NewFest Pride will screen films June 1-5 at the SVA Theater. The showcase provides moviegoers with the chance to see several highly anticipated films, including “Bottoms” and “The Stroll,” prior to their release later this summer.
The opening night presentation, “Fairyland,” is a shaggy, engrossing, and moving drama — bring tissues — about Alysia (Nessa Dougherty as a child) who moves with her poet father Steve (Scoot McNairy) to San Francisco in the 1970s after her mother dies. Steve is gay, and he starts dating various guys while Alysia is left alone to develop her independence. (Some call Steve’s parenting “neglectful” or “irresponsible.”)
Written and directed by Andrew Durham, and based on Alysia’s memoir of her father, “Fairyland” focuses on her coming-of-age in parallel to his. As a teen, Alysia (Emilia Jones of “CODA”) grapples with her own self-expression while the AIDS crisis starts taking a serious toll on the gay community. The film shows how Alysia processes her relationship with her father and how it impacted her life. She is the keeper of the history and the legacy, and a series of tender and powerful scenes in the last half hour will tug hard at the heartstrings.
“Fairyland” is a bit clunky at times; Durham uses radio and news reports as well archival footage to set the scene, and it is odd that Steve never kisses any men, despite numerous romantic encounters, including one with Charlie (Adam Lambert), but the emotions and performances by Jones and McNairy ring true.
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is trans writer/director Aitch Alberto’s superb adaptation of the award-winning YA novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The title characters are two Mexican American teenagers in 1987 El Paso—cue 80’s music needle drops—who first meet at a swimming pool. Introverted Aristotle aka Ari (magnetic newcomer Max Pelayo) learns to swim with the assistance of the outgoing Dante (Reese Gonzales). The two teens develop a close friendship that becomes a kind of bromance. However, the art and poetry loving Dante drops a bombshell when his family moves to Chicago for a year — and then another, when he comes out as gay. Will the teens’ relationship be the same when Dante returns? Alberto’s sensitivity is in every frame as the film traces the emotional ups and downs of these teens in ways that are poignant without being cloying. The framing of Ari reading one of Dante’s letters against a wall, or the boys spending time in Ari’s 1957 Chevy pickup are achingly beautiful and right out of an Edward Hopper painting. “Aristotle and Dante” delivers all the feels in its conclusion, it is hard not to cry happy tears.
“Jewelle: A Just Vision”
“Jewelle: A Just Vision” is a laudatory, hour-long documentary about author, poet, and playwright Jewelle Gomez. Director Madeleine Lim features interviews and clips of Gomez reading her celebrated work, “The Gilda Stories,” as well as snippets from her plays “Waiting for Giovanni,” about James Baldwin, and “Leaving the Blues,” about Alberta Hunter. These scenes highlight the speculative fiction writer’s place in queer and popular culture, but Gomez’s activism as a Black, feminist, lesbian is at the heart of her story. A fabulous raconteur, Gomez tells moving tales about her mixed-race family history, and trauma. In addition, her anecdote about attending her first pride parade is as inspiring as her efforts to campaign for same-sex marriage with her partner Diane. There is also a segment dedicated to her erotic video venture, “Lesbionage.” With commentary from Dorothy Allison, Cheryl Clarke, and others, this is a marvelous portrait of a writer who, as the film indicates, deserves more attention than she received.
Trans writer/director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s sensitive, moody drama, “Mutt,” depicts an emotional 24 hours in the life of Feña (Lîo Mehiel), a Latinx trans man in New York City. (Feña is a gender-neutral name in Chile.) While in a bar with friends, Feña spots his ex, John (Cole Doman). Their meeting is awkward at first, however, as they spend more time together, things get more complicated, not less, as they consider recoupling. Feña’s life is further complicated when his estranged sister, Zoe (MiMi Ryder) wants to spend the day with him — she’s run away from school. Feña is also preparing to pick up his father, Pablo (Alejandro Goic), who is arriving from Chile, for what is sure to be an intense reunion. Much of the drama comes from Feña and John determining the future of their relationship, and the scenes between Mehiel and Doman crackle with energy. Lungulov-Klotz makes an auspicious feature debut with his compelling film.
“Before I Change My Mind”
Available virtually at the fest is “Before I Change My Mind.” Set in 1987 Canada, this film has Robin (Vaughan Murrae) reluctantly befriending Carter (Dominic Lippa), a school bully. They bond during a school trip, but things get complicated when they meet Izzy (Lacey Oake) at an ersatz theatrical production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the show is the film’s lowest point). Carter is attracted to Izzy, Robin is attracted to Carter, and Izzy is attracted to Robin. The queer angle here is that Robin’s gender is ambiguous. That makes for a possibly interesting examination of identity, but director/cowriter Trevor Anderson fails to explore these themes in any depth, which is one of many drawbacks for this well-meaning but flawed film best suited for younger viewers.
Two other films — Julio Torres’ feature, “Problemista,” and the documentary, “1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted Culture” — were unavailable for preview.
For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit https://newfest.org/newfest-pride.
“NewFest Pride” | June 1-5 at the SVA Theater and online.