Sunday, October 18, 2020

NewFest Spotlight: Welcome to the USA

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from the 32nd Annual New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival, NewFest. The festival runs October 16th-27th, 2020, and films are available to watch anywhere in the United States during that time.

Welcome to the USA
Directed by Assel Aushakimova
Ticket Information

Leaving one’s home for a place that is allegedly better is not an easy process. There is no guarantee that things will indeed be quite as formidable as they have been made out to be, and moving also means a departure from what is normal and familiar. Even if what has become standard is painful and problematic, there are still elements that will be absent from a person’s new life and which, no matter how hard they try, they may never be able to get back. Taking that step assumes a risk that the end will not necessarily be worth the means.

Aliya (Saltanat Nauruz) is elated to discover that she has won the Green Card lottery and the chance to move to the fabled United States of America. As a lesbian who is not religious, Aliya must keep much of her lifestyle in Kazakhstan a secret. Yet as she prepares for her likely departure, she realizes that she enjoys a relatively comfortable existence filled with great friends and numerous romantic partners. She also examines her fortunes in comparison to those of her sister, whose husband has found a second wife and fails to recognize – or care about – the impact it has had on her feelings of self-worth and happiness.

Opening with this film with Aliya receiving her good news is an interesting narrative choice, one that finds her struggling to verbalize the life-changing information she has learned to anyone close to her and contemplating whether it’s a step she should really take. As she hears radio pronouncements of the glory of the communist Kazakh president and digests her brother-in-law’s opinion of her as parroted by her niece, Aliya sees the appeal of living in a free country. But she realizes that starting over won’t help to fix her own commitment issues, and that she will be leaving behind people that she loves and who she may need just as much as they need her.

Nauruz seems very comfortable in Aliya’s skin, expressing herself through simple pleasures in her own home or smoking in public. She understands how she must live her life but also refuses to conform to what is expected of her, even by her mother or her sister. This feature film debut from writer-director Assel Aushakimova is a sensitive, engrossing drama that engages with complex concepts and the contradictory elements of the life she leads and the one she might soon have. It feels honest and enlivening at the same time, a narrow window into a foreign country where America truly is a dream may will likely never see.


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