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Provocative Films About Gay Palestinians & Crack-Addicted Trans Working Girls Among the Bold Highlights at New York’s Newfest 2015

Naz and Maalik

Newfest launches with a bang tonight with Peter Greenaway’s visually stunning biopic Eisenstein in Guanajuato, and on tomorrow’s agenda is one of the world’s only LGBT film fest screenings of the highly anticipated Cate Blanchett-Rooney Mara love story Carol. But some of the most exciting flicks at this year’s incarnation of New York City’s gay film festival will be its documentaries, a heady blend of rare slice-of-life glimpses into little-seen LGBT lives from across the planet and right next door.

Undoubtedly the most controversial of Newfest 2015’s bold lineup — and especially poignant given the flare-up of Palestinian-Israeli violence in recent weeks — is Oriented, one of the first documentaries to profile gay Palestinians, and certainly the first to do so in such a positive (if far from breezy) light. Shot during the lead-up to the last round of pronounced regional tensions in 2014, the film focuses on Khader, Fadi and Naeem, three hip young gay Tel Aviv-based Palestinian friends who’ve formed an artistic resistance group called Qambuta. It’s an honest and fairly mind-blowing look at the grim and complex societal and familial challenges the guys face on a daily basis, and the creative, innovative and completely non-violent methods they’re using to overcome those pressures.


Another fascinating documentary gem at Newfest this year is actually a throwback two-pack, 1990’s The Salt Mines and its 1995 sequel The Transformation, both of which have barely been seen in the two decades since they were made. The Salt Mines introduces us to the almost unbelievable Manhattan-fringe world of a fierce and plucky assortment of homeless crack-addicted Latin trans prostitutes, who’ve formed a makeshift society on a near-abandoned New York City Department of Transportation lot amid broken down garbage trucks and stored mountains of winter salt. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the film’s follow-up The Transformation reveals that five years on, the ravishing Sara is now astoundingly living in Dallas as Ricardo — not only as a born again Christian, but also engaged to marry a cis woman. As we discover that some of his former Salt Mines neighbors are meanwhile leading very different lives, it becomes obvious that Ricardo’s stunning transformation isn’t as clear-cut as it initially seems.

Other doc standouts at Newfest 2015 include Finding Phong, which follows a young Vietnamese transwoman as she prepares for gender confirmation surgery; Gazelle: The Love Issue, profiling Brazilian-born New York City club fixture, photographer and publisher Gazelle (who’s a flight attendant known as Paulo by day); and Fassbinder: To Love without Demands, a portrait of prolific but divisive bisexual director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, as remembered by his friend, Danish author and director Christian Braad Thomsen.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

And while it won’t be world premiering any dramatic films this year, Newfest is certainly showcasing some of 2015’s best from other fests (many in New York City for the first time), including the aforementioned Eisenstein in Guanajuato, a gorgeous look at the sexual and creative awakening of gay Russian director Sergei Eisenstein during his early 1930s visit to Mexico; Those People, the beautifully-shot story of two young lifelong friends (and maybe more) against the gilded but seriously tarnished Manhattan backdrop of a Madoff-esque scandal; Take Me to the River, an explosive but tender family drama and Sundance favorite centering on the clash between a gay California teen and his mother’s rural Nebraska clan; Summer of Sangaile, a sweet and charmingly offbeat lesbian love story (and another Sundance favorite) set in the Lithuanian countryside; Naz and Maalik, a slice-of-life look at two in-love but closeted black Muslim teens in Brooklyn; Fourth Man Out, a working class buddy comedy (and Outfest Dramatic Feature Audience Award winner) in which a newly out guy’s three straight buds help him find a boyfriend; and The Girl King, renowned Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki’s take on the 17th century romance between Sweden’s Queen Christina and her lady-in-waiting, Countess Ebba Sparre.

The 27th edition of Newfest runs through Tuesday, October 27. For the full list of films and to purchase tickets, check out the official site.