San Francisco Bay Times: Dreaming the Frameline LGBT Film Festival (Jun 19)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dreaming the Frameline LGBT Film Festival
By Erica Marcus
Published: June 19, 2008

Loving Loretta
Oh so fabulous Past, PRESENT and Future

What a dream I had last night! It had something to do with Frameline, the SF LGBT International Film Festival which is opening tonight and runs through June 29. As usual, there are films you are not going to want to miss. Highlights include Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven (6/23, Victoria), Before I Forget (6/22, Castro), the Centerpiece Intersex feature, XXY, (6/24, Castro), the sexy Argentine film La Leon (c/23, Castro; 6/25, Victoria) and the Philipino-Icelandic The Amazing Truth about Queen Raquela (6/21, Victoria). And there is probably way too much that you will not want to go to…..

But first, I gotta tell you about the dream. It was opening night of the Frameline Festival, but we weren’t all in the Castro Theater but at the Sizzling Saddles Ranch, the dude ranch set of the failed reality TV show, Playing it Straight. The show, just in case you were not a fan, was one of those Queer Eye knockoffs that never scored any ratings. You might have heard about it. A woman meets fourteen dudes, some gay and some straight,t and has to pick the man of her dreams. All the guys got to “play it straight” and flirt their butts off for the leading lady.

In this dream of mine, a whole bunch of festival types dressed to the nines were all making speeches about LGBT films and saluting the formidable contributions that Michael Lumpkin, Frameline’s Artistic Director, has made to queer film over the years. The Sisters were in the dream, too, but they were Playboy bunny cheerleaders posing as paparazzi. They were clamoring for the slyly wry and not-so-enigmatic Lumpkin, to spill the beans and provide some proper dish about his 25 year-long stint leading the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival and his forthcoming departure from the festival. Diplomatic as always, Lumpkin spiked his answers with a couple of well-tuned quips, but he waxed eloquent about where queer cinema has been and where it may or may not be going.

Suddenly, the LGBT Alliance for Quality Reality Game Show Programming swarmed onto the Sizzling Saddles Ranch stage looking awful, like they really belonged in the film March of the Penguins and they announced that PBS was going to bring back the Playing it Straight series and premier it at Frameline32. Now, I have carefully checked the upcoming schedule, and don’t worry, Playing it Straight is not going to be showing at this year’s festival. But in the dream it was sort of a big deal and everyone was saying how this was going to be the next best thing since Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (6/20, Castro) and Almodovar’s Law of Desire (6/23. Castro), which really are going to be playing at the festival. In fact, they are part of a retrospective of some of Michael’s favorite Frameline films. But back to the dream.

Film critic, B. Ruby Rich, was quite pissed about Playing it Straight, but that was not a big surprise. After all, she is the gal who has been warning us for quite a while about the “commodification and assimilation” tendencies of community artists.

So all eyes were on Lumpkin, who was paying lip service to the PBS Playng it Straight deal, but if you looked really closely, he didn’t look that happy about it either.

But the whole thing feels like a really bad omen, and it had me quite worried both inside and outside the dream. Lumpkin has not only kept the Frameline festival alive and well all of these years, but he has had a front row seat as New Queer Cinema came of age. What did he know about the future of queer film that we didn’t? Is he leaving now because it is really over and what will be left is a lot of empty-visioned wanabees who will churn out queer American Idols and Girl Meets Girl pap?

The dream was not that unlike the real film festival, with some of my best friends, happily married just four days ago, cruising the popcorn lines, hoping they might find a good reason for a divorce or at least an extra-marital affair. It was all so real - but then I realized that those penguin wannabe filmmakers were part of a big bad dream because it was all coming to a crescendo. I was about to be trampled by a stampede of wild horses and sheep. Alfred Hitchcock was riding an Arabian mare together with queer Film producer Brian Benson (they both have a thing about showers).

And suddenly, the indomitable Barbara Hammer, who has been making and breaking the boundaries of lesbian film since 1972, came racing down the hillside. She was an Amazon Paula Revere alerting one and all to come to her Frameline screening Horse in Not a Metaphor (6/27, Roxie). The stampede disappeared just as Babs entered the frame.

And what an entry this indefatigable artist makes. I guess this oh-so-weird Frameline dream was inspired watching Hammer’s new film Horse. I caught it with an old pal of Barbara’s, Honey Lee Cottrell. As we watched the layered magical images that had us with one foot in the visceral reality of Hammer’s ovarian cancer treatments and the other foot swimming, galloping and thriving, Cottrell said, “pure Barbara Hammer”. A few minutes later, she said “go Barbara go.” After the credits, she said, “Only Barbara Hammer could make a sensuous film about battling ovarian cancer.”

And despite my fear that daring queer film will disappear, I do know that there are still some hold-outs who got to do what they got to do. Take for example Samuel R. Delany, a veritable literary giant, Nebula Award winner and consummate bugger, who describes himself as the “world’s most dull black faggot.” Hardly, as you will learn if you go to see Fred Barney Taylor’s film portrait of Delany, The Polymath: Or The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman (6/20, Roxie). This film is one of the reasons that the Frameline festival is so darn precious.

So is the Singaporean film, Solos (6/20, Victoria) by Loo Zi han and Kan Lume. The sensual textured cinematography leaves one breathless. The film follows the sexual relationship between a young man and his teacher and how it impacts the young man’s mother. Scenes of the two men making love are juxtaposed with scenes of the mother mourning the loss of her son. The two men come to dinner at the mother’s apartment. The silence is deafening; a piercing direct hit. The film was censored by the Singapore government and pulled from playing at its film festival.

The shorts programs are always a treat. I have long been a fan of the Fun in Girls Shorts (6/21, Castro; 6/29, Castro) and Fun in Boys Shorts (6/21, Castro; 6/29, Castro) but this year, I will be at the Castro on Saturday, June 28, to catch Dyke Delights. Okay, one of the films was made by a friend, Loretta Hintz, but check out this description of her film, the Sheep and the Ranch Hand

“Yee-haw and pass the mint jelly! - or, is it lube? Not all sheep are followers! Join our binge-eating, cowboi-dreaming heroine on her oneiric adventures in the land of clover, pretty shiny black hooves, and one studly, cowboy-booted paramour! Watch as she embraces the beast within, learns that all that glitters is nicely hung, and discovers that dreams really can come true - and come hard!”

The film is a camp classic, and whoever did the sheep costume deserves a shot on Project Runway. But you don’t need to trust me, listen to what Carol Queen has to say about the film.

“I can’t decide if it’s the best dyke film I’ve ever seen, best zooey film I’ve ever seen, or just best all-around sex film I’ve ever seen! What a fabulous and charming mind-bender!”

What else will you want to see? The Taiwanese director Zero Chou whose film Spider Lilies played at Frameline last year, returns with a new film Drifting Flowers (6/22, Castro; 6/26, Berkeley). Here you will find three love stories with richly drawn characters, including a blind nightclub singer, a butch accordionist, an Alzheimer’s patient and a gay male friend.

The Irish personal documentary, Fairytale of Kathmandu (6/21, Victoria) is as much the story of a filmmaker’s journey as it is the story it set out to be: a portrait of a beloved Irish gay poet Cathal O’Searchaigh. Director Neasa Ni Chiannan starts out as a fan of the poet who makes annual pilgrimage to Nepal, where he has sponsored the educations of several young men, and is treated with an entirely different kind of reverence than he gets at home. When she joins him in Kathmandu, she tries to understand his trysts with a series of young men and questions how much he is “helping” them or how much he is helping himself. Upon her return to Ireland, the poet feels betrayed and denies the filmmaker’s attacks. And as valuable as this look into the nature of power, money and missionary attitudes of Westerners travelling to developing countries, the film also challenges you to look at the supposed naiveté of the betrayed filmmaker herself. Worth a look for sure.

I will be sure to check out Citizen Nawi (6/23, Roxie), which follows a queer Israeli activist who challenges the Israeli military over the rights of Arab villagers in South Hebron and with the orthodox Jewish settlers over Palestinian basic human rights. The film also traces Nawi’s relationship with his Palestinian lover.

The long awaited film A Jihad For Love (6/28, Victoria) will have its Bay Area premiere at the festival. Directed Parvez Sharma and Produced by the Director of Trembling Before G-d, the film follows the stories of a number of gay and lesbian Muslims around the world.

Despite my little dream, the diverse content at the Frameline festival seems to be alive and well this year. Of course, there is the formulaic queer set of films, but there are than enough gems to challenge, engage and entertain you. See you at the festival.