COMMENTARY: NewFest, NYC’s LGBTQ film festival, is celebrating it's 33rd year and will host a hybrid virtual/in-person week of more than 100 LGBTQ films again in late October 2021.
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 without the risk of being seen by my work colleagues with whom I couldn't then afford to be out.
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 in the Times Square area of NYC. I was amazed to find instead a burgeoning preserve of well-made and true-to-life films with LGBTQ themes that I’d never heard of. Most, if not all, had never made it into theatrical release.
I particularly 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, even 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 gay male friends, but the films made me aware of a much bigger and more diverse world that existed. 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 still 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 and elsewhere to take a night or two and see some of the films at NewFest or their nearest LGBTQ festival. Now that COVID has altered our viewing habits AND limited our ability to convene in large groups for screenings (at least for now), for the first time, these films have become immediately available for streaming regardless of your location.
These festivals are 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 (now routinely being pre-recorded) where they share inside moments about the making of these movies.
For more information check out www.newfest.org.