For about three quarters of each year, when filmmakers and prominent actors arent baiting The Academy for Oscar noms, the prevalence and availability of new gay films is surprisingly sparse. Sure, were 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 Yorks 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 Sequans classmates, affronted by his radical identity, beat him relentlessly after school. Perhaps most threatened by Sequans 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 MTVs 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.
The Baby Formula (dir. Allison Reid)
Perhaps one of the best ways to tackle the heavily fraught topic of reproductive options for lesbian and gay couples is to ridicule it like Allison Reid does in The Baby Formula. Reids mockumentary focuses on two lesbian partners, Athena (Angela Vint) and Lilith (Megan Fahlenbock), who are dead-set on having each others true offspring. Athena convinces one of her coworkers at a research lab to make sperm of Liliths stem cells and impregnate her with them. The couple must keep the experimental procedure a secret to prevent media frenzy, but decide to tell their families the truth when Athenas deadbeat brother accuses Lilith of seducing him and stealing his semen. Much of the films hilarity is derived from the interaction between Lilith and Athenas diametrically opposed families -- the former made up of two bitchy, recovering alcoholic queens and the latter made up of repressed Irish Catholics. Its the self-aware use of such tried-and-true family drama tropes, along with Reids refusal to politicize reproductive rights, which lends a newfound humanity to the issues covered therein. In other words, The Baby Formula is deeply touching and thought provoking without being ultra sappy or preachy.
against a trans narrative (dir. Jules Rosskam)
against a trans narrative, an experimental documentary about trans-masculine identity, examines the ways in which we label and view gender and sexuality within the LGBTQ community. Versatile in form, the documentary also includes fictional vignettes that depict individuals transitioning from female to male. These shorts -- one portraying a teenage girl trying to obtain testosterone, another depicting a lesbian couple fighting over what it means to become male -- serve as conversation starters for the varied panel of queer and gender theorists offering up their take on trans-masculine identity. Alongside theoretical discourse, the documentary tackles its subject matter on a personal level, as Rosskams own transition is depicted in tense conversations with his girlfriend. Will she resent Rosskams male body after the hormones and surgery? Does such a physical transition exclude him from lesbianism, or even feminism? As tough as these questions may be, the documentary never seeks to portray its trans-masculine subjects as chronically disenfranchised by any means. Instead, it shares the myriad perspectives of gender and sexuality that fall underneath and beyond the umbrella of LGBTQ.
For more info about NewFest, click here.