It’s NewFest’s 25th anniversary: Celebrate with us this September!
The world of 1987 seems far away — we were deep in the years of the health crisis, and ACT UP was first being organized in New York. It was the year Barney Frank, an obscure Congressman from Massachusetts in his 4th term, came out publicly. And it was the year NewFest, New York’s LGBT Film Festival, was founded by Susan Horowitz, John Lewis and Daryl Chin.
This year marks NewFest’s 25th anniversary and so much has changed since our early days. If you had told our audience back in 1987 that one of our documentaries would end up being entered as evidence before the Supreme Court in defense of same-sex marriage, they probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Join the celebration: NewFest opens Friday, September 6th and runs through Wednesday, September 11th.
There’s a lot to celebrate. This year, the festival returns to our new home at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, one of the nation’s most important venues for independent film. Get ready for a program of must-see New York and world premieres. Parties and events you won’t want to miss.
Of course, there’s also much that remains to be done. After all, the technology of entertainment isn’t standing still. Which is why NewFest is joining forces with Outfest to create a national LGBT media arts organization. You heard something of this last year, and this year we’re moving forward with the planned merger of our two organizations.
The result will make NewFest stronger — with programming that will be year round as well as our annual festival.
Join with our vibrant and creative community: support NewFest today!
Whether you’ve been with us since 1987 or whether you just joined us last year, the strength of our organization is its membership. Thank you. Your support is crucial. If you were a Basic Member last year, consider moving up to become a Friend or Supporting Member. (Of course you get more benefits!) And if you were a Major Donor, consider giving just a little bit more. And doing it now.
Help make our 25th NewFest better than ever. We look forward to seeing you this September.
Here’s a sneak preview of our 2012 photo album from official photographer Scott Pasfield.. watch out for our Flickr feed in the next few days with all the photos from NewFest 2012!
2012 Visionary Honoree Edie Windsor
Supermodels Carol Alt and Pat Cleveland with Timothy Greenfield Sanders
Michael Riedel and Charles Busch
Don’t miss Marialy Rivas’ masterful and sexually charged Sundance Award-Winning film, YOUNG AND WILD, which closes this year’s festival.
Read Stephen Holden’s excellent expose on NewFest and its new partnerships with OutFest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Jump to Article
Due to high demand, we have added a second screening of I Want Your Love – Friday 27 at 9:30pm at the Walter Reade Theater.
Click here to buy tickets ($14 non-members, $12 members) and keep checking back for more screening updates!
NewFest’s 2012 Volunteer Center is now open! Shifts available at the Theater and at our Parties.
Previous volunteers: you will be sent a reminder with your login and password. Click here to login and self schedule yourself for available shifts.
To register as a new volunteer: Click here to sign up.
NewFest Box Office is now open to NewFest members.
To buy tickets: Members – click ‘Member login’. Non-members click ‘Become a NewFest Member’
NewFest 2012 will open with the East Coast premiere of Joshua Sanchez’s debut feature FOUR, executive produced by Neil LaBute. Starring Wendell Pierce (“Treme” and “The Wire”) and Emory Cohen (“Smash”) and adapted from Christopher Shinn’s hit play, FOUR follows four people as they spend a holiday encountering life changing moments, both subtle and writ large and learn to cope with the lack of honesty in their lives. FOUR is a touching and at times raw look at personal connections and the loneliness of everyday life.
Closing Night will be Marialy Rivas’ acclaimed Chilean film YOUNG & WILD. Based on the life of co-screenwriter Camila Gutiérrez, the film is a sexually-charged, stunning and energetic look at family and youth culture in contemporary Chile. The film was the recipient of the World Cinema Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Among the fourteen narrative and four documentary features (all New York premieres) are three additional 2012 Sundance Film Festival favorites: Macky Alston’s latest documentary LOVE FREE OR DIE about openly gay New Hampshire Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson (winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for An Agent of Change), Sally El Hosaini’s MY BROTHER THE DEVIL about two British Arab brothers in London who are forced to confront their inner demons (winner of the World Cinema Cinematography Award), and Aurora Guerrero’s debut feature MOSQUITA Y MARI, featuring two breakout lead performances by Fenessa Pineda and Venecia Troncoso. Also screening is Thom Fitzgerald’s latest, CLOUDBURST starring Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker and Kristin Booth.
In addition, NewFest is proud to present a screening of Eytan Fox’ acclaimed Israeli film YOSSI at the JCC Manhattan on July 30th. YOSSI is the sequel to Fox’s international hit YOSSI AND JAGGER, which premiered at NewFest in 2003.
For the full film schedule, click here
NewFest 2012 is almost here! Our schedule will be announced this Thursday 14th June and member priority period will begin the same day.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to renew your membership today at http://bit.ly/KfMkv8 to secure best access to 2012′s Festival!
Non-members will be able to buy tickets beginning Thursday 28th June.
What does the new alliance between Newfest and Outfest mean for NewFest membership?
We are pleased to announce that memberships at the Contributor Level and above will give you reciprocal benefits at Outfest. Click here for more details and to renew your membership.
What if I want to submit my film this year?
Submissions to this year’s festival are closed. There will be no new call for entries. If you submitted your film to Outfest it will also be considered for NewFest. Submission guidelines for next year’s festival will be announced at the end of 2012.
Are you still accepting tax-deductible donations?
YES. Donations are especially important at this critical threshold, as strong finances are key to forming an exciting national partnership with Outfest. Please donate here.
What about publicity and press inquiries?
All inquiries should be directed to Adam Kersh at Brigade Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel:
I wish to volunteer. Who should I contact?
A call for volunteers will happen in late June/early July . We look forward to an exciting festival this year, appreciate your participation. Details will be posted here.
When will it happen? What about tickets?
NewFest is scheduled for July 27-31st. Tickets will go on sale in June.
Where will it be?
NewFest is proud to announce its partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Most films will be shown at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam). We will also be showing YOSSI at the JCC Manhattan, Amsterdam Avenue at 76th St.
Outfest, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing, showcasing and protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media, announced today that it is forming a strategic partnership with NewFest, the New York LGBT film festival, with the intent of merging NewFest into Outfest and creating one national arts organization.
Outfest, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, will be responsible for programming this year’s edition of NewFest which will take place July 27 – 30, 2012 at a venue to be announced.
“Extending the reach of Outfest as a national organization and ensuring that Outfest continues to be a leader in bringing stories of the LGBT community to audiences is a great way to celebrate our 30th anniversary milestone,” said Outfest board Co-Presidents Jon Larson and Laura Ivey. “We look forward to working with the team at NewFest on their festival this year and on future initiatives,” added Kirsten Schaffer, Executive Director of Outfest.
NewFest Board Co-President Steve Mendelsohn said, “Outfest brings a wealth of knowledge and wide-ranging capabilities to NewFest and will enable us to enhance our annual festival and expand our year-round programming. The potential benefit for NewFest and New York’s LGBT film community as a whole is something we’re very excited about.”
CHECK BACK HERE FOR EXCITING DETAILS IN THE COMING WEEKS!
When you support NewFest with your membership dollars, at any level, you are expressing LGBT pride in a very important way — because you are helping to give greater visibility to films that tell our truths. At a time when corporations are pulling back from sponsorship, your membership dollars make the crucial difference in our ability to bring you the very best in LGBT film, and our ability to support filmmakers who take risks. We’re not only grateful for your support, it comes with benefits!
This piece originally appeared in the July 14, 2010 issue of Advertising Age.
Last week in the heart of Chelsea, in New York City, Joan Rivers got a standing ovation from her adoring gay and lesbian fans after the screening of a documentary about her life, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” The sold-out event at NewFest, New York’s premiere LGBT film festival, attracted a well-educated, professional (and good-looking) crowd of New Yorkers, most of whom were gay, and all of whom are prime targets for many of today’s brands from Heineken to American Express, and yet mainstream sponsors like these two (who, by the way, underwrote the Tribeca Film Festival in April) were nowhere to be found.
NewFest was made possible this year thanks to the generosity, primarily, of the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, with additional sponsorships from Showtime’s “The Real L Word,” Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, TekServe, Grand Marnier, IFP, The Gem Hotel, Viña Casablanca, Chilean wines Santa Carolina and NYC’s Gay & Lesbian Center, among others. Some of these sponsors are certainly big, mainstream brands, but what is interesting to me is that the top three are either owned by gay men or, in the case of Showtime, do programming specifically oriented to the gay and lesbian community. So I scratch my head, wondering if major brands simply don’t care about advertising to the LGBT community anymore.
The screening for ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’ received many sponsors, but none of the big guns.
“When brands actually create campaigns specifically targeting the LGBT community, they get comparatively stronger ROI,” says Bob Witeck, CEO, Witeck Combs Communications, a marketing communications and strategic consulting firm working in the LGBT market for over 17 years. According to Witeck, the key to tapping into this market is authenticity, consistency and durability. For brands like Orbitz, American Airlines and Kimpton Hotels, to name a few, marketing to the LGBT community has consistently paid off.
Hmm, that sounds a lot like what happens when marketers commit to marketing to Hispanics. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between these two markets. Both are racially and socio-economically diverse; both are trend-setting, technologically savvy, early adopters and heavy influencers; both are highly concentrated in the top ten DMAs of the country; both get the short end of advertising budgets, and yet both are fiercely loyal to brands that make an effort to reach them in relevant ways. Of course, it’s the LGBT market that gets the brunt of the hate mongering from conservative right-wingers, although lately I’d say Hispanics are certainly feeling the hate too, need I mention … Arizona?
But I digress. This month is gay pride month, and all across the nation, cities large and small will be hosting events to celebrate their lesbian and gay communities. According to Richard Florida, a professor of business and creativity at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, gay men and lesbians are a critical part of the so-called “creative class” that help cities become economically more competitive by making them more attractive to the intellectual classes that, in turn, help develop cultural and technological innovation, which foments the growth of our nation’s economy.
Research also shows that, even in tough economic times, LGBT communities tend to have more disposable income. So again, I scratch my head and wonder what the heck is going on.
“Gay-inclusive storytelling is what is suffering,” says Witeck. “Budgets are shifting to mainstream agencies who claim to have the LGBT competency in-house, but in reality assign the job to someone on staff who just happens to be gay.” And then, there’s also the issue around push-back from objectors like Bill O’Reilly and interest groups who are anti-gay. “Brands have a hard time navigating what they consider a cultural dialogue or debate, even though public opinion has changed, and acceptance is stronger,” says Witeck.
Specialized shops like Witeck-Combs, Prime Access and Target10 continue to do an excellent job for their clients, but the sad reality is that over the past two years, half a dozen gay advertising shops have closed, including the legendary Double Platinum, run by Stephanie Blackwood and Arthur Korant.
It seems like we are at a tipping point where it is tempting to want to bring minority groups into the fold and advertise with a one-size-fits-all message. But we all know that, in this post-advertising era where consumers are in control, it’s all about the long tail. NewFest closed last night with a sneak preview of CNN’s documentary “Gary & Tony Have Baby,” which airs nationwide on June 24th at 8 p.m. After ten fun-filled days of movies and parties, NewFest officials estimate that over 20,000 New Yorkers (who can sometimes be a tough crowd to please) watched, laughed and cried at 100 different stories of our community. What a missed opportunity for those brands who want real consumer engagement!
About the author: Chiqui Cartagena is the senior VP of multicultural marketing at Story Worldwide. She is also the author of Latino Boom!: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business in the U.S. Hispanic Market.
Photographer Scott Pasfield’s portraits for NewFest are also available on our Facebook page.
There’s an easier way than ever to attend a NewFest Filmmaker Workshop… in the comfort of your own home. Our innovative seminars (led by some of the best pros in the business) are now available as podcasts for download. Check us out on Podbean… or subscribe to our iTunes podcast feed. http://newfest2010.podbean.com/
Here’s a quick preview of our seminars being offered RIGHT NOW:
Strategies for Music In Narrative and Documentaries (Noon)
Music, which plays a crucial role in documentaries and narrative films, frequently provides the most obstacles and frustrations to filmmakers. Music industry professionals advise and guide you through processes ranging from clearing third party material to finding the right composer for your aesthetic requirements and budget. Moderator: Diedra Meredith (right), executive director of The LGBT Recording Academy.
Case Study in Narrative Indie Producing (1:30pm)
Producer-director-writer John G. Young joins Darien Sills-Evans, himself an actor, producer and writer, on a journey through the entire production and release process of their award-winning narrative and 2009 NewFest hit, RIVERS WASH OVER ME.
Shooting Digital For Documentary (3pm)
Director of Photography Elaine Epstein (right) conducts an informative workshop exploring the latest in digitalphotography equipment, technology, and technique. Discover what the latest innovations can do and get a hands-on look and expert advice on this rapidly changing field.
Reserve your tickets online for easy pick-up at The Cell, just across from the SVA Theater, 23rd Street at Eighth Avenue, in the heart of Chelsea.
Both our Daily Film Grid and our 2010 Program are available as pdf downloads by clicking the thumbnails at left and below.
Consider the common bear, with his large, heavy build, awkward gait and huge appetite. Hunted since prehistoric times for his meat and fur… precisely as he is today by many in the LGBT community.
Malcolm Ingram is fascinated by this.
The Toronto born-and-bred indie film director knows intuitively what it means to be a bear, that emerging subset of meatier, furrier gay men. Not only is he one; his latest film, BEAR NATION, examines the phenomenon in up-close and personal detail for a wider audience. We talked to Malcolm to learn more about these strong, cuddly creatures ahead of his movie’s Thursday debut at NewFest.
Fans of your earlier film Small Town Gay Bar will immediately see that this documentary is much lighter in tone…
It’s lighter, but it’s also a whole lot different. I went in like I was afraid it would turn out to be a lot more negative. Talking to folks within the community, well, people were so thankful that I was even there that, I don’t know, that Bear Nation turned out to be a love letter, a celebration, of what it means to be a bear.
That’s exactly one of the issues your movie examines. Would you be willing to pin yourself down and define ‘bear’ for us right now?
No! One of the biggest problems within the gay community in general is that everybody is so f–king quick to subcategorize us. The whole L-G-B-T-A-B-C thing is just so wrong. I like the word ‘queer.’ Hey, I’m totally queer, and I love that word. I don’t feel the need to narrow things down and say ‘I’m a bear with top tendencies, blah blah blah.’ In the end, I’m queer, and I like sucking d–k. I’m a dude who sucks c–k. I’m in that category… ultimately, there is a political element to our sexuality, but whatever.
So you consider yourself a bear.
Oh f–k yeah. If you saw me… I’m like 6’3″, 300 pounds (laughs) so I definitely am one. The bear community helped me come out of the closet; I didn’t come out until I was in my thirties. My introduction to gay culture was something I didn’t understand or fit into. Like, I would walk into a normal gay bar, and I didn’t fit into that whole world at all. I mean, it was like people were looking at a bus pass that nobody was waiting for. So the place I found my sexual identity, was at a bear bar (The Faultline in Los Angeles) where I suddenly realized, yeah, I have a sexual currency. It was kind of like when in The Wizard of Oz when everything went from black and white to color.
While making your movie, what other bear scenes did you find to be as welcoming?
The thing is, what’s so great about the bear community is that it’s welcoming everywhere you go. Period. The thing about it is, it’s global. Though there are bear clubs as far away as Japan, there’s a certain uniformity to the whole experience wherever you go. If you wanna go somewhere in the gay community where you know you’re going to be accepted just go the bear bar. Because at a bear bar, you’re going to find all kinds of different people where, essentially, if you don’t fit in, hey, that’s a great place to begin.
A guy you interviewed in Bear Nation says “being a bear is a state of mind.”
Yes. There are a lot of people who want to subcategorize everything, who feel the need to label everything. And I’m totally cool with it, but for me the bear community is the place for misfits, the people who don’t fit into any other rigid categories. It’s just a good place to hang your hat: It’s nonjudgmental, and the net is cast pretty wide. Ultimately, if you hang out in the bear community, you’re gonna eventually find someone who you want to f–k or someone who wants to f–k you!
GRRR! So what’s the best place for a bear lover to get his paws full of honey?
We shot at the XXL (Club) in London, and it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. The club has at least five different staging areas, and they fill it every Wednesday and Saturday. They run a major bear event twice a week, and they fill the place up… and get this, they’ve been doing it there for ten years. And if you go there, you’ll see the hottest, most interesting, eclectic group of guys. That’s because London gay nightlife is strongly influenced by, if not completely centered around, bear events.
You sure don’t talk like a guy who didn’t come out of the closet until his 30s.
It’s not so much that I didn’t come out, it’s that I didn’t have any group to come out to. It would have been like coming out in a vacuum; I just didn’t feel any connection. You know, I was having gay sex kind of under the radar, sure, but I didn’t really even figure out I was gay until the bear community gave me my identity. I mean, I looked at the gay community, and I felt like I was some kind of impostor until I found my niche — bears.
I say this because that’s the story I heard told over and over again while making Bear Nation. When doing my interviews for it and for Small Town Gay Bar, they were of people who were all sort of finding out where they belonged.
People trying to find a place to connect.
Absolutely. Plus, the bear scene is very much a celebration of masculinity. The difference between the leather scene, which also emphasizes a pointed display of manhood, is that it feels like those guys are wearing their masculinity kind of like drag, do you know what I mean? It just doesn’t feel as natural as the bear scene. It’s manufactured… their hyper-awareness of masculinity. Bears celebrate maleness in a much more organic way. You know, we in society put so much pressure and so much attention on physical appearance. Ultimately, the only thing that f–king matters is what’s in your head. Period. Being a human being is not just about what you look like. It’s everything else, man, that makes you who you are.
Malcolm Ingram, the director of “Small Town Gay Bar,” delivers an insightful yet comical exploration of bear identity, body image, and community, featuring bears of all ages and types. From Kevin Smith appearing on the cover of “A Bear’s Life” to behind the scenes of a Chicago circuit party called Bear Run, this documentary is for not only for members but also the aspiring and the bear-curious.
Now online… featuring portraits from our in-house photographer Scott Pasfield.
Check us out at http://www.flickr.com/photos/newfest2010/
NewFest 2010 continues its proud history of community partnerships with two documentary screenings tonight, both queer, both with a decidedly Jewish flair. They’re co-spoonsored by our friends at Faigele Film Festival: The New York Jewish LGBTQ Film Festival at Jewish Community Center:
First up at 7pm is Gay Days, by director Yair Qedar (pictured, right). This moving history of the LGBT rights movement in Israel features rare archival footage and interviews with human rights activists, sex workers, and the acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox.
Afterwards, we lighten things up a bit at 9pm with The So-Called Movie. Josh Dolgin, aka So-Called (below) is an unabashedly gay-Jewish-Canadian rapper known for his eclectic blend of hip hop and klezmer. The doc follows So-Called as he carries out his mission to bring a klezmer/funk hybrid mix to the music world. Be sure to stick around after the show for the audience talkback… and watch DJ So-Called touch the funk in a special live performance.
Both films will be screened at The Jewish Community Center, Amsterdam at West 76th Street, Manhattan. Tickets are available through this website, or at our box office at the SVA Theater, 23rd Street at Eighth Avenue in Chelsea.
NewFest’s Screenplay Competition & Reading Series is pleased to introduce the five finalists in our 2010 NewDraft competition, selected by a panel of film industry professionals. This year’s winner will be announced Saturday, June 12, at our 8PM awards ceremony. The finalists are:
Saturday’s Child by Shari Carpenter. A blaxploitation character defines the life of the actress who played her and the young girl who grows up admiring her.
The Mystic Chord by Rob Williams. After losing his memories following a nervous breakdown, Michael Van Allen must figure out who he is and what happened to him in the past.
Product Placement by Jennifer Hagel. A woman who specializes in product placement product-places herself into her love interest’s life.
Union by Whitney Hamilton. Grace Kieler takes on her dead brother’s identity to fight and survive the Civil War. Along the way, she finds true love with a caring widow.
Vampire Strippers Must Die! by Keith Hartman. A group of male strippers (half gay, half straight) on tour in Eastern Europe battle the undead.
The contest is dedicated to discovering and fostering LGBT feature screenwriters and/or LGBT feature screenplays.
You may already know filmmaker and screenwriter Rodney Evans as a favorite of NewFest, having won our 2008 NewDraft script competition for his full-length feature Day Dream, now in development. It’s a sure bet you’ll remember Rodney, too, if you were present for the staged reading of a scene from Day Dream that year… and for the standing ovation it received from the thrilled NewFest crowd.
Two years later, an even wider audience will have a chance to experience Evans’ work with his short film Billy and Aaron, developed in conjunction with Day Dream. It’s a fly-on-the-wall portrayal of jazz legend Billy Strayhorn (played by real life singer-musician Brandon Delagraentiss) and his lover Aaron Bridgers (Ignaro Petronillia) imagined during the time of a crossroads in their romance. Shot in an art deco theater and cafe – one that bears an uncanny resemblance to famous Harlem jazz venue Lenox Lounge – Evans created the piece while attending the prestigious director’s coaching program at Amsterdam’s Binger Filmlab. New York-based musician and composer Aaron Beall worked behind the scenes for Evans to recreate the instrumental version of ‘Lush Life,’ a 1938 Strayhorn standard used in the short.
I spoke briefly with Rodney to learn more about the openly gay Strayhorn, and about the musician’s collaboration with bandleader and composer Duke Ellington.
What brought you to Billy and Aaron’s story in the first place?
I came to know Billy Strayhorn through his music. I had heard ‘Lush Life’ around ten or 15 years ago, and it was one of those songs that really moved me, and that I thought was beautiful. I also read David Hajdu’s biography about him (Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn, 1996) and I found I could relate to a lot of his experiences. I thought it was a shame that so few people knew anything about him, and so that led me into further research into him, getting deeper into his music, studying his life, eventually deciding to write an original screenplay about him.
His connection to the Harlem Renaissance of the Jazz Age and to the gay demimonde of the time is a critical element to his story.
Here’s the way it was. Billy was a younger musician who was in awe of, and went out of his way to meet, the great and legendary Duke Ellington. It’s The Duke who gave him his first big break, hiring him as an arranger and an accompanist with the band, and that allowed Billy a lot of freedom as a gay man he wouldn’t have had otherwise. Because his finances were, well, taken care of, he was allowed to live this openly gay lifestyle, and not have to worry about the financial repercussions of coming out. I think in exchange, he wasn’t given credit at the time for a lot of songs he wrote for Duke. It was probably part of a tacit agreement he made with the big man himself: that, in order to live this open lifestyle on one hand, he would more or less live in the shadows while the Duke took all the bows.
Your film re-imagines a conversation Billy had with Aaron, when he decides he will not accompany his then-lover on a move to Paris. Are you saying this decision was largely driven by career and financial concerns?
I don’t think we’ll ever really know, as both men have both passed on. (My movie is a) fictional portrayal of their relationship, but it is based in facts. I did the hard research into his life to try and figure out what went into that and into other tough decisions he made, or was forced to make, in his career. You know, whether to step up and fight for the kind of credit he deserved as an artist, or, to live an openly gay lifestyle, write music he didn’t really get credit for, and more or less live in the shadows of the great Duke Ellington. He chose the latter, and had difficult life because of it.
It had so many repercussions: He was an alcoholic for decades, which shows how he was in many ways haunted by his life’s decisions. It’s difficult that in that kind of climate – of being a black musician in the 40s or 50s – there weren’t a lot of financial resources for artists; he knew he was fortunate just to have the steady paying gig that he did.
In a way, your film is a comment on what we now call the ‘down low,’ and the consequences of publicly coming out.
Yes, but this work is about my trying to delve into Billy’s experience, and trying to imagine it as fully as possible, and to do justice to it, first and foremost. That being said, I think the reason Billy’s story resonated with me, simply, are the ways that I can relate to his experience, and some of the similarities to things I’ve seen in my life, as a contemporary black gay artist. I think the connection between today’s black gay lifestyle and Billy Strayhorn’s experiences are very real. That made me want to delve deeper into what was going on in his life, and to depict it in Billy and Aaron.
From our film guide: Openly gay composer Bily Strayhorn deals with his life. Plays in Boys Will Be Boys shorts program. USA, 2009, 10 min. Q&A with filmmaker; reception to follow. Plays with Children of God, tonight at Harlem Stage, 7:30pm.
NewFest is proud to present Sex in an Epidemic, a pioneering documentary by Jean Carlomusto “exploring the personal, political and structural challenges… of HIV educators.”
A longtime feminist and community activist, Carlomusto was at the front lines of efforts to curb the spread of AIDS at the onset of the terrifying new disease; as a career videographer and documentarian, she was in the unique position to interview many of the early important figures in the fight against HIV. It is her own footage, along with archival interviews from the New York LGBT Center, the Lesbian Herstory Archives and other organizations, that lay the foundation for her story.
NewFest spoke to the filmmaker-historian a day ahead of her film’s Saturday screening.
I can honestly say this is a movie that should be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
I agree. The reason I made it is because I wanted to start a larger dialogue once again, because it seems like AIDS and HIV prevention have completely slipped off the map. You know, that wouldn’t be a bad thing if the numbers weren’t rising. In this country we’re getting more than 60,000 new cases a year, and that’s simply unsustainable. I should think by now that the numbers would be less than half of that, but they’re not.
Well, to begin with you call the movie Sex in an Epidemic. A lot of people don’t even view this as an epidemic any more.
That’s completely true. They think the epidemic is in Africa.
Do you think that this complacency stems from the comfort level created by the development of life-prolonging drugs, protease inhibitors and others, over the last 15 years?
It’s partially that. It’s partially that the politics have really moved on. Right now I see how much of the energy is focused on issues of same sex marriage and transgender issues. While I think they’re both very important issues, I don’t think we can afford to be cavalier about HIV. It’s amazing to me. I really don’t think we would even be talking about same sex marriage and transgender issues at all if it weren’t for the real political mobilization that came after HIV. We just wouldn’t be here; the system wouldn’t be in place.
I have always been particularly moved, watching movies like yours, to see how lesbians have been at the forefront in the fight against HIV from day one. It’s ironic, because lesbians are the group least likely, because of the way HIV is transmitted, to acquire the disease. So here’s a tough question. Do you think if the shoe were on the other foot, and it was the women who were getting sick, that the gay men would have come out fighting for you the way you did for us?
It’s a real loaded question, one that I don’t have the answer to. I think they would have… because the disease occurred first in the gay male population, we saw the fight against AIDS, initially, as part of a larger fight against homophobia in general. We felt like, this is homophobia, and because we’re homosexuals too, we have to do something about it. As I got more involved I saw how things permeated, that is, how a lot of other social ills were exposed (by the AIDS crisis) but I have to say it was homophobia that provided the initial spark to get so many lesbians involved.
Of course, I don’t know if I can speak for all lesbians on that. I think a lot of women got into the movement out of concerns about the health care system. At least that was my take on it at the time. But certainly in New York, people were so scared, so afraid of anything gay. Gay people had become pariahs, so homophobia was a huge concern.
Did you happen to know many people, before you became an activist, who were diagnosed with AIDS?
As I got more involved with HIV, I started to meet more and more people living with it. In the early days, yes, I knew a few people, but I was also aware that the numbers were rising. I started volunteering at Gay Men’s Health Crisis around ’86, and of course I started to meet a lot more guys who were sick; that’s when people were dying a lot quicker. I had about two or three different supervisors at GMHC… Joey Leonte, for example, who’s interviewed in the film, is the guy who hired me. He’s no longer with us. The way things went there quickly because repetitive: people would start to get sick, then a short while later they’d be cleaning out their desks, then a short while after that you’d be sitting at their memorial service. It was horrible.
More about those early days. You provide some fascinating interview footage with AIDS activist Larry Kramer and other gay men whose approach to battling the disease was to get the word out to as many people as possible, and to scare everybody about AIDS. Others, including a doctor you interviewed, said it was better to err on the side of caution, and avoid panic. As an activist on the front line of the fight from the beginning, where did you fall on that discussion at the time?
Simple. Early on, GMHC was following the CDC’s recommendations, which was to limit the number of your sexual partners, to not do poppers, not to go to the bathhouses. That was the early information we were giving out. It was a very, very hard situation to be in at the time. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I wanted to make the film. I feel for Larry Mass — the doctor everybody was coming to (for questions about AIDS) at a time when nobody really knew what the truth was. As a physician, he didn’t have a theory that told him, hey, this is a one shot deal — a disease you could get from just one sexual encounter – and that you just shouldn’t have sex at all without a rubber. (Noted AIDS researcher and physician) Joe Sonnabend came up with a lot of that early information, but he had a model that was ultimately false. It was based on bactorialism, but still, were ideas that allowed him to come up with some very useful safer sex guidelines, many of which were still usable even after the HIV virus was discovered.
We all look back with pride, now, at a lot of the anti-AIDS activism, and the protest actions conducted by ACT UP, Queer Nation, and other groups back in the day. But there was a real controversy surrounding that kind of aggressive approach to demanding funding for HIV at the time, that I don’t think younger people really understand. There were big differences within the gay community as well as to how the fight against AIDS should be approached.
In New York, most of the controversy centered around the St. Patrick’s church action (On December 10, 1989, approximately 5,000 members of ACT UP and WHAM protested outside of the cathedral, while 43 people disrupted mass, in a demonstration against Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor’s public stand against AIDS education and condom distribution in public high schools, and abortion.-Eds.) The media clamped on to it in a way that never really went away. Initially they had been kind of supportive, or at least were getting there, but things started to turn when they started to document the outrage that a Catholic mass had been interrupted.
Television stations all over the country ran that story, and the reaction to it, for days after the incident.
Yes, and it certainly raised questions about what kind of approach we should be taking within the group as well, even within ACT UP and other political groups. People were wondering if we went too far. I’ll never forget Ray Novarro, an activist at the time, who said something important: that we shouldn’t let the media redefine this event. That action happened at a time when the church was taking a very political stand that was destructive and was killing people; the gentleman who knocked the host out of the cardinal’s hands was a Catholic who had grown up in the system, and that is where he took it (his activism.)
Taken in context, it makes a lot more sense as an act of protest, whether you agree with what the guy did or not.
That got a lot of play. But one thing that I liked about that action, which didn’t get a lot of play at the time, was the fact that it was co-sponsored by WHAM, the Women’s Health Action Mobilization. They were really great about talking about women’s issues. On a larger scale, I thought their presence there was a great example of some of the types of bridge-building going on.
You make an interesting point in Sex in an Epidemic: that, for many men affected during the early days of AIDS, sleeping around meant much more than just having a good time. It was almost a political act, for those who grew up during the repressive 1950s.
That’s a big part of what the film’s about. As a documentarian who interviewed all of these guys… after HIV was discovered, and people could all agree what the basic outline for promoting safer sex should be, groups like GMHC spent an awful lot of time bringing in some very creative folks figuring out how to drive the safer sex message across. So, you had somebody like Raymond Jacobs – he was this fabulous theater queen who had been in the original cast of Hair, and used to talk about dancing naked on stage – who pioneered how to talk about prevention. So he produced this film called Chance of a Lifetime (1985). The tactic was not to scare people so much, but to simply talk about sex, in a non-judgemental way. Because once you start talking about sex, you realize there are a lot of different ways to have it. That’s the part of the discussion that I really got into, as a lesbian. What I appreciated so much was the fact that this stigmatized population was going back to what created their identity – their sexuality. They were saying, hey, let’s talk about it, let’s figure out fun ways to make it safer.
I’m not romanticizing it. We would even sit around in groups and a facilitator would say, ‘Okay, let’s name every sex act we can think of that doesn’t involve sucking or fucking.’ All of these fascinating things would come up, like shrimping; I would think to myself, oh my god, what is shrinmping? (Laughs) Yes, it’s sucking on toes and it’s safe. (Laughs) But I consider such discussions to be very enlightening. There are all these different sexual modalities that were shared during these discussions, which became a very important part of safe sex education. And you know, these things were just as important for women, which I realized right off the bat, having come from a feminist background. But these early sessions were just as important for gay men, because, at the time, the nightlife and bath house culture didn’t allow for discussions of these different shades of sexuality.
Is there anything in particular you want audiences to think about while viewing Sex in an Epidemic?
I’m really interested in promoting a historical bridge from the past, in a way that shows our history is on a continuum, and that the kind of work you see in my film is still being done today. (That kind of work) needs to be amplified, and we need to go back, constantly, and think about the tragic about of loss we suffered, and out of that loss, what was gained. We gained a lot of momentum for gay rights from that period of time, and that alone should make us at least knowledgeable about the state of HIV prevention.
From our film guide: An engaging and illuminating documentary about the history and evolution of safe sex in the face of a deadly epidemic. Mostly New York based subjects including Act Up activists tell the extraordinary story about how out of a time of panic and chaos came the invention of safe sex, and the subsequent difficulty in publicizing it as a concept because of political opposition. Q&A with Filmmaker. Saturday June 5, 3PM.
Working Actor’s Survival Kit: Building Your Career as an LGBT Performer (1PM, 90 min.)
KIM MOAREFI has a varied career in casting and production for films, television and theater. Select feature and TV casting credits include: HBO movies Grey Gardens, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore; Doris and Bernard, starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes; and Polio Water, starring Misha Barton and Cherry Jones. Select theater casting credits include: Macbeth and Julius Caesar for Shakespeare on the Sound and The Exonerated, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Mia Farrow, Jeff Goldblum, and Aidan Quinn, which played Off Broadway. She was also a casting director for the NBC daytime series Passions. She is a member of the Casting Society of America.