Monday, May 30, 2011
Frameline35 2011 A Look at the Line-Up
Frameline, the oldest (and still the largest) LGBT film festival in the world, has announced the line-up for its milestone 35th anniversary edition which takes place from June 16 to 26. At a press conference last week, Executive Director K.C. Price and Festival Director Jennifer Morris gave a tour of this year's 231 films (80 features and 151 shorts) representing 30 countries in 105 programs. As usual, they've gone and programmed virtually every new queer film I've been lusting after these past 12 months, plus some intriguing selections that weren't on my radar. Here's a selective overview of what's in store for us.
Frameline is a festival of inclusion and as Price noted at the press conference, a chance fortuity renders this especially true for Frameline35. "For the first time ever, our four big evening screenings – Opening Night, Centerpiece Narrative, Centerpiece Documentary and Closing Night – together represent the letters L, G, B and T. Having these four absolutely magnificent films for our 35th anniversary demonstrates just how far queer cinema has come in the past three decades."
Let me break that down for you:
L is for lesbian, million-selling country-western singer Chely Wright ("Shut Up and Drive," "Single White Female") who famously came out last year. Centerpiece Documentary Wish Me Away tells the story. Wright, her partner and the film's two directors, all plan to attend the screening.
G is for gay icon Christopher Isherwood. A BBC adaptation of his 1976 autobiography Christopher and His Kind, which covers the writer's Berlin years from 1929 to 1939, closes the festival on Gay Pride Day. Isherwood is played by Matt Smith, best known as TV's Dr. Who. Director Geoffrey Sax will be there, along with Isherwood's longtime partner, renowned artist Don Bachardy.
B is for the bisexual triangle at the center of Three, the latest from German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), in which a husband and wife have separate affairs with the same man. At this year's German Film Awards (aka the "Lolas"), the film won prizes for Best Director, Actress and Editing. 3, as it was released in Germany, is Frameline35's Centerpiece Narrative film.
T is for the transsexual teenage son awaiting a recently released convict (Esai Morales) when he returns to his Brooklyn home after three years in prison. Frameline35's opening night film Gun Hill Road had its world premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival and was the recipient of a Frameline Completion Fund grant. Director and cast members are expected.
Frameline spotlights six films in its Showcase sidebar this year, described as "gems that are handpicked by our programmers from hundreds of outstanding films." I'm most excited to catch Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which follows two very different British gay men over an intimate weekend of drinking, drugging, talking and having sex. Weekend drew rave reviews when it opened 2011's SXSW film festival (and won an Emerging Visions audience award), drawing favorable comparisons to films in the American mumblecore movement. The Showcase film that's bound to attract the most attention, however, is Becoming Chaz. This new doc by Frameline habitués Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster) accompanies Cher and Sonny Bono's offspring as he undertakes FTM gender reassignment. Chaz Bono and the two directors are expected guests (and wouldn't it be fab if Cher showed up?) Becoming Chaz is one of 13 films in Frameline35's special Transgender Film Focus.
Three other Showcase movies appear to be musicals-of-sorts. Sheldon Larry's Leave It on the Floor is a narrative feature which transports the world of 1991's Paris is Burning to contemporary L.A. (And speaking of that seminal documentary, Frameline35 will feature a 20th anniversary screening of it). Dance competition also figures into the plot of J.B. Ghuman Jr.'s Spork, in which a nerdy 13-year-old with an intersex condition conspires to win a school talent show. Then in Mangus! a wheelchair-bound teen maneuvers his way into the lead of a high school production of "Jesus Christ Spectacular." This one boasts a supporting role by Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) and a John Waters cameo (playing Jesus himself!) The final Showcase film is French director Céline Sciamma's Tomboy, a coming of age drama which seems devoid of singing and dancing.
There were so many South American queer films at last year's Frameline, they rated their own sidebar. This year there are only two in the World Cinema section, but both top of my list of must-sees. For my money, Argentine director Marco Berger's Plan B was the revelation of Frameline34 (and it's now available on Netflix' Watch Instantly). Berger returns to the fest this year with Absent, a thriller about a gay teen's menacing pursuit of his straight swimming coach. Absent won 2011's Berlin Film Festival Teddy Award for Best Feature, arguably the world's highest LGBT cinema accolade. The other film is Pedro Peirano and Sebastián Silva's Old Cats. Silva directed 2009's astute Chilean social comedy The Maid, which was co-written by Peirano. In their new work, an elderly couple fends off the opportunistic machinations of their lesbian daughter and her butch girlfriend (played by The Maid's Catalina Saavedra). I'm also hot to see Lucky Kuswandi's Madame X, a wild-looking ride from Indonesia in which a hairdresser is transformed into a kick-ass super-heroine battling forces of intolerance and social conservatism. In his rave review for Variety, critic Boyd Van Hoeij praised the film's "riotous antics and wicked sense of humor," "intentionally gaudy CGI and tacky graphics," "bright and saturated pop-vid aesthetic" and an "appropriation of popular mainstream formats in service of a strong pro-minority, pro-LGBT message." You can watch the trailer here.
There are a few more selections in World Cinema I hope to check out. Kawa is the coming out story of a New Zealand Maori family man, based on Witi Ihimaera's semi-autobiographical novel "Nights in the Garden of Spain" (also the film's original title). Ihimaera's novel "Whale Rider" was adapted into a successful film in 2002. In A Few Days of Respite, cross-generational gay lovers fleeing Iran for Paris make an eventful stopover in a French village. This is a second feature for Algerian director Amor Hakkar, who also portrays the couple's older half. His remarkable first film The Yellow House, screened at our Arab Film Festival in 2008. Of the dozen remaining films in World Cinema, I'm especially curious about Romeos from Germany, Sweden's Four More Years and Walking Toward from Italy.
At the press conference, Exec Director Price had this to say about the 21 films in Frameline35's U.S. Features section: "We've always relied very heavily on World Cinema to bring us our strongest programs, but this year it was the other way around – the U.S. Features are glorious. We're really glad that on this landmark festival, we have so many great films coming from our own country." Upon scanning the familiar looking roster of coming out tales, rom-coms, relationship dramas and genre spoofs, I zeroed right in on Canadian bad-boy Bruce La Bruce's L.A. Zombie (which is technically a USA/French/German co-production.) Apparently La Bruce had more to say on the subject of gay zombies following 2008's Otto; or, Up with Dead People. Despite an abundance of gore and hardcore sex (it stars French gay porn actor François Sagat), the film is said to offer substance and provocation in equal measure. Devout La Bruce fans won't want to miss The Advocate for Fagdom, a documentary portrait of the director that's also in this year's festival.
Elsewhere in U.S. Features, beloved comedian, author, activist and SF native Margaret Cho returns to Frameline for the zillionth time with her new concert film, Cho Dependent. Prior to the screening, Cho will be honored with this year's Frameline Award, "for all that she has done for the queers of the world, and all she will undoubtedly continue to do." Another Frameline returnee is local director and occasional SF Chronicle film critic David Lewis, best known for his popular romantic dramas (Rockhaven, Redwoods). With Longhorns, Lewis branches out with a horny frat boys sex romp set in 1980s Texas. This isn't something I'd ordinarily be drawn to, but the festival catalog neglects to mention that H.P. Mendoza (Colma: The Musical, Fruit Fly) is the film's producer/editor/composer, and it was shot by ace Bay Area cinematographer/director Fraser Bradshaw (Everything Strange and New). Lastly in U.S. Features, who could resist a title like Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same? Certainly not I.
Most years I could be quite content limiting my Frameline experience to its exceptional line-up of documentaries. This appears to be one of those years. Topping my list of must-see docs is Pietro Marcello's The Mouth of the Wolf, which I expected in last year's festival after it won Berlin's 2010 Teddy Award for Best Documentary. My patience has been rewarded. Marcello's film is a docu-fiction hybrid about Enzo, a man returning to Genoa, Italy following a 20-year prison stint. Awaiting his return is transwoman Mary, his lover and an ex-con herself. A third character is Genoa, with the director employing archival footage of the city in a manner comparable to Terrence Davies' Liverpool in Of Time and the City. Jay Weissberg's Variety review calls the film, "hauntingly beautiful," "uncategorizable" and "unselfconsciously poetic."
Biographical documentaries about notable LGBT-folk are a Frameline mainstay and this year's fest has three I don't want to miss. Hit So Hard relays the rough-and-tumble saga of Patty Schemel, an out lesbian who played drums for the band Hole. Akihiro Maruyama, a cross-dressing entertainer and gay activist better known as Miwa, gets profiled in Miwa: A Japanese Icon. Outside of Japan, she's best known for the 1968 cult film Black Lizard, which co-starred friend and lover, author Yukio Mishima. Daniel Schmid – Le chat qui pense reflects on the life of the Austrian film and opera director who was a contemporary of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim. Other Frameline35 bio-docs include accountings of tennis champ Renée Richards (Renée), United Airlines Flight 93 hero Mark Bingham (With You, at a screening that will be attended by his mother, Alice Hoagland), and punk rock legend Marian Anderson (Last Fast Ride – The Life, Love and Death of a Punk Goddess, which is narrated by Henry Rollins).
Documentaries about Bay Area life are always well worth a watch. As a huge fan of the early 1990's Peter and Raymond phenomenon, I'm really looking forward to Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure. Strange that it's taken nearly 20 years to make a doc about this. The program Only in San Francisco offers up a trio of fun-sounding local doc shorts. They include Making Christmas: The View from the Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree, about the behemoth Xmas display we see on 21st Street each December; Smut Capital of America, which celebrates the history of our fair city's sex industry; and Running in Heels: The Glendon "Anna Conda" Hyde Story, about one drag queen's run for District 6 supervisor. On a more serious note, The Grove honors our National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.
You're thinking enough with the documentaries already, but sorry, there are still five more I'm compelled to mention. Attendees of both Frameline and the SF Jewish Film Festival should be familiar with the terrific work of gay Israeli director Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls). His new film The Queen Has No Crown, is a personal meditation on family, separation and loss. I'm always interested in the fight for gay rights in other countries and East Bloc Love examines that struggle in the former Soviet republic of Belarus. In the film Angel, a Parisian transsexual prostitute and former boxer returns home to Ecuador after five years abroad. (A)sexual provides a potentially intriguing overview of the – you guessed it – asexuality movement. I highly recommend Tales of the Waria, a doc about Indonesian transsexuals that I reviewed as part of this year's SF International Asian American Film Festival.
There are also 21 shorts programs in Frameline35 – way too many to discuss here. If I catch one during the fest, it'll most likely be Maya Deren's Sink and Generations: New Works from Barbara Hammer. As part of this year's Transgender Film Focus, LGBT historians/filmmakers/archivists Jenni Olson and Susan Stryker present We Who Are Sexy: the Whirlwind History of Transgender Images in Cinema, an on-stage conversation with film clips. On the first Sunday of the festival, Frameline always presents a family film. This year it's The Muppets Take Manhattan and admission is free for kids 12 and under. Finally, as we rapidly approach a time when film festivals will no longer project "films" due to the encroachment of cheaper and more convenient (and in the opinion of many, aesthetically inferior) digital exhibition, Frameline has graciously included in this year's press kit a list of all the Frameline35 movies that will be screened in 35mm, which I share with you here:
Short Films: Drives , The Time In Between, Samaritan, Franswa Sharl, D'une rive a l'autre, Family Affair, Blokes, Who's the Top, Generations (16mm)
Feature Films: Gun Hill Road, Three, Four More Years, A Few Days of Respite, Looking For Simon, The Evening Dress, Romeos, Madame X, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Paris Is Burning, Old Cats