The Reeler


May 30, 2007

In With the NewFest

Controversial Dorian Gray adaptation opens trailblazing LGBT festival's 19th run

David Gallagher as the title character in Duncan Roy's updating of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the opening-night film at this year's NewFest (Photo: Third Rock Films)

Like any film lover approaching the ripe old age of 19, NewFest is ready to stay up a bit later, talk a bit a longer and really take over New York this year. One of the world's most comprehensive film festivals dedicated to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, NewFest '07 (opening Thursday in Manhattan) features close to 250 films from over 30 countries, some reliving classic '80s pop flicks through a gay character’s eyes, others darkly reinventing classic gothic horror lit to include current feelings and fears throughout gay culture.

“You might call it taking a risk, and that’s OK,” NewFest artistic director Basil Tsiokos told The Reeler. “Part of what we do is we want to show the films that are going to challenge our audience. But at the same time, it’d be kind of a boring festival if I just showed films that will universally be welcomed.” The challenge du jour is Duncan Roy’s controversial retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which will premiere in New York as the festival's opening night film. Roy, who previously attended NewFest in 2002 with his film AKA, cast Seventh Heaven star David Gallagher as the famously handsome young lead, transferring the title character’s fear of aging with a more topical concern of the gay community: AIDS.

“I wouldn’t call the film experimental, because that might give people the wrong idea,” said Tsiokos, who joined the festival in 1996. “But the film is very innovative in its cinematography and the way that it uses the frames. It kind of explodes from its frame. There are lots of different things going on onscreen at the same time. It’s a very powerful story overall, and it’s going to split the audience, probably. But I think if people give it a fair shake they will really enjoy it.”

In his ongoing quest to strike a balance between the various preferences, lifestyles and tastes found among his festival's attendees, Tsiokos chose Save Me, Robert Cary’s drama about an ex-gay ministry, to close out the fest June 10; it’s a film he said will reconcile the divisions in viewer opinion established in NewFest's opener. Offsetting the dramatic tone that bookends the festival, a pair of comedies were selected as centerpiece films: Jamie Babbit’s Itty Bity Titty Committee, about a young lesbian who comes into womanhood after joining a group of anarchists; and Four Letter Word, New York-based filmmaker Casper Andreas’ feature that follows a gay protagonist on his mostly unwitting quest for love in the big city, will both have their respective New York premieres on June 2 and June 9. Also on the slate is the fourth annual Filmmakers Forum (a series of eight panel discussions on June 9 and 10) and a staged screenplay reading of Todd Stephen’s Another Gay Movie 2: Gays Gone Wild on Tuesday, June 12 at the Zipper Theater. (Stephens will also visit the Apple Store SoHo on June 5 to screen clips and discuss his film.)

Comprising a total of 34 New York premieres, 24 US premieres, eight world premieres and more than 125 shorts, many NewFest features and docs are loosely organized under one of five headings, such as Religion or Family Dynamics. But some films, like Russell P. Marleau’s semi-autobiographical The Curiosity of Chance, are a bit harder to categorize. "When I decided to do a teen comedy, I felt really inspired by [John Hughes’] movies and how funny they were and how much heart they had," Marleau told The Reeler. "So I kind of wanted to do something that could stand up to those films as far as quality, but still kind of put my own stamp on it."

While films like Curiosity sit somewhere between categories, the three-years-in-the-making documentary, Saving Marriage, which follows the effort to preserve gay marriage rights in Massachusetts, fits perfectly into the festival's Political focus.

“We were very careful,” co-director Mike Roth said, “to try to speak to the other side fairly and get their voice in the film so that the film would just be a little bit more palatable to people who are not necessarily on board with the marriage issue -- who are maybe more on the fence or haven’t really thought about it one way or the other. I think if we only showed one side to them, then the film would really be less persuasive.”

And with Coming Attractions, a closing-day panel discussion poised to present filmmakers’ as-yet-unfinished works, NewFest-goers won’t have to guess at the thematic expansion slated for next year’s 20th anniversary celebration.

“We’ve been here a very long time, and we started as very much of a grass roots festival growing out of the LGBT community,” Tsiokos said. “Even though things have changed dramatically in these last 19 years... there is still something undeniable about being able to gather thousands of gay people and lesbian people in one venue, in one theater to watch a film together communally, and to celebrate the images that they see on screen.”

NewFest runs May 31 - June 10 at the AMC Loews 34th Street and a handful of other venues. For program and ticket information, visit the festival's Web site.

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