For almost four decades, Frameline: San Francisco LGBT International Film Festival has showcased independent queer cinema. The oldest and the best, it has known highs and lows, and yet always faced gay life head on, eyes and apertures wide open. With an expected attendance of 65,000, the eleven days of this year’s Frameline38 will again bring together film lovers, media artists – and through great work, LGBTQ communities – to celebrate the best from nearly 800 film submissions from all over the world.
If there is one notable new development, it’s that this year the programming leans heavily on international artists. The reasons for this appear to be many.
LGBT American films are gaining wider acceptance outside of the traditional gay festival circuit – Ira Sachs and Sony Classics’ gay marriage themed feature Love is Strange passed over the gay festivals, heading straight to commercial theatrical. Also, fresh new cinematic voices are emerging from atypical locals – Venezuela, Ecuador, Morocco all have brought to us their own lens through which to view anew what we thought were already well traveled themes such as repression and self-acceptance.
And this year Frameline features a special and timely spotlight on LGBT films from today’s Russia.
It’s hard not to look back at the past year and think that the LGBT community is crossing a cultural finish line. Each month brings a new group of states where marriage equality becomes reality. During last year’s festival, prop 8 was still in effect in California.
Fast-forward to this year and we have not only marriage equality but also a made for cable film walking us through key details and players of how – and with the help of whom – we got there.
HBO’s documentary The Case Against 8 presents an all-access behind the scenes look at the first Supreme Court case on marriage equality. Shot over five years the film follows the plaintiffs and the unlikely legal team of Ted Olsen and David Boies. The producers stay clear of recent controversies – where HRC (whom some would characterize as highly-paid Gay, Inc. insiders) takes outsized credit for what was really a grass roots marriage movement – and focuses solely on the landmark case.
Most tellingly the film presents the utter lack of any credible arguments from the defenders of Prop 8. Although we know the outcome of the case already, by focusing on the plaintiffs and recording their journey as it happened, tensions and drama run compellingly throughout the film.
Regarding Susan Sontag, Nancy Kate’s new documentary provides a tour through the life of one of our most noted public intellectuals. Weaving archival footage with commentary from Sontag scholars, friends and lovers, Kate’s film promises to provide a unique and authoritative look at a woman who transitioned from novelist to essayist to filmmaker and from wife to lesbian icon.
In 1964, French author Violette Leduc’s memoir The Bastard became an enormous literary success. Frameline features two films, one a documentary and the other a feature narrative, that focus on the unconventional woman’s struggle to find her voice against social and literary conventions of her time.
Violette Luduc: In Pursuit of Love from French network ARTE and the dramatic feature Violette, directed by Martin Provost and starring Cesar-winner Emmanuelle Devos, both provide answers. In Pursuit of Love – at a taut 57 minutes – provides author interviews along with an intro to the controversial work of Leduc, and should serve as a primer for the very well reviewed Violette, which is opening in art houses across the country this month. In fact Violette may be the best-reviewed film of Frameline. It’s certainly a pleasure to watch, filmed as it is in blues and grays to reflect the post war period – and Luduc’s own manic paranoia.
Fueled with enough teen hormonal overdrive to make you cringe in your seat, Wetlands gleefully and crassly centers around a young woman’s self-exploration of her own body. With its bitingly quick pace, this Sundance-premiered film centers on its lead’s accidental anal fissure – the result of a shaving accident. Darkly comedic, the film also has a sweet undertone sometimes held at bay – by vegetable experimentation, drug fueled lesbian trysts and a circle jerk around a pizza.
Out In East Berlin: Gay and Lesbians in the GDR uses archival and original narrative footage, interwoven with interviews of thirteen gay citizens of the East German state to give a glimpse of life there. The film serves as an often-subdued time capsule of an era, a people and a place where in theory equality was paramount but homophobia simmered beneath the surface (as it did and does everywhere) – a place where spying was omnipresent and the State used “Romeo” decoys to entrap its gay citizens. The film’s focus on impacted individuals will helpfully cut through shopworn cold war histories, allowing for a more nuanced and human reflection.
You can tell that Yann Gonzalez’s film, You and the Night – note that Rencontres d’après Minuit is better translated as “Encounters after Midnight” – is a fantasy because of its central set-up: an orgy in which the participants reveal their emotional pasts. The film is centered on a young hetrosexual couple and their transvestite maid, Udo (Nicolas Maury), as they team up to host an orgy in their small, spare city apartment. The guests don’t have names but are assigned titles – The Slut, The Teen, The Stud, The Star – mixing camp with fluid sexuality, the film was named one of last year’s best by Cahiers du Cinema. San Francisco is the perfect spot for a fresh screening.
A ten year-old boy’s desire to express himself, while being raised by his embattled and bitter mother, makes for magic in the Venezuelan feature Bad Hair directed by Mariana Rondon. Complex and multilayered, the film uses the boy’s determination to straighten his curly hair as a means of exploring motifs that move beyond classic coming out story lines. Themes of self-discovery, deeply entrenched homophobia, sexism and Venezuela’s decades-long and turbulent economic and political life form the core of this exquisitely acted story that also provides a rare street level and relatively unbiased view of contemporary Venezuela.
George Takei’s journey took him from a Japanese American internment camp to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. And that just covers his life through the 1960’s. There was a lot more (including his coming out odyssey) and of course most recently he beams into the daily newsfeed of millions of Facebook followers. To Be Takei follows George and his loyal husband Brad as they ‘trek’ around the country. A lighthearted confection, the film promises to be a love letter to a unique cultural figure. Mr. Takei will be present on June 24th to receive the Frameline Award for his achievement in the media arts as well as his unwavering commitment to activism.
The British film Lilting centers on a grieving mother’s relationship with her late son’s longtime lover. Exploring topics of lost love, the trickiness of memory, cross-cultural barriers and finally shame, this compassionate tale from director Hong Khaou was hailed at Sundance for its slow burning character study of two people protecting themselves emotionally through competing memories and purposeful miscommunication.
“A Gang of Killer Lesbians” once declared the New York tabloids – about a street altercation between a male “admirer” who threatened to “screw them straight.” The documentary Out in the Night explores the notorious episode, following the women on their journey for exhortation. The film focuses on the larger societal ramifications of the case and accompanying media sensationalism. Police testimony and security camera footage of the assault, along with interviews, makes the brief 75-minute run time truly riveting.
The Way He Looks is a sweet coming of age tale set in Brazil. Director Daniel Ribeiro has expanded his 2010 short into a feature length film. Centering on a blind high school boy discovering independence and his sexuality. The film masterfully chronicles the ebbs and flows of young friendship and romantic attraction – the film stood out at the Berlin Film Fest for it’s warmth and the appeal of it’s cast.
Another Berlin standout hails from Ecuador. Holiday is a tender romantic story that holds on to issues of class and economics. Set during the financial meltdown of 1999, director Diego Araujo’s drama is steeped in the youthful questioning that takes place between two young men who feel no need to commit to orientation.
An uncharacteristically restrained Bruce LaBruce – the avant-garde art house and porn director from Canada – takes a transgressive subject and attempts to make a tender love story with the film Gerontophilia. The lead character Lake is a hot, 18-year-old nursing home attendant. And in a gift that could only come from God, he apparently harbors romantic attraction to the senior set with whom he works. In particular he has his eye on octogenarian Mr. Peabody – a patient at the local “wrinkle ranch.” A film that challenges social propriety and gay culture’s fixation on youth, this gay Harold and Maude aspires to be more tender than simply shocking.
My love of French cinema and gay porn appear to have exploded like pastry cream onto the screen in Mondo Homo: A Study of French Gay Porn in the 70’s. Offering an opportunity to explore the big screen days of pre-condom, bushy-pubed glory, and exploring gay male sexuality in a completely free and very French way.
Its Sacre Bleu cinema!
The era of franconian free love saw over 40 French directors making gay porn, and this fascinating look back at a glorious 1970’s Gay Paris proves to be very pleasant viewing indeed. Lovers of leather men, jocks, bears, and French fromage – of which there are loads – are sure to be pleased.
Frameline 38 runs June 19–29, 2014. Tickets on sale through www.frameline.org