Films / Programs

New Queer Cinema

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of New Queer Cinema

LGBT film history tracks with virtually the entirety of film history itself, offering myriad visions of queer life, imagination and sensibility. Rarely, however, has any tributary within this history fused real-life struggles with artistic innovation as urgently and memorably as in the case of “New Queer Cinema.” Now a concept twenty-years-old—term was coined in 1992 by B. Ruby Rich—it is still a watchword in discussions of LGBT media. The distinction might merely be thought of as an ingenious act of branding, if the case were not so compelling that it identified something worth naming, experiencing and remembering.

The early 1990s can seem many decades away, when one remembers the noxious debates surrounding gays in the U.S. military, battles waged by activist groups over anti-gay violence and HIV/AIDS policy, and the naked fact that AIDS itself remained a little-mentioned fact of life in national public discourse. By contrast, the sudden, disruptive appearance of an array of defiant independent features, still seems shockingly modern. Proclaiming queer identity with rage, humor and style, these works confronted well-intended films about acceptance, identity, coming out and civil rights with a suggestion that another conversation had better begin, and quickly. As stated by the loose-cannon character “Luke” in Gregg Araki’s The Living End, “Don’t you get it? We’re not like them.”

This suggestion, that queer culture would never sail safely into the harbor of hetero-normativity, nor should seek to, was a momentous shock to the system. Tempering her argument, Rich pointed out that such a hot, hip trend as New Queer Cinema was not immune to breakdowns, brought by hierarchies and contradictions within the community. Still, the world was not immune to New Queer Cinema, and its influence has been felt regularly and powerfully, both in the United States and abroad. To celebrate this 20th Anniversary, Frameline36 will present a retrospective of four highlights of 1990s-era New Queer Cinema, including the remixed and remastered version of Araki’s The Living End, Cheryl Dunye’s seminal The Watermelon Woman (1996), Alex Sichel’s moving All Over Me and Ana Kokkinos’ bracing Head On. Twenty years since its first sighting, New Queer Cinema, as both repository of images and impulse to create, remains a beacon to the global queer imagination.

—Shannon Kelley

All Over Me

USA, 1997, 90M

Claude and Ellen are 15-year-old best friends growing up in homophobic Hell’s Kitchen in the late '90s—they are riot grrrls-in-training practicing barre chords on electric guitars with no amps in Claude’s pink bedroom and at least one of them is a budding baby dyke.

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Head On

USA, 1998, 104M

Head On is an award-winning 1998 Australian film about a brooding Greek 19-year-old coming to terms with his sexual identity, avoiding reality and enduring family friction due to his rampant partying.

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The Living End

USA, 1992, 92M

Billed as “An Irresponsible Movie by Gregg Araki,” The Living End would change the future of queer cinema when it was released twenty years ago. Buckle up for this hedonistic and revolutionary road trip that will leave you spinning even today.

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The Watermelon Woman

USA, 1996, 90M

In her singular “Dunye-mentary” style, director Cheryl Dunye interweaves direct-to-camera storytelling and faux-documentary with a smartly observed fictional tale of lesbian life and love in contemporary Philadelphia.

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