Baby Bump, Polish film, received a special mention from the Queer Lion jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2015
More than 100 features and short films are being shown at NewFest: New York’s LGBT Film Festival this year, and the slate includes the largest offering of international films in the festival’s history.
“More filmmakers around the world are interested in telling LGBTQ stories, and they’re doing them better than ever,” NewFest Executive Director Robert Kushner told NBC OUT.
With 18 countries represented at this year’s festival, which runs from October 20-25, there are plenty of international films to choose from, but here 11 to put on your radar:
Different from the Others (Germany)
We’d be remiss to kick off this list with any film other than 1919’s “Different From the Others (“Anders als die Andern”). Believed to be one of the first depictions of a same-sex couple on film, this work was destroyed by the Nazis. After a six-year restoration process, however, the movie has been largely restored from pieces of it found all over Eastern Europe. We might not ever see the full film, but at almost an hour in length and presented on 35mm film with piano accompaniment, this is a rare treat not to be missed. How rare? The restored work has only been previously shown in Berlin and Los Angeles.
As for the film’s plot, “Different From the Others” finds a violinist falling for a male student. But Paragraph 175, the German law criminalizing homosexuality that predated the Nazis’ rise to power, leaves the men vulnerable to an extortionist. LGBT activist and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who co-wrote the film, appears as the doctor and helps offer a sympathetic view of homosexuals at a time when you’d be hard-pressed to find many such representations. (Friday, Oct. 21, at 6:30 p.m.)
The Pass (UK)
The film with the highest profile screening at the festival is arguably “The Pass.” Based on John Donnelly’s (who also adapted the screenplay) successful stage play of the same name, the film sees out actor Russell Tovey (“Looking”) reprising his role as closeted professional soccer player Jason. The film will have its North American premiere at NewFest.
The film also stars Arinze Kene as Ade, Jason’s teammate. After years of playing in the same soccer academy, the two men find themselves called up to the first team and awaiting a Champions League game in a Romanian hotel room. Restless, instead of sleeping they fool around until that leads to fooling around. The consequences of that night are shown in three acts that span a decade. As is true in the real world (i.e. homophobic backlash is still such a concern that no player has ever come out while playing in the English Premier League), the cost of maintaining an authentic private life is weighed against the importance of protecting one’s public image in a culture that makes idols out of its soccer stars. (Thursday, Oct. 20 at 7:00 p.m.)
“Rara” is a “lesbian film” though it’s not told through the perspective of its lesbian characters. Told from the point of view of 13-year-old Sara, “Rara” finds a family breaking apart after what’s become a bitter divorce. Sara and her younger sister, Catalina, live with their mom, Paula, and her girlfriend, Lia. Everything’s coming along nicely until troubles at school, Sara’s teenage rebellious stage and Paula’s temper give the girls’ father, Victor, the excuse he needs to fight for custody.
Despite its subject matter and the fact that it’s based on a true story (co-writer Alicia Scherson lost custody of her children in 2004 because of her sexual orientation), the film is nonetheless light in tone and an easy watch. (Thursday Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m.)
Baby Bump (Poland)
If you enjoy avant-garde cinema, “Baby Bump” is not to be missed. This Polish film received a special mention from the Queer Lion jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2015, and if, like me, you enjoy the occasional use of tasteful animation in your live-action films, you’ll find “Baby Bump” a joy for the eyes.
The protagonist is Mickey House (not to be confused with the not-quite-as-adorable cartoon mouse of a similar sounding name), an 11-year-old boy who’s trying to come to terms with his body and changing world. How many little boys do you know who sell their urine for drug tests? Well if you had no friends, a mystery for a mom and a pair of growing ears, peeing in a cup would probably seem relatively normal. But at least he’s got his animated pal/sometimes nemesis Jerboa Mouse to guide him through it all. If you’re cool with bodily fluids and want something different, this just might be the movie for you. (Thursday, Oct. 20 at 10:00 p.m.)
Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo (France)
“One of the most powerful films we have at the festival” is how Kushner describes “Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo.” Previous audiences have agreed, resulting in the film taking home the Teddy Audience Award at Berlinale in 2016.
The film starts off with a gay orgy scene in a club that lasts just under 20 minutes. While perhaps the most unlikely of circumstances to form a true love connection, that’s how Theo and Hugo meet and get started on their real-time love story. Real-time meaning the men meet at 4:27 a.m. and their time together ends at — you guessed it — 5:59 a.m (the film is 93 minutes in length to reflect this). So, can you fall in love in 93 minutes? Watching Theo and Hugo bicycling through the streets of Paris as they get to know each other will make the romantic in you say “yes.” (Friday, Oct. 21 at 9:00 p.m.)
Plaza de la Soledad (Mexico)
The first documentary on our list, “Plaza de la Soledad” follows aging sex workers in La Merced, Mexico. Perhaps the most surprising fact about this beautifully shot film is that two of its subjects are in a relationship together. Esther and Ángeles have been in a relationship for 14 years, during which time the older and wiser Esther has tried to make Ángeles more street smart — but now she may be a little too smart for Esther’s liking.
A handful of other women are featured in filmmaker and famed photographer Maya Goded’s first feature film, which is much more than an impressive first kick at the can. (Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:45 p.m.)
Girl Gets Girl (Spain)
Nearly 10 years after her popular Spanish web series, “Girl Seeks Girl” (“Chica Busca Chica”), debuted, out creator Sonia Sebastián has returned with “Girl Gets Girl” (“De Chica en Chica”), a film heavily influenced by the web show. While the characters’ names have changed, their personality traits remain, and most of the actors have returned, including Inés, the lesbian lothario; Verónica, her neurotic ex; and Verónica’s best friend — and Inés’ crush — Lola.
As for the storyline, having run off to Miami after leaving a pregnant Verónica at the altar, Inés returns to Madrid just in time for her daughter’s “period party,” which Lola will of course be attending. Don’t take this film too seriously, and you’re guaranteed to have a good time. (Sunday, Oct. 23 at 12:00 p.m.)
Out Run (USA/Philippines)
One of the last places you’d probably expect to find the world’s only LGBT political party is the predominantly Catholic country of the Philippines — and yet that’s where the Ladlad Party and their three political hopefuls hail from. This fascinating documentary looks at these three candidates (two gay men and a trans woman), their campaigns and the campaigns against them as they ran for office in 2013.
With limited funds, the Ladlad candidates are forced to travel the country meeting voters in lieu of setting up a massive ad campaign. Numbers confirm that if every eligible LGBT voter supported these candidates, they would all be a shoo-in. But if not, Ladlad will have to fold, as election rules in the country state that a new party cannot run unsuccessfully more than twice in a row. (Sunday, Oct. 23 at 2:15 p.m.)
In “Blush” (“Barash”), Naama finds herself in her sister’s shadow and living a relatively boring life until the rebellious Hershko shows up. Suddenly, Naama is in the midst of a sexual awakening that’s coupled with light drug use, lesbian clubs and an awkward first time. But Hershko’s family life has its own troubles, and she still insists on keeping her manipulative older ex around. At 17 and facing her first real love, however, Naama is willing to go all in. Writer-director Michal Vinik, however, insists the film is not a coming out story: “It’s not about that. It was never about that. I didn’t have a closet. For me, it’s not material that is interesting,”
“Blush” was shot at real parties and locations in Tel Aviv, and it’s amazing soundtrack and authentic feel set it apart even within Israeli cinema. (Sunday, Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m.)
Don’t Call Me Son (Brazil)
“Don’t Call Me Son” (Mãe Só Há Uma) won the Teddy Award for best LGBT film at Berlinale in 2016. In the film, bisexual, crossdressing protagonist Pierre is shocked to discover at 17 that he was stolen from the maternity ward as a baby by the very woman he calls mom. With the truth discovered and his working class mother arrested, his rich birth parents want his return. But Pierre’s dresses and punk style don’t clash well with his new conservative family, who insist on molding Pierre into the son they thought they’d lost.
Despite his complex circumstances, Pierre continues exploring his sexual and gender identity. More than ever, identity — or a lack thereof — matters to him. Based on a true story, the standout performance in this film goes to Daniela Nefussi, who plays both of Pierre’s mothers and brings new meaning to the movie’s Portuguese title, which translates to “there’s only one mother.” (Sunday, Oct. 23 at 4:00 p.m.)
Would you risk it all for a second shot at love? That’s what “Esteros” explores. In the film, Matías and Jerónimo reunite more than a decade after their attraction first became apparent as teenagers. When family judgment got in the way, Matías was forced to move to Brazil. And while Matías has now returned to their hometown in Argentina, he’s brought his girlfriend along with him and complicated matters further. The men’s chemistry, however, remains. But whereas Jerónimo is a confident and out gay man, Matías has barely allowed himself to question his sexuality.
“Esteros” is the follow-up to director Papu Curotto’s 2015 short, “Matías and Jerónimo.” Beautifully shot and executed, this is not one to miss. (Monday, Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m.)
NBC News by Daniela Costa