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NewFest’s Savvy Year-Round Programming Proves LGBTQ Filmgoers Show Up

As New York's queer audiences flock to retrospectives and Pride programming, smart niche programming could revitalize the theatrical experience.

Alice Wu's "Saving Face"

Alice Wu’s “Saving Face”


Hollywood may have pinned its hopes on Tom Cruise, but the gays stopped waiting for him a long time ago. As blockbusters like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise earn praise for meager nods to LGBTQ characters, queer audiences have turned elsewhere, finding far better and more diverse representation on TV. Save for a few highbrow exceptions like “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” or “Call Me by Your Name,” queer film has lagged behind television, which moves faster and has more screen time to fill.

That’s about to change this summer, with the premiere of two mainstream gay comedies: Joel Kim Booster and Andrew Ahn’s indie “Pride and Prejudice” riff “Fire Island” and Billy Eichner’s Judd Apatow-produced big-budget rom-com “Bros.” While only one will get a shot at the box office (catch “Fire Island” streaming on Hulu June 3), both movies are a chance to show the industry the power of queer audiences. Never underestimate the appeal of a good kiki.

Independent movie theaters have struggled during the pandemic, especially ones that rely on older audiences who may be more hesitant to return to live events. A recent repertory program, “Queering The Canon: Rom-Coms,” which played Brooklyn’s BAM Cinema in partnership with NewFest, played to sold-out crowds over its five-day run, proving queer audiences are thirsty to be together in-person.

“Audiences really wanted to see a program that was celebrating queer love and joy,” Nick McCarthy, Director of Programming for NewFest, told IndieWire. “That’s often not as present, so it became something folks wanted to gather around. They wanted to be in that space and feel that energy.”

It’s perhaps not surprising that upbeat fare with happy endings would draw crowds, but it was impressive to see full houses for films with little name recognition playing on 35mm. While the series featured Sundance hits of their day “Saving Face,” “The Broken Hearts Club,” and “The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love,” it also showcased the previously unavailable Black gay film “Punks” and a little-known middle-aged lesbian romp “Late Bloomers.”

punks black gay film



Lively and eventful, each screening was packed to the brim with what looked like the full range of the LGBTQ community. Older crowds talked back during their old standbys, while younger viewers came to these beloved films with fresh eyes.

“We wanted to show [films that] were both a time capsule but also ahead of their time. Not just to be able to show these wonderful works, but work that also stood the test of time,” said McCarthy.

It was also a chance to shine a spotlight on films that haven’t been available since their initial releases, as so often happens with queer films. Before the “Punks” screening, filmmaker Patrik-Ian Polk surveyed the crowd, asking how many people had seen the film. Only a handful of folks raised their hands, including programmer Kim Garcia.

“By the end of it, so many people were like, ‘Now we’ve seen this and this is so needed.’ We so need this. Not just us in the room that can see it,” said Garcia. “It’s a great reminder of how relevant it is. And then you have a new audience that’s just seen it.”

The hybrid event also hosted virtual screenings, with all allotted passes selling out, opening access to LGBTQ audiences around the country. Though most of the films are available to stream, NewFest’s curation offers a welcome respite from the often overwhelming glut of streaming options.

While the fall festival is NewFest’s flagship event, the organization is finding ways to engage audiences throughout the year, continuing with next month’s Pride series. (The full lineup of which is available below.)

The festival will host the world premiere of “Fire Island,” the U.S. premiere of the late Jean-Marc Vallée’s “C.R.A.Z.Y.” (2005), and four new feature films that have been doing the festival rounds. On the television side, it will debut the finale of HBO’s “Gentleman Jack,” a sneak preview of “P-Valley,” and the New York premiere of Peacock’s “Queer As Folk.”

Kicking off Pride month, the second annual summer film series will run at New York’s SVA Theatre and virtually from June 2-6. The full lineup for NewFest Pride is below, available exclusively on IndieWire. (All synopses are provided by the festival.)

Matt Rogers, Bowen Yang and Tomas Matos Photo by Jeong Park. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

“Fire Island”

Jeong Park

“Fire Island”
Directed by Andrew Ahn

Set in the iconic Pines, the highly anticipated “Fire Island” is a hilariously unapologetic, modern day rom-com showcasing a spirited multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by the timeless pursuits from Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice” and written by Joel Kim Booster, this riotous romp centers around two best friends who set out to have a legendary summer adventure with the help of cheap rosé, hot hook-ups, and chosen family. Filmmakers & Cast in attendance. World Premiere

“Framing Agnes”
Directed by Chase Joynt

After discovering case files from a 1950s gender clinic, an all-star cast of trans artists and actors use a talk-show format to resurface the legacy and stories of mid-century trans lives in this Sundance award-winner. Filmmaker Q&A to follow. New York Premiere

“Esther Newton Made Me Gay”
Birected by Jean Carlomusto

Exploring the life and times of cultural anthropologist Esther Newton. The film tells her story of awakening to gay life in the 1950’s, the women’s liberation movement and lesbian-feminism, drag culture and forging a butch identity which for her is now in conversation with trans-masculinity. Keenly attuned to the cultural and societal forces that shaped her life, Esther guides us through an anthropology of herself. Filmmaker Q&A to follow.

“Girl Picture”
Directed by Alli Haapasalo

A charmingly honest portrait of three young women exploring their sexuality, this Sundance award-winning sensation breathes new life into the coming-of-age genre with sensitivity and wit.

Directed by Bretten Hannam

Fleeing a rural east-coast trailer park in Canada, Link embarks on a journey to find his birth mother with his half-brother after their father had lied for years about her whereabouts. Along the way as they journey across the gorgeously captured landscape of Mi’kma’ki, Link finds community, identity, and budding romance as he makes a new friend and reconnects with his Indigenous heritage. New York Premiere

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

A thunderbolt of energy, music, and queer teen angst, the exuberant “C.R.A.Z.Y.” follows Zac, one of five boys in a conservative French Canadian family, through the 1960s and 1970s as he struggles to reconcile his emerging identity with his father’s values. This recently rediscovered crowd-pleaser from celebrated late filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée (HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” “Dallas Buyers’ Club’, “Wild”) won multiple awards on the festival circuit in 2005, and was Canada’s official Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Language Film, despite being unreleased and unavailable to stream in the U.S. until now. Presented in partnership with Samuel Goldwyn Films. Free with RSVP



Kyle Kaplan

“Gentleman Jack”
Yorkshire, 1834. All eyes are on Anne Lister and Ann Walker as they set up home together at Shibden Hall as wife and wife, determined to combine their estates and become a power couple. Anne Lister’s entrepreneurial spirit frightens the locals as much as her unconventional love life and, with Halifax on the brink of revolution, her refusal to keep a low profile becomes provocative and dangerous.

Season 2 of “Gentleman Jack” remains delightfully witty and again uses the real life diaries of Lister – part of which were written in code – as its source, with every part of Lister’s story based in historical fact and the five million words she wrote in her journals. Join NewFest Pride for an advance screening of Season 2: Episodes 7 + 8, followed by a conversation with creator/writer Sally Wainwright and cast Lydia Leonard.

Return to the Pynk and your favorite characters for a sizzling second season of the sensational series from Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall. Join for an advance screening of Season 2: Episodes 1 + 2, followed by a conversation with creator/writer Katori Hall and cast Nicco Amman and J. Alphonse Nicholson

“Queer As Folk”
A vibrant reimagining of the groundbreaking British series created by Russell T. Davies, “Queer as Folk” explores a diverse group of friends in New Orleans whose lives are transformed in the aftermath of a tragedy. The series comes from Creator/Writer/Executive Producer/Director Stephen Dunn, Executive Producer/Writer Jaclyn Moore and stars breakout talents Devin Way, Fin Argus, Jesse James Keitel, CG, Johnny Sibilly, Ryan O’Connell, as well as icons Kim Cattrall and Juliette Lewis. Filmmaker and cast Q&A to follow.

Authentic Voices of Pride: Screening & Conversation, Presented by Chevrolet
LGBTQ Nation’s “Authentic Voices of Pride, presented by Chevrolet” Docu-series tackles some of the LGBTQ+ community’s most important issues. Each episode highlights a different issue bringing context and original reporting, profiling how real people, activists, policy makers and thought leaders are creating change, and driving a conversation. Cast: Bob The Drag Queen, Nina West, Honey Mahogany, Marti Cummings, Maebe A. Girl, Liliana Reyes, Stacey & Cheralyn Stevenson, Wilson Cruz

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