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Frameline 46 Brings LGBTQ+ Cinematic Goodness

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What better way to celebrate the Pride Month of June and stick it to the culture warriors of The Homophobe Party (aka the GQP) than by catching some films at Frameline 46?  Yes, San Francisco’s annual showcase of LGBTQ+ friendly film returns with a hybrid of in-person theatrical screenings (at such venues as the Roxie, the Castro, and SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater) and online screenings.

But isn’t this the same thing Frameline did the last couple of years?  Sort of.  The in-person theatrical screenings, which go from June 16-26, 2022, cover the 11 days up to and including Pride Sunday.  The online encore screenings, which run from June 24-30, 2022, can be viewed anywhere in the United States…including states where the homophobes and transphobes in public office are working to legislatively prevent people from publicly saying gay.

What can you see at this year’s Frameline?  You can choose among 132 titles from 36 different countries for the theatrical screenings.  For the numbers nerds, that includes 46 feature narratives, 30 feature documentaries, and 61 short films.  For the online encore screenings, about ¾ of the listed films will be available.  That limitation exists because some of the offerings such as the new “A League Of Their Own” series will soon become commercially available.

A League Of Their Own

Speaking of the “A League Of Their Own” series, the show’s first two episodes serve as  Frameline 46’s Opening Night Film.  It has the same premise as the beloved Penny Marshall film, a tale of a group of women who joined the All American Girls Professional Baseball League while the male professional baseball players were away fighting World War II.  However, this co-creation of “Broad City”’s Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham significantly differs from the Marshall film.  The new series will be quite open about romances between several of the female players…as well as the toxic effects of racism.  And for those retrograde types screeching about changing the past or “ruining” Marshall’s film, there actually were quite a few lesbians in the women’s baseball leagues of the time.   

Another 1990s pop culture milestone was the MTV reality show “The Real World.”  And the San Francisco edition of the show had a cast member whose life would change public attitudes around the AIDS crisis.  Pedro Zamora’s presence personalized for the first time for many viewers somebody actually suffering from HIV/AIDS.  But as William T. Horner and Stacey Woelfel’s documentary “Keep The Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way” shows, this Cuban-American was also a community leader and educator as well as a soon-to-be husband.  Using clips from Zamora’s “Real World” appearances as well as interviews with sister Mily Zamora and “Real World” roommates Judd Winick and Pam Ling (among others), this film re-tells Zamora’s story for new audiences.  If you missed the S.F. DocFest screenings of Horner and Woelfel’s work, don’t make the same mistake again.

For those who want the straight dope on transgender issues (instead of widely available transphobic claptrap), check out Sam Feder & Julie Hollar’s remastered documentary “Boy I Am.”  The film may be 15 years old, but the issues it raises are still timely.  Its starting point may be a look at the extreme feminist view that female-to-male transitioning is an anti-female act that taps into male privilege.  But the dialogue the film opens among the lesbian, feminist, and transgender communities will be one that general audiences will appreciate.  This film will screen online during Frameline’s Encore period anywhere in the US.  And this streaming is free.

Sebastien Lifshitz’ “Bambi: A French Woman” delivers his director’s cut expansion of his 2013 Teddy Award-winning documentary.  It’s a portrait of “Bambi,” the La Carrousel de Paris cabaret performer who became one of France’s first transgender women.  Through dusted-off Super-8 home movies, she regales us with stories about being rejected by her family, mentorship by drag queens and other trans women, and even her reinvention as a school  teacher.

Bruce Ashley & Michael Donald’s documentary “Blitzed!” recalls the titular short-lived London nightclub inspired by David Bowie.  Basically, to get through the doors of the club, your looks had to be decidedly outrageous and wild.  For those who got in, it was a chance to finally be with your tribe.  The downside was, every week was a new competition in outdoing your rivals in fashion.  While Blitzed may have lasted less than two years, its former habitues would eventually and successfully unleash a new subculture on the mainstream.

Loving Highsmith

In the Peacock version of “Queer As Folk,” director Stephen Dunn reimagines Russell T. Davies’ classic queer-friendly series by moving the story to New Orleans.  The handsome heartbreaker Brodie has left medical school and returned to the Big Easy to re-establish the life he’d abandoned.  However, Brodie’s ex- Noah has been doing fine without him while brother Julian has grown despite Brodie’s absence.  The decidedly younger Mingus catches Brodie’s eye, despite the fact that Brodie’s BFF Ruthie is Mingus’ high school teacher.  Then the world of Brodie and his friends gets shaken by an unimaginable tragedy…

Michael Rice’s documentary “Black As U R” raises some troubling questions about the intersectional damage of racism and homophobia in Black communities.  The winner of the first Frameline Out In The Silence Award mixes together history (e.g. Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin), the director’s personal experiences of growing up Black and gay in the South, and chats with everyone from preachers to Black trans youth.  The most uncomfortable and memorable discussion takes place at a Black barbershop, where the patrons talk about their prejudices.

After closeted lesbian Jaime’s father dies, the teen is sent to live with her devout aunt and uncle in their Jehovah’s Witness community.  Despite being obligated to abide by the community’s restrictions (even though she’s a nonbeliever), Jaime manages to maintain her rebellious streak at school and become friends with teenage Witness Marike.  But can the affair that develops between Jaime and Marike withstand the latter’s embracing of a faith which holds that those who leave it are treated as if they’ve died?  Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts’ drama “You Can Live Forever” pits the purity of love against religious repression.    

Meet Lilas and Shery, the rhythm and lead guitarist for Lebanon’s first all-woman thrash metal band Slaves To Sirens.  They’re trying to pursue their rock dreams in a country where female creative self-expression is discouraged, retaliatory political violence is part of daily life, and their families would really prefer their knocking off the lesbian stuff (especially since it’s a prison-worthy offense).  An invitation to play at the UK’s Glastonbury Music Festival might herald an improvement in the band’s fortunes.  But resentments over girlfriends past and present as well as protests over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion could kill the band before they finally make it.  Rita Baghdadi’s documentary “Sirens,” executive produced by Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph, captures Lilas and Shery’s story.

Ready to kick down more than a few societal doors comes Amanda Kramer’s star-studded “Please Baby Please.”  The premise is simple enough: loving boho couple Arthur (Harry Melling, “Harry Potter”) and Suze (Andrea Riseborough) fall under the spell of Teddy and his gang of misfit queers The Young Gents.  How the couple soon responds sexually and philosophically to Teddy’s presence…and what happens next draws from such influences as John Waters, “West Side Story,” feminist theory, and Kenneth Anger.

Girl Picture

Another film guaranteed to disturb many viewers is Nina Menkes’ documentary “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power.”  Film theorist Laura Mulvey may have coined the term “the male gaze” nearly fifty years ago,  But contrary to the theorist’s expectations of the phenomenon having less relevancy by now, Menkes’ film unfortunately shows why that phrase is still relevant in such phenomena as patriarchal cinematic language, ageism, and pay inequality.  Besides clips from over a hundred films, there are interviews with such film professionals as Julie Dash, Eliza Hittman, and Rosanna Arquette among others.

Did you love stand-up comedian Hannah Gadsby’s shows “Nanette” and “Douglas?”  Then catch Gadsby’s new live performance “Hannah Gadsby: Body Of Work.”  The show’s the product of what happened when the comedian was forced to shelter in place in regional Australia after she recorded “Douglas” for Netflix.  The forced downtime led to her pondering the idea for a new live show, what she calls a new body of work.

Addison Heimann’s disturbing SXSW body horror film “Hypochondriac” is the story of Will (Zach Villa, “American Horror Story”), a happy potter in a solid relationship with a new boyfriend.  But a mysterious package triggers the supposedly buried evils resulting from a past traumatic family event.  Now Will must confront his past demons before his unraveling results in his permanently losing his grip on both reality and his body.  

Guaranteed to twist more than a few tongues is Gustavo Vinagre’s “Three Tidy Tigers Tied A Tie Tighter.”  This year’s winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award is set in a Sao Paulo devolving into chaos thanks to an amnesia-causing virus.  For a trio of three cheerful young queers exploring the colorful underside of this Brazilian city, it’s a journey of seeing a drag hairless guinea pig or a drug-dealing cabaret singer’s unusual salon.  The trio’s journey is also an allegory for how those on society’s margins survive dystopia.

Three Tidy Tigers Tied A Tie Tighter

Centerpiece Film and Sundance Audience Award winner “Girl Picture” follows three consecutive weekends in the lives of two filter-free teenage best friends.  Alli Haapasalo’s protagonists Mimmi and Ronkko take different approaches to dealing with the transition from adolescence to womanhood.  The effects of Mimmi’s turbulent home life has caused her to have violent outbursts in class.  Ronkko’s thirst for sexual pleasure has sent her down the heauxdom trail.  Mimmi’s romance with ardent figure skater Emma winds up making the best friends’ transitions to womanhood that much more complicated.

She may have built her literary career primarily on writing about murder and death, but she lived an unapologetically queer life.  “She” was famed crime novelist Patricia Highsmith, and Eva Vitija’s documentary “Loving Highsmith” tells the story of her life.  Relying on both surviving girlfriends and Highsmith’s own diary (read by Gwendoline Christie (“Game of Thrones”)), the film dishes heavily with such fun anecdotes as Highsmith’s likening sex with men to being “like steel wool in the face.” 

Take a deep dive into the history of the mail-order catalog that launched a thousand wet dreams.  Bryan Darling & Jesse Finley Reed’s documentary “All Man: The International Male Story” recounts how for over three decades, the catalog founded by Gene Burkard would transform both male fashion and how Americans perceived masculinity and sexuality.  Thanks should be given to the catalog’s many images of beefcake models wearing everything from leopard print loin cloths to spandex bikini briefs.

C.B. Yi’s “Moneyboys” follows Fei, who moves from the Chinese countryside to the city to earn money for his family.  He finds his metier being a moneyboy (i.e. a sexual hustler).  Fei’s transformation from newbie to mentor of another young man from the same village eventually becomes a bitter one.  His family’s quite happy to take the money Fei sends them.  But they’ll never accept who he loves.

Winner of the Teddy Jury Award is Magnus Gertten’s documentary “Nelly & Nadine.”  Professional mezzo-soprano Nelly Mousset-Vos and opera lover Nadine Hwang met while prisoners at Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1944.  Their deepening relationship and love would sustain them through the liberation of the camps, their separation, and finally the building of a life together in Caracas, Venezuela.  Nelly’s granddaughter Sylvie, the keeper of the family archives, learns of this long-forgotten story and discovers the details of a love that transcended the Holocaust.

Keep The Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way

What happens when the fictional persona you’ve created starts eating up your life?  For cabaret artist Vincent DeFonte, his drag queen persona Lady Vinsantos has gone from the character that made him famous at San Francisco’s Trannyshack to someone who’s creatively stifling him.  DeFonte’s solution, as captured in Coline Albert’s Centerpiece Documentary “Last Dance,” is to lay the lady to rest with a star-studded farewell performance in Paris.  Albert’s film captures the six months of De Fonte’s prep work for that final show as well as the artist’s search for a new avenue of creative fulfillment. 

Marc Huestis has done it all in San Francisco gay culture.  From helping found the very first Frameline festival to hosting Castro Theatre movie events featuring appearances by everyone from Kim Novak to members of The Village People, he’s left an indelible glitter-strewn mark over five decades.  Lauretta Molitor’s documentary “Impresario” is a portrait of this San Francisco icon, supplemented by Huestis’ own films and words from collaborators ranging from Dan Nicoletta to Mx Justin Vivian Bond.    

Frameline’s short film programs have often been places to discover new or upcoming talent.  Those who lack either time or certainty regarding trying short films should check out the “Wild Combination” program.  It collects half-a-dozen short films personally picked by Frameline 46’s programming team.  The offerings include: an Iranian upper-middle-class queer making his first 200 grams of cocaine purchase (“Bro”), renowned director Lucrecia Martel’s visit to a circle of female artists and nonconformists based in Argentina’s conservative Salta region (“North Terminal”), and an involuntary holiday for two factory workers which turns into something more (“Thursday, Friday, Saturday”).

Chase Joynt, whose “No Ordinary Man” uncovered the forgotten story of Billy Tipton, digs up another piece of transgender history with “Framing Agnes.”  Opening a rusted shut filing cabinet at UCLA reveals a long-forgotten treasure trove of interviews dating from the 1950s and 1960s with transgendered individuals.  With the help of a star-studded team of trans filmmakers and actors, Joynt re-enacts those interviews and allows his creative partners to reflect on the material presented.  The film took both the NEXT Innovator and NEXT Audience awards at the recent Sundance Film Festival.

In Francisca Alegria’s Sundance sensation “The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future,” tough-minded surgeon and single mother Cecilia has her plate full of personal problems.  She can’t accept her trans daughter’s identity.  Her elderly father says he’s actually seen Cecilia’s supposedly long-dead mother.  And the livestock on her family’s farm have been experiencing some increasingly weird visions.  Is it something in the water?  Was the death of Cecilia’s mother really as simple as everyone thought? 

Peter von Kant

Gay filmmaker Peter McDowell was just a kid when his older brother Jimmy died under mysterious circumstances in Saigon in 1975.  McDowell’s family wouldn’t talk about what happened.  Years later, the filmmaker sets off to Vietnam to find out why his brother returned to the country after his tour of duty ended.  Were the “hedonistic pleasures” that pulled Jimmy back to that Asian country queer in nature?  The result of McDowell’s investigation is the documentary “Jimmy In Saigon,” which is executive produced by sex advice columnist Dan Savage. 

How did a gay pornographer become a queer liberation icon?  Morris Chapdelaine and Bob Christie’s documentary “Pat Rocco Dared” tells the amazing story of how the titular gay filmmaker went from making films such as “Sex And The Single Gay” to reporting from the front lines of the early days of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.  Along the way, Rocco would even campaign alongside Harvey Milk.

Francois Ozon is no stranger to the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.  22 years ago, he adapted Fassbinder’s unproduced play “Water Drops On Burning Rocks” to film.  Now the French provocateur returns to Fassbinder with Closing Night Film “Peter von Kant.”  This film is a gender-flipped adaptation of the Fassbinder classic “The Bitter Tears Of Petra von Kant,” which is also getting shown at Frameline to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Peter von Kant is a renowned filmmaker stuck in the creative and emotional doldrums.  When the filmmaker is introduced to handsome young actor Amir, he discovers a renewed sense of passion…which soon turns to obsessive lust with devastating consequences.  The legendary Hannah Schygulla, who played the Amir role in the Fassbinder original, appears here as von Kant’s mother.

***

Tastes, of course, vary and different people will be attracted to different items in the Frameline 46 program.  But if this preview provides a good starting point for a reader’s own exploration of the program, that will suffice.  

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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