Inside NewFest 2009

6.15.2009

By Mike Berlin

For about three quarters of each year, when filmmakers and prominent actors aren't baiting The Academy for Oscar noms, the prevalence and availability of new gay films is surprisingly sparse. Sure, we're oftentimes thrown the hyper-stereotypical sidekicks in plenty of romantic comedies; but those characters are a dime a dozen and somewhat pass'. Unfortunately, major motion picture studios are still hesitant to invest in LGBT cinema, which results in a surplus of underfunded gay projects, only a few of which gain distribution in selected cities.

The 21st annual NewFest, New York's LGBT film festival, which just wrapped up, is one of many festivals around the world to showcase talented filmmakers and actors who may never reach the general public. With both mainstream and art-house bents, the films shown have mainly one thing in common: they are made for and/or by gay film lovers alike. Of course, film viewing comes hand-in-hand with another beloved pastime of ours -- criticism. So let's dive in and see what a hypothetical gay week at movies might feel like in Anytown, USA.

Rivers Wash Over Me (dir. John G. Young)
Rivers Wash Over Me, a coming-of-age drama that examines the intersection of racism and homophobia in the rural South, tells a gruesome story that, on a base level, needs to be told. Sequan Green (Derrick L. Middleton), an intellectual gay teen from NYC, is forced to move in with his relatives in North Carolina when his mother passes away. This new town is predictably small-minded and Sequan's classmates, affronted by his radical identity, beat him relentlessly after school. Perhaps most threatened by Sequan's latent homosexuality is his cousin, Michael (Cameron Mitchell Mason), whose own internalized homophobia is revealed when he begins sexually abusing Sequan. The film is grim, but paints an important picture of how the closet -- especially in places often untouched by the gay community -- can very seriously endanger the lives of others. While the general narrative of Rivers is striking, the acting and dialogue is jerky. There are points when interactions between characters seem more awkward than they should -- like the actors are thinking too hard about their next lines. Rivers, in this respect, is not quite a success. But it succinctly captures a devastating snapshot of real tragedies some audiences would never otherwise encounter.

Mr. Right (dir. Jacqui Morris)
Turning a film into a television series is mostly a doomed affair. But some films -- notably, Buffy -- seem more suited for such unorthodox adaptation than others. In this vein, Mr. Right, a rom-com about snarky British gays and their quintessential relationship drama, is the kind of film that has too much going on for its mere 95 minutes. Often resembling a very special episode of MTV's Undressed, the film moves quickly -- aided by the constant bass of an indie-queer soundtrack -- through couples' vignettes, occasionally assembling the entire cast for a snark-filled blowout or two. Although a bit overwhelming at times, the abundance of characters and personalities in Mr. Right is quite enjoyable, especially for those who want a lighter, more date-appropriate movie. Stock characters -- the self-absorbed struggling actor, the pretentious artist, the well-rounded hag -- are all given a newfound appeal by the razor-sharp script, posh London abodes, and kitschy technical details. Thoroughly enjoyable, yet abrupt, this flick should consider a 'To Be Continued'' appending the credits.

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