It's nearly June, which means Pride, which means the Frameline Film Festival is upon us (June 18-28). My colleagues and I have spent much of the last six months diving into the deep waters of the latest in LGBTQ film, re-emerging now with this year's (39th!) edition of the Festival. By popular request I am pleased to steer you to some of the screenings and events that I am particularly looking forward to. There are many I'm overlooking here (hey, we've got 180 films from 33 countries...) so I encourage you to discover lots of others on your own. Tickets are on sale now to members, and general sales start May 29. In the meanwhile, here's my guide to some personal magic moments I am eagerly anticipating.
It's first in alphabetical order, though it's the last film we'll show, and well worth waiting for. The Closing Night film is a strong, edgy drama starring Dianna Agron (thankfully released from her cheerleader outfit in Glee) as a restless young woman stuck in a deadsville Nevada town, who encounters a troublemaking drifter (Paz de la Huerta) who opens her eyes to new horizons. It's well performed, burns with some R-rated heat, and has something deeper to say about what it takes to discover your own road.
The provocative true-life story of a gay youth activist whose search for spiritual meaning takes him down a strange path toward renouncing his homosexuality. With surprising and fine performances from James Franco and Zachary Quinto, this film helps complicate the possibilities of gay cinema...it's a counter-narrative, with an anti-hero, and yet never stops being a gay-positive film. Huh? See it and you'll know what I mean. It's the opening night film - discuss it at the party.
I love this romantic drama from Argentina's Marco Berger. Its structural premise is a bit like Sliding Doors, following two alternate versions of the same story, intercutting what might have happened if a crucial action had gone a different way at the beginning of the story. It's sexy, intelligent and ingeniously constructed. This is also one of 11 or so Latin American features in the festival, an especially strong year.
A stirring and beautifully filmed anthology of five fictional vignettes distilled and inspired from more than 200 interviews with Kenyan LGBT folks. An unusual and revealing window onto African lives.
This ravishingly photographed film shot in Albania and Italy centers on the story of Hanna, who, in order to escape the hardships and limited choices faced by young women in her extremely traditional village culture, chooses to become Mark and live as a man...but years later begins to question her decision.
One of several strong American debut features in Frameline39, this stylish comic drama by Joey Kuhn is set among the young social elites of Manhattan's Upper East Side (the post-prep school types you'd find in a Whit Stillman movie), spinning a tale of unrequited love among two best friends (Charles and Sebastian), with whiffs of Brideshead Revisited...and Bernie Madoff.
Filmmakers on Screen: dramas & docs exploring the lives of pioneering moviemakers
The latest film from British virtuoso Peter Greenaway is an over-the-top glitter-bomb, a visual feast that imagines the sexual awakening of the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein during his time in Mexico in 1931. Funny, brazen, and self-consciously gorgeous, the film features a bravura comic performance by Elmer Bäck as Eisenstein the tragic clown.
In this fascinating faux documentary, director Stephen Winter turns the tables on the seminal, controversial 1967 film Portrait of Jason. Even if you don't know the original documentary--a groundbreaking example of confessional biography in which director Shirley Clarke seemed to coax her eccentric black gay subject Jason Holliday into an on-camera breakdown--this new film, taking a mock "behind-the-scenes" approach, gives us an engrossing take on the power relationship between artist and subject, and touches on important themes of race, sexuality and moviemaking.
The Life of Yvonne Rainer
San Francisco's own Jack Walsh delivers an absorbing homage to pioneering modern choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, a San Franciscan herself, still a bracing and committed artist-activist now in her 80's.
Grandfather of Gay Porn
Men of a certain age may remember the frisky and sex-positive underground movies of Peter de Rome (with goofy titles like Adam and Yves), but everybody else will be surprised and charmed by the courtly, puckish Englishman who in the early 1960s blazed a sexy 8mm trail for the likes of Andy Warhol, John Waters and today's multibillion-dollar adult gay porn industry. Though much of his imagery is X-rated, this excellent profile makes a strong case that Peter de Rome is an artist worth discovering...an opinion shared by the august British Film Institute, which is now busy archiving and preserving much of his (delightfully obscene) oeuvre.
Berkeley filmmaker Malachi Leopold's terrific thriller of a documentary tells the story of his uncle Alex, who fell in love in the 1960s while serving in the Peace Corps in Tehran and has held the torch for beautiful Ali over the decades. Despite the separation imposed by the Iranian revolution. they attempt to reunite, complicated by the changes each man has undergone in the intervening years and the very serious danger Ali faces if he is outed.
Jenni Olson's mesmerizing and illuminating meditation on California history, urbanization, Father Junipero Serra, LA-SF cityscapes and much more. A rewarding and transporting viewing experience, shot in 16mm film (talk about dedication) by Sophie Constantinou and edited by Dawn Logsdon.
A clip-filled, behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood heartthrob who had to remain closeted to maintain a career, ably directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, who will receive this year's Frameline Award. And of course...Tab in person at the Castro!
The latest hilarious antics of Andy and Mike--the brilliant eco-pranksters known as The Yes Men--come to life in their most personal film yet, in which Andy (the gay one) reveals how he can't keep a boyfriend because of his globetrotting activism, and they take an emotional trip to Uganda, where their anti-corporate enviornmentalism may be far less controversial than Andy's coming out.
Among the six programs in Frameline39 that address the ever-changjng landscape where professional sports, gender, and sexuality intersect, I am especially fond of this heartfelt documentary that celebrates the camaraderie and acceptance sought by the tough athletes competing for the Bingham Cup, the gay rugby championship tournament. I still don't understand the rules, but I have new respect for the heart and determination shown by players from all over the world in a sport that long rejected them.
Don't-Miss Experiences, Only at the Castro...
No, that title is not a complete a sentence (<rim shot!>). It's the completely overhauled, eye-opening new version of the 1998 disco-drenched movie, set in Manhattan's legendary Studio 54 nightclub. At the time it was released, the director's original dark vision of the story--centered on the gorgeous bisexual bartender Shane (Ryan Philippe)--was so butchered and sanitized by Miramax that the creative team took to calling it "55." Now, some 40 minutes of re-shot footage have been removed, a similar amount of original material has been rescued from VHS dailies and re-integrated, and the whole thing is a coherent, glossy, erotic cautionary tale about a decade of decadent debauchery. Besides the great soundtrack, it's a thrill to see so many now-famous performers in younger, earlier roles: Salma Hayek, Mark Ruffalo, Neve Campbell, and of course a magnificent Mike Meyers as creepy club owner Steve Rubell.