' struggles with the homophobia of US immigration policies.
Tsiokos is quick to note that these themes by no means cover all of the nearly 250 films in the festival - excellent entries not covered by those themes include Alexis Dos Santos stunningly erotic Argentinean coming-of-age drama "Glue" and the documentary "Red Without Blue" about identical twins, one gay and one an MTF transgender. He is also particularly excited about a few unique events, including the screening of Druidical fairy tale "Schwarzwald" ("the movie you can dance to") on the wall of the nightclub Avalon, as well as a script reading for Todd Stephens' "Another Gay Movie 2: Gays Gone Wild" (the sequel to Stephens' 2005 teen gross-out comedy parody), as well as this year's late-night series of more ribald fare, such as Michelle Johnson's racy clip compilation/ exploitation reclamation feature "The Best of Lezsploitation" or Here! TV's gay vampire series "The Lair."
While the festival lasts for 10 days, Tsiokos would like to remind people that NewFest does not close with its final film, the east coast premiere of Robert Cary's, "Save Me", a Sundance selection about a reparative therapy camp for gay men starring Judith Light and Chad Allen, saying "we're not just a film festival, we're a year-round organization." Tickets for the festival are currently on sale.
Coming This Weekend
Two movies that are entirely worth sacrificing precious Memorial Day Weekend daylight hours for: Nicholas Roeg's "Walkabout" at the IFC Center and Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade theater. Both of these are essential viewing, and both of these must absolutely be seen on the big screen.
In Theaters This Week
"The Golden Door" (May 25), directed by Emanuele Crialese. Distributor: Miramax. Official website
"Paprika" (May 25), directed by Satoshi Kon. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics. Official website
"Angel-A" (May 25), directed by Luc Besson. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics. Official website
"Bug" (May 25), directed by William Friedkin . Distributor: Lionsgate. Official website
"I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal" (May 23), directed by Richard Trank. Distributor: Luminous Velocity Releasing.