Like nearly every other film festival in this wild year, NewFest, New York’s leading LGBTQ+ film festival, is going virtual for its 2020 edition. Running October 16 through 27, the event boasts more than 120 new movies you can watch at home from anywhere the United States, plus plenty of scintillating conversations, virtual soirees, and more in celebration of this year’s festival storytellers. Below, IndieWire rounds up 12 must-see films to get your NewFest journey started.
In additional to the virtual offerings, a few in-person events can be enjoyed from the convenience of your car. The opening night film this year is a special drive-in presentation of Francis Lee’s “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, taking place at the Queens Drive-In in Corona Park. For New Yorkers, this is your chance to catch the buzzy romantic drama before it opens theatrically on November 13 from Neon.
Also receiving drive-in screenings throughout the festival are Alan Ball’s gay road dramedy “Uncle Frank” starring Paul Bettany, and Matt Fifer and Kieran Mulcare’s “Cicada” alongside a series of Brooklyn-based short films. Otherwise, you can attend the festival entirely from your living room, or wherever you’re streaming movies at home these days.
Other special events include an all-trans table read of “Brokeback Mountain,” a panel with the director and select cast members of Netflix’s “The Boys in the Band,” panels on LGBTQ+ icons and issues, filmmaker and cast Q&As throughout the festival, and more.
To get the best possible NewFest experience this year, you can purchase an all-access virtual pass for the bargain price of $95, or buy individual streaming tickets for $12. Follow along with the festival’s daily schedule for times and dates for each film.
“Alice Junior” is a playful Brazilian comedy about a trans teenager adjusting to small-town life after a stint on a reality show. Gil Baroni’s lighthearted debut feature is driven by an exciting discovery in Anna Celestino Mota, its charismatic star, who shifts between self-absorbed diva and tender hormonal teen with a flash of her cunning smile. A sweet but teasing relationship with her supportive father makes the film a boon for positive representation, but “Alice Junior” has much to celebrate beyond avoiding cliches. “Alice Junior” doesn’t gloss over the hardships of being a trans teenager in a conservative school, but it doesn’t put Alice through the ringer any more than necessary to create a satisfying emotional arc. —JD
“Bloodsisters: Leather, Dykes, and Sadomasochism”
Why should the boys get all the fun? Though lesbian BDSM has long been an active and vibrant subculture of the queer community, documentations are all too rare. The tropes about lesbian bed death and oversexed gay persist, and media generally reinforces this false dichotomy. The 25th anniversary screening of this landmark documentary will hopefully upend some of those myths, reminding today’s queers that lesbians and their adjacent ilk are some of the dirtiest and most sexually liberated creatures on the LGBTQ spectrum. Offering intimate access and wide-reaching research, director Michelle Handelman’s enduring 1995 gem documents the queer outlaws of the San Francisco leather scene, as told by pioneers of the subculture, including Patrick Califia and Tala Brandeis. Captured in DIY-video style and accompanied by a raucous queercore score, this vital historical artifact remains as titillating as ever. —JD
As a searching autobiographical portrait of co-director Matt Fifer’s own life and struggles with intimacy and buried childhood trauma, “Cicada” feels like a private confessional, but it also locates the universal plight of being a gay millennial navigating romance amid a Grindr-dominated dating system. Kieran Mulcare co-directs this searing and sexy act of gay self-analysis, with Fifer starring as Ben, a Brooklyn dweller patching together a life in the gig economy, occupying a vaguely sketched desk job when he’s not painting houses or doing home repairs for pushy older queens. His personal life is otherwise empty, a string of benders and hook-ups. This coasting through life is interrupted when he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown, who also has a writing credit) outside a bookstore. The encounter sparks a deeper relationship that forces both men to confront their troubles with romantic closeness. —RL
A modern-day Butch Cassidy whisks his adorable Sundance kid away to the Montana mountains in this elegant revisionist Western. Evoking the magic of that charged classic, “Cowboys” is a contemporary buddy Western that puts the complicated father figure and his adoring trans kid at the center. The first feature from writer/director Anna Kerrigan, “Cowboys” is as sweeping in grand landscapes as it is delicate in scope. Kerrigan’s script keeps the focus tight on four main characters, effectively crafting a satisfying adventure into a subtle excavation of masculinity — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Steve Zahn reaches new heights as Troy, a fun-loving but manic father who keeps his demons well hidden. He has a lovely scene partner in young non-binary actor Sasha Knight, who imbues Jo with a pert defiance and a sad wisdom beyond his years. Jillian Bell and Ann Dowd round out the sensational cast. —JD
“If It Were Love”
Gender, sexuality, and movement collide with balletic beauty in Patric Chiha’s documentary essay about the lives, both backstage and on, of a dance troupe of 15 young people. They comprise the Crowd, a touring piece choreographed by Gisèle Vienne that evokes the fluorescent rave scene that dominated the 1990s. “If It Were Love” is eye candy for fans of the opening minutes of Gaspar Noé’s “Climax,” with expressive, and often slo-mo and hypersexual, dance routines that mirror the constant clash between the personal and the professional that defines the dance troupe. In between the routines, less stylized rehearsal scenes bring you back to Earth. Intimate relationships form, and fizzle, as this documentary explores the tension between how human connection is recreated on the stage, but often struggles to form once the lights go down. —RL
“Julia Scotti: Funny That Way”
Among the must-sees on the documentary-centric side of NewFest this year is Susan Sandler’s affectionate portrait of larger-than-life Julia Scotti, the biting 65-year-old transgender comedian who transitioned in her late 40s. “Funny That Way” traces Scotti’s arc from transitioning to reuniting with her son and daughter after years apart, and becoming a contestant on the long-running “America’s Got Talent.” Scotti was a quarter-finalist and fan favorite on the NBC series back in 2016 in Season 11. Originally hailing from New Jersey, New Yorker Scotti was previously known as comic Rick Scott, touring the country until retiring in 2000 amid her transition. She’s now back on the comedy scene, and Sandler’s film serves as a tribute to Scotti’s career, and a life changing course to become the one you were destined to lead. —RL
Courtesy of the filmmaker
When grandpa needs a place to live and his congregation needs a tenth man, what’s a good Jewish boy to do? For a mensch like David (Samuel H. Levine), the answer is clear. In “Minyan,” the arresting and evocative narrative debut from documentary filmmaker Eric Steel, the search for answers turns up far more riches than any half-baked conclusion ever could.
While living with his grandfather Josef (Ron Rifkin) in an unorthodox new housing situation, David spends his days reluctantly studying Torah, and his nights exploring the world of gay New York in the late ’80s (a terrifying time to be coming into your gay identity no matter what community you live in), he also develops a friendship with two men who live down the hall. Josef and David’s relationship, however, provides the film’s most charming moments, and that’s in no small part to the delightful Rifkin, who can imbue an evil spy mastermind (“Alias”) or an adorable elderly man with equal parts humor and heft. Levine, who broke out in Broadway’s “The Inheritance,” carries it all off with a smoldering finesse. —JD
Filmmaker Hong Khaou returns to the territories and love and loss he first visited in 2014’s lovely Ben Whishaw-starring “Lilting” with “Monsoon,” enlisting “Crazy Rich Asians” heartthrob Henry Golding as his leading man. Golding stars as Kit, a British-Vietnamese man returning to his birth country for the first time in three decades, haunted by his family’s past as boat refugees fleeing postwar Vietnam for a better life. Unable to speak the language, Kit travels from Saigon to Hanoi to scatter his family’s ashes, encountering his estranged relatives and sparking a romance with a former soldier played by Parker Sawyers (who played Barack Obama in “Southside with You”). This naturalistic, personal journey into one’s past first premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival last year, and releases from Strand in November after playing NewFest. —RL
“No Hard Feelings”
It’s no surprise that German-Iranian filmmaker Faraz Shariat’s debut feature won the Teddy Award for best queer film at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. Led by a luminous breakout performance by the adorable Benny Radjaipour, the semi-autobiographical drama follows a German-born Iranian who spends his time on Grindr dates and at raves in order to escape small-town Germany. When he’s sentenced to community service at a nearby refugee detention center, he meets two Iranian siblings who recently immigrated. His embrace of queerness and the balancing act between his German and Iranian identities converge in an interest in the quietly brooding Amon (Eidin Jalali). “No Hard Feelings” is sexually explicit, but above all celebratory, and artfully rendered. —JD
As discussion of sex worker rights moves into mainstream feminist dialogues, entertainment media has thankfully followed suit. Entering fearlessly into this fledgling genre is “Shiva Baby,” a sharp-witted dark comedy from first-time feature writer/director Emma Seligman. Bearing a likeness to the early work of Jill Soloway and Jennifer Westfeldt, “Shiva Baby” blends a claustrophobic Jewish humor with a sexy premise to deliver a lively debut.
The film opens with a young woman Danielle (Rachel Sennott) finishing up a session with her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari), before arriving late to a family shiva (a Jewish funeral service), though she’s still not sure who died. Exuding Jewish parental charm sans all the tired cliches are Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper). At the shiva, Danielle can be forgiven for chugging wine, since Max shows up at the shiva. It turns out, her sugar daddy used to work for her real daddy. Not only that, he’s married (to a shiksa). And they have a baby. What’s more, her high school sweetheart Maya (Molly Gordon) — or is she her sworn enemy? — is going to law school, while Danielle is totally directionless. “Shiva Baby” is strongest when viewed as an ensemble film, and the whirling energy surrounding Danielle in her hour of panic is what makes the film so engaging. —JD
“Summer of 85”
“Call Me by Your” what now? François Ozon’s sexy, melancholic, gay coming-of-age romance “Summer of 85” sizzles with the hot heat of first love, set against the banks of a seaside resort in Normandy. It’s also got a killer soundtrack including The Cure and Bananarama, pop-colored cinematography, enough Breton shirts to outfit a French New Wave movie, and a cast of easy-on-the-eyes French cinema favorites.
“Summer of 85” channels the talky, beach-set films of Éric Rohmer but with a rebellious edge, hinging on the stolen-hours love affair between introverted teen Alex (Lefebvre) and the slightly older but hardly wiser David (Voisin), the square-jawed adonis who cuts a raffish figure on a motorcycle. The highs and lows of their summer fling collide in a sudden and mysterious tragedy foregrounded in the movie’s opening scenes, which makes the pair’s evolving connection, ignited by the actors’ volcanic chemistry, all the more suspenseful. Adapting Aidan Chambers’ 1982 novel “Dance on My Grave,” Ozon captures the intoxicating pull of first love, and the loss of control that can make a formative erotic bond so dangerous and addictive. The evocative filmmaking is matched by the charms of its leads, who, in case you needed another selling point, enact one of the hottest guy-on-guy kisses ever thrown onscreen. —RL
Hamptons International Film Festival
“Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation”
In the new documentary “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation,” filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland utilizes correspondence between the two monumental figures, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, as well as public comments each made about the other to weave her tale. While the result is visually wooden, the friendship, rivalry, and musings on art and life in “Truman & Tennessee” coalesce into a worthy and at times revelatory diversion. The film charts the parallels between the legendary writers, with Capote voiced by Jim Parsons and Williams by Zachary Quinto. Without harping on both mens’ sexuality too much, the casting choices underscore the position both writers played in the LGBTQ literary movement. Their massive success, which still influences popular culture today, rendered their sexuality moot while making their openness all the more remarkable. —JD