The Daddy of all queer film festivals is celebrating the big three-nine this year. Frameline39: The San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival (which started off back in 1977 with one evening of short Super8 films projected on a bedsheet) runs from June 18-28 at five different Bay Area venues including the landmark Castro Theatre.
There are so many films to explore it’s hard to know where to begin. Here’s an A to Z selection of twenty-five films that will be getting released more widely (or should be) so folks across the country will have a chance to see them. (It usually takes a few months after the film festival run before you’ll see these in theatres or on VOD/DVD. All descriptions below are from the festival catalog.)
Full disclosure extra bonus info: Queerty is proud to be a Frameline media sponsor and thrilled to be presenting the shorts program, Only in San Francisco (on Monday, June 22nd at 9:15 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre) — please come out and say “Hi!”
Check out some of the festival highlights this year…
All About E
To all appearances E (the stunning Mandahla Rose) leads a glamorous life as the sexy star DJ at one of the hottest clubs in Sydney, a job with perks that include her pick of the beautiful women who come to dance to her tunes. But the reality is this daughter of Lebanese immigrant parents is so closeted that she broke up with the love of her life, Trish (Julia Billington); entered into a sham marriage with fey gay best mate Matt (Brett Rogers); and even abandoned her once promising musical career as a clarinetist. When she and Matt find a duffel bag full of cash, the money seems like the ticket to a better life, but the pair are soon on the run—and on a road trip into the outback that may lead E back to the one who got away. Writer-director Louise Wadley has fashioned a sexy Aussie crime caper that hums with suspense, flashes of humor, and second chances.
Sarah (Dianna Agron of Glee fame) is trapped in the middle of Nevada, a nowheresville of strip malls and ranch houses, where a night out means drinking at the quarry and a Super Town cashier gig is something to cling to. Sarah’s only refuge is her absent father’s defunct vintage shop—and even that’s up for sale. Shortly after she’s told she’s “not Super Town material,” Sarah discovers a stranger sleeping in her father’s store, and her stale routine gets turned on its head. Worldly drifter Pepper (played by charismatic Paz de la Huerta, Boardwalk Empire) has been around the block more than a few times. She opens Sarah’s eyes to life’s possibilities, while simultaneously hustling the naïve girl for a place to crash. Soon the two are roadtripping to Reno, and for the first time, Sarah revels in the anarchic pleasure of breaking all the rules. When she jokes that in ten years she’ll probably be married with three kids and breast cancer, Pepper points out, “If you don’t make your own choices in life, the world makes them for you.” Sarah chooses Pepper, but the consequences are not what she expects.
Do I Sound Gay?
Is it the sibilant “s,” or is it the drawn-out vowels? Is it the two-dollar vocabulary, or is it a certain theatrical quality acquired after too many viewings of All About Eve or Mean Girls? Whatever it is, we know it when we hear it: “gay voice”—a tone and way of speaking that, if you believe the stereotype, announce homosexuality. Documentarian David Thorpe has gay voice. And after a breakup and an early-forties crisis of confidence, he decides that his voice is preventing him from finding happiness. Where did it come from? And how can he get rid of it? With these questions, he visits numerous speech therapists and delves into his own past. This lighthearted (and often hilarious), taboo-busting film features great commentary from celebrities like George Takei, Dan Savage, Tim Gunn and David Sedaris, as well as illustrative footage of Paul Lynde, Liberace, Truman Capote and others. Linguists and cultural historians provide insight into gay speech patterns, code-switching, and what it means to “sound gay.”
Eisenstein in Guanajuato
In his dazzling and giddy glitter-bomb of a film, the always inventive British-born director Peter Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; The Draughtsman’s Contract) imagines what might have happened to the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein during a pivotal period of artistic and sexual awakening while sojourning in Mexico in 1931 to shoot a film he nearly couldn’t finish. Using gleeful “watch me do this!” feats of camera movement, set design, and montage that rival the Soviet master himself, Greenaway stages a kind of “ten days that shook Sergei Eisenstein”: the frenetic, frizzy-haired Russian director (Finnish actor Elmer Bäck in a bravura comic performance) finds himself captivated by his studly Mexican guide Palomino Cañedo (suave Luis Alberti), who initiates the brooding Russian into unknown pleasures of the body and soul, opening him (in every way) to profound discoveries.
Upbeat “Employee of the Month” at the shabby Fresno Suites Martha (Orange Is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne) has no complaints with the gig or with life: she has a prime parking spot, a steady paycheck, and a straightish girlfriend who sometimes answers her calls. Martha’s co-dependent, sex addict sister Shannon (Arrested Development’s Judy Greer) should be grateful for any gainful employment following her recent firing from a teaching position and subsequent failed stint in rehab, but instead she can only muster (hilarious) sardonic one-liners while working as little as humanly possible. As Martha gets pursued by her dreamy trainer (Parks and Recreation alum Aubrey Plaza, playing a lesbian after all of our prayers), Shannon’s hump-anyone’s-leg addiction gets them both into trouble when a mullet-sporting scumbag of a hotel guest is accidentally killed. With the help of a poetic and smitten coworker, the sisters hatch a plethora of schemes to get rid of the body, resulting in blackmail, a hip-hopping bar mitzvah, and oodles of fat purple dildos.
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
This tender and charming new feature from Stephen Cone (The Wise Kids, Frameline36) unfolds over a 24-hour period in the life of Henry Gamble, on the occasion of his 17th birthday. Henry is the likable son of a newly ordained pastor at a large evangelical church, and the lives of his family and friends are deeply embedded within a squeaky clean devotional world of faith. At Henry’s party, the Gambles’ well-appointed home welcomes a friendly gaggle of hormonal teenagers from both church and Henry’s non-denominational high school, as well as earnest young adult church counselors and congregational elders—all striving to define on their own terms an acceptable balance between reverence and frolicking. The restrained passions of this gathering unravel over the afternoon, as lithe, entangling young limbs stir the waters of the backyard pool and an advantageous box of wine loosens the spirits of the flock. The caprice of sexual explorations, metaphysical frustrations, and decidedly earthly fervors bubble up through fissures of the soul, as whispered secrets grow louder and undercurrents of pristinely constructed lives come to the surface.
How To Win at Checkers (Every Time)
Each year in Thailand, all 21-year-old males must appear for the draft lottery at their local Buddhist temple — where drawing red means military service and drawing black means being excused. As his own draft day approaches, Oat looks back on the time he did all in his power to keep his beloved older brother Ek close to home and out of the service. Hoping that love and luck will be enough, the 11-year-old Oat unwittingly sets in motion events that lay bare the limited options facing Thailand’s working poor. Since losing both parents, the brothers have lived with their aunt and young cousin. Between Ek’s bartending and Auntie’s house cleaning, the family scrapes by in a village practically owned by black-marketeers. Still, they have each other and want to keep it that way. Like many other things in their lives, the lottery results are meant to be accepted as the luck of the draw. But as Ek, his wealthy boyfriend Jai, and their trans friend Kitty face the draft in their own ways, their differences grow increasingly apparent and threaten simpler bonds of love and friendship.
I Am Michael
In a controversial and very public transformation, co-founder of Young Gay America magazine and gay rights advocate Michael Glatze shocked his followers when he renounced his homosexuality and embraced a heterosexual life. Justin Kelly’s compelling directorial debut presents Glatze’s journey in an admirably measured and non-judgmental fashion. In the beginning, Michael (James Franco) is a joyful, committed queer activist, living with his boyfriend Bennett (Zachary Quinto) in the Castro where they both write for XY magazine. A job offer for Bennett soon takes them to Halifax, Canada, where the two settle into a seemingly fulfilling life with their new lover Tyler (Charlie Carver), and Michael launches YGA, becoming a leading voice on issues of young gay experience. When a health scare leads Michael to reflect on a past he has never fully confronted, he searches for deeper meaning in and beyond life. Flirting with meditation and Buddhism, Michael ultimately seeks his answers in the Bible and, eventually, heterosexuality on the road to his truth.
In The Grayscale
This sensitive, well-acted romantic drama puts a delicate and mature twist on the classic coming-out story. Filmed in Santiago, Chile, it follows an emotionally ill-at-ease, married architect’s journey of sexual discovery, which switches into high gear after he meets an intriguing gay man. When we first encounter successful 35-year-old Bruno (the soulful Francisco Celhay), he has just made the difficult decision to separate from his loving wife in order to sort through his feelings. His concerned family calls it a selfish choice, and the couple’s young son is understandably confused and hurt by his doting dad’s decision to leave, but their familial bond appears strong. After Bruno is approached to design a new architectural landmark, he is introduced to Fer (hunky livewire Matías Torres), a local tour guide with unique access to the soul of Santiago’s gorgeous cityscape, both ancient and modern. This professional hookup quickly turns to flirtation and much more, complicated by the undeniable chemistry—intellectual and physical—between the handsome leads.
Jason and Shirley
What Interior. Leather Bar. (Frameline37) did for Cruising (or, perhaps more accurately, what Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange’s version of Grey Gardens did for the original documentary by the Maysles brothers), Jason and Shirley does for Oscar-winner Shirley Clarke’s seminal, controversial Portrait of Jason. Director Stephen Winter (Chocolate Babies, Frameline21) presents a fictitious account of the making of Portrait of Jason, a groundbreaking example of confessional biography, famously shot in one grueling 12-hour session in Clarke’s apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel. For his reimagined scenario, Winter, brilliantly borrowing the look and feel of 1960s cinéma vérité, depicts the behind-the-scenes power struggle between the white Jewish director and her eccentric gay African American star, Jason Holliday, a pill-popping, boozy hustler with dreams of becoming a cabaret superstar (just one of the many similarities Jason has to Little Edie). Upon Portrait of Jason’s release in 1967, critics were divided between condemning it as exploitation and hailing it as a masterpiece; famed director Ingmar Bergman called it “the most extraordinary film I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Larry Kramer in Love and Anger
A gripping, warts-and-all tribute to one of the most important gay activists of our time, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger is not just a hero’s tale. Filmmaker Jean Carlomusto (Sex in an Epidemic, Frameline34), also crafts a compelling account of the onset and terrible escalation of the AIDS crisis in the United States, an epidemic that came to define Kramer’s life and work. As the cofounder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and then ACT UP, and the writer of the play The Normal Heart, Kramer was a tireless, powerful force at a horrific time. He gave voice to a community’s rage and compelled government action on HIV/AIDS.
Liz in September
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, a sexy, groundbreaking lesbian play from the early 1980s, gets a fresh update from Venezuelan director Fina Torres. Bluefish Cove is now a Caribbean beach, where a tight-knit group of lesbian friends, lovers, and cordial exes meet every year to relax and let their guard down, without having to hide who they are. For Liz, the group’s heartbreaker, the summer has a special significance, and she is determined to live it to the fullest—diving, drinking, and dancing to her heart’s content. Too bad she’s the only single one of the group. Then, a stranger crashes the cohort’s cozy world. Eva is a troubled married woman, who joins the intimate gathering courtesy of a car breakdown. When one of the gang bets the competitive Liz a bottle of champagne that she can’t get Eva into bed in three days, the game is on.
Naz & Maalik
Set in sun-dappled Brooklyn, Naz & Maalik is, on the surface, a charming story of a couple of Black Muslim teenagers just hanging out, but it skillfully weaves weighty themes into its nonchalant narrative of two young men trying to maintain carefully constructed blinds around their sexuality. On a peaceful Friday afternoon, gregarious Maalik and unassuming Naz hustle street corners in their neighborhood selling lotto tickets and perfume — and reveling in the afterglow of a night spent together. What they don’t know is at the same time they’re being followed by Agent Sarah Mickell of the FBI, who is keeping an eye on the teens based on a tip from an informant. Naz and Maalik may be hiding something, but it’s not what the agent suspects.
The New Girlfriend
In his usual, biting fashion, 2006 Frameline Award recipient François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Time to Leave) peels back the polished veneer of the modern bourgeoisie to reveal a vivid and subversive exploration of triangulated love with his latest, The New Girlfriend. Opening with a touching montage of the blossoming friendship between two girls who met at age seven, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier, Elles) and Laura (Isild Le Besco, À tout de suite), the film jumps to Laura’s funeral, as Claire announces the commitment she made to look after her best friend’s widower David (Romain Duris, L’auberge espagnol) and their newborn baby. This promise becomes much more than Claire bargained for when she walks in on David dressed as a woman. With subtle performances from both Demoustier and Duris and an airy, aware sense of humor, The New Girlfriend follows David’s transition into Virginia with the help of Claire — as new, untapped feelings begin to arise in her as well.
Out To Win
Framed by the story of one of 2014’s most discussed athletes, football’s Michael Sam (from his coming out as a college player, to his selection in the NFL draft, to generalized “locker-room panic,” to the kiss heard ’round the world), Out to Win features in-depth interviews with an all-star lineup of trailblazing lesbian and gay professional athletes: tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova; Jason Collins, the first openly gay active NBA player; former NBA player John Amaechi; former pro baseball player Billy Bean; WNBA superstar Brittney Griner; activist and former NFL player Wade Davis; and retired NFL player David Kopay, who was the first former NFL player to come out as gay. With incredible access and insightful commentary from leading sports journalists, agents, coaches, activists, and fans, Malcolm Ingram’s film contextualizes the struggles and triumphs of these brave game-changing athletes.
Peter De Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn
Born in France and raised in prewar England, a sexually curious boy named Peter de Rome found a way to marry his two great loves: cinema and men. He captured the sexual adventures of friends and strangers alike on his Super 8 camera (remarkable in an age before cell phones and webcams); he then started showing his offbeat, playful, sex-positive underground films at house parties and private screenings in the early 1960s. These films’ groundbreaking erotic images soon made him a significant figure in underground cinema and a pioneering voice in the emergence of gay porn. Courtly and puckish at nearly 90 years old when the documentary catches up with him, de Rome shares decadent, funny tales about admirers such as David Hockney, William S. Burroughs, and Andy Warhol — and reveals how his feature-length adult film Adam & Yves managed to capture the final screen cameo of Greta Garbo. Grandfather of Gay Porn is chock-full of both soft-core and explicit clips from his artful short films (which span three decades), many of which have recently been archived by the British Film Institute for preservation.
Portrait of a Serial Monogamist
Fortysomething Toronto TV producer Elsie is the kind of nice Jewish girl your mother warned you about: the serial monogamist who seems to have slept with everyone in town. She has her breakup speech memorized, she’s got a cute girl in the wings (or at the coffee shop) ready for a rebound, and something about her lets you know she’s only going to break your heart. When Elsie coolly cuts it off with sweet performance artist Robyn, her friends challenge her to stay single for five months—no bars, no clubs, and (for god’s sake) no volunteer work. Seems easy, right? Enter hottie DJ Lolli, whose sexy intellect and love for adventure are impossible to ignore. This clever and sophisticated Canadian dyke romcom with a bitchin’ pop-punk soundtrack is at turns thoughtful and fresh—spinning a new groove into the old tune that we can’t always get (back) what we want.
Tab Hunter Confidential
America was a very different place in the not-so-distant, golly-gee past of the 1950s, as vibrantly recalled in this thoroughly entertaining new documentary on formerly closeted Hollywood heartthrob and golden-boy idol Tab Hunter. His blue-eyed, blond-haired California surfer stunning looks got him cast in frequently shirtless roles that propelled his career into superstar status. He became the prototype for young idols to come; so did the studios’ desire to hide his and others’ gayness. Following the rapturously received Vito (Frameline36) and I Am Divine (Frameline37), 2015 Frameline Award recipient Jeffrey Schwarz returns with his fascinating portrait of Divine’s two-time leading man (Lust in the Dust and Polyester).
Obsession, scandal, and shifting loyalties put pressure on a lifelong friendship and a new relationship in Joey Kuhn’s erotic, arresting directorial debut. Budding artist Charlie (Jonathan Gordon, God’s Pocket) is so hung up on handsome, vain BFF Sebastian (Jason Ralph, A Most Violent Year) that when asked to paint a self-portrait, he can only deliver yet another painting of his friend. In the wake of a scandal that envelops Sebastian after his Bernie Madoff-like father goes to jail, Charlie moves into Sebastian’s luxurious Manhattan apartment, the perfect setup for getting closer to the object of his affection. But Sebastian is like a mirage, always just out of reach; so when Charlie meets Tim (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor, Nurse Jackie) — a Lebanese concert pianist, older settled in contrast to Sebastian’s chaos—Charlie is intrigued as well as attracted. Sebastian’s ensuing jealousy presents Charlie with a life-altering question: Should he maintain the status quo in the hopes that his feelings will someday be reciprocated, or should he pursue something real with his hot new man?
Friends since childhood, Brazilian teenagers Martin (Mateus Almada) and Tomaz (Mauricio Barcellos) have since grown apart. When Martin’s grandfather dies, Tomaz journeys with him on a special mission to the windswept coastal town where the estranged family of his grandfather still lives. There, in an abandoned seaside house, secrets are shared, old family wounds are re-opened, and the boys are challenged to sort out for themselves the meanings of friendship, independence, and love in a suddenly adult world. A fine supporting cast and excellent performances by attractive young stars provide the innocence and hesitancy of youth that permeate Seashore, as the onetime boyhood friends delicately explore the nature of their friendship as maturing young men.
Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story
It’s an only-in-San-Francisco story: closeted Indiana boy heads for the gay mecca, comes out in the fabulous 1970s, builds an adult-entertainment empire that redefines pretty-boy masculinity, befriends David Geffen and Bill Clinton, helps found the Human Rights Campaign, donates millions to community causes, succumbs to AIDS, and is honored as the namesake of the SF LGBT Center — all while indulging his obsession with hairless bubble butts in visionary porn epics. This bio, by turns salacious, poignant, and inspiring, belongs to infamous provocateur and philanthropist Chuck Holmes, the subject of the (a)rousing documentary Seed Money. As the founder of Falcon Studios, which made stars of a bevy of bronzed, blond Adonises, Holmes created hardcore extravaganzas like The Other Side of Aspen for the VHS-and-cocaine era. Holmes parlayed his success into fundraising and activism. Though LGBT groups were happy to have his hard-earned moolah, they sometimes shunned their benefactor because of his background in the jizz biz. Today, Holmes is rightfully recognized as a hero both for liberating a generation’s libido and for supporting its members through their darkest days.
Stories from Some of Our Lives
Homophobia is not just strong in Kenya but institutionalized, which exponentially raises the stakes of The NEST Collective’s daring and sublime anthology of short films. The Nairobi-based multidisciplinary arts collective–a confederation of ten artists who have claimed the transformational mission to challenge and dissolve myths and norms of Kenyan identity — went around the country compiling the experiences of LGBTQI people as a first step toward breaking the silence enforced on queer people. Artfully adapting those 200 interviews into a mosaic of five dramatic vignettes, the filmmakers forge powerfully intimate depictions of identity under siege that poignantly call out ignorance and intolerance.
The Summer of Sangaile
Seventeen-year-old Sangaile is mesmerized by the aerial poetry of watching stunt planes in flight. A brooding, directionless girl trapped in a cage of adolescent fear and self-doubt, she meets Auste at an aeronautics show during her summer vacation. The vivacious Auste watches Sangaile watch the acrobatic airplanes and pursues the other girl, inviting her into her own group of friends. Director Alanté Kavaïté beautifully captures the shifting dynamics of group flirtation and friendship, as Auste and Sangaile single each other out, and the gang falls away. Despite different backgrounds, the two click. Sangaile is privileged, spending an idle summer in Mid-Century Modern splendor at her family’s country house. Auste lives in a concrete apartment block and works in the power plant’s restaurant. While Sangaile’s bedroom is bare, Auste’s room explodes with retro, DIY kitsch. Where Sangaile is afraid to pursue her fascination with flying, Auste explores her creativity fearlessly, making clothes, jelly, and art photos. Under Auste’s spell, Sangaile begins to peel off her protective layers — starting with her shirt, when Auste measures her for a dress.
An aimless young man happens upon a yard sale, where he’s drawn to a vintage 8mm camera. His impromptu purchase awakens unexpected impulses, both artistic and personal, which adjust his life’s course and set him on unfamiliar paths toward illuminating destinations. Evan—played with great delicacy by lithe newcomer Harry Hains—is a waiflike, orphaned 22-year-old who grew up in the foster care system and is still feeling unmoored as he enters adulthood in Los Angeles. He is uninspired by his college classes, growing frustrated with his increasingly critical boyfriend, and eager to find something meaningful and fulfilling to connect to in his life. The 8mm camera quickly becomes the creative outlet he’d sought, and he dives headlong into his new hobby. Evan returns to the home of the elderly man who sold him the camera, in search of additional filmmaking equipment, and he ends up leaving with a stash of the family’s old home movies. The quietly poignant films feed Evan’s creativity, providing a (projected) family he never had and sparking not only an intimacy with the family’s past but also a surprising connection to its present.
The Yes Men Are Revolting
Yes! The Yes Men are back! In their follow-up to The Yes Men (2003) and The Yes Men Fix the World (2009), legendary prankster protesters Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum (also known as Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin) team up once again with director Laura Nix (The Politics of Fur, Frameline26), to chronicle their latest activist antics. But after working together for more than 15 years to aggressively (and humorously) expose corporate greed and political malfeasance, the devilish dynamic duo is now grappling with a bit of a midlife crisis. Mike has a wife and two kids, Andy is settling in to what he hopes will be a long-term relationship with his new boyfriend, and their new priorities and responsibilities are starting to have a noticeable effect on their creative partnership. That does not, however, stop them from continuing to make trouble—and news. But along the way, they find themselves starting to question the true value and impact of their activism: Is their work really helping to change the world? Watching this film is one way to make sure it does.
Wow! These twenty-five exciting new LGBT movies are just the tip of the iceberg of offerings at Frameline39. Click here to browse the rest of the schedule.