Frameline 38 Flaunts a Queer Cinema Renaissance
Frameline's San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival is one of the first in line in the summer's gay film festival circuit, giving fans of queer cinema everywhere a good idea of what they can expect in the coming year; either catching the films at the festivals in their city of choice or over a variety of streaming devices before the next summer arrives. Judging from the slate of movies to be screened at the San Francisco event, there are plenty to cheer for, as this year boasts one of the strongest programs in recent memory.
Ironically, while the U.S. leads the world in film production, either for pure entertainment or for creating the best human dramatic features, the country's queer cinema has yet to fully mature. Queer filmmaking here still often revolves around forced comedies and indulgent dramas. This is exceptionally pronounced at film festivals when American features are placed side by side with international offerings. Europeans, for instance, seem to have succeeded in flawlessly weaving gay issues into the fabric of their national cinema.
Perhaps the stars are in alignment this year. From documentaries charting the progress of gay rights to emotionally rich drama, Americans raise the bar high this year.
The Case Against 8
When this journalist started covering the court case filed by Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo against the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 at the United States District Court in San Francisco, there was no doubt among the reporters present in the packed courtroom proceedings that we were witnessing history in the making. In an attempt at balanced reporting, we witnessed how the arguments against same-sex marriage could never really stack up.
Furthermore, pairing conservative lawyer Ted Olson with the liberal David Boies, Olsen’s former court rival in the Bush v. Gore election dispute, is probably the most brilliant move, showing how this civil rights issue of the decade has no other direction to move but forward. I had often wondered if someone were to chronicle these proceedings, it would make a great story down the road. Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White did just that. With the overturn of the Proposition 8 behind us, this real-life legal drama could not have been a better choice to celebrate Frameline 38.
Out in the Night
With every huge step forward, the gay rights movement takes a reluctant step back. "Out in the Night" reminds us so. In 2006, "The New Jersey 4" were out of seven women charged with the attack of a man who had provoked the group after failing in coming on to the women. Their not guilty plea and subsequent trial by an all-white jury and the media only highlights the prejudice, homophobia and racism that many in the LGBT community still face. "Out in the Night" combines interviews with the accused, their families, civil rights activists with police testimony and security footage to provide an objective perspective.
To Be Takei
On a lighter but no less important note, when we think of George Takei, what comes to mind ranges from Star Trek’s Sulu to gay rights activist to Facebook phenomenon. Here is a man who is showing no signs of slowing down. "To Be Takei" traces the man’s early years and how he succeeds in breaking into Hollywood, making Takei one of the earliest Asian American stars. Takei shares his experience overcoming racism but remains in the closet until marriage equality becomes a national issue that cannot be ignored. Takei comes out, gets married with his longtime partner Brad, putting Takei once again in the spotlight, further making this out-and-proud gay icon relevant to a whole new generation of fans. Takei is honored with the Frameline Award this year for his achievements in the media arts and his unparalleled activism.
Back on Board: Greg Louganis
Capturing the hearts of Americans while sweeping the diving gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, Greg Louganis came out as an HIV-positive gay man in 1990, making him one of the earliest openly gay American professional athlete. Years after the glory, Louganis’ stars faded and he even risked losing his house in the recent financial crisis. It was only in 2012 that he was invited back to mentor the U.S. diving team headed for the Olympics. His story is but just one of those we care to pay attention to. Have you ever wondered what happened to other Olympians when they are replaced by younger stars and can no longer compete?
Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda
While recognizing the exponential progress in gay rights in this country over the past year, some other country in the world is taking a step back toward the dark ages for its people. Last year’s Frameline shows the plight of the horrendous situation in Cameron and Uganda, this year, it is Russia. The country enacts a federal law that outlaws "gay propaganda,’ making any progress in gay rights and gay visibility virtually impossible. Under this dark cloud, Frameline shines a spotlight on Russian queer cinema; showing two features "Stand" and "Winter Journey," and a shorts program titled "Pussy vs. Putin." The screening of adult entertainer Michael Lucas’ documentary "Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda" will be followed by a panel discussion on the lives of the gay population in Russia today. In Russian and English with English subtitles.
Nolan (Robin Williams, "Good Will Hunting") is a man who has long settled with his wife Joy (Kathy Baker, "Picket Fences") with whom he no longer shares a bedroom, much less a bed. The couple’s stagnant lifestyle centers around entertaining friends, reading best-sellers and rewatching old movies. After one night cruising the boulevard and almost running over a hustler Leo (Roberto Aguire, "Struck by Lightning"), Nolan offers Leo a ride... a gesture that would start to tear apart the lives of the two men. With "Boulevard," Robin Williams pushes his boundaries as a character actor after "One Hour Photo" and "Insomnia," now boldly joining the ranks of Matthew McConaughey in re-inventing his acting career.
Speaking of career re-invention, Chinese cinema’s queen of martial arts in the 60s, now a revered icon in Asian cinema and was seen in Ang Lee’s "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Pei-Pei Cheng plays Junn, a mother who loses her son in an accident. The son’s lover, Richard (Ben Whishaw, "Brideshead Revisited"), whom she had always thought to be just a close friend, reaches out to try to make that connection beyond his partner’s death. Yet, the two are separated by a language barrier which Richard tries to shatter by hiring a translator; the same barrier that Junn relies on to protect herself from coming to terms with the truth about her son. One of the festival’s centerpiece features, England’s Hong Khaou delivers a thoughtful and moving tale about relationships. In English and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Bad Hair (Pelo Malo)
A hit at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival, "Bad Hair" tells the story of nine-year-old Junior, played by a natural Samuel Lange Zambrano, who’s obsessed with straightening his hair and taking glamor shots of himself posing as a pop singer. Living in a poorer part of Caracas, Junior enjoys hanging out with the neighborhood teenage hunk who runs a convenience stand, without realizing his attraction to the young man. While this is accepted by his girl playmate Marta, played by another natural Samantha Castillo, Junior’s mother is horrified and hateful when she realizes that her son is probably going to prefer the company of men in the future. This is a gem from Venezuela. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Poland surprised queer cinema goers last year with the heart-breaking gay priest movie "In the Name of..." This year’s discovery "Floating Skyscrapers" appears to up the sex quotient by a couple of notches. A bromance between two alluring competitive swimmers evolves from the pure physical sexual acts behind bathroom stalls to a full fledged affair that draws the ire of their parents and girlfriend. The two mesmeric leads deliver a confident performance balancing turmoil on the inside and physical pleasure on the outside. In Polish with English subtitles.
Yves Saint Laurent
This is the first of two biopics on the French fashion genius Yves Saint Laurent to hit the screen this year. This version has the blessing of Saint Laurent’s surviving partner Pierre Bergé. This means that Director Jalil Lespert’s version touches less on the extravagance and decadence that fame and fortune brought to Saint Laurent, but allows the filmmaker to access the original creations of the master. The models who catwalk with the timeless pieces in the movie were cast based on who could best fit into the gorgeous dresses without altering them. The movie paints with broad strokes the life of Saint Laurent with an impressive performance from Pierre Niney who plays Saint Laurent to a great likeness. This is fashion porn at its best. In French with English subtitles.
Frameline 38 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival runs from June 19 to 29, 2014. For tickets and full program, refer to frameline.org