The Frameline44 Pride Showcase suffered from this lost year as much as any other long-lived San Francisco institution. In spring, Paul Struthers, the director of exhibition and programming, realized that COVID-19 might cancel the world’s oldest LGBTQ film festival.
“I can’t remember the exact day,” the Scots-born, Australia-raised Struthers says, “but it was but it was sometime in March that we had the sad realization that, with what was going on in the world, it might not be realistic to proceed. It took a lot of teamwork, but we couldn’t let Pride weekend go forth without Frameline.”
James Woolley, the festival’s executive director, who has been running the organization since August 2019, hadn’t even held his title for a year before the pandemic struck.
“This organization has been here for 43 years through some very difficult times,” he notes. “People have been wonderful in supporting this program.”
Frameline is scheduled to run a virtual festival from June 25-28. The ambitious calendar of online documentaries, features, and shorts includes a live screening in the only theater left open within a 50 mile radius of Coit Tower — the West Wind Solano Drive-in in Contra Costa County on June 27. This world premiere of Ahead of the Curve, will feature a live Q&A with director Jen Rainin in attendance.
In 1990, Rainin’s wife, Franco Stevens, founded Deneuve. The glossy publication for women who loved women included interviews with “celesbians” such as Lily Tomlin and Melissa Ethelridge. Actress Catherine Deneuve fretted about her brand and sued and so the magazine was renamed Curve.
As Curve approached its 30th birthday, it faced closure. Stevens also confronted the question of a magazine’s obsolescence in an era of blogs and YouTube channels.
Ahead of the Curve is a favorite of both Woolley and Struthers. “The filmmakers had the idea that we could screen it at a drive-in” Struthers says. “We thought, let’s give it a shot. We’re excited to get people together in their various cars during the lockdown, especially for a film made here: all about a person who put her heart and soul into the magazine.”
Woolley agrees: “It’s both a great film and a great local film. Tickets are selling well, but we’re hoping to pack the house.”
A free suite of streaming films precedes a virtual conference on AIDS, scheduled for July 6-10. These include a revival of 1992’s memorable short The Dead Boy’s Club, concerning a young gay man magically transported to the world as it was before AIDS. Jacqui North’s Chrissy (2000) studies a lesbian street kid who concealed both her sexuality and her HIV positivity from her parents. This winner of the special jury prize at the Berlin Film Festival set a record for viewership when it debuted on Australian television.
Struthers particularly recommends Twilight’s Kiss (“Suk Suk” in Cantonese). As well he might. It’s a sensitive but not runny film about Pak (Tai-Bo), a closeted and married taxi driver in Hong Kong. On the verge of old age, Pak finds romance with Hoi (Ben Yuen), whom Pak had once tried to pick up outside of the public restroom he regularly cruised. Like all first-rate romances, director Ray Yeung’s provides fresh views of the city where it unfolds. The director empties out the streets of Hong Kong, making for a vivid mood of solitude. The city is quiet in the early morning when Pak goes to work, he’s alone when he glances at a vacant concrete-tiled courtyard, dappled with the shadows of trees.
Singer Denise Ho is as loud and proud as Pak is quiet and covert. Cantopop singer Ho participated in the Hong Kong protests against Beijing clampdowns and ended up blacklisted.
Sue Williams’s documentary Denise Ho: Becoming the Song profiles this fearless, magnetic performer who came out in 2012. Williams attends Ho’s New York debut and her speeches to the UN, and flashes back to explore Ho’s youth in Montreal — it’s where she learned her faith in democracy.
Jessica Swale’s feature debut Summerland is a period drama of the London Blitz. A city boy, relocated to the countryside, slowly cracks the reserve of a solitary woman (Gemma Arterton); in flashbacks, she reveals the story of her secret love affair with a cherished friend (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
Lingua Franca, which received completion funds from Frameline, is the newest by director, producer, and star Isabel Sandoval (Senorita). It concerns a Filipina trans woman living without papers in Brooklyn, facing love in the age of ICE.
Festival standout Tahara received deserved attention at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. Olivia Peace’s sharp, compact comedy-drama takes place entirely in a conservative temple in upstate New York, during a day of strife between two high school students.
Movies tend to focus on a flashy, proactive person. If there’s a best friend, they’re a sidekick, there to reflect the lead’s glory. Watching Tahara for a while, we learn that it’s the modest Carrie (Madeline Grey De Freece) who is the actual center of this moral tale. Her bolder, voluptuous pal, Hannah (Rachel Sennolt) — with whom Carrie has an almost telepathic closeness — reveals the nastiness under her charisma. Both actresses are going places. Sennolt’s zits-and-all portrait of a scheming girl is brave and witty. Peace makes the first kiss between these two something so big that it widens the screen right in front of us. Jess Zeidman’s script is as studded with barbed lines reminiscent of Heathers. The students try to cope with the grief they’re supposed to feel, for the suicide of a classmate few knew well — ”She was really into yarn.” One student reads aloud from a Hebrew school text: “Death is something that happens to people of all religions…”
The range of this year’s Frameline shows how spread-out the search for justice and visibility is, from cities to countrysides, among people whose only similarity is that they’re all different.
Frameline44 Pride Showcase
June 25-28, $8+