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New Queer Cinema  
 
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The term "New Queer Cinema" was coined by B. Ruby Rich in several publications (including the British film journal Sight & Sound, as well as the New York weekly The Village Voice) to describe the appearance of certain films at Sundance Film Festivals in the early 1990s that evinced a politicized stance towards culture.

In 1991, Todd Haynes' Poison won Sundance's Grand Jury Prize for Best Film; the next year saw the inclusion of Tom Kalin's Swoon, Gregg Araki's The Living End, and Christopher Munch's The Hours and Times.

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These young directors, along with the producers Christine Vachon (who produced Poison and Swoon) and Andrea Sperling (who produced The Living End and The Hours and Times), were the vanguard of what seemed to be a movement, though it was never really an organized movement as such.

The term New Queer Cinema would soon be used indiscriminately to denote independent films with gay and lesbian content. Nevertheless, Rich's assessment centered on what she perceived as a commitment to queer culture in those particular films by Haynes, Kalin, Araki, and Munch.

Independent films made on small budgets and often financed by foundation and arts council grants, the New Queer Cinema can be seen as the culmination of several developments in American cinema and American culture.

The Background

There have always been American movies made outside the commercial studio system; by the 1940s, a very active and coherent experimental film culture developed, with many gay artists, such as Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulous, and Curtis Harrington, among those who created an American avant-garde cinema.

Independent, low-budget films made without commercial studio backing gained notice in the 1950s; often, these films dealt with themes deemed too controversial for mainstream cinema.

By the 1960s, the cinematic avant-garde was called the "underground film." Many gay artists, including Jack Smith, Warren Sonbert, and Andy Warhol, were among the most prominent creators of "underground films." Works such as Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1963) and Andy Warhol's The Chelsea Girls (1966) were especially influential in establishing an iconography of that would eventually be replicated in mainstream commercial cinema.

Although homosexual themes had appeared in mainstream commercial films in the 1960s (most notably, Advise and Consent [1962], The Children's Hour [1962], and, most spectacularly, John Schlesinger's Academy Award-winning Midnight Cowboy [1969]), independent gay films made the most impact, especially The Boys in the Band (1970) and A Very Natural Thing (1973).

During the 1970s, arts funding helped to launch several festivals devoted to gay and lesbian films, which in turn helped cultivate an audience for gay and lesbian films. In the 1980s many of the most adventurous lesbian and gay filmmakers, such as Su Friedrich, Michael Wallin, Peggy Ahwesh, Jack Walsh, and Sheila MacLaughlin, began to experiment with narrative form, a tendency that also characterizes the directors associated with New Queer Cinema.

In addition, the AIDS crisis provoked a large body of activist video productions, exemplified by the work of Gregg Bordowitz, Jean Carlomusto, and Ellen Spiro, among others. The accessibility of video allowed many gay and lesbian artists of color, such as Marlon Riggs, Richard Fung, Michelle Parkerson, Shari Frilot, and Cheryl Dunye, to create work that might not otherwise have found sufficient backing.

All of these artists, and the conditions under which their work was produced, distributed and exhibited, provided the background and set the precedents for the emergence of New Queer Cinema.

Immediate Precursors

Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche (1985) and Bill Sherwood's Parting Glances (1986) were the most direct precursors of the New Queer Cinema. Both films had only limited releases, but were nevertheless enormously successful critically. In addition, these two films set important examples for the New Queer Cinema in their modest budgets and mixture of funding sources.

The production history of Parting Glances is directly connected with the production histories of Poison and Swoon; Christine Vachon and the late Brian Greenbaum, who co-produced Poison, met while both were working on the production of Parting Glances.

Self-Identified Queer Filmmakers

The New Queer Cinema may, ultimately, be described in terms of a number of talented filmmakers who self-identified as queer. A number of these individuals were associated with ACT UP and its artistic ancillary, Gran Fury. Taking the self-proclaimed gay aesthetic found in European directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Werner Shroeter during the 1970s, these young Americans shared a post-Stonewall openness to questions of gay politics and identity.

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