Friday, September 07, 2007

The Bubble • הבועה

Life in Tel Aviv is in a bit of a bubble of unreality, disconnected from much of the reality of the unending struggle between the Jews and the Arabs over a little patch of land that both sides consider holy. As The Bubble begins, Noam (Ohad Knoller, Yossi in Fox's earlier film Yossi and Jagger) is on army reserve duty at a checkpoint between Israel and the West Bank. He meets Ashraf (Yousef 'Joe' Sweid), a Palestinian who speaks fluent Hebrew, the result of growing up in the divided city of Jerusalem. The two fall in love, but then must confront a rather severe version of the dilemma of a lover from "the wrong side of the tracks." The film is a poignant slice of the lives of these two star-of-David- and crescent-and-star-crossed lovers. I wasn't a fan of Yossi and Jagger, a story of a romance between two male Israeli soldiers, but I found The Bubble much more satisfying. Highly recommended.

The Bubble is currently screening at the Landmark Embarcadero and Landmark Shattuck Theatres (in S.F. and Berkeley, respectively) and in limited release nationally.

The Bubble (הבועה), dir. Eytan Fox (איתן פוקס), 2006 Israel, 117 min., in English, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007


When it first came out 27 years ago, William Friedkin's Cruising broke ground. It was the first major-studio crime drama set primarily in a gay male milieu. Al Pacino plays an undercover cop investigating the murders of a string of gay men with the common thread that they had cruised for sex either in public parks or in gay S&M clubs — although not in airport restrooms. Some of the murders are shown in grisly detail, but the story focuses more on Pacino's disorientation as he dives more deeply into his undercover identity, especially on his infrequent visits back to his real-life girlfriend. When Cruising was released, gay men picketed theatres where it screened, protesting what they viewed as the implicit suggestion that the leather/S&M scene is representative of the larger gay community, not to mention linking "serial killer" with "homosexuality" as tightly as "Saddam" and "9/11." Looking at the controversy now, when it seems that everyone except Larry Craig sees the diversity of gay experience, it seems almost quaint.

The film is in a limited theatrical re-release this month, with a brand-new digitally restored print, and will be released on a "special edition" DVD on September 18th. You can pre-order it from Amazon and other outlets.

Cruising, dir. William Friedkin, 1980 USA/West Germany, 102 min.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Itty Bitty Titty Committee

Anna, a young lesbian, still shy and unsure of herself, works in the office of a plastic surgeon who specializes in boob jobs. She's recently broken up, but lives with her very supportive parents. One night Anna catches a woman spray-painting revolutionary feminist slogans on the side of the clinic where she works. She goes on to join Clits in Action, the C(i)A, and takes part in a number of guerrilla street theater actions, but comes to realize that the group needs to take a different tack if it wants to be more than a drop in the bucket. At the same time, the group is splintering because of personality clashes and romantic jealousies. Anna plans an action that will really get the masses to take notice.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee is great fun, for gay men almost as much as for lesbian feminists. A strong cast, including several first-time actors pulled from MySpace and other online communities, puts together a lively manifesto to challenge the patriarchy. Strongly recommended.

Producer Andrea Sperling was honored with the 2007 Frameline Award for her work on films including D.E.B.S., But I'm a Cheerleader, Prozac Nation, and Gregg Araki's The Living End and Totally F∗∗∗ed Up. Congratulations!

Itty Bitty Titty Committee, dir. Jamie Babbit, producer Andrea Sperling, 2007 USA, 85 min.

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The Man of My Life (L'Homme de sa vie)

Frédéric goes on vacation with his wife and family. He meets Hugo, staying in the cottage next door, who likes skinny-dipping and, more challenging to Frédéric, talks openly at dinner about being gay. Hugo doesn't believe in relationships, but has a series of men passing through his bedroom; Frédéric is jealous of the freedom, but argues for love and devotion. Frameline says, "With beautiful, expressive composition and stunning, sweeping images of the Rhône region of France as its backdrop, The Man of My Life is presented like a curious and enchanting summer's dream, weaving back and forth between scenes — some vivid, some fleeting, some coherent, some abstract — each bringing new insights as it raises new questions." Indeed, The Man of My Life is one of those French films that makes far better sense after a bottle of wine or a few bong hits. That said, it offers penetrating insight into the factors that drive some people to couple while others stay single. Highly recommended, especially if you're high when you see it.

The Man of My Life (L'Homme de sa vie), dir. Zabou Breitman, 2006 France, 114 min., in French with English subtitles

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Alike (ah-LEE-kay) is a black lesbian teen who sneaks out to clubs with her friends, but has to keep her closet door tightly shut at home for fear of her family's reaction. The inevitable confrontation with her parents is painful to watch, as we see that her fears were entirely well-founded. The tagline of the film is on point: "Who do you become when you can't be yourself?" Well made, with some great humor in amongst the pathos. Strongly recommended; my second-fave of this year's girls' shorts, Pariah won the audience award for best short in the festival.

Pariah, dir. Dee Rees, 2006 USA, 28 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program

Melissa with a Heart around It

Fourteen-year-old Jamie is active in her church, hanging out by the pool on the day of her total-immersion baptism. The pastor asks an older girl, Melissa, to take Jamie under her wing, but Jamie has dreams of more than that. She leaves a love letter in Melissa's locker, risking exposure and humiliation. Melissa with a Heart around It goes out of its way to make Melissa an unsympathetic character, leaving the audience to wonder what on earth Jamie sees in her. The characters come across as flat, without a visceral sense of what drives them. Flawed but interesting.

Melissa with a Heart around It, dir. Andrew Kenneth Gay, 2006 USA, 16 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program

Private Life

Quoting Frameline: "Ruth is a 1950's closeted mill worker living in the British countryside in the PlanetOut Short Movie Award-winning Private Life. When she travels to the big city of Manchester, she risks arrest to go to an underground gay bar." This gem of a short captures the feel of the 1950's, with secret clubs under the constant threat of police raids, but it also captures the humor that enabled people to survive such oppression. Strongly recommended; my favorite of this year's girls' shorts.

Private Life, dir. Abbe Robinson, 2006 USA, 16 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program


Lilith has a business effecting daring cat rescues; her partner Athena is a genetic engineer working on a process to make babies without involving sperm. They are determined to have a child who is biologically related to both of them. When the science falters and Athena's brother (Stefan Brogren from Degrassi) refuses to assist, they have to find another way. The feel of the film is more like a MadTV sketch, drawn out to 14 minutes. Interesting; worth seeing if you're in the mood for silly.

Succubus, dir. Alison Reid, 2006 Canada, 14 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program


Based on a short story by Ana-Maurine Lara, Eddie is the tale of a ten-year-old tomboy who enjoys playing kickball with the boys, until the untimely arrival of her period right in the middle of a game. A well-written and well-made challenge to the gender binary; highly recommended.

Eddie, dir. Quentin Kruger, 2007 USA, 8 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program

Filled with Water

In this animated short, the main character has — quite literally — an empty heart until she meets a ballerina through the television. I found it a bit too abstract for my tastes, but the animation is well done.

Filled with Water, dir. Elka Kerkhofs, 2006 Australia, 5 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program

My First Time Driving

Rachel has a new girlfriend and wants to take her on a date. She's had her driver's license for six months, but first she has to get out from under her mind-numbingly overprotective mother. The mother is too much of a caricature, undermining the dramatic tension. Not bad, but ultimately unsatisfying.

My First Time Driving, dir. Rebecca Feldman, 2007 USA, 18 min.

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screened in the "Fun in Girls' Shorts" program

Fun in Girls' Shorts

"The best in lesbian cinema," a collection of short films.
  1. My First Time Driving, dir. Rebecca Feldman, 2007 USA, 18 min.
  2. Filled with Water, dir. Elka Kerkhofs, 2006 Australia, 5 min.
  3. Eddie, dir. Quentin Kruger, 2007 USA, 8 min.
  4. Succubus, dir. Alison Reid, 2006 Canada, 14 min.
  5. Private Life, dir. Abbe Robinson, 2006 USA, 16 min.
  6. Melissa with a Heart around It, dir. Andrew Kenneth Gay, 2006 USA, 16 min.
  7. Pariah, dir. Dee Rees, 2006 USA, 28 min.
Fun in Girls' Shorts on the Frameline website

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

One to Another (Chacun sa nuit)

Based on a true story, One to Another centers on a brother and sister with a strange, quasi-incestuous, narcissistic relationship. In addition, each of them has slept with most of the members of the brother's band, and the brother makes his pocket money as a high-class rent boy. Then the brother turns up dead, apparently badly beaten. With few clues, the police quickly lose interest in the case, but the sister persists, using all the weapons in her arsenal to press on. If the plot were pure fiction, I'd call it far-fetched, but the real-life story keeps the movie on track. Dark and odd, with a paucity of sympathetic characters, but worth seeing.

One to Another, (Chacun sa nuit) dirs. Jean-Marc Barr & Pascal Arnold, 2006 France, 95 min., in French with English subtitles

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The Curiosity of Chance

Imagine a queer John Hughes (Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club) movie, set in an international high school "somewhere in Europe" in the 1980's. That means that the hulking jock bully plays football (soccer) instead of football (American), speaks with a strong Dutch accent, and considers Patrick Swayze the epitome of male sexiness. Chance is the new kid, showing up on the first day of school with a top hat and cane, ensuring his instant alienation from the popular cliques. He gradually finds his element with the other weird kids, including a trip to a local drag club. He even gets friendly (although not nekkid) with the yummy boy next door — the two even pair up for a "battle of the bands" competition. The Curiosity of Chance is quirky, to be sure, and a couple of times it loses its way with over-the-top bizarreness (particularly around the Naziesque bull dyke vice principal), but on the whole it's good fun, memorable, and definitely worth seeing. Not yet announced for DVD release, but playing film festivals in July in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The Curiosity of Chance, dir. Russell P. Marleau, 2006 USA/Belgium/Philippines, 99 min.

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Tan Lines

Midget is a teenage surfer boy in an isolated small town in Australia. The claustrophobia is compounded by having to share a bed with his mother. Midget's best friend's brother Cass, who left town abruptly four years ago, has returned from wandering around Europe, defiantly open about his homosexuality, although not about the specific reasons for his departure. Midget and Cass fall into an affair, but Midget feels he has to keep it a secret from the town, and most especially from his surfer buddies. There are some downright bizarre elements to the plot — the shared bed and also the murky details of Midget's summer job, in particular — so Tan Lines requires a fair dollop of willful suspension of disbelief. However, most of the focus is on the relationship between Midget and Cass, and between Midget and his emerging sexual identity. Mostly well done; definitely worth seeing. Now available on DVD.

Tan Lines, dir. Ed Aldridge, 2006 Australia, 97 min.

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Semper Fi: One Marine's Journey

Jeff Key is certainly a complicated guy. A theater major in college, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived an openly gay life until, at age 34, he decided to join Uncle Sam's Misguided Children. (At the time, 34 was over the age limit for joining the Marines, but they bent the rules for him.) He joined the Marine Corps first and foremost "to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." He was posted to Iraq near the beginning of the current war, and took to heart the task of making friends with as many of the locals as he could, doing his best to distribute food and supplies and so forth. Above all, he showed the Iraqi people the respect that is due every human being.

After President Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished," though, things began to turn sour. Hostility and resentment between the U.S. troops and the Iraqi civilians mounted on both sides, and the "mission" is clearly not only not yet accomplished, but not even heading in the right direction. After a non-combat injury sends him home, Key decides that his conscience demands that he come out as gay (on CNN, in front of five million people) and also come out against the Iraq War. (Indeed, I met Jeff Key at a protest in Crawford, Texas, in 2005.) The military kicked him out for violating "don't ask, don't tell," but, as I said two years ago, he is exactly the sort of person I want to have defending my country in time of crisis. Several of the Marines he served with echoed that view, making the simple point that knowing who's "got your back" is crucial; knowing who he sleeps with is not.

Semper Fi stands as a testament to the bravery and patriotism of one Marine in particular, and an indictment of the conduct of the Iraq War and especially of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Excellent, strongly recommended. Currently running on the Showtime cable network, through July 23.

Semper Fi: One Marine's Journey, dir. Vince DiPersio, 2007 USA, 76 min.

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41 Seconds (41 Sekunden)

Straight Guy #1 is bored with his girlfriend, so he has a chat with his best friend, Straight Guy #2, who is the girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. She told #1 that #2 is a better kisser, so he asks him for some pointers. Very well done, recommended.

41 Seconds (41 Sekunden), dirs. Rodney Sewell & Tobias Martin, 2006 Germany, 4 min., in German with English subtitles

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screened as part of the "Worldly Affairs" shorts program


Elias is turning a chapter in his life: new job, new boyfriend, and new HIV status. How does he deal with being positive? Whom can he tell? How does he tell his new lover? Invulnerable avoids the melodrama and the sermonizing of many AIDS-themed films. Well done; recommended.

Invulnerable, dir. Álvaro Pastor, 2005 Spain, 25 min., in Spanish with English subtitles

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screened as part of the "Worldly Affairs" shorts program

Kali Ma

Quoting the Frameline program: "When an Indian mother finds out her son is the victim of a merciless bully, she channels the Hindu goddess of creation, preservation and destruction, and delivers her own brand of vigilante justice in Kali Ma." There are definitely some rough edges, but the emotional satisfaction is worth it.

Kali Ma [watch online], dir. Soman Chainani, 2007 India/USA, 14 min.

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screened as part of the "Worldly Affairs" shorts program

Anthony (Antoine)

A middle-aged pair of contract killers are preparing for their day's work. Vincent is sharpening the knives while Laurent is putting away the laundry. Laurent finds a note to "Anthony" in Vincent's jeans, with €50 tucked inside, spurring his jealous suspicions. Laurent goes off to stab someone, still unsettled that, despite his reassurances that there isn't another man to worry about, Vincent refuses to say who Anthony is. The explanation (to the audience) is a surprise. The acting is top-notch, the cinematography is beautiful, but I just can't get away from the fact that the premise is too weird for words. Anthony has a certain "gay Sopranos meets Leave It to Beaver" feel to it. Recommended with some reservations.

Anthony (Antoine), [watch online] dir. Jean-Philippe Laraque, 2006 France, 6 min., in French with English subtitles

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screened as part of the "Worldly Affairs" shorts program

The Police Box

The police in Hong Kong have log books that are kept in small boxes on the sides of buildings — in this case, on the outside wall of a coffee shop. A young woman writes a love note to the patrol officer, but a young man plays the trickster, editing the note slightly, taking the scene down a very different path. In the closing credits, the filmmaker itemizes the costs of the various props, costumes, and equipment used in the film (grand total: $5,010). Cute and funny; definitely worth seeing.

The Police Box, dir. Josh Kim, 2006 Hong Kong, 4 min.

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screened as part of the "Worldly Affairs" shorts program

Smalltown Boy

Documentary about David, a flamboyant 15-year-old boy who decides he wants to be the Carnival Queen in his small English village. He succeeds, but meets resistance from some of the more traditional villagers. Although for David being in the closet just isn't possible, it's still astonishing to see his determination to stand openly and proudly. Recommended.

Smalltown Boy, dir. Moby Longinotto, 2007 UK, 13 min.

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screened as part of the "Worldly Affairs" shorts program

Worldly Affairs

"Worldly Affairs" is a program of short films from around the world.
  1. Milonga Gay, dir. Paul Chernosky, 2006 Argentina, 5 min., in Spanish with English subtitles. (Not reviewed because I arrived late to the screening.)
  2. Smalltown Boy, dir. Moby Longinotto, 2007 UK, 13 min.
  3. The Police Box, dir. Josh Kim, 2006 Hong Kong, 4 min.
  4. Anthony (Antoine), dir. Jean-Philippe Laraque, 2006 France, 6 min., in French with English subtitles
  5. Kali Ma, dir. Soman Chainani, 2007 India/USA, 14 min.
  6. Invulnerable, dir. Alvaro Pastor, 2005 Spain, 25 min., in Spanish with English subtitles
  7. 41 Seconds (41 Sekunden), dirs. Rodney Sewell & Tobias Martin, 2006 Germany, 4 min., in German with English subtitles
"Worldly Affairs" on the Frameline website

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Friday, June 22, 2007

No Regret (후회하지않아)

Su-Min is an orphan boy, kicked out of the orphanage when he turned 18, forced to take whatever work he can find to make a living, eventually becoming a rentboy in a high-class brothel in Seoul. He befriends some of the other boys, but finds a wealthy client he can't seem to shake, even when he threatens to kill the client if he shows up again. And then things get really melodramatic. There were a number of beautiful scenes, with solid performances and cute guys (including newcomer Lee Young-hoon as Su-Min), but the melodrama was over the top and the ending hit all the wrong notes. Flawed, but worth seeing.

No Regret (후회하지않아), dir. Leesong Hee-il, 2006 Korea, 112 min., in Korean with English subtitles

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Glue (Historia adolescente en medio de la nada)

Lucas is a 15-year-old living in a small town "in the middle of nowhere" (en medio de la nada) somewhere in Argentina. Dad got caught cheating on Mom, and so moved out to an apartment in a nearby town, large enough to have "sex hotels" with theme rooms including a jungle and the Batcave. Lucas spends his days listening to the Violent Femmes and experimenting with all-natural hair products, and hanging out with his friend and bandmate Nacho and a girl named Andrea. The three of them explore their friendship and their physical attraction. Glue gives an intimate look inside their lives and the eternal teenage struggle to define a sense of self. Well written, solid performances, beautiful cinematography, great soundtrack; strongly recommended. Go see this film even if you have to take a bus to rural Argentina to do it.

Glue (Historia adolescente en medio de la nada), dir. Alexis Dos Santos, 2006 Argentina/UK, 108 min., in Spanish with English subtitles

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You Belong to Me

Jeffrey moves into an apartment in the same building with his frustratingly distant quasi-lover René, hoping to find out what's up with the boyf. He discovers rotting floorboards, clearly a metaphor for something not quite right with the whole building. His relationship with the landlady and the super gets stranger and stranger, and eventually violent. The festival program describes You Belong to Me as "Hitchcockian" and "a dark thriller"; I should've paid more attention to those warning signs that I would not like this film. I can't recommend this film, although mainly because I don't like the entire genre in which it is placed.

You Belong to Me, dir. Sam Zalutsky, 2006 USA, 83 min.

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This Kiss

A successful businesswoman returns to a small town for her high school reunion. She drops by the home of her best friend, now a stay-at-home mom. Admittedly I was tired and in a bad mood, but I walked out about halfway through because I was bored senseless.

This Kiss, dir. Kylie Eddy, 2007 Australia, 65 min.

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screened with a short film, Sexy Thing (not reviewed), dir. Denie Pentecost, 2006 Australia, 15 min.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rock Haven

Brady and his über-Christian mom move to the small town of Rock Haven, somewhere on the California coast (outdoor scenes filmed in Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco). He immediately notices the neighbor boy, Clifford, for whom he has feelings that don't square with the church's Levitican teachings. He struggles to come to terms with something he knows in his heart can't be wrong, no matter what the Bible says, finding support (and the lack of it) in surprising corners. In an ideal world, Brady would read Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, but instead he relies on a book of inspirational fiction, written by committee long after anyone alive in Christ's day passed on. The religiosity of the film was occasionally annoying for those of us who reject more than just Leviticus 18:22, but the interplay of the characters is sweet and charming. Highly recommended for Christians; recommended for others.

Rock Haven, dir. David Lewis, 2007 USA, 78 min.

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Nina's Heavenly Delights

Nina left her home in Glasgow, Scotland, rather than facing her family as an open lesbian. She returns for her father's funeral and discovers that the family business, an award-winning curry restaurant, is in danger. She is determined to keep the New Taj open — and to win the "Best of the West" curry competition for the third year running. The director, Pratibha Parmar, is well-known to festival audiences for her short films, but she has a huge hit with her first narrative feature. The interplay of Indian and Glaswegian culture is sublime, and the cooking scenes will make the foodies quiver. Throw in a Bollywood genderbender and a few other colorful characters, add cumin and turmeric to taste, and feast for 94 minutes. Strongly recommended.

Nina's Heavenly Delights, dir. Pratibha Parmar, 2006 UK, 94 min.

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Through Thick & Thin

Through Thick & Thin is a documentary chronicling the struggles of several bi-national gay and lesbian couples trying to navigate the overtly hostile maze of the U.S. immigration bureaucracy. One couple wins the case, only to have the government attorney appeal. Another couple wins, only to have a new judge overturn his predecessor's ruling and re-open the deportation case. Some of the couples commute every several months, or emigrate together to a more civilized country (a category that now includes not only Canada and all of Europe, but even Brazil and probably soon Colombia). All of the couples feel the clock ticking away years of their lives. What unites all of the players is that they are striving to get permission from the government to live together in the same country, and the obstacles thrown at them are motivated purely by mean-spirited politics and religious bigotry. The good news is that there is a bill, the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), currently working its way through Congress that would allow "family reunification" considerations to include same-sex couples. Go see this film, and try to get your Congressional representatives to see it.

Through Thick & Thin, dir. Sebastian Cordoba, 2006 Argentina, 75 min.

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Two young black New York City college students with very different backgrounds connect and go on a road trip out into the country. I didn't get any visceral feel for what drew the characters together in the first place; opposites sometimes attract, but these two opposites come across more as mutually annoying than anything else. I also found the ending very unsatisfying, because it left open the question of why the story was worth telling. Blueprint would have worked much better as a short; it didn't have nearly enough character development for an hour and a quarter. Flawed, but worth seeing.

Blueprint, dir. Kirk Shannon-Butts, 2007 USA, 75 min.

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Prada Handbag

A little girl develops alopecia, a condition that causes her to go completely bald, even down to the eyebrows and eyelashes. Forced to wear wigs and makeup, she grows up to become a drag queen, eventually getting a job in a drag club. The audience clearly greatly enjoyed this film, so my opinion here is very much in the minority: I thought it was terrible. The running schtick about the girl's name, Prada Handbag, was inane, and I found the character almost entirely unsympathetic. I found the film dreary and tedious. Definitely not recommended, although it was a hit with most of the audience, here and in other festivals.

Prada Handbag, dir. Stuart Vauvert, 2007 Australia, 22 min.

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part of the Kan-GAY-roo shorts program.

Working It Out

A gay couple go to the gym together. They see someone who seems a bit overly familiar with one of them, making the other jealous. Is there some action on the side, or is the boyfriend being paranoid? Worth seeing.

Working It Out, dir. Tim Hunter, 2007 Australia, 7 min.

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part of the Kan-GAY-roo shorts program.


The program guide describes Stray as "a retelling of the classic city mouse/country mouse tale," and indeed the main character Mouse's fierce new drag queen friend Lamé Doré describes him as "just a little, frightened mouse in a big, scary jungle." After running away from his small town to the big city, Mouse runs into the good, the bad, and the drunk. Cute and well done, highly recommended.

Stray, [trailer on YouTube] dir. Craig Boreham, 2007 Australia, 15 min.

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part of the Kan-GAY-roo shorts program.

The Manual

The Manual begins in 1972, with Sonny, an 8-year-old boy, being sent away to a mental hospital for treatment of his possible "tendency" towards "homosexual mental disorder." (In 1972, homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, from which the film takes its name.) 24 years later, Sonny returns home to a funeral (his own?) to find that his young niece is being drugged for ADD because she has an invisible friend. It's an eloquent reminder of the dangers of accepting "authoritative" pronouncements about mental health, and the dangers of medicating children for their perceived problems. Definitely worth seeing.

The Manual, dir. Sophie Gregg, 2006 Australia, 16 min.

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part of the Kan-GAY-roo shorts program.

Kan-GAY-roo! — New Shorts from Down Under

Short films from Australia.
  1. My Last Ten Hours with You, dir. Sophie Hyde, 2006 Australia, 15 min., (not reviewed)
  2. The Manual, dir. Sophie Gregg, 2006 Australia, 16 min.
  3. Stray, dir. Craig Boreham, 2007 Australia, 15 min.
  4. Working It Out, dir. Tim Hunter, 2007 Australia, 7 min.
  5. Prada Handbag, dir. Stuart Vauvert, 2007 Australia, 22 min.
Kan-GAY-roo! on the Frameline web site

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gifted and Challenged: The Making of Shortbus

John Cameron Mitchell, the creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, decided to make a film showing real sex in a realistic context. Gifted and Challenged is a featurette about the making of Shortbus. We get to see inside the casting process and the cycle of workshops, first draft of a script, more workshops, and further drafts. We also get to see the actors out of character. A worthwhile look behind the scenes of a wonderful feature.

Gifted and Challenged: The Making of Shortbus, dir. Sean Kaminsky, 2007 USA, 31 min.; note: this "making of" featurette is included on the DVD of Shortbus.

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Uncovering Porn for Pussies

Pornography by lesbians, for lesbians. Filmmaker Shine Louise Houston has begun making sexually explicit erotic films for lesbian audiences. These are not exploitative lesbian sex scenes for the benefit of straight men, but neither are they the slow soft-focus love scenes of some lesbian films. These are scenes of real lesbians really fucking, really enjoying themselves, and having real orgasms in an affirming, sex-positive environment. Highly recommended, even for gay men who have little interest in seeing "girl parts."

Uncovering Porn for Pussies, dir. Brian Lilla, 2006 USA, 23 min.; note: sexually explicit content

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New York Story

Two people run around New York City in bandages, striking highly affected poses, all for no apparent reason. Thoroughly worth missing, a story worth not telling.

New York Story, dir. Nicolas Jenkins, 2006 USA, 7 min.

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Drag Rock Movie

A macho musician gets only one take in front of the camera. Is he really as macho as he looks at first glance? Worth seeing.

Drag Rock Movie [click to watch online], dir. Jen Markowitz, 2005 Canada, 2 min.

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Black Men and Me

A woman from Trinidad talks about her complex relationship with black straight men, black gay men, and others, based largely on her butch haircut. Worth seeing.

Black Men and Me, dir. Michèle Clark, 2006 Canada, 6 min.

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Tough Enough

In Tough Enough, we see the narrator playing at being tackled in the snow as an exercise in macho, talking about how having a non-mainstream gender identity makes it difficult for him to engage in most forms of touch with other people. Interesting.

Tough Enough [click to watch online], dir. Lukas Blakk, 2006 Canada, 4 min.

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Not So Black or White

Against an abstract animated background, the narrator talks about being intersex (biologically somewhere between "male" and "female") and the changes in his body through the years. The narrator here is a "47-XXY" (also called Klinefelter Syndrome), meaning that, instead of the usual 23 chromosome pairs with one pair being either XX or XY, he has a triplet of XXY. About 1/2000 people are born with some sort of intersex condition, but society and even the medical profession are still mostly in the dark ages on this issue. A well-made short, worth seeing.

Not So Black or White [click to watch online], dir. Col Cruise, 2006 UK, 4 min.

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Snips & Snails

One lone boy faces a terrifying ordeal: going to an otherwise all-girls birthday party. Cute and well done.

Snips & Snails, dir. Hilari Scarl, 2006 USA, 8 min.

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Genderific! (shorts)

A series of short films about the boundaries of gender identity and sexuality. Just as there's more to human sexuality than gay and straight, there's more to gender than male and female.
  1. Snips & Snails, dir. Hilary Scarl, 2006 USA, 8 min.
  2. Not So Black or White, dir. Col Cruise, 2006 UK, 4 min.
  3. Tough Enough, dir. Lukas Blakk, 2006 Canada, 4 min.
  4. Black Men and Me, dir. Michèle Clark, 2006 Canada, 6 min.
  5. Drag Rock Movie, dir. Jen Markowitz, 2005 Canada, 2 min.
  6. New York Story, dir. Nicolas Jenkins, 2006 USA, 7 min.
  7. Uncovering Porn for Pussies, dir. Brian Lilla, 2006 USA, 23 min.
  8. Gifted and Challenged: The Making of Shortbus, dir. Sean Kaminsky, 2007 USA, 31 min.
Genderific! on the Frameline site

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Rick & Steve

Did you ever wonder about the secret lives of the little people who came with your Lego® set? Apparently Q. Allan Brocka did more than just wonder — he created a whole TV series about the lives of Rick and Steve, their cat Pussy, and their various friends and neighbors in West Lahunga Beach. The show is so funny that I missed several punchlines because the audience was already laughing so hard I couldn't hear the dialogue. The characters are voiced by an impressive cast, including Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life, [fiction] Party Monster), Alan Cumming (X-Men 2, Cabaret, Reefer Madness: the Musical), Billy West (Dr. Zoidberg on Futurama), Margaret Cho, Mitch Morris (Another Gay Movie), and Peter Paige (Queer As Folk [U.S.]). Strongly recommended. Watch for it on Logo, iTunes, and DVD!

Rick & Steve: the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, dir. Q. Allan Brocka, 2007 USA, 80 min. Season 1 will air on the Logo channel beginning July 10; each episode will be available on iTunes immediately afterwards. DVD release date: August 28.

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Francesca is the older child in a single-parent family. Her younger sister is a brat and her father is an asshole and a fuckwit. The sister up and runs away to Rotterdam on Christmas Eve, and Dad insists that Francesca give chase. Along the way, she picks up a passenger. I walked out of this film after about 35 minutes, because I honestly didn't give a flying fuck what happened to any of the characters. The only redeeming feature is that I didn't waste another hour-plus of my life on this dreadful film. If your lover of 50 years wants you to go see this film, that's a sign that you need to end the relationship. It's that bad.

Vivere, dir. Angelina Maccarone, 2007 Germany, 102 min., in German with English subtitles

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Red without Blue

Red without Blue is the moving story of Mark and his identical twin sister Clair (born Alex). At age 13, Alex came out as gay, to Mark's dismay. Later in their teens, they dove deep into drug abuse and fell into an abusive relationship with an older teen who raped a 10-year-old boy in their presence. They jointly attempted suicide, but luckily the garden hose didn't carry enough carbon monoxide from the car exhaust to kill them. They were sent to separate boarding schools, completely cut off from all contact with each other for two years. When they were reunited, Alex came out as Clair. Using old family snapshots and Super 8 movies, and interviews with friends and family as well as the twins themselves, Red without Blue shows the evolution of the family's understanding and acceptance of Clair. Strongly recommended.

Red without Blue, dirs. Brooke Sebold, Benita Sills, and Todd Sills, 2007 USA, 74 min.

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Fall from Grace

Topeka, Kansas, has the misfortune to be the home of Fred Phelps and his so-called Westboro Baptist "Church." Phelps is known around the world for damaging Christianity by driving people from God with his "God Hates Fags" and related campaigns, most recently including praising God for the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) being used to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq — the IEDs are God's wrath raining down on America for spurning Phelps' message that God Hates Fags. Fall from Grace documents the Phelps "ministry" (his congregation consists almost exclusively of his children and grandchildren) and their hateful rhetoric. It includes on-camera interviews with Phelps and several of his kids and grandkids, plus telephone interviews with two of his four estranged children who have left the fold. It is truly chilling to hear kids so young they still have trouble with R's and S's spouting "God Hates Fags." This documentary will make your blood boil and your stomach acid rise into your throat, but it is important and well made. Get your antacid ready and watch this film.

Fall from Grace, dir. K. Ryan Jones, 2007 USA, 71 min.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Suffering Man's Charity

Alan Cumming, the outrageous and fabulous openly gay actor who has been on screen in everything from Cabaret to Nicholas Nickleby to X-Men 2 to Reefer Madness: The Musical, makes his solo directorial debut with Suffering Man's Charity. John Vandermark (Cumming) is a composer of much greater ambition than success, with a penchant for taking struggling young artist-types (or those willing to pretend) under his wing. His latest, Sebastian St. Germain (David Boreanaz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), abuses his hospitality, driving Vandermark to the breaking point. The confrontation that ensues truly puts the "psycho" in "psychodrama." The film is intentionally over-the-top, and definitely not to everyone's taste, but if you're in the mood for weird, this is pretty good weird.

Suffering Man's Charity, dir.

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Shelter Me (Riparo)

A lesbian couple from Italy, wealthy Anna and working-class Mara, are returning home from a vacation in Tunisia. In the back of the car, they find a stowaway, a teenage boy named Anis. Anna unilaterally decides to take Anis in, creating tension in her relationship with Mara. A variety of other factors begin to fray Anna and Mara's lives and especially the bond between them. Although the premise was interesting and the acting was good, the story felt incomplete, with plot elements popping up for no discernible reason — not as misdirection, but more as if the writer didn't know which direction the story should go. Better than some, but not a top selection.

Shelter Me (Riparo), dir. Marco Simon Puccioni, 2006 Italy, 100 min., in Italian with English subtitles

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The Fall of '55

In the fall of 1955, the quiet city of Boise, Idaho, was consumed with a gay sex scandal. Teenage boys were prostituting themselves to men in town, including "pillars of the community." The scandal came to light through the efforts of a police officer who worked with juveniles, but was greatly magnified by the sensationalist coverage by the local newspaper. Lives were ruined, and men went to prison for "unspeakable unnatural acts," even though some of the "boys" were as old as 22. Unfortunately, most of the principal characters — the accused, the accusers, and the investigators — are no longer around. Interesting.

The Fall of '55, dir. Seth Randal, 2005 USA, 85 min.

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Lieutenant Laurel Hester was a police officer in Ocean County, New Jersey, for almost 25 years. Last year, she died of lung cancer. Before she died, she fought for the right to leave her pension to her life partner Stacie. At the time, New Jersey law permitted but did not require counties to offer pension and other benefits to domestic partners, but Ocean County resisted granting them. Freeheld, so called because the elected officials of the county are called Freeholders, is a moving portrait of one small but powerfully symbolic piece of the struggle for equality. Highly recommended.

Freeheld, dir. Cynthia Wade, 2007 USA, 38 min.

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Out Running: Stories from the Campaign Trail

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund supports openly gay and lesbian political candidates, and also sponsored this documentary about three of them: Jim Roth (Oklahoma County Commissioner), Virginia Linder (Oregon state Supreme Court), and Matt McCoy (Iowa state Senate). All three stories are inspiring and well told. Worth seeing.

Out Running: Stories from the Campaign Trail, dirs. Dave O'Brien, Samantha Reynolds, and Borga Dorter, 2007 USA, 22 min.

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In 2004, the administration at Wesleyan University decided to ban "chalking," essentially graffiti written in chalk on the sidewalks. (I am in general opposed to graffiti, because it is a form of vandalism; however, chalking is fundamentally different, because of its transient nature. The balance between free expression and property rights clearly tips in favor of chalking.) A group of students reacted by having a massive chalking party, documented in this short. The chalkers prove to be a diverse and inclusive mix. Well made, worth seeing.

Chalk!, dir. Philippe Gosselin, 2004 USA, 6 min.

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That's Unfortunate

The so-called Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., is committed to promoting its religious values over sound science in combating AIDS among young people. They insist that the only acceptable approach is "abstinence only" education, despite the documented fact that it doesn't work — that it leads to higher levels of sexual activity, and especially higher levels of unsafe sexual activity. Simply put, their narrow reading of the Bible is more important to them than actual human lives. In 2005, a group of activists picketed the FRC offices, with some of the group chaining themselves inside the bookstore. Well done, worth seeing.

That's Unfortunate, dir. Dean Hamer, 2005 USA, 6 min.

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The Preacher and the Poet

Willie Wilson, a Baptist preacher in Washington, D.C., who organized the "Millions More" march for African-American men, is well known for virulently anti-gay sermons, going on at obsessive length about the details of gay sex. In the "Millions More" march, Wilson promised to have a gay contingent, but he reneged on that pledge. This short juxtaposes documentary footage of Wilson and the march with poet Kenneth Morris, telling the story of his best friend who committed suicide at age 13 because he couldn't cope with being gay. Excellent, worth seeing.

The Preacher and the Poet, dir. Dean Hamer, 2007 USA, 10 min.

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Rights and Wrongs (shorts)

Short films confronting injustice.
  1. The Preacher and the Poet, dir. Dean Hamer, 2007 USA, 10 min.
  2. That's Unfortunate, dir. Dean Hamer, 2005 USA, 6 min.
  3. Chalk!, dir. Philippe Gosselin, 2004 USA, 6 min.
  4. Out Running: Stories from the Campaign Trail, dirs. Dave O'Brien, Samantha Reynolds, and Borga Dorter, 2007 USA, 22 min.
  5. Freeheld, dir. Cynthia Wade, 2007 USA, 38 min.
Rights and Wrongs on the Frameline web site

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Alive and Well

A collegiate men's badminton team is returning from winning the championship. The plane runs into trouble and crashes. The pilot tries to convince the boys that the only way out is to immediately begin eating one another (in the literal sense). Well done, fabulously funny.

Alive and Well, dir. Chris Peckover, 2007 USA, 10 min.

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screened with A Four-Letter Word

A Four-Letter Word

Welcome back to the Gayborhood! Three years ago, Casper Andreas introduced the Gayborhood in Slutty Summer [now available on DVD]; he's back with some new characters in A Four-Letter Word. Luke is a flamboyant, sexually compulsive gym bunny, described by his friends as a gay cliché — which he is, at least at first glance. The film follows an arc similar to Luke's, progressing from visually appealing fluff into surprisingly deep emotional territory. Strongly recommended. Watch for this one on DVD, and hopefully in theatres.

One random tidbit: in one scene Luke is wearing a feather boa, explaining that it made quite a stir at his high school reunion. As it happens, I went back to my 20-year reunion, in Dallas, Texas, a month after 9/11, in full head-to-toe drag in the school colors. I'll tell you more about that story on my other blog, "The Third Path."

A Four-Letter Word, dir. Casper Andreas, 2007 USA, 87 min.

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screened with the short Alive and Well

The Bubble

I really didn't like Eytan Fox's previous film, Yossi & Jagger, so I opted for one of the other films opposite this one. However, the buzz, even from friends who also didn't like Yossi, was strongly positive. Indeed, one friend commented that this could be a "best foreign film" Oscar® candidate. It will be released, so I'll get a second chance to see it.

The Bubble, dir. Eytan Fox, 2006 Israel, 117 min., in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles

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El Calentito

Set in Madrid, Spain, at the time of the 1981 fascist coup-d'état against the fledgling democratic government, El Calentito revolves around a pansexual, pangender nightclub called El Calentito (the little hot one). One of the main characters is a young woman trying to establish her independence from her domineering mother; she is asked to join a punk band, Las Siux, named after the Sioux Indians, but pronounced "see-ooks." Festival junkies will also recognize Ferdy, played by Jordi Vilches, who was Nico in Krampack (later renamed Nico and Dani). I had a bit of a hard time getting caught up in the story, but I was glad I stuck it out. Recommended.

El Calentito, dir. Chus Gutiérrez, 2005 Spain, 89 min.

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Tick Tock Lullaby

Two lesbians, a single woman, and a heterosexual couple pursue babymaking in the three tracks of Tick Tock Lullaby. The performances were all quite good, and the story was interesting. I'm not much interested in parenthood myself, so I wasn't drawn in, but it's worth seeing, especially if you are interested in the dilemmas of becoming a parent.

Tick Tock Lullaby, dir. Lisa Gornick, 2006 UK, 73 min.

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Fun Down There

As a "blast from the past," Frameline screened Fun Down There, a film from the first year I attended this festival. Unfortunately, the film has not aged well. Buddy, an ingenu farmboy from Trumansburg, New York, moves to New York City to explore being gay. There are a few fun moments, but overall Fun Down There is a painful reminder of just how far we've come from the early days when a half-baked amateurish flick could be considered a "gem." Recommended only for historical interest.

Fun Down There, dir. Roger Stigliano, 1989 USA, 89 min.

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Holding Trevor

Trevor (the screenwriter, Brent Gorski) lives in Los Angeles, home of aspiring actors, with a heroin addict for a boyfriend. In the E.R. after the boyf's latest overdose, Trevor meets Ephram, an intern who shows considerable promise of being a much better choice of boyfriend. Mix in various dramas with Trevor's housemates, and several other friends. The script, the performances, and the cinematography are all spot-on, making this film a pleasure to watch, with both humor and emotion. Strongly recommended. Watch for it on DVD, and hopefully also in a theatre near you.

Holding Trevor, dir. Rosser Goodman, 2007 USA, 88 min.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Famous Joe Project

A young man shows his sex life on webcam in an effort to achieve fame, with mixed success. Some interesting and amusing scenes. Screened before 25 Cent Preview.

The Famous Joe Project, dir. Eli Rarey, 2006 USA, 16 min.

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25 Cent Preview

25 Cent Preview is a drama filmed in the "cinéma vérité" style of a documentary, following a street hustler through a couple of days of his life. He turns tricks, getting into cars with strangers and also seeing regular repeat customers, smokes crystal meth, and has various other adventures. I had hoped that this film would give me a window into the experiences of various friends of mine who have worked in the sex trade and/or have used speed, but I found it unsatisfying in that regard. There were some interesting passages in the film, but not enough for me to recommend it as a whole.

25 Cent Preview, dir. Cyrus Amini, 2007 USA, 91 min.

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Stealth (Comme des voleurs)

Filmmaker Lionel Baier, whose previous film Garçon Stupide was an annoying piece of crap which gave me no window whatsoever into its characters' inner lives, has a new film, in which Lionel Baier directs Lionel Baier playing the role of Lionel Baier — although it's not clear how much the on-screen character has in common with the real person. The movie Lionel is a Swiss radio commentator who gets a bug up his ass to explore his one-eighth Polish heritage, first by learning the language, then by proposing to marry an illegal Polish immigrant to keep her from being deported, and then by driving off with his sister on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Poland. I walked out less than halfway through, and I'm not inclined to give the real Lionel Baier a third chance. Strongly not recommended.

Stealth (Comme des voleurs), dir. Lionel Baier, 2006 Switzerland, 112 min., in French and Polish with English subtitles

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Kate Clinton: 25th Anniversary Tour

A little over 25 years ago, Kate Clinton quit a job teaching junior-high English to work as a stand-up comedian. She was an out-of-the-closet lesbian with a decidedly political act. Last year, she marked the anniversary with a cross-country "It's Come to This!" tour, and Andrea Meyerson tagged along part of the way with her camera, capturing a good chunk of Kate's routine, interspersed with interviews with Kate, her longtime partner Urvashi Vaid (an activist in such organizations as the NGLTF), other lesbian and gay comedians, and various other folks. Most of Kate's jokes are funny even to a gay man, and she stands as a "she-ro" to all of us for her activism. Maybe we could nominate Kate Clinton for President in 2008... Funny and a fitting tribute; worth seeing.

Kate Clinton: 25th Anniversary Tour, dir. Andrea Meyerson, 2007 USA, 60 min.

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Remi's Secret

Remi, named for two notes in the musical scale (Do - Re - Mi - Fa - So - La - Ti - Do), is a Thai transwoman who aspires to be more than a cabaret performer, seeking acceptance in broader society as a woman. Her secret is whether or not she has undergone (or is planning to undergo) medical procedures relating to her transition. Worth seeing.

Remi's Secret, dir. Rachel Clift, 2006 USA, 10 min.

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screened with Love Man Love Woman

Love Man Love Woman

Vietnamese society is, for the most part, strongly homophobic. However, one of the traditional religions in Vietnam, Dao Mau (Mother Goddess) provides a refuge in which some gay men can flourish. The spirit mediums for the Mother Goddess are mostly Dong Co, men dressed in elaborate female costumes. We get to meet several of these priestesses and hear about their lives, including their own internalized sexism and homophobia, and see some of the costumes and rituals of the temple. Worth seeing.

Love Man Love Woman, dir. Nguyen Trinh Thi, 2006 Vietnam, 52 min., in Vietnamese with English subtitles

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screened with Remi's Secret

Odd People Out (Seres Extravagantes)

Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, the subject of the film Before Night Falls (Antes de Anochecer), was defiantly open about his homosexuality and his disillusionment with the communist revolution in Cuba. His works were mostly published abroad during his lifetime, and he was forced to flee to the U.S. in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, ending up in New York City. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, and took his own life in 1990 when his health had declined to the point that he could no longer write. Odd People Out documents his life, with interviews with friends and family. Worth seeing.

Odd People Out (Seres Extravagantes), dir. Manuel Zayas, 2004 Cuba/Spain, 54 min., in Spanish with English subtitles

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screened with Free Havana (Habana Libre)

Free Havana (Habana Libre)

Free Havana is a documentary about gay life in Cuba. (The film's name comes from a hotel in the district with the most gay activity.) The stories told in the film are compelling, but the music score is so heavy-handed that it drove me to distraction. "Gee, people are being persecuted and oppressed; how am I supposed to feel about that? Oh, here comes the sad music — the same little clip over and over and over and over again — to bludgeon me over the head." The good news is that the film could be rescued by a fairly minor re-edit, but until then it's not worth the trouble.

Free Havana (Habana Libre), dir. Eliezer Perez Angueira, 2007 Cuba, 42 min., in Spanish with English subtitles

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screened with Odd People Out (Seres Extravagantes)

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Frameline had the privilege of hosting the world premiere of the film Shelter (unfortunately one of three films by that exact title this year). The central character is Zach, a surfer / skateboarder / street artist a year out of high school. He feels trapped at home as the only responsible adult willing not to abandon his 5-year-old nephew. Zach meets up with Shaun, a fellow surfer who is also the older brother of his best friend. The electricity between them challenges Zach's crumbling hetero identity, and Shaun also pushes him to expand his horizons and pursue his dreams beyond the bleak life his sister is living.

I had marked this film on my schedule, just based on "surfer boys." I'm a huge fan of the Dogtown movies (documentary Dogtown and Z Boys and fictionalized Lords of Dogtown, both by Stacy Peralta), in part because about the only thing I find sexier than a hot guy on a skateboard is a hot guy in a form-fitting wetsuit. However, as gorgeous as the surfers and the surfing scenes in this film are, Shelter is so much more than just eye candy. The scenes of Zach and Shaun in bed, while not explicit in the usual sense, are breathtaking for their emotional resonance. I was drawn into Zach's multi-layered dilemmas without feeling like I was watching a soap opera (or a Taiwanese melodrama...). I'm hard pressed to think of any element of this film that wasn't a perfect bullseye. Every few years, a film comes along that has me saying, "Hell yeah! THIS is why I come to the festival!" Shelter ranks up there with Big Eden and The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love on my list of all-time Frameline favorites from more than 15 years. Go out of your way to see this film at any opportunity.

Shelter is also the debut of a new independent production initiative by here! Networks, coming soon to Comcast cable in San Francisco. Hear, hear, here!

Shelter, dir. Jonah Markowitz, 2007 USA, 90 min., starring Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe (Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss), and Tina Holmes (Edge of Seventeen)

Technorati tags: Shelter, Surfer Movies, here! Networks, Frameline, Frameline31, LGBT Film