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.