by Vanessa, Ali and Gabrielle
NewFest, NYC's premier LGBT film festival, ran from July 27–31 and featured 22 films. We -- Ali, Vanessa, and Gabrielle -- saw a few of those films and we're all really excited to tell you about them. There just wasn't enough time to see all the films, but the ones we caught were among the most well-produced, well-directed and well-performed LGBT films we'd ever seen. So grab some popcorn to munch on while you read these reviews – it’ll be just like going to the movies, but you don’t have to leave your house or put pants on! Please silence your cell phones; the feature is about to begin.
Cloudburst (Thom Fitzgerald, 2011)
Cloudburst captured my heart easily. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald, who said in the Q&A session after the film that he based the story on his own relationship with his longtime partner, the film tells the story of Dotty (Brenda Fricker) and Stella (Olympia Dukakis), an elderly couple living on the coastline of Maine. Dotty is blind, and one of the first scenes in the movie shows Stella guiding her down a path near their house, down to the edge of the water so they can watch the sunset together. Stella describes the landscape -- which is breathtaking -- in a way that makes it clear they have done this many times before. Dotty asks Stella to tell her what the clouds look like that evening, and I almost burst into tears from the tenderness of it all.
The story really takes off when Dotty has an accident (spoiler: it’s a hilarious scene involving a vibrator) and is coerced into a nursing home by her granddaughter Molly, who has somehow not figured out that her grandma’s “best friend” of 31 years is actually something a little bit more. Stella, fearful that Molly will be able to legally keep her away from Dotty, launches her own plan. She rescues Dotty from the nursing home and the two embark on an eventful road trip to Canada, where they plan to marry (thus ending Molly’s legal control over Dotty’s life.) They pick up a young male hitchhiker, Prentice (Ryan Doucette), who says he needs to get home because his mother is dying.
I could go over the details of the film, the parts that made me laugh (there were so many!) and the parts that made me cry (I cried so much), but I think that would be boring for you and also I think you should try to see the film and I don’t want to spoil it. Instead, I want to talk about how fantastic it was to see a true honest story about two old women in a real relationship with feelings and nuance and layers and depth.
As a society and even sometimes as a community, I think we're afraid to acknowledge old people. Queer bodies in mainstream media often look a very specific way: white, thin, young, pretty. If a character doesn’t look that way in a film or a television show, they’re used as a token, a punch line, or a plot device. It was so refreshing to see a movie that not only passed the Bechdel test with flying colors, but also went outside the comfort zone of what we are conditioned to think of as “romantic” or “sexy” and succeeded in making us care for the characters anyway.
Laughing and crying with the characters -- not at them or for them -- created a powerful environment wherein the audience saw Dotty and Stella as our equals. I felt as though the film was very brave, but not in a self-congratulatory way. Its raison d’etre was not to fight ageism or fatphobia or even the political battles its plot is staked on. But it does all those things, seemingly effortlessly. It is, plain and simple, a love story that made me laugh and cry and think. I’m still thinking about it, one week later. To me, that’s a perfect film.
Mosquita Y Mari (Aurora Guerrero, 2012)
Mosquita Y Mari written and directed by Aurora Guerrero, made me feel a lot of feelings. The film is about two Chicana high schoolers growing up in Southeast L.A. and that confusing time when they start to figure out they have feelings for each other. Yolanda (played by newcomer Fanessa Pineda) and Mari (played by yet another fairly new face, Venecia Troncoso) become math study partners and fast friends.
These two new actors perfectly capture what it is to find your first love at the age of 15. The innocence of it -- what constitutes showing affection when you're a Sophomore in high school? The awareness that you have these feelings and the jarring uncertainty, the fact that you don't know what to do with these feelings. Pineda and Tronscoso did a brilliant job both encompassing that in their own emotional life and making that relatable to audience members. The casting was brilliant, and not just for our two young leads. Yolanda's parents (Joaquín Garrido and Laura Patalano) have this wonderful comedic timing and are so truthful in their reactions. Patalano has a great moment when she realizes what kinds of feelings her daughter is having -- and there are no words, just a reaction. It moves the story forward more than any dialogue could have, and there's no question as to what is going on in her head. I like that they don't demonize the parents in this portrayal. They are also well-rounded people with weaknesses and strengths, same as the two main characters. There were so very few weak moments in the film, and they were carried through well by the cast. Guerrero should be very proud of the work she did in this department.
We also had the pleasure of a Q&A session with Guerrero after the screening, which incidentally also made me feel a lot of feelings. We learned that the casting, as strong as it was, wasn't finished until three days before the shoot, and Patalano was asked one day before the shoot to step in for an actress whose visa fell through. We were also given a little insight into Guerrero's deep connection with this material. It started out as an assignment -- write something you know. But as the story poured out of her, she realized she was telling her own first love story, a story she wasn't aware she had until she looked back and realized what her feelings were telling her. "I feel like I did give birth to myself," she said, with regards to her personal ties to the script and the project as a whole.
The entire experience, both the screening and the Q&A, brought up a lot about my own childhood -- one that looked nothing like what I was seeing on the screen. And yet, despite the vast differences (I grew up in rural New Jersey, the daughter of fairly well-off parents) I felt an emotional link to the material. Looking back and realizing that the first time I saw a childhood friend naked, my fascination with her body was not just a fascination with something new. And while I wouldn't call her my first love, the complete lack of knowing how to process this new information, not knowing this was an option because I hadn't seen a gay person ever, was something I could definitely relate to from this movie. The story is so specific that it becomes universal. I'd bet every person there, regardless of sexual orientation or race or distance from their childhood, could see a little bit of their own lives in the beautifully shot world of Mosquita Y Mari.
The film is opening in New York -- like opening opening, outside of the festival world! That means if you didn't see it this week as part of Newfest, you still can! It opens on Friday, August 3rd at Cinema Village in Manhattan. And guess what? The director will be there all three evenings opening weekend for the same kind of Q&A that we were so fortunate to have, with only the exclusion of the Sunday matinée. Some of the Big Apple Autostraddlers will be there, so you should go if you can. And if you're not in the New York area, the film's website tells me that the movie is coming soon to Vancouver, Melbourne, and Dublin as well.
Young & Wild (Marialy Rivas, 2012)
Young & Wild is about a teenage girl named Daniela, whose character is based on a real life bisexual, evangelical blogger from Santiago, Chile, named Camila Gutiérrez. The narrative is revealed through both the events that happen in the reality of the movie and through Daniela's interpretations on her blog. Her blog functions as a very real space for her. When she's writing or reading comments, she's completely In It, and the film does a fantastic job of portraying that experience.
Daniela writes about her insatiable sex drive -- illustrated with flashing graphics of a vagina catching fire -- and also her religion. Binaries like that are present throughout the film: religion and sin; the internet and reality; attraction to men and to women; the conservativeness of previous generations and the openness of the new generation; and the choice Daniela makes between her own desires and what her family desires for her. It makes for a very stressful, yet rewarding, viewing experience.
Daniela's character is fractured amidst the various demands placed on her and her own desires. She gets kicked out of school for having sex, and is sent by her strict "Spy Mom" to work at an evangelical film center, interviewing people about how they found Jesus Christ. There, she meets a boy she begins dating, as well as the girl she begins cheating on him with. She writes that she likes both "bacon and tofu," though does not ever clarify who she thinks is the bacon and who the tofu (what do you think? I've been going back and forth). She has sex with both bacon and tofu in secret, for fornication with anyone is the ultimate sin.
Chile is just as fractured as Daniela. Traditionally a very conservative place, a new generation who advocates for sexual freedom is starting to be heard, through voices like Camila Gutiérrez and the film's director, Marialy Rivas. Rivas and Gutiérrez actually wrote the film together, along with Pedro Peirano and Sebastián Sepúlveda. Rivas was a reader of the blog, and contacted Gutiérrez about writing the film together. It's basically a Cinderella story of blogs.
I was blown away by the acting in this film, especially that of Alicia Rodríguez, who plays Daniela. I also had a lot of feelings about the portrayal of bisexuality; Daniela's attraction to both bacon and tofu was so earnest that it was really refreshing to watch. She's so in touch with her own desires and so willing and excited to explore sexuality. I'm not going to give away the end, because I want you all to see it, but the final minutes were the most jarring, as her elaborate secret life comes to an inevitable end.
According to Rivas, the film was well-received in Chile, due in large part to the timing. Around the date of the premier, a young gay man was brutally murdered in a hate crime. And so LGBT equality was in everyone's minds, and people were ready to unify in support.
Fun fact: in real life, Gutiérrez is now a 26-year-old journalist for an anarchist newspaper in Chile.
If you're interested in venturing out into the real world and watching some LGBT films yourself, you're in luck. 'Tis the season for LGBT film festivals, and one may be popping up near you (Vancouver, North Carolina, Austin, Portland, and Tampa, we're looking at you!) Or if you'd really like to see some great films but absolutely don't want to leave the house, you could check out BuskFilms, which is kind of like Netflix but supports independent artists and is totally gay. The options are as limitless as our love for the films we saw at NewFest.