Francis Lee’s Ammonite has been the center of a lot of LGBTQ film festivals this season, and New York’s Newfest has awarded Lee an opening night prie for his buzzy film which stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. The 32nd Annual New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival is happening now and will be continuing until October 27.
You can take an exclusive look at Winslet presenting Lee with the award in the video below.
With all the film festivals having to rethink their programming schedule, Executive Director David Hatkoff had to figure out how to celebrate a year in LGBTQ+ filmmaking without making the schedule reductive. It would’ve been a disservice to the filmmakers the the annual festival if they threw in the towel.
“It’s been a total reinvention of what we do. It was important to us to not just have a placeholder festival–we didn’t want to just get some content and get back to business as usual next year. We wanted to create an experience and an event that meets this moment both politically and with what is happening to the pandemic and the community. We wanted to create something different, and, in a way, the timing really worked in our favor because we are in October. We had six months to approach this in a really thoughtful way and throw out everything that we thought we were going to do. We had to build something for the ground up.”
Hatkoff mentioned that festivals like SXSW were the first festival from which they could learn. Instead of canceling Newfest, Hatkoff and his programming team were able to offer a wide range of films with an on-demand style platform. Of all the festivals that have continued throughout the fall, Newfest is one that is thriving with a wide variety of films to watch.
“It’s a lot of playing by ear. It’s new for the filmmakers and the distributors and we don’t have a roadmap to know what works. We are grateful that we have the films on the platform for the duration of the festival and we don’t have to worry about the small windows to watch it. It’s definitely helped create a better experience.”
It’s a joy to see the introductions to all the films because they are in gay landmarks all across New York. It was important to Hatkoff that the festival reminded audiences of the vibrancy and the color of New York City. New York is a destination for queer people every single year, so what better way to introduce these films to people from Utah or Alaska than by showing just how colorful and exciting the city can be. Especially for when we are able to travel more openly again.
“New York is sort of the queer epicenter of the world–at least from the perspective of New Yorkers. There’s such an important legacy and history here that we really wanted to honor. We are losing the experience of getting on the subway and going to see film, and our traditional venues are all in Chelsea which is adjacent to the West Village. The introductions we recorded, in front of the LGBTQ landmarks, was very important to us and a way to tip our hat to that legacy. And just being outside and having the visual of being in this vibrant city even though we are spending ninety percent of the time in our small apartments. Standing in Washington Square Park or Stonewall or the Christopher Street Pier or the AIDS Memorial was an important way to shine a light on the people who fought with their lives for equality and the rights that we have now. Capturing that energy was vital to us.”
With over 100 films to watch at Newfest, I wanted to know which one Hatkoff recommended to his audiences. There are distinctive New York stories like Minyan (a personal favorite of mine) and Shiva Baby, but Hatkoff wanted to shout out to a documentary that he wants more people to check out.
“If It Were Love is a French documentary about a modern dance performance and it follows the rehearsal process and the dancers off stage. It’s like So You Think You Can Dance morphed into a really intimate character study and it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s moving and intimate and I’m sort of obsessed with it. I’m really ringing the bell for it this year.”