It's time again for my cheat sheet alerting you to films and programs I am especially excited about, coming up at this year's Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (note that we have exhausted the alphabet and have simply adopted a + symbol to signify inclusivity!). With 174 films this year from 38 countries - including 59 US premieres and 22 world premieres - this year's festival is especially fresh, and my shortlist can't hit everything. But here are some surprises and gems among the many wonderful films to be discovered. Kudos to all of my colleagues on the programming team for assembling what I think is a really memorable lineup - please browse the whole program, but do take note of these...:
Big Nights and Special Events
Vita & Virginia - Opening Night
We open with a lush and sexy biopic about the 20th century's greatest literary lesbian love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Fans of "Downton Abbey" and literary mavens will all swoon.
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Sid & Judy - Centerpiece Doc
If you think you already know everything there is to know about the great Judy Garland, think again. I love this (world premiere!) insider's view of her extraordinary talent and challenges, told through her own voice and that of her husband Sid Luft. It's a revelation, and full of fabulous archival performance clips and rarely heard audio.
Temblores (Tremors) - Centerpiece World Cinema
From Guatemala, this powerful drama was one of the most memorable films that I saw at this year's Berlin Film Festival, where it premiered - the story of a confident, sophisticated man whose decision to leave his wife and children for his long-time lover wreaks havoc on his life. The lead actor will be present.
Kinky Boots: The Musical
For the first time, Frameline will present a live-captured, HD Cinema theatrical experience at the festival - it's the world premiere of the Olivier Award-winning London cast of Harvey Fierstein & Cyndi Lauper's raucous and uplifting Kinky Boots. Fun, toe-tapping and touching.
In Sharp Focus: Documentaries
Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America and The Infiltrators
Two powerful films shed light on the difficult situation facing LGBTQ refugees and immigrants (often fleeing very repressive cultures and regimes) trying to come to the US to find sanctuary. Unsettled is set here in the Bay Area and follows four asylum-seekers (they will all be at the screening), while The Infiltrators, a Sundance hit this year, follows a remarkable group of activists who infiltrate a federal detention center to expose the treatment of undocumented immigrants. A free panel will follow Unsettled.
Vision Portraits / Frameline Award to Rodney Evans
What a delight to bestow this year's Frameline Award to filmmaker Rodney Evans and to screen his touching new documentary Vision Portraits, about artists (like himself) dealing with visual impairment or blindness. We will also be taking the opportunity to show a 15th anniversary 35mm retrospective screening of his marvelous ode to the Harlem Renaissance, Brother to Brother.
Jean Paul Gaultier: Freak & Chic
A stylish, gorgeous look at the life and work of famed fashion and design maverick Gaultier - but not in the typical greatest-hits-biography format, but rather through a behind-the-scenes view of the making of a fascinating autobtiographical stage revue. And yes, Madonna and Deneuve make appearances...
Marlon Riggs: No Regrets
Hard to believe it's been 25 years since the death of pioneering director Marlon Riggs - but his vision and talent continue to prove they are necessary for our time, right now. We are showing three of his rarely seen short films along with some special treats (such as a guest appeareance from Brian Freeman, Marlon's frequent collaborator, among other attractions!).
A World of Cinema
A sly gem of a film from Mexico, in which a sad-sack history teacher finds her life jolted into a new gear by an unruly new student. A little bit Harold and Maude, a little bit Thelma and Louise. Don't miss this one.
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The funniest screenplay in this year's festival belongs to British comedian/writer/director Simon Amstell, whose alter-ego Benjamin (the wonderful Colin Morgan) is an awkward, self-conscious filmmaker in hipster London who seems to do everything to screw up his one chance at falling in love. It's a delight.
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Among Frameline43's hidden gems, this noir romance from Vietnam is a moody, atmospheric film set in 1980's Saigon, depicting the unlikely fascination that develops between a hardened debt collector and the star of a folk opera troupe.
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Making its North American premiere at Frameline, this small masterpiece from Romania--told in three distinct chapters--is an anatomy of a failing marriage, as we meet a husband and wife on what might be the last day of their relationship.
If your tastes run toward downbeat realism, or if you are curious what a mumblecore lesbian indie drama from mainland China might look like, don't miss this intense character study with an amazing central performance. This is one of those film journeys you rely on adventuresome festivals to take you on.
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Tehran: City of Love
Wtih brilliant deadpan humor and understatement, this surprisingly funny and subversive feature from Iran follows three lonely characters--one of them unmistakably if covertly gay--as they try to stumble their ways toward human connection. I don't know how this got made without offending censors, but I'm so glad it did and that we are screening it.
Wild Rides and Offbeat Trips
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Brief Story from the Green Planet
Winner of this year's Teddy Award in Berlin as Best LGBT Feature, this charming, fable-like story from Argentina follows a transgender woman and her queer friends on a strange road trip as they attempt to return her grandmother's unexpected lodger--an extraterrestrial--to its proper home.
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A restless young woman from the 'burbs (Nicole Maines, the transgender star of Supergirl) moves to Los Angeles and falls in with a sexy, wild and seductive gang of cool lesbians - trouble is, they're vampires. But soon their campaign to rid LA of predatory men has our heroine swept up in a bloody and addictive rampage. This is one unusual genre flick, very fun, stylish and high energy.