by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
In what has so far been a very wet beginning of the summer season, the month of June is heralding the start of the gay film festival season in the mecca cities of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In New York, the 21st edition of NewFest, the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival, had its gala opening last night at its new home in the heart of the city gay-centric Chelsea district, the School of Visual Arts Theater. Boasting the second largest screen in Manhattan and a full digital projection system, the SVA Theater has become the go-to screen for some of New York's best alternative film events (including recent uses by the Tribeca and Gen Art film festivals).
NewFest will occupy the theater's two screens for the next week, giving the Festival a much needed home in the heart of the city's gay community of choice. Festivities kicked off last night with the U.S. Premiere of MR. RIGHT, a multi-character romantic comedy written and directed by UK debut helmer Jacqui Morris. The film is centered in London's own gay district of Soho, where the aspirations and romantic tensions of a group of gay men intersect.
"I've lived in Soho for over 25 years, before it even was a gay neighborhood", an ecstatic Morris told the crowd. "I made this film for a ridiculously low budget but was able to draw on the support of the restaurants, bars and production houses that call Soho home." The film features long set pieces on Old Compton Street, Soho's gay promenade, and in the cafes and nightclubs that gives the street its late-night frenetic energy.
Using a loose style that intercuts encounters of drama and comedy, the film follows a group of sexy men (and their "fag hag" female buddy, an obvious stand-in for the director herself) as they negotiate career ambitions, relationship tensions and the obsessive needs to find and nail down a relationship with their own version of Mr. Right.
"Only two of the men in the film are actually gay", Ms. Morris explained during a lively q+a following the screening. "The rest are familiar television actors who really responded to the script and wanted to be part of a quality project that showed gay men as having many dimensions." While sex is definitely a driving force for the characters, stability and fufillment trump everything else and by the end of the film, everyone has found themselves at a better, sometimes unexpected, place. Even the sole female's boyfriend, whose exposure to the gay men bring out his inner queer. "One word of advice", Ms. Morris cautioned. "Never introduce your straight boyfriend to your gay male friends.....it's a recipe for disaster." Wise words, indeed.
MR. RIGHT is one of several British films screening at the week-long festival. Also from the UK are director Richard Laxton's AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK, featuring a reprise by British actor John Hurt of his celebrated turn as gay raconteur Quentin Crisp, in a fictionalized account of the icon's final years in New York City; GREEK PETE, a documentary/fiction mix by director Andrew Haigh that follows a group of real life London male escorts; and SHANK, a contemporary coming-of-age film by Simon Pearce, set among gang members in London's working class districts that deals with both class and sexual identity issues.
Other European films making their debut at the Festival will be profiled in the next article. For more information on NewFest, visit their newly designed website: http://www.newfest.org/