Though Newfest, New York’s LGBT film festival, obviously programs for a niche audience, in some ways the event, which opened Thursday night in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood with Jacqui Morris’ “Mr. Right,” is experiencing the same financial and staffing hurdles that many of its larger and more mainstream counterparts have had to face recently. The festival’s longtime leader, Basil Tsiokos, left the organization after 12 years, and in the wake of a serious financial situation the event scaled back to eight nights from the traditional 11, with many staffers pitching in unpaid to get the job done.
“The schedule is shorter this year because of financial considerations,” explained acting executive director Lesli Klainberg, a member of the board before taking on the role. “I did a panel this year with [other U.S. gay festival organizers] and we agreed to the premise that it isn’t about whether we should have LGBT festivals or not, but how they will be able to exist and in what form given the issues of the economy.”
“Like other non profits in the country, we have challenges with raising money and still being able to create a first rate event,” Klainberg admitted.
While Tsiokos resigned as head of the organization late last year, Klainberg praised her predecessor for guiding her and the board during the transition and even paid tribute to him prior to introducing the opening film at the festival’s new home venue at the SVA Theater on 23rd Street near 8th Avenue in the heart of New York’s heavily gay Chelsea. She also saluted people who she said “stepped up” to the challenge the event faced financially by volunteering their time. She added that a bit of luck played a role in getting this year’s festival off the ground.
“The board asked itself, ‘should there be an LGBT festival in New York City’, and we said ‘yes,’ and decided to bear down and make it the leanest, meanest festival we can…” From the lemons, Klainberg made the proverbial lemonade after she was informed that the festival’s regular venue at the AMC Theaters on 34th Street would not be available for ‘09. “Hollywood has decided the summer season starts May 30, so necessity was the mother of invention here… I read an article about SVA Theaters [in Chelsea] and got in touch with Gene [Stavis, director of SVA Theaters] and he said he had always wanted the theater to be a home for Newfest…”
The change brought Newfest to a part of the city where its base is concentrated, something that has naturally thrilled organizers. Additionally, the festival will host mixers and panels at its Logo Lounge across the street from its two screens at SVA venue. This year’s line up includes more than 100 features and shorts, down somewhat from its usual roster, said Klainberg - mostly a result of the festival’s shortened schedule.
Newfest continues through June 11. For ticket information and a schedule, visit the revamped Newfest website.