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NewFest 2021: 10 Films to See at New York’s Premier LGBTQ Film Festival

IndieWire rounds up what not to miss at this year's festival, from a "RuPaul's Drag Race" documentary to the restoration of John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus."

NewFest

“Being BeBe,” “Boy Meets Boy,” “The Scary of Sixty-First,” ‘Shortbus”

NewFest

NewFest, New York City’s premier LGBTQ film festival, swings into its 33rd edition on Friday, delivering over 130 features, shorts, and documentaries across theaters in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and for those viewers outside of NYC, at home virtually.

The festival this year runs October 15 through 26, kicking off on Friday with the east coast premiere of the documentary “Mayor Pete,” about Secretary of Transportation and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg. The film brings viewers inside his campaign to be the youngest U.S. President, and looking at his marriage to his husband Chasten, and their ambitious team — from the earliest days of the campaign to his unlikely victory in Iowa and beyond. This film reveals what goes on inside a campaign for the highest office in the land — and the myriad ways it changes the lives of those at its center. Buttigieg serves as the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member in U.S. history.

NewFest then closes with Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary “Flee,” which tells the story of an Afghani immigrant fleeing to safety in Denmark. “Flee” follows Amin Nawabi as he grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon-to-be husband. Recounted mostly through animation to director Rasmussen, Nawabi tells for the first time the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.

The 2021 NewFest features films for viewers of all stripes. Below, IndieWire has rounded up 10 films not to be missed at the 2021 edition, from a documentary about “RuPaul’s Drag Race” sensation BeBe Zahara Benet to a 15th-anniversary restoration of John Cameron Mitchell’s iconic queer classic “Shortbus.”

In accordance with New York City guidelines, proof of vaccination will be required for In-Person attendees.

Being BeBe

“Being BeBe”

NewFest

“Being BeBe: The BeBe Zahara Benet Documentary”

The outsize, fabulous Cameroonian-born BeBe Zahara Benet paved the runway for all queens to come when she won the top prize in the first season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” way back in 2009. She returned for a surprise appearance as a contestant on the third season of “All Stars” and has since launched a music career and the TLC transformational makeover series “Dragnificent.” At last, she gets her own glittering documentary portrait with this film directed by Emily Branham, who promises an inside look at this show-stopping trailblazer. Seasoned queens can also learn new tricks, right? The film won the Audience Award at the Provincetown Film Festival. —RL

Playing the festival in-person 10/17, and virtually 10/15-10/26

Boy Meets Boy

“Boy Meets Boy”

NewFest

“Boy Meets Boy”

A queer modern-day spin on the walking-and-talking “Before Sunrise” formula set in Berlin, “Boy Meets Boy” has enjoyed a rich run on the festival circuit (and finally hits streaming from Ariztical on October 26). Daniel Sanchez Lopez’s sweaty, sexy, drug-filled romance follows British man Harry (Matthew James Morrison) who, after 48 hours of wild partying and app-happy hookups, sparks with local Berliner Johannes (Alexandros Koutsoulis). They philander around the city over the course of 15 hours, and as with the best “Before” movies, the ticking clock hanging overhead because of Harry’s impending flight back to the UK makes for lump-in-the-chest suspense. Their values are put to the test — Harry’s rejection of love in favor of anonymous sex in collision with Johannes’ preference for monogamy and stability zeroes in on a binary painfully recognizable to any queer person. Not to be missed for fans of “Weekend.” —RL

Playing the festival virtually only, 10/15-10/26

Make Me Famous

“Make Me Famous”

NewFest

“Make Me Famous”

The 1980s downtown New York City art scene had no shortage of rebel poets, raconteurs, and outcasts. While Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, and Jean-Michel Basquiat are names often associated with the unruly currents blowing up lower Manhattan galleries, the painter Edward Brezinski worked alongside them, fighting to be accepted as a gay man who was also an artist. After ruffling too many feathers among New York’s top brass, he opened his own gallery in his fifth-floor Bowery apartment. Among his many enfant terrible scandals was eating a donut on display at Robert Gober’s opening “Wedding Dress, Bag of Kitty Litter, and Bag of Donuts,” redefining the meaning of deconstruction in a quite literal sense. Brian Vincent’s documentary looks to reposition Brezinski as an icon of his generation, supplying insider talking-heads, art world name-dropping, and downtown NYC grit as the backdrop. —RL

Playing the festival in-person on 10/17, and virtually 10/15-10/26

Poppy Field

“Poppy Field”

NewFest

“Poppy Field”

Eugen Jebeleanu’s tense gay thriller unpeels the macho hierarchies of the Romanian police force (and really, any police force) in centering on a young gendarme, Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer), called to diffuse a heated situation at a movie theater, where a far-right upheaval has disrupted a queer film screening. He isn’t out to his family, and back at home, he keeps his French boyfriend, visiting from out of town, at a walled-off distance. The riotous incident forces the collapse of his personal and private identities as a homophobic encounter with his colleagues exposes a bitter past. Mostly unfolding as one scene in and around the movie theater, “Poppy Field” has sexual repression to burn, even while adhering to a mostly documentary-like style that engenders an inescapable sense of claustrophobia. —RL

Playing the festival in-person on 10/20, and virtually 10/15-10/26

The Scary of Sixty-First

“The Scary of Sixty-First”

screenshot

“The Scary of Sixty-First”

The grotesque worlds of Jeffrey Epstein, “Eyes Wide Shut,” and QAnon-veering conspiracy theories collide to nightmarish results in “Red Scare” podcast host Dasha Nekrasova’s fiery feature debut “The Scary of Sixty-First.” Given the film’s Upper East Side New York City setting, there’s a posh Roman Polanski vibe to the eerie proceedings as two young women (Madeline Quinn, who co-wrote the movie, and Betsey Brown) move into an apartment that once served as a hub for Epstein’s sex trafficking ring — and maybe a portal to hell? Splattering giallo and ‘70s 16mm horror against the wall just to see what sticks, and almost everything does, “The Scary of Sixty-First” is an unruly fit of psychosexual possession and hysteria. And it also makes for a captivating late-night New York City movie, turning Manhattan’s poshest neighborhoods into a nightmare-scape. —RL

Playing the festival in-person 10/21, and virtually 10/15-10/26

Charles Busch's "The Sixth Reel"

Charles Busch’s “The Sixth Reel”

Outfest

“The Sixth Reel”

The legendary Charles Busch is back with another farcical comedy that’s sure to be just as clever and comical as the rest of his oeuvre, which includes queer cult classics “Die Mommie Die” and “Psycho Beach Party.” Co-written and directed with Busch’s longtime collaborator Carl Andress, “The Sixth Reel” is an outlandish caper starring Busch as an Old Hollywood-obsessed New Yorker who unearths a long-thought lost final reel of a classic Tod Browning horror film. The cohort of eccentric cinephiles fight over the sale of the film, leading to false romances, drag personas, and vampires. The film also stars Julie Halston, Margaret Cho, and Tim Daly, so it’s sure to be a raucous good time.

Playing the festival in person on 10/18, and virtually 10/15-10/26

“Shortbus”

Newfest

“Shortbus”

Under-seen but hardly under-appreciated, John Cameron Mitchell’s second feature gets a 15th-anniversary 4K restoration after years of being nearly impossible to find. (Thanks to the trusty indie film distributor Oscilloscope.) Set in mid-aughts New York City, seeing this raucous film after nearly a decade should be like sitting through a nostalgic time capsule of your sluttiest years. Told as a fragmented series of loosely connected vignettes, the film follows a few main characters exploring their various sexual identities, beginning with a sex therapist embarrassed to admit she can’t orgasm. Irreverent, joyous, sexy, and playful, “Shortbus” is what happens when one of our most brilliant queer filmmakers is given the freedom to play. Certain scenes will forever be seared in the memory, including one that gives new meaning to the phrase “the very hungry caterpillar.” —JD

Playing the festival in-person 10/20

"Death and Bowling"

“Death and Bowling”

Newfest

“Death and Bowling”

Boasting an almost entirely transgender cast and crew and citing influences from Todd Haynes to John Waters, “Death and Bowling” describes itself as “a fictional meta-critique about trans-representation.” Written and directed by Lyle Kash, the experimental film follows a trans actor who is struggling to find meaning in the world after the beloved captain of his lesbian bowling league dies and a mysterious stranger shows up at the funeral. Executive produced by “Adam” filmmaker Rhys Ernst, “Death and Bowling” marks a new era in trans masculine storytelling on its own terms. —JD

Playing the festival in person on 10/18, and virtually 10/15-10/26

“Sediments”

Newfest

“Sediments (Sedimentos)”

A documentary that looks like a narrative film because it’s shot so beautifully, Spanish filmmaker Adrián Silvestre’s gorgeous second feature follows six trans women on a road trip in the Spanish countryside. The women range in age and experience, from students to retired sex workers, and the intergenerational rapport leads to fascinating conversations that are as hilarious as they are incisive. Led by the subjects, Silvestre includes a fair bit of nudity in the film, an provocative choice that leads to a joyous reclamation of the trans body onscreen. Lensed beautifully and with a compelling cast, the docudrama is an evocative leap forward for trans storytelling. —JD

Playing the festival in-person 10/22, and virtually 10/15-10/26

Miguel's War

“Miguel’s War”

Newfest

“Miguel’s War”

Leading Lebanese documentary filmmaker Eliane Raheb experiments with form to uncover layers of collective grief through the memories of one man. Her subject is Michel Jelelaty, a gay man who left Lebanon for Spain and has spent years carefully repressing his childhood. Externalizing his experiences with casting calls for actors to play his parents and lyrical animation sequences, the filmmaker gently guides Miguel through the murky waters of his past. The film won the Teddy Award for best feature at this year’s Berlinale, a rare slot for a documentary. —JD

Playing the festival in-person 10/17, and virtually 10/15-10/26

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