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.

World Cinema
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.

U.S. Features
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.

Final Notes
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

Friday, May 13, 2011

SFIFF54 2011 Wrap-Up of Special Events

The 54th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF54) drew to a close last Thursday, after showcasing 193 films from 48 countries at 265 screenings (134 of which featured special guests). During those 15 jam-packed days I took in 29 films, which will be encapsulated in a future film-415 post. Meanwhile, here's a look back at four memorable SFIFF54 special events I attended. All of them, not surprisingly, transpired inside the city's beloved Castro Theatre.

But first let's talk about regrets – yes, I've got a few. I didn't see Oliver Stone get this year's Founder's Directing Award, nor screenwriter Frank Pierson's acceptance of 2011's Kanbar Award. I was also M.I.A. for Mathew Barney's Persistence of Vision Award ceremony and producer Christine Vachon's State of Cinema address (which fortunately, I was later able to watch here). Most of all, I regret having to pass up the Terence Stamp tribute, which featured an on-stage interview by Elvis Mitchell and screening of Federico Fellini's
Toby Dammit. Stamp was here to receive the Peter J. Owens acting award, an incredibly inspired choice the festival seemingly pulled out of its hat at the 11th hour. I heard it was an unforgettable evening and the Castro was nearly sold out, no mean feat considering the event had only been announced one week prior. Alas, the four events I did attend were spectacular enough to assuage any feelings of remorse.

SF Film Society Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, star Ewan McGregor and director Mike Mills on stage at the Opening Night screening of Beginners (photo by Tommy Lau).

Moments after entering the Castro Theatre for the Opening Night screening of Mike Mills' Beginners, I heard the disappointing news that star Ewan McGregor would not be attending. His flight from Paris was cancelled (something about gasoline pouring from the plane's wing while taxiing for takeoff), but there was a possibility he'd arrive in time for the after-party. The unenviable task of informing the Ewan-adoring crowd of this development befell Director of Programming Rachel Rosen. Following the screening, she and director Mills were in the middle of a very engaging Q&A when a man strode past my aisle seat. From the back it looked like it could almost be – yes, it was indeed – him! McGregor's first words from the stage were, "Sorry about that," and for another half hour he and Mills told some very funny tales about the production of Beginners. My favorite involved co-star Christopher Plummer and several pairs of black skinny jeans. Woe to those who missed seeing McGregor in order to beat the crowds to the fabulous opening night party at Terra Gallery.

British band Tindersticks accompany a clip from Claire Denis' film Nenette et Boni on stage at the Castro (photo by Pamela Gentile).

I'm sure it's no longer a secret to anyone that the original recipient of this year's Founder's Directing Award was meant to be Claire Denis, who unfortunately bowed out at the last minute. Her spirit, however, was still very much present at SFIFF54. For this year's film-with-live-music event, the festival presented Tindersticks: Claire Denis Film Scores 1996-2009. Over the course of 70 glorious minutes, the British band Tindersticks performed 23 compositions from the six Denis films they've scored, while corresponding images towered above them on the Castro's huge screen. The eight musicians commanded the full width of the stage, and side-lights bathed them in colors that changed according to the moods of their cool, impassioned music. I was particularly thrilled to hear the throbbing twang of L'intrus' main theme, and the lovely title song from Vendredi soir, featuring the reedy vocals of lead singer Stuart Staples. This astounding show was one of only two U.S. performances and one of only six worldwide. In short, a rare privilege to behold and a certified coup for the festival.

Mel Novikoff Award recipient Serge Bromberg hams it up before his presentation spotlighting 100 years of 3-D cinema (photo by Pamela Gentile).

More than any other film or event at SFIFF54, I was most anticipating Serge Bromberg's Retour de Flamme: Rare and Restored Films in 3-D. This presentation of 100 years of stereoscopic cinema coincided with Bromberg receiving the festival's 2011 Mel Novikoff Award, "bestowed upon an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public's appreciation of world cinema." I'd seen Bromberg – a consummate preservationist, programmer, director (Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno), raconteur and showman – work his magic on the Castro stage twice before. The program would surpass my already high expectations as one of the greatest film events I'd ever attended.

Following the awards ceremony and brief on-stage interview (where Bromberg shared some harrowing film preservation war-stories), the amazement commenced. First up was 1941's
Third Dimensional Murder, a silly haunted house short with monsters throwing things at the camera. This was the only film that required old-style, red and blue-lensed 3-D spex. After that, modern polarized glasses came into play. I was delighted to see some of my favorite cartoon characters in 3-D, like Donald Duck and Chip 'n' Dale (Working for Peanuts, 1953) and Bugs Bunny (Lumber Jack-Rabbit, 1954). A trio of 1950s Russian films, collectively known as The Parade of Attractions, featured 3-D vistas inside an aviary and large aquarium (look out for the octopus tentacles!), plus a juggling act that had the Castro crowd dodging flying clubs. One of the longer works of the evening was Motor Rhythm. Made for the 1939 World's Fair, this was a 3-D stop-motion animated musical in which a Chrysler-Plymouth assembles itself part-by-part (you can watch an eye-straining 2-D version here). Modern 3-D animation was represented by the likes of John Lasseter (Knick Knack, 1989) and a brand new Road Runner cartoon by Matthew O'Callaghan (Coyote Falls) which closed Bromberg's presentation.

At one point Bromberg reminded us that France was the true birthplace of cinema. So perhaps it was no surprise that the two most affecting segments of his program featured the works of French pioneers Georges Méliès and the Lumière Brothers – names not normally associated with stereoscopic cinema. It turns out that Méliès unknowingly invented 3-D movies when he simultaneously shot European and American negatives with side-by-side cameras turned by a single crank. By assembling bits and pieces of both negatives (representing left and right eye), and using a computer to stabilize the images, Bromberg has been able to partially construct a 3-D effect for three Méliès shorts. In
Parafargamus the Alchemist (1906), for example, a large serpent puppet appears to slither right into the audience. For me, the highlight of the entire event was three short stereoscopic films shot by the Lumières in the mid-1930s. In one, the camera is placed squarely on a train platform and in another, on a crowded beach. Passersby walk near the cameras and occasionally stare into them, the 3-D effect bringing these distant personages to life in ways that no 2-D image ever could. The effect was akin to emerging from a time machine whose dial was set to 1930s France. It gave me the shivers.

New Burlesque performers Mimi Le Meaux, Evie Lovelle, Roky Roulette and Kitten on the Keys walk the Castro red carpet before the Closing Night screening of On Tour (photo by Tommy Lau).

Before I knew it, the festival's 15 days had sailed by and I was back at the Castro for the closing night film, On Tour. French actor-turned-director Mathieu Amalric stars as a washed-up TV producer who takes a troupe of six American New Burlesque performers on a tour of French harbor cities. As luck would have it, California and the Bay Area in particular are at the epicenter of New Burlesque, making it possible for four of On Tour's performers to attend the screening. During the Q&A, they discussed how the project came about and what it was like being directed by one of France's most famous actors. They also revealed why the film may never see a U.S. release. Apparently, either the descendents of Screamin' Jay Hawkins or Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (they weren't sure which), is demanding €300,000 for the rights to one song heard in the movie.

Mid-Q&A, performer Roky Roulette excused himself, stating that he needed to return home (he lives in the Mission District and has two daughters). We should have suspected it was a ruse. When the Q&A ended, he returned to the stage costumed as KFC's Colonel Sanders, chawin' on chicken and doing a funky striptease down to a g-string and explosion of feathers. In a San Francisco Chronicle interview the week before, I'd read that Roulette's claim to fame is a striptease he performs while riding a pogo-modified hobby horse. Sure enough, at the festival's closing night party he brought the house down with this routine, putting one helluva an exclamation point on SFIFF54. You can watch a video of it at the film-415 YouTube channel.

Cross published on The Evening Class and Twitch.