Friday, July 22, 2011

NewFest Films: Rights, Wrongs and Other Stories

Harmony Santana, Esai Morales and Judy Reyes in "Gun Hill Road." Photo by Mykwain Gainey.

OUT and proud about his support of LGBT rights long before it was politic was Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing, a heterosexual.

In “Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness,” Thomas Allen Harris focuses his lens on this part of BR’s story, including his sponsorship of the Bay State’s gay rights bill.

The documentary is one of the entries getting lots of buzz today, the first full day of NewFest and just days before nonheterosexuals can legally wed in New York. The festival opened last night with David Weissman’s “We Were Here,” chronicling the stories and reminisces of five who were in Frisco in the ’70s when it was the center of the gay universe. NewFest closes on 28 July.

The 23-year-old NewFest: NY’s Premier LGBT Film Festival, one of the largest and most prestigious niche film festivals in the world, provides a platform for films that address issues and experiences that have relevance to and resonance for the LGBT communities.

It’s been more than two decades, but NewFest does not have near the name recognition or profile of, say, the Tribeca Film Festival or the New York Film Festival or any other major film festival. Is it simply because of those four letters – LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender)?

What to expect from an LGBT film festival, then? Boy-on-boy sex, girl-on-girl sex, bullying, gay hate-mongering, closeted types? Sure, why not. But there’s so much more. Naturally, the LGBT among us are only different in that they are nonheterosexual in a largely heterosexual wider world. Otherwise, they laugh, cry, love, bleed, think, eat, drink, pray and try to bury their problems.

Out, about and proud are members of Mumbai's LGBT community in "365 Without 377."

The latter is the case when a drug addict in Laura Neri’s “Kill the Habit” (premiering Monday) does so to her dealer. But what to do with the body? She enlists the aid of her best friend and even has an ally in the dead man’s wife.

Another secret wants burying in “The Seminarian” (Saturday). Joshua Lim directs an all-too familiar tale of a man struggling through Seminary school instead of bucking up and admitting his true sexual preferences.

Also screening at NewFest Saturday is “365 Without 377,” one of the very few films addressing transgender issues. Transgenders often feel like stepchildren in the LGBT movement. Their issues don’t garner near the attention as their lesbian and gay comrades. Of course, part of the reason is that the transgender community has been less organized, vocal, visible and activist. That is changing, but for the moment – it is what it is.

Mark Cirillo and Eric Parker Bingham in "The Seminarian." Photo from “The Seminarian” Facebook page.

Adele Tulli’s documentary peers into nonheterosexual Mumbai through three from the city’s transgender community. It also pays homage to that first year that the colonial-era anti-sodomy statute, Section 377 of the British Penal Code, was struck from the law books in India.

One shudders to think what a film festival would be without shorts? NewFest has four under four different rubrics, including two that premiere today: Lady Bits (female themes) and “Boys In (And Out) of Love” (male themes).

Like any other film festival, NewFest offers its share of flicks making the circuit. At least three also played at Tribeca: “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life,” (Sunday) “The Perfect Family (Saturday) and The Ballad of Genesis & Lady Jaye (Sunday).

NewFest closes with “Gun Hill Road” from writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green. A sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, the film addresses an issue that is generally known but rarely discussed or understood in the mainstream of any medium: Latino machismo. Enrique Rodriguez (Esai Morales of “NYPD Blue”) returns home after two years in the big house to a changed family. The biggest change is in his son, Michael (Harmony Santana), who has morphed into Vanessa. Papi is having none of it and sets out to make a real Nuyorican man out of his son.

Visit to learn more about NewFest: NY’s Premier LGBT Film Festival, including screenings, venues, videos and tickets.

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