Following on the heels of its West Coast partner Outfest, NewFest, the premier LGBT film festival of New York, kicks off this week with a stellar lineup. From the lesbian sex work comedy The Foxy Merkins, to the joyous musical Cupcakes, to beautiful coming-of-age tale The Way He Looks, there is truly something for every audience to enjoy.
Browse this year's selection of films, shorts, documentaries and more on the following pages. Unless otherwise noted, all of the films screen at the Walter Reade Theater in Manhattan. Find tickets and more information at NewFest.org.
Thursday, July 24
4:00 p.m. - 52 Tuesdays
Sixteen-year-old Billie (played by Australian rising star Tilda Cobham-Hervey) is blindsided by the news that her mother is planning to transition from female to male and that, during this time, Billie will live at her father’s house. Billie and her mother, now called James, agree to meet every Tuesday during their year apart. As James undergoes changes and becomes less emotionally available, Billie covertly explores her own identity and sexuality with two older schoolmates, testing the limits of her own power, desire, and independence.
7:00 p.m. - Futuro Beach (NewFest Opening Night)
When Brazilian lifeguard Donato fails to save a swimmer from drowning, he seeks out the victim’s friend Konrad, a handsome German biker. The two men begin a passionate affair, and Donato soon decides to follow Konrad to Berlin. Years later, their seemingly peaceful life is threatened by a visitor from Donato’s past. Director Karim Aïnouz (Madame Satã) delivers a visually stunning, emotionally resonant tale about three men struggling across oceans of love, loss, and heartache.
10:00 p.m. - Boys
After making it onto the track team, 15-year-old Sieger instantly grows close to fellow runner Marc. Sieger, dealing with family troubles, and Marc, outgoing and engaging, fall in love over the course of a summer spent running, swimming, and stealing kisses in the forest. But Sieger must weigh how his widowed father feels against the joy and freedom he finds in Marc’s arms in this adorable romance.
Friday, July 25
4:30 p.m. - We Came to Sweat: The Legend of Starlite
When Brooklyn’s oldest black gay bar, the Starlite Lounge, is faced with eviction, the community decides to fight back. Will they be able to save this pre-Stonewall safe haven? Or is gentrification unstoppable? Kate Kunath and Sasha Wortzel’s timely portrait of a community banding together to preserve their culture and history is a stirring must-see.
7:00 p.m. - The Foxy Merkins
Margaret is a down-on-her-luck lesbian hooker-in-training. She meets Jo, a beautiful, self-assured grifter who’s a pro at picking up women, even though she considers herself a card-carrying hetero. The duo hits the streets, encountering bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservatives, husky-voiced seductresses, shopaholic swingers, as well as a mumbling erotic-accessory salesman (Alex Karpovsky of Girls). Writer-director Madeleine Olnek (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) melds her singular brand of comedy with the buddy-film genre to pay homage to and riff on iconic male-hustler films.
9:30 p.m. - Blackbird
A high-school senior named Randy (newcomer Julian Walker) and his band of queer friends fight for a life outside the constraints of their small Southern Baptist town. Blackbird is a powerful film, costarring Academy Award-winner Mo’Nique (Precious) and Isaiah Washington (Blue Caprice) as Randy’s conflicted parents, in which friends — black, white, straight, gay, and all things in between — discover firsthand both the rewards and consequences of growing up as outsiders.
Saturday, July 26
10:30 a.m. - The Circle
A Teddy Award-winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, The Circle captures an extraordinary romance set against the backdrop of Switzerland’s thriving post-WWII underground gay movement. Director Stefan Haupt has fashioned a gorgeous hybrid of a film, uncovering a vibrant love story between a singer and schoolteacher who bravely defied the constraining laws of their era.
1:30 p.m. - Shorts Program #1
From love in the barrio to Pride Day in Naples, from a gay rapper in New Jersey to a German-Bolivian Mennonite, this program of shorts explores the diversity of LGBT lives.
4:00 p.m. - What It Was
In Daniel Armando’s multilayered film, Adina, a successful Latina actress, returns to New York in the aftermath of her sister’s death and the collapse of her marriage. Unable to face her mother, she finds herself in a fog, drifting through the days. Memories dissolve into the present as she tumbles through a series of intense, complex connections with a sexy, butch body artist, a young college student, and a former girlfriend. With confident directing, assured performances, and intuitive editing and cinematography, What It Was masterfully conveys the emotional textures of Adina’s waking dream of a life.
6:30 p.m. - Tiger Orange
Two estranged gay brothers attempt to make amends in Wade Gasque’s charming small-town drama. Set against the sun-kissed fields of Central California, and anchored by strong performances from Mark Strano and porn-star-turned-leading-man Frankie Valenti (a.k.a Johnny Hazzard), Tiger Orange pits two diametric opposites against each other — the closeted introvert versus the out-and-proud hunk. The result is a blunt, playful meditation on queer sibling rivalry and the childhood bonds that force us together.
9:00p.m. - I Am Happiness on Earth
Julián Hernández, one of Mexico’s premier queer filmmakers (Raging Sun, Raging Sky), returns with this tale of a film director struggling with the line between his sexually charged reality and equally arousing cinematic creations. Will Emiliano be able to sustain his relationship, or will his lust for beauty and meaning lead him elsewhere? Furious couplings between gorgeous men include an exhilaratingly explicit play-within-a-play. Hernández’s boldly poetic romance compares with such films as Fellini’s 8½, Godard’s Contempt, and others exploring the connections between love, sex, creativity, and filmmaking.
11:30 p.m. - Age of Consent
The history of the Hoist, London’s first and only gay sex fetish bar, follows the cultural evolution of gay life and sex in modern London through AIDS, gentrification, and the ongoing political struggle to decriminalize homosexual activity in the U.K.
Sunday, July 27
12:00 p.m. - Dual
Iben, a free-spirited Danish woman, gets stuck in Slovenia overnight when her connecting flight gets canceled. She asks Tina, a young lesbian minivan driver, to show her around Ljubljana. Both women are at a crossroads: Tina has a big interview for a bank job in the morning, and Iben is harboring a dark secret. Romantic feelings slowly build between them, and they hatch a plan to run away together.
2:30 p.m. - Shorts Program #2
The breadth of the LGBT experience is further revealed through the stories of a 92-year-old transgender World War II vet, a widowed Swedish author, a teenage lesbian in the American South, and more.
5:00 p.m. - Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy
In his hilarious new performance film, 2014 Outfest Fusion Achievement Award-winner and comedian Alec Mapa (Switched at Birth) — accompanied by his family — takes his audience on a roller-coaster ride through the challenges and occasional triumphs of becoming a daddy. You’ll laugh and even cry as "America’s Gaysian Sweetheart" mixes life stories with his signature brand of sass. Contains adult language and catastrophic waffles.
7:30 p.m. - Lilting
The sudden death of Kai, a young London man, leaves his Chinese-Cambodian mother Junn (Pei-pei Cheng) and his boyfriend Richard (Ben Whishaw) profoundly grieving. Feeling a strong sense of responsibility for Kai’s only family member, Richard reaches out to her. Though Junn speaks little English, her dislike of Richard is plain, and she responds with stony resistance. Since they share no common language, Richard hires a translator to facilitate communication, and the two improbable relatives attempt to reach across a chasm of misunderstanding through their memories of Kai. Writer-director Hong Khaou’s moving and intimate debut dances between the real and imaginary to express the unspeakable loss that both characters experience. Boasting delicate performances by both Whishaw and Cheng, this Sundance award-winner is a perceptive meditation on the connection between two human souls, revealing that what separates us can also bind us together.
9:30 p.m. - Hustle (With My Muscle)
Hustle: to force someone to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction. This shorts program examines the formal properties of the hustle. From transgender icon Bambi Lake, to famed Parisian cat burglar Irma Vep (by way of Z. Drucker), sweaty boys in jockstraps and grungy hipsters playing phallic drinking games, to good ol’ Lily Tomlin, “Hustle (With My Muscle)” eyes life in the fast, cheap, and out-of-control lane.
Monday, July 28
7:00 p.m. - Cupcakes, playing at the JCC in Manhattan
During their annual get-together to watch the kitschy Universong competition, one of a sextet of friends is nursing a broken heart. The other five spontaneously compose and perform a song to cheer her up, which leads to a viral video that transforms these six nonprofessionals into Universong competitors. As colorful and infectious as a pop song, the latest from Eytan Fox (Yossi) is a delirious sugar rush of a comedy.
7:00 p.m. - Lyle
Lyle, Stewart Thorndike’s sinister ode to Rosemary’s Baby, finds the perfect mom-to-be in Gaby Hoffmann. Her electrifying performance as Leah, a pregnant lesbian confronted by an unspeakable evil, brings out a primal terror that’s difficult to shake. With dark humor and razor-sharp camerawork, Thorndike takes audiences into a growing nightmare as Leah begins to question the motives of her partner, friends, and neighbors.
9:00 p.m. - I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole, playing at the JCC in Manhattan
Wakefield Poole was a respected Broadway choreographer and ballet star until he rocked the mainstream world by becoming a groundbreaking hardcore gay filmmaker during the tumultuous 1970s. At the time, anyone making what the government considered pornography was at risk of prosecution. Poole challenged the system with his iconic Boys in the Sand, becoming famous for the defiant artistry he instilled in dozens of sexually explicit works, whose impact forever changed adult film.
9:30 p.m. - Jamie Marks Is Dead
One of the more terrifying entries in this year’s NewFest, Jamie Marks Is Dead is a ghost story that also serves as an allegorical tale of LGBT youth in small-town America. When the body of high school outcast Jamie Marks is discovered near a river, the life of Adam (Cameron Monaghan, Shameless) changes forever, particularly when he spies Jamie’s ghost (Noah Silver, The Borgias), shivering and nearly naked in the distance. Despite warnings from his love interest Gracie (Morgan Saylor, Homeland), Adam closes this corporeal divide, bridging a relationship between the living and the dead that is filled with longing and a love that dare not speak its name. Under Carter Smith’s direction, the film’s dramatic grip is tightened by its bleak and beautiful cinematography and a paper-moon performance by Liv Tyler, who, as Adam’s emotionally and physically crippled mother, embarks on her own curious relationship with a woman who almost kills her, played by Judy Greer.
Tuesday, July 29
4:30 p.m. - The Way He Looks
Set to the bouncy beats of Belle and Sebastian, this euphoric, sun-kissed coming-of-age fable — a sensation at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, where it won a Teddy Award and International Federation of Film Critics prize — dances entirely to its own tune. Stuck fending off bullies and overprotective parents, Leonardo spends his days allowing his best friend Giovana to drag him around town. Being blind has always been an inconvenience for Leonardo, but his angsty adolescence gets a lift when the handsome and smooth-talking Gabriel turns down numerous offers from ogling girls to hang with Leonardo after school. The longer they spend together, the more apparent their shared attraction becomes — not just to them but to a spurned Giovana as well. As social pressure mounts on both to fit within their confined social boxes, the two must decide whether to ignore their feelings or to throw caution to the wind and admit that they might actually be falling in love.
7:00 p.m. - Gerontophilia (Closing Night Film)
Lake refuses to feel shame about his unquenchable appetite for older men. The handsome teen defiantly signs up as an orderly at a local nursing home and quickly falls for Mr. Peabody, a charming, flirtatious soul with one last wish. Forget everything you know about filmmaker Bruce LaBruce: in what is easily his most romantic work to date, he dares us to look beyond fetish to embrace the beauty of all stages of life.
9:30 p.m. - The Third One
An attractive older couple stumbles upon a flirtatious young man in a chat room and, after teasing some skin, convinces him to come over to their apartment for dinner. With fumbling honesty and no shortage of sexiness, The Third One celebrates the awkwardness and euphoria of a one-night stand gone right, culminating in an explicit, 10-minute threesome that’s as erotic as it is playful.
All images and descriptions courtesy of Newfest.org.