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Queer storytelling is front and center at New York's premier film fest

From the heartbreaking to the utterly confounding, there’s an abundance of must-see LGBTQ-inclusive titles at the 60th annual New York Film Festival.
Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett as musician Lydia Tár in "TÁR."Focus Features

Now that awards have been handed out in Venice, Telluride and Toronto, it’s time for New York’s annual celebration of cinema, which descends on Lincoln Center for more than two weeks, beginning Friday. For many of the New Yorkers and the others who travel to the city for the screenings, the festival provides a first glimpse at several of the year’s most significant films, making post-screening chatter a bellwether for awards season prospects.

This year, as movie lovers spill out into the bars, restaurants and after-party venues near the Upper West Side performing arts destination, many of the biggest films up for discussion put queer storytelling front and center. From the heartbreaking to the utterly confounding and intoxicating, there’s an abundance of can’t-miss LGBTQ-inclusive films scheduled to play at the 60th annual New York Film Festival, which runs Friday to Oct. 16.

Main Slate

In an interview for the entertainment site IndieWire, Dennis Lim, the festival’s artistic director, summed up the 60th edition’s marquee offerings: “If there is one takeaway from this year’s Main Slate, it is cinema’s limitless capacity for renewal. … Collectively, the films in the program suggest that this renewal takes many forms: breathtaking debuts, veterans pulling off new tricks, filmmakers of all stripes seeking new and surprising forms of expression and representation.”

Perhaps the most exciting queer — or otherwise — film of the festival, which certainly speaks to Lim’s description, is Todd Field’s “TÁR.” The film, which was written specifically for star Cate Blanchett, is Field’s first since 2006’s “Little Children,” and it is packed with surprises. 

Cate Blanchett as musician Lydia Tár in "TÁR."
Cate Blanchett as musician Lydia Tár in "TÁR."Focus Features

For one, despite a perhaps purposefully misleading official description, “the iconic musician Lydia Tár” at the center of the film is a fictional character. For another, although queer audiences will find plenty to drool over in Blanchett’s womanizing composer, “TÁR” is less a sapphic love fest and more an elusive psychological thriller. But that doesn’t make Field’s return to the big screen — and his stars’ performances, including stellar showings by Noémie Merlant and Nina Hoss — any less of a tour de force. In fact, many have predicted that Blanchett’s silver medallion and best actress wins at the Telluride Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival, respectively, are the first of many awards she’ll be taking home for the role.  

Other notable queer-inclusive films in the festival’s Main Slate section are “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” the festival’s Centerpiece, and “The Inspection,” the Closing Night Selection. 

Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” a buzzy documentary about the activist and artist Nan Goldin, plays for one evening only before it heads to New York’s premier LGBTQ film festival, NewFest. The film, which won this year’s Golden Lion in Venice, documents Goldin’s work as an advocate during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and more recently as an opponent of the Sackler family, whom she has publicly criticized for its part in the opioid crisis. Before Poitras won Venice’s top prize, just the second time a documentary has done so, she was best known for her Academy Award-winning 2014 Edward Snowden documentary, “Citizenfour” — a critical success she has a good chance of replicating come awards season.

Jeremy Pope in "The Inspection."
Jeremy Pope in "The Inspection."A214 / A24

“The Inspection,” photographer and filmmaker Elegance Bratton’s narrative debut, stars Emmy-nominated actor Jeremy Pope (“Hollywood”) as a young gay man who joins the Marines after a decade living on the streets. Pope’s character, Ellis French, is based on Bratton’s experiences of being kicked out of his home as a teenager for being gay and then joining the military after years of struggling to find housing. The film, which also stars Gabrielle Union as Ellis’ mother, focuses on the main character’s boot camp training, during which he struggles with his sexuality and the dangers of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. Previously, Bratton translated his experiences into documentaries about LGBTQ subjects, including 2019’s “Pier Kids,” about queer and transgender youths living at Manhattan’s Christopher Street Pier.

Joining those highly anticipated Main Slate selections is Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra’s new offering, “Pacification,” a colonial thriller set in contemporary French Polynesia. In addition to Benoît Magimel, who stars as a French politician acting as a liaison between power players in Paris and the islands, the film features a scene-stealing performance by Pahoa Mahagafanau, who identifies as the Polynesian third gender RaeRae/Mahu, as a local dancer who becomes embroiled in the foreigner’s dealings after having caught his eye.


The film lighting up this year’s Spotlight section, which is billed as housing the season’s most anticipated and significant films, is Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All.” Guadagnino continues his collaboration with Timothée Chalamet, who previously starred in his adaptation of “Call Me By Your Name.” The lithe star plays opposite rising Canadian actor Taylor Russell as two young lovers who share a taste for human flesh and a road trip across 1980s America in search of self-discovery. 

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet star in "Bones & All."
Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet star in "Bones & All."@BonesAndAllFilm via Twitter

In the cannibal-themed romance, which is based on a young adult novel by Camille DeAngelis, Guadagnino combines his talent for coming-of-age stories and body horror, seen respectively in recent productions like HBO’s “We Are Who We Are” series and his remake of the Dario Argento classic “Suspiria.” “Bones and All,” which also stars Chloë Sevigny and Mark Rylance, picked up two big awards at Venice, where Chalamet went viral for his latest gender-nonconforming red carpet look

Other noteworthy LGBTQ-inclusive films in this year’s Spotlight section are Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” and ​​the Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi documentary “Personality Crisis: One Night Only.” 

Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel “Women Talking,” based on the true story of a group of women who were subjected to sexual assault in a remote religious community, stars an impressive ensemble cast led by Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. The film, which has been a festival audience favorite since it premiered at Telluride, also stars nonbinary actor August Winter as a character whose gender transition challenges the women’s concepts of solidarity and acceptance. 

With “Personality Crisis,” Scorsese adds another title to his collection of music-themed documentaries, which includes films about figures like George Harrison and Bob Dylan. In partnership with Tedeschi, a longtime collaborator, the new documentary, premiering at the New York festival, celebrates the career of David Johansen, the lead singer of the gender-bending ’70s glam punk band the New York Dolls, who later reinvented himself under the pseudonym Buster Poindexter.


In the festival’s Currents section, which highlights new and innovative voices in film, a handful of lesser-known creators offer a selection of truly original queer stories. 

Portuguese auteur João Pedro Rodrigues touches on colonialism to climate change in his bawdy new film, the aptly named “Will-o’-the-Wisp.” Taking a page from last year’s festival darling “Titane,” the subversive sci-fi film features erotic ballet-dancing firefighters in an apocalyptic future — albeit a much more playful one than Julia Ducournau’s "Titane." At the center of the musical romance is the fictional King Alfredo of Portugal, who as a young and directionless future monarch signs up to be a volunteer fireman and then ignites a station romance with the much more capable and much less privileged Afonso.

Following up on her first feature, “Werewolf,” director Ashley McKenzie crafts a visually compelling story about a disaffected teen and a hospital volunteer who bond over their genderqueer identities. In “Queens of the Qing Dynasty,” Ziyin Zheng plays An, a Chinese immigrant who offers a lifeline to the teenage Star, played by Sarah Walker, after they are hospitalized in a remote facility in Nova Scotia following multiple suicide attempts.

In Gustavo Vinagre’s “Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter,” three queer 20-something Brazilians live in a familiar-looking world, one in a pandemic that affects short-term memory and governmental failures that feel reminiscent of the AIDS epidemic. But the friends, played by Isabella Pereira, Pedro Ribeiro and Jonata Vieira, still manage to carve out moments of joy as they explore São Paulo on a sun-filled afternoon. The film, which offers something new to the recent body of pandemic-themed cinema, won this year’s Teddy Award, the Berlin International Film Festival’s honor for best LGBTQ-themed feature.


For cinephiles looking to revisit or perhaps newly discover art films that have had lasting impacts on cinema, there are multiple queer-themed standouts in this year’s Revivals section. One of the most distinctive programming options is a collection of four short- and medium-length films by Edward Owens, a queer, Black filmmaker from Chicago who was most active in the 1960s. The collection includes new restorations of his best-known experimental works, including “Remembrance: A Portrait Study” and “Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts.”

Elsewhere in the section, there’s the British avant-garde work “Passion of Remembrance,” the first film to come out of the notable Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and Jean Eustache’s “The Mother and the Whore,” which toes the line between genuine exploration of the ménage à trois and simply being a product of the French New Wave.

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