Frameline48: Families, friends and foes in film

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Monday June 17, 2024
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'Out,' 'In the Summers' and 'The Judgment' at Frameline48
'Out,' 'In the Summers' and 'The Judgment' at Frameline48

In her inaugural speech when she was introducing Frameline48's slate of films to the press, new Executive Director Allegra Madsen made a connection between our dire political crisis and the Frameline Film Festival's mission.

"The stakes couldn't be higher this year," she said. "We're headed into a presidential election and no matter the outcome, this process will be painful. The arc of the moral universe, which bends toward justice, is now full of inflection points, where if we don't keep that bend smooth, if we don't listen to each other to maintain a shared definition of justice, that arc can quickly become a hard angle."

"High school students are growing up in a world where civil rights can be stricken or mutated," Madsen continued. "We can see this with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We can see this with the unprecedented number of anti-trans bills being considered across the U.S. So far in 2024, there are 550 bills under consideration that could limit access to gender-affirming care, block trans people from organized sports, and/or legal recognition. So far, 31 have passed."

"This is the context I step into leadership role in the largest and longest-running queer film festival in the world," she added. "And it happens to take place in the queerest city ever. I can't think of a place I'd rather be leading an organization that uses art and creativity to battle bigotry. We are clearly at an inflection point as to what justice is, when what it means to exist publicly, is being actively attacked. I say, 'Challenge accepted.' They may be coming for our trans people first, but if you are coming for one of us, you are going to get all of us."

"We are going to change the world through the power of queer cinema. We are going to control the narrative, which has been Frameline's purpose since 1977. In these times of conflict and struggle, art and storytelling are absolutely critical. It puts images to emotions. It creates stories out of feelings. It gives us a means to stand up for each other. It gives us the language we need to create the world we want."

Here is the second round of reviews.

'In the Summers'  

A visual slice of life encompasses writer/director Alessandra Lacorazza's debut family drama, "In the Summers," which follows two sisters, Eva and Violeta, living with their mother in California, who over four summers within a decade, will visit their father in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Starting as teens, the first visit goes well as they stay in Vicente's (Rene Perez Joglar aka Residente, a Puerto Rican rapper) house inherited from his late mother. He teaches them to play pool and stargaze, but he's reckless, has a temper, and drinks too much. Each visit, especially at the end of the second one when there is trauma, will lead to disappointment as they all get older, but also growing empathy for each other's flaws.

The dialogue is minimal and the action is inferred through the body language of the actors, all of whom are excellent. Violeta (Lio Mehiel) is a lesbian, finding support in Vicente's best friend, Carmen, a lesbian bar owner, and getting involved with Camila, the girl her father tutors. Eva (Sasha Calle) has a strained relationship with Vicente, who favors Violeta, yet there are tensions there as well.

Vincente remarries, has a daughter, and eventually expresses regret for past mistakes. This unsentimental movie drags at times with its languorous pacing and is rarely riveting, but it does keep your attention with Lacorazza skillful at expressing character development through camera angles/lighting and the rituals of daily living, rather than a script. She's a talent we will want to keep following in the years ahead.

'Rent Free'  

Life is not easy for Gen Z folk in the breezy but also depressing film, "Rent Free." Ben (Jacob Roberts) gay, and Jordan (David Trevino), bisexual but leaning straight, are Austin, Texas besties from high school. They travel together to New York City staying with married couple friends, seriously contemplating starting a new life and career in the Big Apple.

However, Ben has sex with the husband which the wife witnesses and they are out on the street. They fly back to Austin, both seeking shelter with Jordan's girlfriend Anna. They relate their New York experience and Anna doesn't see any future with Jordan, since he has no job and wants her to pay the rent. She ends her relationship with Jordan.

In a drunken stupor, Ben convinces Jordan to adopt an experiment. They will couch-surf for a year, sponging off their friend's hospitality, living rent free, much of it in a cloud of drugs. But their best laid plans are constantly being tested, even temporarily living with Ben's druggie father.

Audiences might want to scream at both guys, "Grow up." They have no plans for the future, taking quickie temporary gig jobs, like delivering restaurant food or snapping photos at a wedding, just to survive. Roberts and Trevino are the saving grace and the message here is queer male friendships, even when tested, can get you through the worst of times. Nothing great, but even though they really don't deserve it with all their immaturity and lack of responsibility, you keep hoping things will turn out well for Ben and Jordan.

'Helen and the Bear'  

There's no recipe for a happy marriage, even a bumpy one, like the one profiled in the documentary, "Helen and the Bear." Helen is married to Pete McCloskey, affectionately called the Bear, the former Congressman from San Mateo County, 1967-1983. He's best known as the anti-Vietnam liberal Republican who ran against President Richard Nixon in the 1972 primaries, which he lost.

He authored environmental legislation, especially the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and served as co-chairman of the first Earth Day in 1970. Fed up with the divisiveness of Republicans in 2007, he became a Democrat. He died on May 8 at age 96 after filming was completed.

The film profiles his nontraditional marriage to Helen, now 70, but is told mostly from her perspective. After divorcing his first wife, he pursued Helen who served on his Congressional staff. They both had affairs. Helen had a same-sex relationship for years during the marriage, which McCloskey felt threatened, and she reluctantly ended it. Excerpts from her diary are presented on screen, revealing her dabbling in drugs and her discontented love life.

Filmmaker Alix Blair is the couple's niece. McCloskey's health is declining and he's almost totally dependent on Helen. She remains her own person, speculating about being alone and what her future might be once the Bear goes into permanent hibernation.

It's an intimate, tender, loving portrait, but it is very slow-moving, as if you are experiencing their boring routines day in and day out. It runs 80 minutes but feels much longer. Still, it's a reassuring meditation that despite difficulties and failings, with commitment, honest communication, and hard work, relationships can survive and thrive even during crises.

Young love is celebrated as two students studying in Mexico City find each other by chance on public transportation in Juan Hernandez's new film, "Demons at Dawn," from Mexico. Orlando (Luis Vega) wants to be a dancer and performs at a nightclub, while Marcos (Axel Shuarma) seeks to graduate from nursing school.

The first half of this film is intoxicating as they fall in love, with some stirring dance sequences by Vega. Orlando is invited to apply for a new dance reality show, while Marcos does well in his program.

The film loses steam in the morose second half, as Orlando seems to pull away from Marcos and we really don't know why, though it seems to be fear of losing himself in a relationship. It's all so vague and we learn so little about each character's background or what's motivating them with their careers and each other.

When they reach a crisis it's hard to empathize with them. At 2 hours, 15 minutes this film is far too long and can't sustain the drama, even as it attempts to recover in the final seven minutes, it's not believable. It's a valiant effort due mainly to the attractive palpable chemistry between Vega and Shuarma, but nonetheless a miss.

You've probably never heard of Jackie Shane, but you are hardly alone. The reasons for this omission is essayed in the absolutely terrific documentary, "Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story." Shane was the dynamic black trans soul/R & B vocalist in the 1960s poised to become a big star. The film opens with a phone call to two nieces informing them their aunt (Shane) had died in 2019 (at age 78) and left them a storage room of vintage dresses, jewelry, and memorabilia, but most importantly an unpublished handwritten autobiography.

Shane had recently approved a CD-box-set retrospective, nominated for a Grammy award and there was talk of a comeback tour, when she died, a virtual recluse in Nashville, just a few blocks from her nieces.

Because there was virtually no archival footage, Shane's incredible-but-true story is told in rotoscope animation done in watercolors with trans performers Makayla Walker and Sandra Caldwell, playing the older and younger Jackie. Born in 1940 segregated Nashville, she escaped to Toronto, developing a following, but she toured throughout Canada and the U.S., scoring a hit with her song "Any Other Way."

She was asked to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show," but required to present herself as masculine, no makeup, and a haircut, she refused. She also rejected "American Bandstand," with its segregated dancers and audiences. Both appearances could've been her commercial breakthrough with her elegant and boisterous vocal style.

Worn out by the daily pressures and cruelties of being her true trans self and saying, "You've got to know when to leave the ball," she walked away from the industry in 1971. No one heard from her, so most people thought she was dead. Her story is both tragic and posthumously victorious with film-makers Michael Mabbon and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee, making sure Shane won't be forgotten. This film is the zenith of Frameline48.

Would you like to know what your exes really think about you and the relationship you had together? If so, you will be thrilled by the new French documentary, "Fragments of a Life Loved." Director Chloe Barreau since age 16 has been documenting her love affairs, photographing, collecting mementos, and especially filming her lovers, often while she was still in the relationships.

She asks 12 of her exes, four men and eight women, how they remember being with her, whether it was a very short week or years. A third party filmed their responses. Barreau asks at the start of the film, "Who do our memories belong to?"

It becomes clear we don't own our memories, as other people involved can have a very different perspective than we do. The opinions, both positive and negative, vary widely with some calling her a liar, a cheater, reckless, objectifying her partners.

And there are times when she inserts herself into the film to give her side of a disagreement. She seemed to have a revolving bedroom door, or as one of her exes delicately phrases it, "she was always available" or "she needed to seduce as much as she needed to breathe."

She identifies now as primarily lesbian which began in the 1990s, but back then she was not comfortable being queer. Her female lovers were sworn to secrecy and she told each of them, "they were the first." Barreau summarizes her life, "I learned who I am through how I loved."

Outside of shots in Paris and Rome, this is a very talky movie, though while not heart-stopping exciting, it's not a screaming bore either. And Barreau gets points for bravery in her willingness to sustain withering criticism. There are touching memories and some of her exes see their relationship with Barreau as the high point of their lives, as we are treated to some unanticipated revelations of what it means to love and be loved by others.

Max Williamson (Ruaridh Mollica) seems to have it all, a good-looking, ambitious 25-year-old writer from Scotland living in London, almost ready to publish his first book with a job freelancing at a tony monthly magazine. Yet he's willing to risk it all in the winning British drama, "Sebastian."

The subject of his novel is the sex-worker Sebastian, which is also Max's alter-ego name, working as an online escort with older, wealthy clients so he can find out about this work from his own personal encounters, even though he tells his publisher and writing class that it's his interviews with sex workers that comprise his research. He's successful with his sex work, though he keeps it as a secret from everyone else. It becomes an obsession that starts to interfere with his personal and professional lives.

He meets a new client Nicholas (a deeply affecting Jonathan Hyde), a widower whose late partner and sexuality has been hidden, meant to contrast with the secrets of Max. Nicholas asks Max why he does sex work and aside from saying it's not just the money, he can't answer the question, which would seem central to the film's premise, it's one big flaw.

However, Mollica is astounding hinting at the character's insecurities and possible shame about his sexuality. The film features graphic sexual frankness a necessary element here, but also paints a disturbing picture of contemporary London and the cut-throat world of publishing. Yet there's an appealing tenderness as we discern that the real Max is somewhere in-between the public face he projects to his friends, family, and colleagues and his Sebastian persona. "Sebastian" is an unexpected if disturbing delight.

We are enthralled by a lesbian fairy tale in "Gondola," by German director Veit Helmer, but occurring in the European country of mountainous western Georgia. A cable car connects a village in the valley, with one gondola going up to the village, the other goes down to the valley.

This is where Nina (Nini Sosella) and Iva (Mathilde Irrmann), the conductors of each of the gondolas, meet, both dressed in air-hostess-type uniforms. A flirtation develops: they play chess, they serenade each other with music, one a violin, the other a trumpet. It blossoms into love that casts a spell over the villagers, at first hostile, but then later supportive.

The villain is their boss Iva, who's smitten with Nina and is jealous. The gimmick is that there's no dialogue. There is sound, mostly music and sound effects, but no dialogue cards like in the old silent movies.

To be honest, there's not much story here (it could probably have been a 25-minute short) and of course we know nothing about the characters. But it doesn't matter. The cinematography is breath-taking. It's inventive, whimsical, magical, almost similar to Wes Anderson's "The Great Budapest Hotel," only a queer version of that film. It will enchant all viewers, especially children (there are two adorable ones in the cast); a truly charming entry for Frameline48.

60% of Miami may be underwater by 2060 is just the tip of the bad news in the ecoqueer documentary, "Can't Stop Change: Queer Climate Stories from the Florida Frontlines." The film uses interviews with 14 LGBTQ+ artists, organizers, and educators across Florida (and its diaspora) into what is being done to combat climate change in the state.

The feature draws a strong connection between the legislative assault done to queer folk with its attack on the land, whether it be repealing environmental regulations or boosting fossil fuel industries, that the state government (under Governor Ron DeSantis) wants to get rid of LGBTQ+ people as it does any environmental protections. Of course, global warming is a threat multiplier in that it mostly impacts vulnerable communities (queer/trans; people of color), especially during disasters such as hurricanes or rising sea levels.

The film highlights that frontline organizers who are providing mutual aid and assistance with climate change are often queer or trans. Queerness here refers not only to sexuality but as an invitation to think differently about dealing with climate change such as working with nature instead of against it, trying to control it, like the government. It notes how queerness can build bridges with other people, a necessary component to survive the disaster lying ahead.

This documentary couldn't be more intersectional, with native indigenous, Black, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Haitians all represented in this land shaped by water. There is much useful information and ideas for combating climate change. If you are passionate about this subject, then by all means watch this film. However, if you are looking for something more entertaining, despite a beautiful scene at the beach with queer and trans people swimming together at one with nature, you might want to look elsewhere.


A coming-of-age doomed gay romance forms the background of the Argentinian film, "Duino." Matias, an Argentinian filmmaker now in his forties, is struggling to edit his unfinished movie inspired by his first love to Alexander, a Swedish classmate, whom he met at an international school in the 90s. Alexander is a bit wild, even unhinged at times, but they develop a strong friendship.

Alexander does something stupid and gets expelled. He returns to Sweden where his father is forcing him to attend a military school. Alexander invites Matias to spend the Christmas holiday at his family's estate called Duino. Alexander's younger sister Roma is instantly attracted to Matias, but he's coming to the realization he's really in love with Alexander. He's too scared to tell him and isn't sure if it would be reciprocal.

The same hesitation is bedeviling Matias finishing his film. Matias receives an invitation to attend Roma's wedding where he will encounter Alexander for the first time in 25 years. Is a happier ending now possible? "Duino" starts slowly, but it worth sticking around as the conclusion though bittersweet, seems to be just right. There are elements of "Call Me by Your Name," especially the speech Matias's mother gives him which recalls Elio's father's confession to Elio. It's not flawless, but is very tender and audiences will relate to Matias's unrequited love.

Egypt is a place that holds multiple horrors for a gay Egyptian-American couple, returning to that country in the Gothic thriller, "The Judgment." Mo, short for Mohamed (Junes Zahdi) and his boyfriend Hisham (Freddy Shahin), come back because Mo's father has died and he wants to see his mother, as well as deal with his father's business affairs, having been estranged from his parents for years. Mo came out to his mother at age 11 despite being a very religious Muslim. His mother claimed he was cursed, believing someone using witchcraft had cast a spell over him.

Now, Mo is experiencing nightmares, visions of himself as a boy who was briefly held captive trying to de-gay him by inflicting burns on his arms, as well as hearing metal scrapes sounds, foretelling the presence of his persecutor, all of which is terrifying him. His mother wants nothing to do with him, but is urging him to stop sinning.

He and Hisham pretend to be just friends so as not to alienate Hisham's parents, with whom they are staying, even though they are somewhat sympathetic to Mo's plight. Mo is also afraid to admit to Hisham that he believes their relationship is wrong, even though they are not really having sex (outside a few hand jobs).

Hisham's mother will help him counter the evil witchcraft by using witchcraft, which begs the question that all this evil done against Mo isn't that just as evil as being gay? Will Mo be liberated from his childhood terrors and deep religious fears? While the movie seems to take witchcraft seriously, one could also interpret it as a metaphor for literal religious fundamentalism and the dangers it poses.

The problem is that Islam is also virulently homophobic, so it becomes confusing against which forces Mo is actually fighting. The beginning and the end of the film are fine, but the middle is muddled, a factor which also renders the film too long. With stunning cinematography, it morphs into a horror story, but the horror is less one of magic spells than of human bigotry and narrow-mindedness.


"Out" is a deeply personal film from The Netherlands about struggling with group norms when you are young and gay, not sure about where you are going. At least Tom (Bas Keizer) and Ajani (Jefferson Yaw Frempong-Manson) who are closeted secondary classmates and lovers, know they need to get out of their conservative rural town and head for gay Paree, which in their case, is Amsterdam. They want to pursue their dream of becoming filmmakers, especially Tom as a director.

They get accepted into the film academy, but Tom doesn't quite fit in, despite being talented. He feels and presents himself as an outsider. He's kicked out of school for not connecting with the other students, which brings to mind E.M. Forster's dictum from "Howard's End," only connect.

Ajani gets swept up in the gay nightlife, getting involved with a rowdy, drug-using crowd, but Tom feels uncomfortable. He says he's bi, but despite only seemingly attracted to men, is being pressured to declare he's gay, especially to his parents.

We actually learn little about Tom's background, except for a brief instant where we deduce he doesn't have a happy home life and his parents are not supportive of his film career. What makes "Out" unique is its take on peer pressure from within the gay scene, including one character telling Tom what he needs to do to fit in (bulking up, the right drugs and clothes), even though these social and physical rules seem foreign to him. We are more determined from our childhood home than we care to admit.

Made in black and white with a sensual cinematography, "Out" feels like a documentary character study, mainly centering on Tom, as he and Ajani drift apart. Keizer is out-standing, conveying well both Tom's insecurity and boldness in discovering who he is, which seems to involve mostly dedication to his art. Punchy and absorbing, "Out" is a pleasant surprise.

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