NewFest 2019: What to Expect at New York’s Largest Queer Film Festival

It's all about the happy endings this year.

As LGBTQ rights continue to be threatened or taken away throughout the world, New York’s largest annual queer film festival, now in its 31st year, keeps on ticking. The 2019 edition of the NewFest, presented by HBO, kicks off October 23 and runs through October 29, with screenings at Cinépolis Chelsea, SVA Theatre, and the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. Q&As with filmmakers will follow most of its screenings.

More than 160 films from 32 countries are on the programming schedule (the number of submissions jumped dramatically from about 400 in 2018 to 800 in 2019, according to NewFest). And if you want to get your mingling on, the festival will throw parties on opening night and closing night at the Gansevoort Hotel rooftop, plus offer meet-ups throughout the proceedings. NewFest 2018 attracted some 13,000 people, and this year’s attendance is expected to be even higher.

So what can filmgoers expect? Here are three of the hottest trends at NewFest 2019.

More Diversity

“There are more queer films [being made] than ever before,” says NewFest director of programming Nick McCarthy. “And what we’ve been really excited to see every year is more and more diverse output. Our festival has become more inclusive of films from a variety of backgrounds and across the LGBTQ experience.”

NewFest executive director David Hatkoff adds, “The programming is both local and international, intergenerational and intersectional—just like New York City.”

Queer Japan.

Among this year’s diverse topics: young lesbian love in the Philippines (Billie & Emma), Austria (Seventeen), and the U.S. (To the Stars); drag performers, both adolescent (Drag Kids) and adult (A Night at Switch N’ Play); gay porn stardom (Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life); a trans woman contemplating gender fluidity (Markie in Milwaukee); queer female TV characters and their fangirls (Queering the Script); and a legendary 1980s gay theater producer (Leonard Soloway’s Broadway). NewFest’s short films also boast a variety of themes such as being LGBTQ in the South (Bless Your Queer Heart) and living as trans, nonbinary, or gender-fluid (Beyond the Binary).

Its international offerings include stories about Toronto’s black LGBTQ community (Our Dance of Revolution); a bisexual woman in Colombia (Second Star on the Right); a gay water polo team in France (The Shiny Shrimps); queer African refugees (Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America); LGBTQ life in Japan (Queer Japan); a trans male hockey player in Italy (Zen in the Ice Rift); a Russian farmhand who has a secret love affair with his cop brother-in-law (Siberia and Him); and a Brazilian queer love triangle between two men and a woman (Music for Bleeding Hearts).

More Uplifting Stories

Expect plenty of happy endings this year too. “Queer cinema was criticized for a while for being inclusive of only sad or tragic endings,” says McCarthy, “but there’s a new field of filmmakers right now who are really excited to celebrate queer life on screen.”

Sell By.

One light-hearted film on the roster is the rom-com Sell By, the directorial debut of actor Mike Doyle, which stars Scott Evans and Augustus Prew as a couple in a relationship rut who begin to question if they should get married. Other comedies include British director Simon Amstell’s semi-autobiographical Benjamin, starring Colin Morgan as a filmmaker who dates a French twink musician, and director James Sweeney’s Straight Up, in which he plays a queer man who’s shocked when he falls in love with a woman.

More Focus on Female-Centric and Nonbinary Stories

It’s no secret that the film industry is dominated by cisgender males, but since the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, we’ve witnessed a wave of activism aimed at empowering minority groups and diversifying representation.

With that in mind, on Friday, October 25, NewFest will debut an all-day programming block called My Girl Friday, which will be devoted almost entirely to female-centric and nonbinary content, primarily from directors who don’t identify as male. The lineup includes the short-film collection Hot Girl Mixtape and a 25th-anniversary screening of the lesbian drama Go Fish. There are also two free My Girl Friday soirees: a happy hour at Cinépolis Chelsea and an after-party at Ace Hotel’s Liberty Hall.

All We’ve Got.

My Girl Friday’s centerpiece is the world premiere of All We’ve Got, Alexis Clements’ documentary about the decreasing number of gathering spots for lesbians and queer women in the U.S. (more than 100 of these places have closed since 2010). McCarthy describes the film as “a powerful call to create and preserve these spaces.”

All We’ve Got features interviews with a diverse array of leaders, members, and supporters of queer-friendly, female-centric organizations, including the lesbian-owned bar Alibis in Oklahoma City; the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn; the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio; the WOW Café Theatre in New York; and Trans Ladies Picnics, a group that meets only in open, public spaces. The doc skillfully mixes present-day clips with rare footage of Daughters of Bilitis and the early Gay Pride movement, giving the movie a rich historical context.

“Queer folks and trans women in particular have been meeting in their homes for centuries,” says Clements, who appears in the movie and provides voiceover narration for it, emphasizing that although many startups have goals to get millions in funding, it’s okay for groups to start small.

Hatkoff considers All We’ve Got a standout film because it’s “so in line with NewFest’s mission of bringing audiences together to have a communal experience.”

You can purchase tickets and get more information about NewFest 2019 here.

Writer and editor whose work has appeared in,, Lifetime, People, and Billboard.