Gay Essential Review: I Hate New York at Raindance Film Festival

First, it should be noted that the title of this documentary is ironic, as it explores the lives of four LGBTQ artists who have chosen to make New York their home. I Hate New York, which played at the Raindance Film Festival, is directed by Spanish filmmaker Gustavo Sanchez, who shot his subjects over 10 years. This adds a notable scope to this exploration of transgender culture and activism. It’s also a remarkably vibrant depiction of a fiercely colourful side of the city’s nightlife, simply because these four people live just outside the mainstream.

I Hate New York

As each one shares his/her background story, a common tale emerges of a young person in small-town America who realises that they aren’t like anyone else. So they need to break free of the constraints of their traditional families and travel to the City That Never Sleeps to find a new family that will allow their artistic inclinations to flourish. Trans superstar Amanda Lepore changed her gender at age 17 and never looked back. She worked as a dominatrix before having a series of extreme operations designed to turn her into the “ideal image of a bombshell”. By contrast, Sophia Lamar is a Latina diva who left Cuba and travelled to the USA as a political refugee. She and Amanda have frequently collaborated on their lavish performances, but they often fall out with each other in very public ways. They’ve had a huge impact on a variety of musical scenes, even when they’re feuding.

And then there’s Chloe Dzubilo, a veteran rocker and artist who feels that the vibrance of Manhattan helps distract her from her haunting conservative small-town past. She worked at Studio 54 in the 1980s and was a key member of the Club Kids movement in the 1990s, demanding to be herself and live life however she wanted. She even married Tara De Long (also known as T) in a legal ceremony that was defiantly non-binary. She was also one of the most unapologetic activists on the Aids issue, personally helping patients and demanding government action right up to her death in 2011 (during the production of this film).

Tara is the fourth person profiled, a gender non-conforming musician who loves living in New York because there’s no need to fit into a box there. She begins the film as a gay woman and ends up as the much more masculine T, rejecting categories. As with the other three subjects, his/her honesty on-camera is often startling, discussing the most personal elements in their lives. That said, these are artists speaking to cameras, so they never quite feel offhanded: they’re performing even here. But what they have to say is both important and, surprisingly, inspiring. Not only are they saying vital, revelatory things about New York City, but they’re also exploring how any metropolis is an escape from the more puritan attitudes in rural areas. And perhaps most vital is the way they have challenged the collision between art and commercialism. As Tara says, “You have your voice, and that’s the most important thing. The rest is just money.”

3 stars

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of Gustavo Sánchez

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Rich Cline

Rich Cline

Journalist
As a freelance journalist, Rich Cline has covered films and major events on five continents. The founding editor of Shadows on the Wall, he is vice chair of the London Film Critics' Circle, chair of the London Critics' Circle Film Awards, and a member of Fipresci, Online Film Critics Society and GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics. A native of Los Angeles, he grew up in Ecuador and has called London home since 1992.
Rich Cline

@shadowsrich

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