The Urge to Merge
By Armond White
A scene from Julian Hernandez’s 'I Am Happiness on Earth'
When the nation’s two prominent gay film festivals Outfest and NewFest finally merge into one next year, filmmakers and filmgoers can look to movies that surpass mainstream media’s formula and stereotyping. Outfest just wrapped in Los Angeles, and NewFest begins July 24 in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Some of the best offerings at NewFest 2014 go beyond the tales of anxiety and social issues that typically slot gay life into the pigeonhole of “social problems,” and “social protest” as if it was necessary to follow the pattern of mid-20th century Hollywood flicks that could only address subcultural experience in a politically “progressive” mode. This usually forced filmgoers to endure Hollywood’s self-righteous self-promotion—a special pleading for other people and their issues in order to demonstrate the film industry’s occasional humane impulses. (From the prime example of 1947’s suspenseful Crossfire that adapted a novel about gay bashing but turned the crime into a cautionary film noir about ethnic bigotry to the doomed love story and condescension of Brokeback Mountain just 10 years ago.)
For a sign of true progress, note the title of New Fest’s U.S. premiere showing of Mexican director Julian Hernandez’s latest film, I Am Happiness on Earth—a long way from the sinister Crossfire and maudlin Brokeback Mountain. Hernandez’s sensual drama starts from a sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance. It continues the artful emotional examination of gay filmmakers who speak for themselves, telling stories that define their own lives and—best of all—mirror that of the audience in the deepest, richest way. (There will be more to say about Hernandez’s new film when it opens nationally next month.)
In Cupcakes, Eytan Fox, Israeli director of The Bubble and last year’s Yossi, returns with a musical utopian whimsy. Fox unites affectionate orientations around a global song contest that securely connects sexual identity with mainstream expression and exposure.
Worldwide openness is the subject of Karim Aïnouz’s Futuro Beach. It’s kind of an anti-Brokeback Mountain, using a geographic locale to symbolize the difficult processes of self-knowledge and loving among two Brazilian and German men. Aïnouz, who made the unforgettable drag queen biography Madame Sata, takes viewers on a continent-spanning, simultaneously exterior and interior journey.
That soulful interior blossoms in Daniel Ribeiros’ The Way He Looks, NewFest’s most entertaining film. It is an affectionate step forward in the portrayal of adolescent coming out.
Ribeiro jumps the hurdle of a blind protagonist Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and his urge to merge with best friend Giovanna (Tess Amorim) and new crush Gabriel (Fabio Audi). He displays non-maudlin empathy for a gay youth’s independence and innocence. Innocence is a rare topic for gay movies and this film illuminates all the features at NewFest 2014 by showing that goodness and guiltlessness are triumphant, it’s- about-time realizations for gay movies.
NewFest’s various titles, from Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird to We Came to Sweat: The Legend of Starlite, a doc about Brooklyn's oldest black gay bar, prove that gay filmmakers’ self-images have emerged from obscure subcultures to be recognizable as parts of everyday life. The merging of OutFest and NewFest signifies a larger, deeper, open union with the general public and the larger culture. The best films at NewFest are equal to the best of Hollywood and international cinema.
Watch the NewFest 2014 trailer below: