It’s becoming more and more common for New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumni to win major festival prizes, so it wasn’t any surprise when news broke out that Filmmaking grad Li Cheng won the 2018 Queer Lion Award at the 75th Venice Film Festival, one of the world’s most prominent cinema competitions; his film José is now the first Central American film to do so. Following the prestigious award as well as premieres in 50 countries and 100 festival cities worldwide, José now has a national USA theatre release, starting in a dozen major markets, with Cheng personally be presenting the film and speaking with audiences during each of the first three days for both the New York and Los Angeles screenings.
In 2008, Cheng attended the 4-Week Filmmaking workshop at our New York campus. “My NYFA experience was wonderful,” Cheng tells NYFA, “and key to getting started right: hands-on, quickly, low-cost/high-value, with passionate film professionals, and meeting and working together with creative, energetic, inspiring faculty, staff, and student-cohorts from day one. I couldn’t have asked for more, or a better kickstart to my career in film.”
Cheng used that kickstart to his full advantage. His feature film José is a nuanced look at the challenges and joys of gay life in Central America. The Spanish-language, English-subtitled film follows star José (Enrique Salanic), who lives at home with his mother (Ana Cecilia Mota), who makes ends meet by selling sandwiches at bus stops and who is not ready to let go of her youngest child. But when he meets Luis (Manolo Herrera), José is pushed to break down his own boundaries and take a leap of faith with this new relationship.
José was written and produced by Cheng, along with George F. Roberson, and was shot in Guatemala with a non-industry artist and academic crew, making it the first major LGBTQIA+ film to come from the nation. Outsider Pictures is the film’s North American distributor and world sales, while international festival sales are handled by Rediance (of Paris and Beijing).
The powerful film has resonated with audiences. Winning the Queer Lion is an incredible achievement; the Queer Lion Award is the trophy awarded, starting in 2007, to the “Best Movie with LGBT Themes & Queer Culture” among those presented during the Venice International Film Festival. Previous winners include Tom Ford’s A Single Man and Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl. José has also won Best Film at the Boston LGBT Film Festival and was cited for its “confident visual sense…a sensitive portrait [with a] depth of feeling” by The Hollywood Reporter.
The film will screen at the Quad Cinema in New York City from Friday, January 31 – Sunday, February 2. Tickets are available here. Other screenings for José, including at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on February 7, can be found here. Q&A sessions between the audiences and Cheng will follow screenings each of the first three days for both the New York and Los Angeles releases.
New York Film Academy congratulates Filmmaking alum Li Cheng on winning the Venice Film Festival’s Queer Lion award and looks forward to following his career as a filmmaker!