The one time I visited Fire Island—worst vacation ever—a friend accurately pegged its highly money/looks-centered gay society as “a bunch of 10s looking for an 11.” That is pretty much the absolute opposite of the scene at Frameline (June 16–26), hitherto (thank god) known as the San Francisco International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Film Festival. Frameline's inclusiveness is near infinite: OK, exclusively heterosexual narratives need not apply, but those partially so might get a pass. And every other viewpoint on the Kinsey Scale—including a few Dr. Kinsey probably hadn't thought of then—is embraced.
That diversity is more present than ever as Frameline celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, reflected most prominently in the film's opening and closing night selections. Things kick off tonight with official opener Gun Hill Road, which might be mistaken for 2009 San Francisco International opener La Mission—but is set not in San Francisco but the Bronx, and the macho Latino dad (Esai Morales) a newly sprung ex-con discomfited to discover his little boy has matured not into a young gay man but a transgender teen (newcomposer Harmony Santana) with aspirations toward full MTF transition.
Later in the evening a bill of three short works is headlined by 50-minute U.K. featurette The Sleeping Beauty of East Finchley, in which a middle-aged wallflower blossoms in a local lesbian choir. June 26's closing night selection also comes courtesy of our erstwhile colonists. Christopher and His Kind is a typically first-rate British TV movie (remember, My Beautiful Laundrette started out as one) that provides a more factual take on the events author Christopher Isherwood experienced as an English émigré to Berlin in the early 1930s—material most famously fictionalized as the musical Cabaret. Matt Smith, the current Dr. Who, stars as the young writer wading giddily (and fairly graphically) into the city's city's sexual underground, something soon to be shut down by the rising Nazi Party.
While Frameline has welcomed transgender representations from its very beginning, this is the first year there's been a formal programming strand dedicated to the same. In addition to Gun Hill Road, this "Transgender Film Focus" encompasses several narrative features (notably U.S. wedding comedy Bob's New Suit and over-the-top Indonesian camp adventure Madame X) as well as documentaries including Becoming Chaz (aka Chastity Bono) and Renee (’70s tennis legend Renee Richards) —films about two of the highest-profile American trans personalities of the last four decades.
Spotlit Centerpiece and Showcase films also run the gamut in terms of identity (as well as genre). Offering man-on-man romance is Three, German director Tom Tykwer's most acclaimed feature since Run Lola Run, and Andrew Haigh's fine U.K. drama Weekend. Lesbian role models real-life and fictive, respectively, are offered by the documentary Wish Me Away (about country music star Chely Wright's private/professional coming out) and Celine Sciamma's French youth tale Tomboy.
More ensemble-based takes on sexual flowering are on tap in Sheldon Larry's hip-hop dance saga Leave it on the Floor and Magnus!, a new bad-taste comedy by Ash Christian of last year's funny Fat Girl. Then there's J. B. Ghuman Jr.'s Spork, a Napoleon Dynamite-like wade into deadpan weirdness about a 13-year-old intersex kid who manages to triumph over the inevitable junior high school bullies and mean girls.
It's hard to pick a few highlights amongst the rest of Frameline's 12-day 2011 program, being as it encompasses 80 features and 151 shorts from some 30 countries. But we'll try. On the local beat, features include documentaries about the AIDS Memorial Grove (The Grove), gay United 93 hero Mark Bingham (With You), drag queen/aspiring politico Anna Conda (Running in Heels), and the Australian-made Shut Up Little Man!, a marvelous probe into one of SF's strangest, endearing and enduring cult phenomena.
The one Bay Area-produced narrative feature (though it's actually set in Texas) is David Lewis' Longhorns, a delightful comedy about some 1982 fraternity "good old boys" who get a little too frisky with one another for subsequent sober comfort when they've had a couple brewskis. Also of local interest is Cho Dependent, the latest concert showcase for SF-born comic Margaret Cho, who receives this year's Frameline Award for her longtime pro-gay stances. Likewise Last Fast Ride, which pays tribute to late lesbian "punk goddess" Marian Anderson, a sometime staple in our own underground music scene.
Farther afield, recommendable features hail from Italy (docu-drama Mouth of the Wolf), France (creepy pubescent teacher's crush-run-amuck tale The Evening Dress), Sweden (bright political comedy Four More Years), New Zealand (Kawa, written by the author of Whale Rider) and Chile (Old Cats, from the director of terrific The Maid), to name a few.
Among US feature highlights are a funny vampire thriller (Bite Marks), a smart and sexy male triangle drama (August), the gleefully absurd NYC (and intergalactic) lesbian romance Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, Bruce LaBruce's latest quasi-porn provocation, L.A. Zombie, and the ambiguous Without, whose young heroine coping with a breakup in rural isolation gradually loses her grip on reality.
LaBruce is back—albeit as subject—in The Advocate for Fagdom, one of this year's documentary entries. There's also Daniel Schmid, a portrait of the very different gay Swiss director, and several other tributes to artistic personalities ranging from ex-Hole drummer Patty Schemel (Hit So Hard) to Belgian art duo Elmgreen & Dragset (How Are You?) and a famed veteran Japanese crossdresser (Miwa: A Japanese Icon).
Other nonfiction hot topics include sexual abstinence as identity (Asexual), LGBT elder care (Gen Silent), the struggle for gay rights in ex-USSR nation Belarus (East Bloc Love), the suspicious disappearance of a U.S.-born former Mr. Gay Austria (Gone), coming out in India (I Am), the very slow public emergence of gay athletes (Out for the Long Run), Australian intersex sisters (Orchids), and queer refugees from extremely hostile environments in the Middle East and Africa (Silent Stories). There's also a 20-anniversary reprise of Jennie Livingston's landmark documentary Paris Is Burning, which immortalized the NYC "voguing" scene, and the premiere of Debra Chasnoff's Celebrating the Life of Del Martin, a record of the starry City Hall memorial commemorating the late pioneering activist's life and legacy.
In addition to the usual San Francisco venues, this year the festival will also show four evenings of programming starting next Monday at Berkeley's Elmwood Theatre.
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