NewFest 2009 Offers Identity Reflected and Refracted by Film


Twenty-one years young, NewFest returns with another round of more of the same—which is to say, a lineup rife with Queer as Folk–grade drivel (Mr. Right), breezy but superfluous star vehicles (An Englishman in New York, with John Hurt as that great gay wit Quentin Crisp), and stand-offish explorations of trans identity (Against a Trans Narrative). But keep watching, and an intriguing trend emerges this year: identity as reflected and refracted by the medium of film.

David Kittredge’s Pornography—with its prying eye of ever-present video cameras questioning the relationship between sex stars and their gawkers—intimates that porn stars have feelings, too. Though after an intriguing first half, this absurdly written trash fiction, with its ridiculous scolding of our desire to see porn-star schlong, reveals itself as little more than a plagiaristic pastiche of all things David Lynch.

More than just copycats, George and Mike Kuchar have spent five-plus decades queering the conventions of the golden-age Hollywood melodrama. They’re profiled in Jennifer M. Kroot’s It Came From Kuchar, a spry collage of footage from the brothers’ canon (most notably, the obscenely great Thundercrack!) and interviews with Kuchar stars and connoisseurs. Mention of George and Mike’s sexuality is conspicuously evaded, but you get a strong sense of how these legends of the underground continue to express their desires and work out doubts through their perverse and defiant art.

A rebuke to the overage of documentaries that hermetically reflect on gender identity, Kimberly Reed’s exceptional Prodigal Sons sees the filmmaker grappling with her insecurities as a trans person outside her comfort zone. Reed’s high school reunion forces her to reconnect with the community that knew her only as a basketball-playing jock, but her struggle doesn’t end there. This crisis of self-definition collides with that of her mentally ill adopted brother, who learns he’s the biological grandson of cine legends Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, throwing Reed’s notions of queer identity for a prismatic loop. You will never think of Rosebud the same way again.