Monday, June 30, 2014

Salvation Army (L'armée du salut)

Salvation Army (L'armée du salut), dir. Abdellah Taïa, France, 2013, 82 min., French and Arabic with English subtitles
Friday, June 20, 9:30 pm @ Victoria
Friday, June 27, 7:00 pm @ Roxie

Said Mrini (L) as young Abdellah
Salvation Army (L’armee du salut) is the semi-autobiographical story of Abdellah, a Moroccan boy coming of age in a society that is not welcoming of homosexuality, besides which he has to deal with a physically abusive father, a mother who consults with a sorceress for a magic amulet to cast spells over family members, and his own more-than-fraternal affection for his brother. We see Abdellah as a teen, a neurotic mess of a mama’s boy, going on a road trip with his brother and disappearing for the occasional rendez-vous with a local shopkeeper. We then flash forward ten years, to Abdellah accompanying a Swiss tourist, not translating all of his conversation with the conniving local boatman who is taking them on a sightseeing trip. Flash forward another four months to find Abdellah in Geneva with no money and no place to stay, waiting for a scholarship that he has won but can’t yet access. He runs into his tourist friend at the university, but has a bizarre interaction with him, and Abdellah’s actions and motivations are completely opaque. He finally winds up at a Salvation Army hostel with other immigrants, sharing an orange and a song with another Moroccan, at which point the film just ends. The whole story is an episodic unveiling of a character whom we never really see from his own internal perspective, even when we are alone with him in his private moments. There are some interesting bits, but the film doesn't cohere as a whole. Meh; not recommended.

IMDb pageclip from the film (with English subtitles) •

Five Dances

Five Dances, dir. Alan Brown, USA, 2013, 88 min.
Friday, June 20, 7:00 pm @ Victoria

Theo (Reed Luplau) and
Chip (Ryan Steele)
It’s wonderful to watch five lovely and talented dancers develop a dance routine, going through the long, hard work of making it all look effortless, in Five Dances. The elegance and grace of their dance moves is not always matched by their personal lives, which can be a bit messy, from main character Chip’s over-the-top clinging mother to the shifting liaisons among members of the group. Chip wrestles with Theo’s aggressive come-ons, but eventually succumbs (and something similar sounding), while trying to figure out how to live in New York City as a starving student. The interpersonal dramas alone wouldn’t be enough to raise Five Dances above the middle of the pack, but the dance scenes are poetry in motion, and we get to watch the dancers collaborate to develop the choreography even as they make their way through the mundanity of life. Ryan Steele (of Newsies and Matilda on Broadway) is a standout in his film debut. Highly recommended, and a must see if you’re a serious fan of modern dance.

Director Alan Brown also made Frameline35’s Private Romeo, a Film Queen “must see.”
IMDb pageOfficial websiteofficial Facebook pagetrailer • watch the full movie on Wolfe on Demand • now available on DVD


Stand, dir. Jonathan Taleb, France, 2014, 87 min., in Russian with English subtitles
NOTE: this film contains graphic depictions of homophobic violence
Friday, June 20, 4:00 pm @ Castro (World premiere!)
Sunday, June 29, 4:15 pm @ Castro

Anton (Renat Shuteev) and
Vlad (Andrey Kurganov)
Stand is the story of two Russian gay men, Anton and Vlad, horrified by the acts of violence against gay men in their community. Someone is luring men out into the countryside to be beaten half to death, all so the beatings can be uploaded to YouTube for the amusement of homophobes everywhere. They drift along until one evening they drive by what appears to be a gay bashing in progress, spurring them into action as amateur detectives, trying to learn who is behind this wave of violence. Going to the police is not a viable option, because the police are as virulently homophobic as the gay bashers, more likely to lock up the victims than to try to find the attackers. However, Anton is obsessed with their sleuthing, to a level that frightens Vlad almost as much as the bashings. It’s an engaging drama, with cute actors (Renat Shuteev looks more than a little like a twenty-something Johnny Depp), and it bravely wrangles with topical subject matter. Viewers get a palpable sense of the nightmare of living in Vladimir Putin’s gay-scapegoating Russia. Recommended.

IMDb pageofficial Facebook page (en/ru/fr) • official Twitter • trailer (English subtitles) (YouTubeVimeo) • официальный тизер #1 (русская версия) (YouTubeVimeo) •

Shadows & Secrets (shorts program)

Shadows & Secrets” (shorts program)
  • An Exchange, dir. Bryce Woodworth, USA, 2013, 13 min.
  • Dawn, dir. Leon Le, USA, 2012, 10 min.
  • Jason’s Dad, dir. Matthew Campea, Canada, 2013, 13 min.
  • Nomansland, dir. Karsten Geisnæs, Denmark, 2013, 35 min., in Danish with English subtitles
  • OVO, dir. Alban Sapin, France, 2012, 18 min., in French with English subtitles
Friday, June 20, 1:15 pm, Castro Theatre

An Exchange
In An Exchange, a conservative “family values” kind of guy hires a masseur to come to his hotel room, but he wants more than just a massage, but with more than a little twist on the usual “happy ending.” It’s pretty well done, worth seeing. RECOMMENDED.

(Note: in pre-production, and in the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for the film, the working title was Venus in Furs.)

IMDb page

Feriado (Holiday)

Feriado (Holiday), dir. Diego Araujo, Ecuador, 2013, 82 min., in Spanish with English subtitles
Juampi (Juan Manuel Arregui) and
Juano (Diego Andrés Paredes)
Thursday, June 19, 10:00 pm, Castro Theatre
Monday, June 23, 1:00 pm, Castro Theatre

Feriado (Holiday) is set during a banking crisis in Ecuador in 1999. The main character, Juampi (short for Juan Pablo), is the teenage nephew of a bank official who is implicated in a corruption scandal that is causing massive disruption to the national economy. Juampi and his mother travel to the family hacienda in the mountains for the  holiday, staying with his aunt and uncle and cousins. Juampi is a reluctant participant, not least because his cousins are glad to see him only because he can serve as the designated victim for their new bullying techniques. One night, Juampi meets Juano, a young man from the town near the hacienda, and they begin a complicated friendship that it's clear neither young man fully understands. It's not nearly as simple as "Juampi comes out as gay and they live happily ever after." Juampi saves Juano from a beating at the hands of his uncle's bodyguards, and is drawn closer to him, with awakening feelings he hasn't ever had the freedom to explore. Juano likes going to parties or swimming in the river or talking about heavy metal music with Juampi, but seems to be unaware of other dimensions to Juampi's experience. We get to come along for the ride for the first stage in Juampi's voyage of self-discovery, but with many of the questions left unanswered. It's a beautiful coming-of-age tale, and a great first feature with a great performance by the first-time actor in the lead role. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

IMDb page • Official website (SpanishEnglish) • Facebook page

The Case Against 8

The Case Against 8, dirs. Ben Cotner and Ryan White, USA, 2013, 109 minutes
Thursday, June 19, 7:00 pm, Castro Theatre
premiered June 23 on HBO

The Prop 8 plaintiffs (L to R):
Kris Perry, Sandy Stier,
Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo
The Case Against 8 is a documentary about the landmark US Supreme Court case that struck down California's Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that defined marriage in California as exclusively one man and one woman. I'll say a little bit more about the legal issues below, but the documentary mostly chronicles the human story of the plaintiffs (Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo), two same-sex couples, and their legal team, headed by the lawyers who represented George W. Bush and Al Gore at the Supreme Court in the case that decided the 2000 Presidential election. The filmmakers had extraordinary access to the plaintiffs, the lawyers, and many other people involved in the effort, as the case slowly progressed from federal district court to the appeals court and finally to the US Supreme Court.

Frameline 38 Reviews Coming Soon

The #Frameline38 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival has wrapped up, complete with the after party and awards announcements. I will be posting full reviews of the 37 programs I attended in person, plus 4 that I was able to screen on DVD, plus any that I can get my hands on post-festival, over the next couple of weeks, but first I'm going to sleep in and enjoy a little outdoor sunshine before I plunge back into the blog.

Here is a partial full! list of the winners:
  • Audience Award, Best Feature: The Way He Looks (Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho), dir. Daniel Ribeiro
  • Audience Award, Best Documentary: Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank, dirs. Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler
  • Audience Award, Best Short Film: Black is Blue, dir. Cheryl Dunye
  • Wells Fargo First Feature Award, Honorable Mention: Lilting (轻轻摇晃), dir. Hong Khaou
  • Wells Fargo First Feature Award: Something Must Break (Nånting måste gå sönder), dir. Ester Martin
  • Jury Award for Achievement in Documentary, Honorable Mention: Regarding Susan Sontag, dir. Nancy Kates
  • Jury Award for Achievement in Documentary: Kumu Hina, dirs. Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson
  • Frameline Volunteer of the Year Award for Best First Feature: Anita's Last Cha-cha, dir. Sigrid Bernardo

My personal prize for best surprise of a thoroughly strange but wonderfully fun film was You and the Night (Les rencontres d'après minuit), dir. Yann Gonzalez.

(Updated June 30 with full list of award winners)
(Note: the reviews of films are being backdated to June 30, to keep them all together on the site.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Frameline 38: Quick update #2

The Hawai'ian documentary Kumu Hina screens at the Rialto Elmwood in Oakland at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow (Monday) night.

The other miscellaneous screener that I've been able to watch is Cupcakes, a comedy from Israeli director Eytan Fox. It's about a group of friends who post a YouTube video of an impromptu, improvised song, and wind up being the Israeli national entry in the Universong contest (a thinly veiled Eurovision). As with Eurovision, the music at Universong is mostly kitschy bubble gum stuff, and the film is similar in character, but it's very well done and good fun. Highly recommended.

Today, I saw 20 Lies, 4 Parents and a Little Egg (20 Leugens, 4 ouders en een scharrelei), a Dutch made-for-TV movie about a 15-year-old boy shuttled between his lesbian moms and his biological father and his husband. It's very cute, well done, highly recommended. It will screen again on Saturday, June 28 at 1:30 at the Victoria Theatre.

I then saw Generations: Youth and Elders Making Movies, the annual shorts program centered on pieces made in Tilt, a local program that teams up younger and older folks and teaches them filmmaking. Some pretty good stuff.

Last up for today was Blackbird, based on the novel by Larry Duplechan, adapted by Patrik-Ian Polk (Noah's Arc) with help from Rikki Beadle Blair (Metrosexuality), plus star/producers Isaiah Washington and Mo'Nique. A distribution deal is still being worked out, but it definitely has the star power to make it to a wider audience than just film festivals.

Longer reviews will be posted when I get a chance, but I'm down with a cold at the moment, so y'all will just have to wait.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Frameline 38 Begins!

The Frameline 38 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival has begun. I will be posting full reviews of as many films as I can, but for now, a few sketchy impressions will have to do.

The opening night film was a wonderful documentary about the legal fight to overturn California's Proposition 8, passed in 2008 and finally laid to rest almost exactly a year ago, thanks to a case argued by Ted Olson and David Boies (the lawyers who were on opposite sides of December 2000's Bush v. Gore) on behalf of two couples who wanted to get married. The documentary footage is the skillful fusion of an eloquent and concise exposition of the legal particulars and an honest portrait of the people at the center of the fight, with their honest thoughts and feelings as the case progressed through trial and appeals. HBO will be running The Case Against 8 beginning Monday, June 23, 2014, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. Strongly recommended, a must-see.

Opening night wrapped with Holiday (Feriado) a coming-of-age film about a teenaged boy in Ecuador. It's quirky, set in an especially off-kilter moment in Ecuadorian history, during a nationwide banking crisis, but the main character has an engaging sweetness to match his poet's soul, even as he navigates some difficult emotional terrain, not just coming to terms with his sexual feelings. Strongly recommended.

Friday morning, I saw "Shadows & Secrets," a shorts program with five films about mysterious circumstances. One stand-out was O.V.O., a frightening dystopian view of where ultra-right politics might once again lead the world. The film is deliberately vague about when and where it is set, because no society is completely immune to extremism. The other stand-out was Nomansland, an emotionally powerful exploration of the conflict between a gay man and his dead lover's homophobic family.

Next up was Stand, a film set in present-day Russia, where two gay men witness an apparent gay bashing and decide to investigate for themselves, since the police are likely to be more sympathetic to the bashers than to their past or potential future victims. It's very dark, and contains scenes of graphic violence, but it's an important story to tell. Vladimir Putin has plenty of company, in Russia and elsewhere, in his willingness to scapegoat the gay population.

For the evening yesterday, I went for a bit more of a crowd-pleaser, the beautiful Five Dances. Much of the footage of the film is a company of five dancers developing and rehearsing over several weeks the choreography for an important piece. The dancers are all beautiful in still photos, but it is in movement that they are truly exquisite. The emotional story threaded through the dance scenes is well crafted and satisfying, too, rounding out a fine film. It will be available streaming or on DVD from Wolfe Video in July 2014.

My nightcap for Friday was Salvation Army, which takes an episodic look at a young Moroccan man, first in his early teens and then flashing forward ten years, and then a further four months. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the glimpses we get of his life give us much more than a superficial understanding of who he is or what drives him. I was disappointed, and don't much recommend this film. It's unlikely to be the worst film I see this year, but I would put it solidly below the median. However, if you want to find out for yourself, it will repeat on Friday, June 27 at 7:00 p.m. at the Roxie Theatre.

Today, I started with "Fun in Boys Shorts" and "Fun in Girls Shorts," because unfortunately the great majority of the shorts in those programs were not available on the press screeners this year. Thus, I am unable to report on Purple Skies (documentary about India) or Bad Hair (a story about an effeminate boy in Venezuela), because I missed those screenings for FIBS and FIGS.

All eight of the boys and all nine of the girls were good, but in FIBS the crowd favorite as well as my own was Cruising Electric (1980), an homage to the TV ads of that era with a hilarious gay twist. I also especially liked Slash, a story about Harry Potter and Star Trek "slash" fan fiction, and MeTube: August Sings Carmen "Habanera", which is a brilliantly demented fantasy of what YouTube ought to be. Stand-outs from FIGS: First Clue, womyn-in-the-park answers to the question of not just when you "knew," but what was your first clue; What's Your Sign? which shows us two lesbians who act like stereotypical cruisy gay men but in the process give a little bit of a language lesson; and Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny, which was laugh-out-loud funny.

"Fun in Girls Shorts" runs again on Sunday, June 29 (Pride Sunday) at 11:00 a.m., followed by "Fun in Boys Shorts" at 1:30 p.m.; both are definitely "must-see" this year.

Saturday afternoon was a documentary (with staged recreations of events from a half century ago mixed with more recent interviews of some of the actual participants) about The Circle (Der Kreis), a Swiss organization and publication that, for a while, were a beacon of hope for gay men during and after World War II. Zürich provided a haven for gay men for a while, until three murders focused public attention on The Circle, leading the police to throw them under the metaphorical bus. Good news, though, with only the barest of spoiler alerts: two of the interviewees became the first same-sex couple legally married in Switzerland, in 2003. Highly recommended.

Through the magic of quantum physics, or perhaps with the help of a DVD screener, I managed to simultaneously watch six episodes of Dyke Central, a drama/sitcom set in a house in Oakland. The characters are varied and multi-dimensional, and already by episode six many of the "rough edges" in the production values were significantly improved. These are underrepresented voices that are standing up to be heard, and you should tune in. Highly recommended.

Next up is Kidnapped for Christ, an amazing documentary about a Christian boarding school in the Dominican Republic that specializes in forcibly removing "troubled" teens, including gay and lesbian teens with little evidence of any other "issues," to put them on a specific vision of the Biblical "straight and narrow." During the course of the filming, we watch the documentarian move from an evangelical appreciation of good Christians doing the work of God to serious difficulty reconciling what she saw and filmed with belief in Jesus Christ. Strongly recommended, a must-see.

Lastly for today, Helicopter Mom starts with a woman who leaves you thanking your lucky stars that your mother wasn't that bad, and her son, who is a senior in high school. The mother throws in some garden variety insane to leaven the persistent intrusiveness of her involvement in the minutiae of his life. It's certainly often utterly over the top, but there's some genuineness, too, not least the way the son has learned (clearly by necessity) to articulate clear boundaries to deal with a mother who basically has none. Strongly recommended, a must-see. Helicopter Mom has not yet been picked up for distribution, but I hope that will happen soon.

Tomorrow, you should go see Kumu Hina, a documentary about a Hawai'ian MTF who has found refuge in preserving and teaching traditional Hawai'ian culture. There's a tiny little clip of it in the festival trailer this year, but you should go see the whole thing. Hina is fascinating from many angles, from boyhood to womanhood, in her relationship to her students and the material she is teaching them, and in her sometimes difficult relationship with her husband, an ethnically Tongan man from Fiji.