New York’s LGBT Film Festival, known as NewFest, is one of our favorite LGBT cultural events of the year. Filmmakers from all over the world answer questions from film fans and press alike, after the screenings, and mingle with festival goers at after-parties and the festival lounge across the street. Exciting new LGBT films come here first, before making their way to theaters, TV or DVD. After sampling what NewFest had to offer, here is your viewing guide for new female feature films coming your way.
 

 

 

Purple Sea (Viola Di Mare) 
Director: Donatella Maiorca

Based on a true story turned legend, this hauntingly beautiful love story involves Angela and Sara, childhood friends who reunite when Sara returns to the mining and fishing village where they grew up together. For Angela, it’s love at first sight. She manages to sweep Sara off her feet, despite social taboos and Sara’s betrothal. They live for secret trysts by the sea. When Angela’s father arranges her marriage to Ventura, a worker in the quarry where he is boss, she refuses, so he brutally locks her in a rocky dungeon until she gives in or dies, whichever comes first. But Angela won’t marry anyone but Sara, even to save her life. Fearing for her daughter, Angela’s mother proposes an unorthodox solution. Angela transforms into Angelo by binding her breasts, cutting off her womanly tresses and wearing men’s clothes, then goes to work running the quarry with her father, who is so powerful in their village community that few have the courage to complain. Angelo and Sara discreetly wed and live in bliss until baby fever sets in, leading to more creative solutions and tragedy. Grade: A

 

The OWLS
Director: Cheryl Dunye

The OWLS  (which stands for Older Wiser Lesbians) is an experimental, campy murder mystery buzzing with serious lesbian star power and a multi-cultural cast. The OWLS re-teams Guinevere Turner and V.S. Brodie (from classic les/bi film Go Fish) as a lesbian couple on the rocks. Guinevere plays Iris, a vain, aging, alcoholic, former lesbian rock star and V.S.Brodie plays her former producer and lover MJ, a bored butch who gave up booze but became addicted to lesbian porn instead. Iris tempts MJ back into drinking, thinking MJ was more fun with a buzz. Writer/director Cheryl Dunye (Watermelon Woman) stars as butch homebody Carol who is content to garden and nest with her partner Lily (Lisa Gornick of Tick Tock Lullaby) who fronted the band with Iris, way back when. One successful album bought lovely houses for both couples, but they are like relics of a former life. The happiness has gone out of them. The magnificently androgynous and devious Skye (played by Skyler Cooper who came to note in the memorable short film Insomniacs) gets close to the symbiotic gang of four, in order to secretly investigate Cricket’s disappearance. Lammy award-wining author Sarah Schulman co-authored the script. The lesbian characters in this film may be older, but they aren’t wiser—they’re just a mess. Although it was a kick to see all the famous faces (most of whom attended the NewFest screening), Dunye’s decision to intercut the narrative scenes with interviews of two different kinds: both in-character confessionals and out-of-character behind-the-scenes interviews, creates confusion and interrupts story momentum. It may be experimental, but the experiment didn’t work. This material would have worked better on stage, than on film. The collective star power, although fun to see all in one place, is somewhat wasted on this class exercise. Let’s hope this is a warm-up for something more satisfying in the future.  Grade: C
 

 

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement
Co-Directors: Susan Muska & Greta Olafsdottir

Touching documentary portrait of devoted lesbian couple Edie and Thea won 17 awards, including the Audience Award for Best Documentary at NewFest. Their lives reflect the progression of the LGBT movement, from having to wear coats while dancing together in clubs in case cops raided and they had to bolt; Thea getting kicked out of college because a security guard saw her make out with her girlfriend; homophobia induced family estrangement; getting engaged with a diamond pin, instead of a ring, so it wouldn’t raise a red flag at work (since “gay” could be cause for termination); vacation photos; buying a beach house together; getting domestic partnership the first day it was offered; Edie caring for Thea as she became paralyzed by MS; Thea taking Edie for a spin on her lap in the wheelchair; and finally, getting legally married in Canada when Thea’s condition turned grim, because they couldn’t wait for it to be legalized in New York. Their palpable love for each other and bantering rapport through tough times is inspirational.  Will broadcast on the Sundance channel May 28 and can be viewed on the Free Movies on Demand channel (FMOD) of Time Warner Cable.  Grade: A+

 

 

Leading Ladies
Co-Directors: Erika Randal Beahm & Daniel Beahm

Charming lesbian romantic comedy with mother issues. When competitive ballroom dancer Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith) gets pregnant, her wallflower sister Toni (Laurel Vail) must step in to fill her shoes, so as not to disappoint stage mom Sheri (actor/choreographer Melanie LaPatin), whose dream of ballroom glory lives on through her daughters. Unexpected romance with Mona (Nicole Dionne) blossoms as Toni takes center stage. Loved the quirky, intimate, shadowy love scenes between Toni and Mona. Supporting actor/choreogrpher Benji Schwimmer shines as Tasi’s witty and wise gay dance partner, Cedric. Although the beginning feels like it’s trying too hard, the film mellows into an entertaining romantic comedy exploring first lesbian love. Grade: B+
 

 

 

Open
Director: Jake Yuzna 

Intriguing experimental love triangle between a transgender-female couple who take sexual reassignment to a whole new level with look-a-like plastic surgeries, and the intersexed vagabond who would like to come between them. Plus transman Syd and gay hottie Nick tenuously connect. Road film with weird urban campouts are bonding experiences for odd pairs. Very original. Grade: B+

 

We Are the Mods
Director: E. E. Cassidy

Sexy mini-skirted bad girl Nico blows into town, bonds with boyish good girl Sadie over photography and motor scooters, introduces her to mod culture (who knew mod was back?), initiates ambiguous sleepovers, then leads her astray into cigarettes, cocaine (pilfered from Nico’s mom), talk of threesomes, penises and a game of Truth or Dare sparking same-sex make outs. The throaty voiced Nico is way too sophisticated and sexually experienced for her teen-aged years. Her only vulnerability is her lame leg she refers to as the “monster,” her Montgomery Clift poster symbolizing the duality of beauty paired with disfigurement, and for those in the know, bisexuality. Nico’s jealous older boyfriend Treg seduces Sadie, insisting she keep it a secret. But the dramatic tension around whether she’ll tell or not isn’t fully built up, ultimately falls flat, then turns screechy and melodramatic. Grade: B

 

 

Eloise’s Lover 
Director: Jesús Garay

College girl Asia falls into a coma after an accident, but how did she get there? The story unfolds through flashbacks. Asia’s mother campaigns for her marriage to loving boyfriend Nathaniel. But Asia is increasingly intrigued by Eloise, the artist she volunteered to pose for at college. Her budding attraction for the mysterious and exotic Eloise eventually leads to spending the night making luscious girl love, but she has morning regrets. Lovely but not 100 percent convincing. Grade: B

 

Paulista (Quanto Dura o Amor?)
Director: Roberto Moreira

Aspiring actress Marina moves to the big city, Sao Paulo, to further her career, leaving her boyfriend behind. Exploring the nightlife, she is drawn to a compelling singer, Justine, who flirts, stirring up unexpected feelings and desires for Marina. Eventually, they pursue sensual trysts and Marina begins falling in love, until she discovers that Justine is not the happy, free spirit she assumed and the arrogant nightclub owner is Justine’s husband. Meanwhile, Marina’s beautiful roommate Suzana (played by real-life transgender actress Maria Clara Spinelli in her first film role) is romanced by fellow lawyer Gil, but then inexplicably pushes him away. Eventually she reveals the truth about how she became a woman. Grade: B

 

 

Four Faced Liar
Director: Jacob Chase [Screenplay by Marja-Lewis Ryan who stars as Bridget]

Two straight student couples, Cloe and Trip, Molly and Greg make friends at NYU watering hole, The Four Faced Liar. Trip’s buddy and roommate, lesbian “Don Juanita” Bridget bonds with beautiful, blonde Molly over their mutual love of literature. After Molly and Greg have a fight, she bunks with Bridget, kickstarting new and confusing feelings for both: Molly’s never been attracted to a woman, and Bridget’s never been in love before. Molly moves back in with Greg, but also continues sleepovers with Bridget that aren’t as chaste as Greg assumes. Who will she choose? Mildly amusing comedy with attractive fresh faces, but most characters lose sympathy by the end. Grade: B

 

 

Fiona’s Script
Director: Florencia Manóvil

Fiona, a young writer trying to move on from a painful breakup, becomes obsessed with finishing her script and getting her play to stage. She embarks on a new relationship with dreamgirl “L,” despite her lingering insecurities, leading to a beautiful sex scene. But Fiona’s fears come back to haunt her, as does her old boyfriend. She’s tempted by his pleas to get back together, wisely deciding not to trust a guy who ditched her before, despite his claims of new maturity. But inexplicably, she also breaks up with “L” and cancels her play, deciding she hates to write. While the film deserves points for a multicultural cast and queer characters to whom coming out is so last year, ultimately it is downfall is it's low production values. Grade: D

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