On the Rainbow Screen

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NewFest, NYC’s LGBTQ film festival, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week, starting Wednesday and continuing through the following Tuesday (Oct. 24-30).

NewFest first got started in 1988. At the time, like most gay men and women of that era, I led a double life—by day I was a closeted investment banker, by night (and on weekends and holidays), I spent my time reading gay publications (everything from Honcho to Mandate, but also more lifestyle and culture magazines like the Advocate and Christopher Street) and seeking out low-visibility gay hangouts—bars, discos, Fire Island—places where I could comfortably express my queerness.

A scene for the 1986 gay film Parting Glances.

When I discovered NewFest, I was introduced to the pleasures of gay-themed movies that were not triple-x porn like those being shown in seedy theatres on Times Square. I was amazed to find instead a burgeoning preserve of well-made films with LGBTQ themes that I’d never heard of. Most, if not all, had never made it into theatrical release.

I recall seeing a screening of Parting Glances, a movie about a young gay male couple living on Manhattan’s Upper Westside, my neighborhood. The film primarily dealt with their relationship. I remember how “normal” they seemed to me. This was not a story involving the tired gay stereotypes I’d seen on television or in mainstream movies—characters I was afraid of associating with, or worse becoming. Instead, these were two nice looking, intelligent professional guys—this was me! Maybe not quite me, but it could be me. These were people I could relate to. It was exhilarating! But, more than that it was liberating and I immediately felt a weight had been lifted off me.

The movies also made me realize I was not alone. Of course, by this point in my life I had a few male gay friends, but the films made me aware of a much bigger and more diverse world. As well as being entertaining, NewFest introduced me to the lives of other LGBTQ people—those portrayed in the movies, the people that created the films, and other members of the audience who, like me, were drawn to view them.

I began to have an inkling of my community. It became clear that being LGBTQ didn’t have to hinder me from having a full and happy life. While my workplace was a homophobic environment, I discovered, through movies, a much bigger and much more accepting world. While not every movie was a feel-good same-sex/gender-bending rom-com, those movies exposed me to a variety of issues and challenges affecting the “greater” LGBTQ community.

I say “greater” because, until then, I only had my life as a closeted gay white man to refer to. My experience was unique to me. My life was similar to that of other urban white gay men around me. So, until I saw them depicted in NewFest’s screenings, I couldn’t imagine the challenges of being a black gay man, a lesbian, a transgender person or any of my other companions wrapped in the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ community. Through the films I’ve seen over the years and will continue to view at LBGTQ film festivals like NewFest, I’ve come to better understand the community I belong to—in the entire glittering spectrum of its diversity.

I urge those in the NYC area to take a night or two and go see some of the films at this year’s NewFest. The festival is a unique opportunity to enjoy some of the best new gay-themed film content, and in many instances to hear cast members, directors and producers participate in post-screening talkbacks where they share inside moments about the making of these movies. This year’s selections include several much anticipated new films, including:

1985 – a black-and-white film about an HIV-positive young man who returns to his conservative family in small-town Texas to tie up his affairs and perhaps come out to his relatives.

Mapplethorpe – a revisionist look at the controversial (and outrageous) but talented photographer who shook the world with his erotic artistic images before succumbing to AIDS in 1989.

Rafiki – a lesbian-themed film from Kenya, initially banned in that country, about two women who are forced to choose between love and safety.

Dykes, Camera, Action! – a look at, and conversation among, some of the pioneering lesbian film directors from the previous 25 years.

Boy Erased – a Hollywood production with Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Joel Edgerton, in which a religious couple send their son (Lucas Hedges from “Ladybird”, who recently acknowledged he’s bisexual) to conversion therapy [Caleb Holland, a Capturing Rainbows member and accomplished 25 y.o. filmmaker, who’s launching a podcast series this month with Mike Balaban under the Capturing Rainbows brand, was hired by Boy Erased’s producers to shoot the flim’s behind-the-scenes footage with its stars and crew.].

The Marriage – Kosovo’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, focused on a love triangle (10 years after Kosovo’s bitter war had ended) between a man and a woman about to marry until his best friend returns to town.

For more information check out www.newfest.org.