By Roger Costa
QUEEN OF LAPA
Very intimate, inclusive and truthful, Directors Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat paint an accomplished portrait of being marginalized in Brazil, as they follow the struggle of an aging sex-worker to maintain her house’s operations, while guiding the newcomers. Luana Muniz was the most notorious transgender personality in Rio, managing a house devoted to shelter youngsters in search of work and freedom. As a role model fighting for their rights and dignity, Luana became a national sensation for the cause, and for creating protective actions for the community. Following her, and the young workers, venturing the dangerous streets and facing brutality and prejudice, the directors collect insightful testimonies, vividly capturing their thrills, joy and perspectives. Honest and sensitive, it’s a mesmerizing and heartbreaking look at economic despair, personal trauma and comradeship.
TU ME MANQUES
Winner of the Screenwriting award at L.A. OutFest, director Rodrigo Bellott’s moving drama is a modern neo-noir, superbly performed and brilliantly executed. Bolivia’s official entry for the Oscar’s Best International Film, it depicts the devastating effects caused by an unexpected suicide. A father learns of his son’s sexual preferences and tries to connect to his boyfriend in order to understand the situation. Addressing prejudice, acceptance, emotional negligence and the risks of a violent, unbalanced world, the film conducts the material with preciseness and efficiency. The great Argentinian actor Oscar Martínez should get an Oscar nomination for his role as the anguished father, gathering the pieces of the puzzle while making peace with his past. Highly emotional and inventive with the use of multiple actors, punctuated by sharp dialogue examining the right to love, suffer and grief, as well as a meditation on the clash of generations, Bellott conceived a masterpiece.
After his ritualistic romance “Ixcanul”, director Jayro Bustamante returns with this controversial look at family bond, hypocrisy and religious dogma in Guatemala. A married man is confronted by his sexual impulses as he develops an intense affair with another man. Observing the depths of its characters, the process of acceptance, transformation and healing, Bustamante addresses the topics of being gay in Latin America, especially if that involves religiosity. As the man cannot leave his forbidden desires behind, he enters an exorcism treatment, revealing societal intolerance and manipulation. Ambiguously erotic and tragic, it showcases Bustamante unique ability to unveil traumatized emotions, creating a sensual, stirring and provocative top-notch work.
Outrageously funny and smart, actor-turned-writer-director Mike Doyle’s debut is a celebration of love, friendship and urban vibes in the digital era. It gathers a clan of hipsters, horny and soulmate-seeking folks as they merge in the big city, sharing adventures, secrets, intimacy and personal crisis. A gay couple in conflict with their different social status, a teacher involved with her 17-year-old student, a lonely 30-something lady attracted to a sexy homeless man, an art-dealer in a multi-racial relationship and other eccentric figures populated the film’s world. A stellar cast delivers fine performances, including Scott Evans, Kate Walsh, Zoe Chao and Oscar-nominee Patricia Clarkson. A timely comedy of manners, beautifully connecting art to the process of finding love in the Big Apple, it’s a modern, crowd-pleasing romantic experience.
Accomplished documentarian Megan Wennberg scoops out the lives of four preteens as they enter a drag queen contest, showing off their incredible eagerness and distinguished talent. Stephan, a 9-year-old British boy who embodies Lady Gaga; Jason, a Hispanic descendant from Missouri; Nemis, aka Queen Lactatia, an outspoken, confident boy from Canada, and Bracken, a girl who can only express herself when in drag. As the cameras follow them through routine situations, touring, rehearsals, and meetings, the director creates a love letter to family values, endurance, and strength, with focus on the children’s behavior and passionate quest for artistry, as well as their parents’ supportive reactions. Presenting real-time conflicts, premature ego, anxiety and joy, it’s a unique, glamorous and touching experience that teaches us how to understand and accept everyone just as they are. Extraordinary!
A late coming-of-age story where a young man finally leaves his mother’s house to make it in the big city. Funny, inventive and heartwarming, it centers on his relationships to a flirtatious neighbor, his co-dependent behavior towards mother, his imaginary fetish “macho man”, known as “Mr. Leather”, and the tender connection to a 6-year-old boy whom he baby-sits. Living with a clan of hipster roommates, he must act quickly before the city traps him. Co-writer/director Mark Blane (Ben Mankoff shares the credit) gives a fascinating breakthrough performance as the protagonist, a lovable figure for whom the audience immediately gets hooked up. Also, the boy Joseph Seuffert in the role of Milo, steals every scene he’s in with candor and honesty. Utterly funny and convincing, it’s an impressive debut.
ZEN IN THE ICE RIFT
Italian director Margherita Ferri’s feature length debut is an observational and lyric drama following the transformations and self-conflicts of a hockey star girl as she enters maturity and digs up her sexuality. Dealing with bullying, violence, acceptance and prejudice, she finds opportunity for a first romance when one of her classmates needs help hiding out. They develop an intense, risky and tumultuous relationship, stirring up prejudice and other reactions in their community. A multiple Winner at San Francisco LGBTQ Film Festival, and nominated for the Queer Palm at this year’s Venice, Ferri crafts a beautiful and enigmatic look at first love, this generation’s violent tendencies and the constant quest for freedom.
AND THEN WE DANCED
Sweden’s International Film entry for next year’s Oscars is an astonishing romance about two devoted dancers engaged in a production, and eventually becoming rivals. Award-winning director Levan Akin’s third feature film is a passionate, authentic and exquisitely vivid look at family traditions, comradeship, loyalty and devotion for art. As they delve into each other’s arms they must face the perils of society, as well as their individual goals to reach stardom. Addressing financial struggle, family tolerance and the sacrifices for art, Akin conceived one of the most touching gay romances in years.
Director Daniel Nolasco exposes the Leather men community in Sao Paulo, as a group of successful men enters the annual contest for the best representative. Spanning decades in the material, investigating the first steps of the culture in Brazil, the effects on society and the risks of being oneself, Nolasco presents important facts as his cameras capture truthful, alarming testimonies from the participants. Blending real-time footage, fetish, dramatization, sex, activism and individual expectations, the film is a courageous portrait of liberation, pleasure and bohemian life.
SIBERIA AND HIM
Russian director Viatcheslav Kopturevskiy’s mesmerizing drama follows two men as they journey into the wilderness to check on an aging aunt. They are brothers-in-law and longtime lovers who must find a way to keep their love affair as secret as possible, while risking everything in a regime that extremely prohibits homosexual practices. Gorgeously shot, convincingly performed and poetical, it’s a sexy, provocative and promising directorial debut.
(The 2019 NewFest LGBTQ New York runs October 23-29 with World Premieres, NY Premieres, events, foruns, parties and more. Visit https://newfest.org/ for schedule and details.)