NEW YORK — Queer film lovers, rejoice! Pride and popcorn are back in New York City theaters.
The 33rd edition of the New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival, the biggest celebration of LGBTQ+ film on the East Coast, begins Friday. And after last year’s nearly all-virtual edition, this year the festival is going hybrid. Organizer NewFest, a film and media nonprofit that focuses on amplifying queer stories, is welcoming audiences to attend in-person screenings in Brooklyn and Manhattan theaters, or stream the movies at home.
“Given that the queer community is so bursting at the seams to be together again, and to create that connection, it was really important for us to create [the most] robust and in-person component to the festival that we could,” David Hatkoff, NewFest’s executive director, told the Daily News.
This year’s festival will feature more than 130 films and episodics, including world premieres, Oscar contenders and legacy screenings of queer classics. A majority of them are either by or about underrepresented voices in the queer community.
”We have films about the intersex experience, many films about the trans experience, [and] we have films about the two-spirit experience,” said Hatkoff, referring to an umbrella term used by some Indigenous North Americans to describe those who identify as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. “Being able to be fully inclusive and representative in that way is really important to us.”
Nick McCarthy, NewFest’s director of programming, noted that while underrepresented voices taking centerstage this year wasn’t planned, it shows “a strength that we’re seeing in these stories being produced and told [and] we’re most excited to see that these percentages are rising,” he said.
The 2021 hybrid edition of the festival runs through Oct. 26. Tickets and screening passes can be purchased online. Here are some of the highlights.
Golden Globe-winning actress Rebecca Hall makes her directorial debut in the period drama “Passing.” The film, based on Nella Larson’s 1929 Harlem Renaissance novel of the same name, tells the story of a Black woman who reunites with a high school friend who’s passing as white. The encounter leads the characters to reexamine racial and sexual identities, sparking a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.
Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, “Passing” features an all-star cast led by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. “It honors the legacy of how queer the Harlem Renaissance was in the 1920s,” McCarthy said.
“Firebird” tells the story of a daring romance between two Soviet Air Force recruits during the height of the Cold War. The film, based on true events, won an honorable mention for best first feature at the equally prestigious Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival earlier this year. “It’s really a very sexy, romantic film that I think audiences are really going to love,” Hatkoff said.
'Death and Bowling'
The winner of this year’s Narrative Feature Audience Award at Los Angeles Outfest 2021 is making its East Coast premiere at the festival. “Death and Bowling” is a touching and quirky film that tells the story of a trans man who meets a mysterious stranger at the funeral of the captain of his lesbian bowling league in Los Angeles. Written and directed by Lyle Kash, a queer American transgender filmmaker of European and South Asian ancestry, the film stars a multitude of transgender actors.
'Madonna: Truth or Dare'
It’s been three decades since Madonna presented an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at her generation-defining “Blond Ambition” world tour by letting director Alek Keshishian and his crew follow her every move. “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” which remained the world’s top-grossing documentary for over a decade, is now commemorating its 30th anniversary, and the nice folks at NewFest are throwing a Madge Brunch to mark the date.
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” which won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for world cinema documentary earlier this year, tells the true story of an Afghani LGBTQ refugee and his journey to safety in Denmark in “this dizzying animated documentary,’’ according to McCarthy. “Flee” will be screened at the festival closing night gala.
'AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman'
The life of the fearless AIDS and transgender rights activist Connie Norman is the subject of Dante Alencastre’s new documentary. The self-proclaimed “AIDS Diva” and ACTUP/LA spokesperson in early ‘90s Los Angeles stood proudly in her multiple, fluid and evolving LGBTQ identities.
'Bring Down the Walls'
Directed by Phil Collins (not the singer), this enthralling documentary examines members of a New York City community who use the dance floor as a space for personal and collective liberation.
“Bring Down the Walls,” in its North American premiere, is a “really fascinating, galvanizing and immersive documentary that shows a collective that’s fighting against the U.S. prison system,” McCarthy explained. “These collective conversations that happen in downtown Manhattan are followed and paired by a big house [music] dance party ... it’s something about breaking down systemic oppression and having conversations around that, but also experiencing the joy.”
A documentary chronicling Pete Buttigieg’s historic 2020 presidential bid was selected as the festival’s opening night film. Directed by Jesse Moss (“Boys State,” “The Overnighters”), “Mayor Pete” takes viewers inside Buttigieg’s headline-generating campaign to be the youngest U.S. president, providing an unprecedented intimacy with the candidate, his husband Chasten and their team.
'Make Me Famous'
“Make Me Famous,” a documentary about the ‘80s art scene in New York City, is making its debut in the festival circuit. Directed by Juilliard-trained actor Brian Vincent, the film looks into the legacy of Edward Brezinski, a charismatic Lower East Side painter on the fringe of success, and his mysterious disappearance from the city’s downtown art scene.
“To be able to have the world premiere of that, and also have that be a local story about an unknown artist with a bit of mystery around him and his death is really [why] we think that’s going to be a really exciting feature,” said Hatkoff.