Newark’s first-ever LGBTQ film festival was a powerful weekend

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Newark LGBTQ Film Festival 2023
Newark LGBTQ Film Festival 2023

For the first time a film festival featuring movies that all center around LGBTQ and BIPOC experiences took place at multiple venues throughout Newark, our state’s largest city. The weekend from April 14-16, 2023 was very special and was a truly exciting and powerful experience.

“I heard about it from Instagram,” Brian from West Orange told us. Sondra heard about the festival from an email that showed fun upcoming events that are happening in Newark.

The opening night started at the Newark Museum of Art where a reception with refreshments and a DJ entertained. The party atmosphere was full of fun with several people dancing and everyone having a great time. Shortly after, the first movie to kick off the weekend began. The first movie was the critically acclaimed film, The Inspection. The story is a moving drama that centers around a gay man who decides to join the US Marines in order to help him cope with some difficult pain. The audience laughed and shed some tears. There was a sense of people really enjoying The Inspection.

On Saturday the festival moved to Essex County Community College. The feature film was a more laid back vibe than the night before. The excitement was still in the air from all of the organizers, filmmakers, attendees, and volunteers. Denise Hinds from the Newark LGBTQ Community Center shared her excitement about the festival. “It’s very exciting,” she said with a bright smile on her face.

The highlight of day two was a showing of Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project. The documentary centered around the hate crime murder of Sakia Gunn in Newark. Gunn was a 15-year-old African American teen taken from her family and friends in a horrible act of evil.

This year is the 20th anniversary of her untimely death. The film Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project was key in many ways at the first LGBTQ film festival in Newark. The documentary is an emotional experience and movie director and producer Chas Brack said it was surreal and exciting for his film to be shown at the festival 20 years after Sakia’s death. The movie has been out for over a decade and it still expresses a sense of anger and remains relevant. Sakai’s family was also present in the auditorium and seeing all the love and support that the family received was was a beautiful thing.

The final day of the festival took place at the Rutgers University Newark campus. Starting the day was a collection of four short films that focused on the importance of safe spaces for the LGBTQ community. The highlights of this set of films included Lavender. It was a real and moving short that centered around the pain of having our safe spaces not being accepted before the true LGBTQ acceptance movement began in our country. It is a very honest and emotional short. Despite being a bit depressing, it is a well acted and important feature to be shown. It centers around a dark time in the history of the LGBTQ community.

Grounders was another highlight which was more optimistic and joyful. It is a short documentary focusing on Lesbian softball leagues. It was a pleasure to learn about the acceptance and community this sport brings to so many women.

Closing out the final day of Newark’s first ever LGBTQ film festival was Mama Gloria. This was a wonderful conclusion to the festival. The documentary focused on Chicago’s black transgender icon Gloria Allen, She had such an enormous and positive impact on the transgender community. Her owning who she always was and embracing her womanhood at a time when being out and trans was not as common had such an inspiring impact. The movie Mama Gloria is specific to the city of Chicago, but the message resonates throughout our whole country. A very loud round of applause followed this impactful movie. The film had such an uplifting quality that it left such a sense of happiness that it ended the festival on a very powerful note.

Newark’s inaugural LGBTQ film festival was such a beautiful experience. It was so clear that everyone there is proud to be supporting these movies as well as their filmmakers, many of whom appeared throughout the weekend. The panel discussions that took place with the content creators throughout the weekend featured many good questions as well.

It was nice to see a lot of the filmmakers feeling such a sense of gratitude from attendees after having their movies shown in Newark. All of the movies were fantastic and are stories that embody love, acceptance, liberty, and queerness. The first ever festival was a huge success and hopefully it will be back for another run next year.