Newfest celebrates Pride with lineup of queer films and series

Elliot Page in "Close to You."
Elliot Page in “Close to You.”

As Pride month begins, NewFest Pride is presenting its annual mini film festival May 30-June 3 at the SVA Theater and virtually via streaming. The fest will feature nearly a dozen new films and series. Here is a rundown of what to watch. 

Opening Night is out gay actor Brian J. Smith’s (“Sense 8”) auspicious directorial debut, “A House Is Not a Disco.” (May 30 7:30 pm, SVA and virtual). This affectionate documentary about the Fire Island Pines traces a year, 2022, at the gay mecca. Smith interviews a diverse group of people from yearlong residents and seasonal workers to visitors, volunteers, and activists who help create the strong sense of community. There are episodes that recount the Pines’ history, and how it has changed over the decades — including the current impact of global warming — but Smith mainly emphasizes that being on Fire Island provides a feeling of being in a safe, welcoming space where LGBTQ folks can express themselves freely — as one interviewee who rarely wearing clothes does. Smith, who uses interviews, archival, and observational footage, tells this story with reverence, celebrating the people that make Fire Island magical. It is the next best thing to being there. 

Brian J. Smith also costars in “Haze,” (May 31 at 9:30 pm, SVA) an intriguing, fragmented drama about Joe (Cole Doman) who returns home (from rehab) one summer to investigate the deaths of eight gay men from a local (and now closed) psychiatric institute. He meets a stranger (Smith) — mostly for sex — and the days blur together. Written and directed by Matthew Fifer (“Cicada”), the film unfolds like a fever dream, getting more ambiguous as Joe grapples with his thoughts, feelings, and sobriety. As a series of deaths occur in the area, Joe thinks they are connected, and he pursues that thread while also asking questions about his sister’s suicide from years ago. Shot and edited in a style that obscures almost as much as it reveals, there are many potent scenes as “Haze” examines psychic and physical pain. Joe learns about the horrors of aversion therapy that was practiced at the institution, but he also asks his lover to hit him during sex, a form of self-hatred, perhaps. While Fifer gets a little too arty in his storytelling, Doman is superb as a man haunted by his past and uncertain of his future and Smith lends sexy support.

Cole Doman in "Haze."
Cole Doman in “Haze.”NewFest

“Close to You” (June 1 at 4:30 p.m., SVA, and streaming May 30-June 3) is an intimate, improvised drama about Sam (Elliot Page, who co-authored the story) returning home for the first time after transitioning. He is anxious about the trip, and he becomes more emotional en route after an unexpected reunion with Katherine (Hillary Baack), whom he knew and loved years ago. As Sam processes those feelings, he must also contend with a mother (Wendy Crewson) who loves but misgenders him, a father (Peter Outerbridge) who is proud of him, and a brother-in-law, Paul (David Reale), who disrespects him. “Close to You” gives Page a terrific showcase for his acting talents as well as a platform to address trans issues, but director/cowriter Dominic Savage employs dark lighting and handheld camerawork that can often be distracting.

“The Queen of My Dreams,” (June 2 at 3:00 pm, SVA and virtually) written and directed by Fawzia Mirza, has Azra (Amrit Kaur), a Muslim lesbian grappling with her anger towards her traditionalist mother, Mariam (Nimra Bucha), especially after her father Hassan (Hamza Haq) suddenly dies. This comedy/drama opens in 1999 Toronto, but long stretches of the film depict Mariam’s courtship with Hassan in 1969 Pakistan, where Mariam lied to and defied her parents. Other scenes depict Azra as a pre-teen (Ayana Manji), to add another layer to the mamadrama. The parallels between mother and daughter are meaningful, but “The Queen of My Dreams” does not build its drama; instead, it features music and dance numbers to make connections as well as scenes of Azra resenting the archaic patriarchy that Mariam endures. Fawzia’s film offers a percipient look at South Asian women and culture.  

The excellent character study, “Sebastian,” (June 2, 6:30 pm SVA and virtually) has Max (Ruaridh Mollica), a writer, secretly working as Sebastian, an escort. He is performing sex work as research for a novel he hopes to publish. Of course, his side hustle (no pun intended) distracts from his freelance work for a magazine, and it is only a matter of time before his two worlds collide. Writer/director Mikko Makela includes a line that acknowledges that a sex worker is a “stock character in queer literature” (and film). Even so, “Sebastian” remains interesting because of how Max handles the personal and professional conflicts he faces. Is he being self-destructive and feeling shame about living a double life? As he gets more involved with one particular client, is Max getting too deep into his work? Mollica’s high-wire performance blurs the lines — he is sexy and confident one minute, and full of anxiety the next. “Sebastian” may not add anything new to the sex worker narrative, but the film remains captivating because the Mollica exudes charisma, and makes viewers care about Max even when he is at his worst.

"Am I OK"
Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno in “Am I OK?”Newfest

“Am I OK?” (June 3, 8:00 pm SVA and virtually) is a charming comedy codirected by the married couple Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne about Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), two besties, who know everything about each other. Their close dynamic changes, however, when Jane accepts a job in London. That same night, Lucy confesses that she thinks she is a lesbian. While they each respect — and are even happy for — the other, tensions creep into their relationship. Jane hopes Lucy will start dating before she leaves, and Lucy is trying to read the signals her flirty coworker Brittany (Kiersey Clemons) is sending. Meanwhile, Lucy is trying to get Jane to be less controlling. “Am I OK?” is amusing with the characters’ quick banter, and poignant when it comes to Lucy’s struggle for self-acceptance. Both Johnson and Mizuno have a winning rapport in this feel-good film. 

Two films will have exclusive virtual screening during NewFest Pride. “Coming Around” is a terrific documentary about Emna Abdelhedi, a Muslim woman whose queerness is a point of contention with her mother. In New York City, Emna leads coming out day sessions, has a coterie of queer Muslim friends, and appears in a play where she kisses another woman. But she is not able to live authentically in the presence of her mother, whom she visits in Columbia, Missouri. The “hiding” is causing Emna stress and depression. When Emna tries to address her sexuality — as when her mother goes to see the aforementioned play — she is either met with silence, or they agree to disagree. When Emna falls in love with Quinton, a man she meets on a dating app, she understands how meaningful it would be for her mother if she married him. However, this brings up feelings of imposter syndrome, and living a different kind of double life. “Coming Around” sensitively addresses Emna’s and her mother’s attitudes and feelings, especially in a conversation late in the film where they talk openly and honestly. This is a very compelling documentary and Emna is a fascinating and inspiring subject. 

 “The Summer with Carmen,an enchanting comedy that opens at a queer beach in Greece where Demosthenes (Yorgos Tsiantoulas), a hunky gay man, and his best friend Nikitas (Andreas Labropoulos) discuss shooting a film about the summer Demos took care of Carmen, his ex-boyfriend’s Panos’ (Nikolaos Mihas) dog. The film has a meta quality to it as Nikitas and Demos make references to plot points, character development, and even list the six messages of the film. But the cleverness of these scenes is overshadowed by the copious nude and sex scenes. The adorable Tsiantoulas, in his debut film, is a find, truly comfortable in the beach scenes where he’s naked, or during his trysts with Thymios (Vasilis Tsigristaris), his post-breakup fuck buddy. The actor also displays a palpable sad sack despair in his scenes with Panos or his demanding mother (Roubini Vasilakopoulou), but he is charming interacting with the film’s scene stealer, Carmen. “The Summer with Carmen” would be great fun to see in a theater with an audience, but as the naughtiest film at NewFest Pride it may be best suited for home viewing. 

For tickets, showtimes and more information visit

“NewFest Pride” | May 30-June 3 at the SVA Theater and streaming