Frameline48: Final faves at the filmfest

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Sunday June 23, 2024
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'A House Is Not a Disco,' 'Linda Perry: Let It Die Here,' 'Throuple' and 'Crossing' at Frameline48
'A House Is Not a Disco,' 'Linda Perry: Let It Die Here,' 'Throuple' and 'Crossing' at Frameline48

As Frameline48 concludes on June 29, we are struck that with all the problems facing Hollywood and streaming platforms, the importance of queer film festivals has only grown.

It is worth noting that in the past decade, the most innovative and groundbreaking LGBTQ films are international ones, not from America. U.S. documentaries retain their dominance as top of the line, but not narrative features, many of which still remain stuck in coming-of-age, road, or relationship dilemma genres.

Sadly, few films at Frameline48 will find distributors or appear on streaming platforms, so the only opportunity to view them is through festivals. Enjoy the talent and inventive creativity offered here and remember to vote for audience awards which means recognition and potential career advancement for indie filmmakers.

We've also heard complaints from attendees, missing the printed program describing all the films, which until this year, was always available. The Intersections brochure, which only highlights a few top films, doesn't cut it.

From the picture in the film guide and its description, you would think this movie is about a happy family, but you wouldn't be further from the truth in the heartbreaking Hong Kong drama with the ironic title, "All Shall Be Well."

Successful lesbian couple Angie (Patra Au Ga Man) and Pat (Maggie Li Lin Lin) have been together for 30 years, previously factory worker-mates, they later ran a thriving textile factory and bought a spacious apartment. After a mid-Autumn dinner celebration, Pat dies unexpectedly in her sleep. Angie finds herself at the mercy of Pat's family.

Initially we thought the family was close and supportive. However, there is no same-sex marriage in Hong Kong, so Angie must cede to the wishes of Pat's surviving brother.

Angie and Pat had the best relationship of anyone in the family, but basically few rights. First the family wants Pat's ashes to rest in a columbarium, even though her wishes were to be buried at sea. Now the family wants to kick Pat out of her apartment. Along with his previous "Front Cover," "Cut Sleeve Boys," and "Twilight's Kiss," this film cements Ray Yeung as one of the world's foremost LGBTQ writer/directors.

It's a journey of atonement in the Georgian film "Crossing," directed by Levan Akin, a follow-up to his exciting debut "And Then We Danced," about two gay dancers in an ensemble troupe. Here, retired history teacher Lia (Mzia Arabuli) in the coastal Georgian town of Batumi, is looking for her trans niece Tekla, after promising her dead sister she would find her because her husband kicked Tekla out of the house when she came out as trans.

Lia meets a former student who lives nearby where Tekla once lived, but his stepbrother Achi (Lucas Kankava) claims she left for Istanbul, leaving an address, and knows where she's staying. He convinces Lia to take him along, but he really wants to escape from his unhappy life and start anew in Turkey.

"Crossing" is essentially a road movie as their search for the elusive Tekla comes up empty, following many dead ends, almost as if the woman doesn't want to be found. The key relation-ship is between Lia and Achi. They eventually meet trans activist lawyer Evrim (Deniz Dumanil), a former sex worker volunteering with an NGO fighting for trans rights, who will try to help them find Tekla. The film is as much an analysis of Lia as it is an essay on the hardships of being trans in Turkey.

Akin gives voice to the frustrations of immigrants and homeless teeming and disappearing into the bustling city's streets. Yet the emotional payoff unexpectedly scores big, walloping viewers at the end, redeeming the slow start and meandering, distracting side characters.

You would think the idea of a throuple would be exciting and titillating, but that's not the case in the new low-budget drama "Throuple." Michael (screenwriter Michael Doshier) seems lost both in his job and his gay dating life. He works as a business administrative aide, but longs to support himself as a singer/songwriter.

He lives with his best friend Tristan (Dakota Jones) who sings with a rock band, and her DJ girlfriend Abby (Jess Gabor), who asks Tristan to marry her. While selling merch for Tristan's band, Michael meets a married couple Connor (Tommy Heleringer) and Georgie (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge) who have decided to open their relationship. Initially there is an attraction and they're all game for it, but then there is a hesitancy on how things should go forward.

Michael is actually involved with two throuples, the nonsexual one with his roommates and the sexual one with Connor and Georgie. He seems far more animated with the first one, perhaps fearing due to their engagement, of being abandoned. Connor feeling threatened by the growing attraction between Georgie and Michael, convinces Georgie they should each date other guys besides Michael.

The main problem with this film is that no one knows what they want, with Tristan ambivalent about marrying Abby, Georgie and Connor trying to salvage their relationship, and especially Michael, who seems incapable of expressing his feelings and going after his goals, whatever they might be. The finale cries out for some excitement needed to give it plausibility; well-intentioned, but a disappointment.

There's the old joke that for LGBTQ people, 40 is senior citizen, which is the exact attitude the French documentary "If I Die, It'll Be of Joy" tries to combat. The film profiles three older queer people who refuse to be sidelined, all connected with Greypride, an activist organization in Paris supporting elderly individuals and fighting prejudices.

Micheline (81) is a horny lesbian burning with desire, trying to get her partner more stimulated. Francis (70) is a lesbian challenging old age taboos. Yves (68) is looking for love and shooting a film about being old, gay, and sexual, including filming naked queer seniors. They are all combatting the idea that older bodies are undesirable, stripping them of their sexuality or that it's inappropriate or disgust ing for old people to be sexual.

As Francis observes, "You can't change old age, but you can change the way people treat it." The film has heart, but is quite talky and strangely punctuated with lots of beautiful nature scenes. This doc would be a great conversation starter at a queer senior club.

Rarely has the creative process of an artist been portrayed so raw and honestly in the outstanding documentary, "Linda Perry: Let It Die Here," about the singer/songwriter Linda Perry, best known for her number one hit, "What's Up" in 1993 with her band 4 Non Blondes.

Since disbanding the group in 1994, she is a much sought after producer, creating hit songs for such stars as Dolly Parton, Adele, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, Ariana Grande, among others. Given extraordinary access to Perry, director Don Hardy captures Perry at her most vulnerable and intimate moments, such as her dancing to Supertramp's "Take the Long Way Home," and suffering an emotional breakdown in front of the camera.

She's her own harshest critic, her self-abuse channeled into her workaholism, using her pain and self-doubt to fuel her creativity. While there's a few tidbits from her ex-wife actress Sara Gilbert (with whom she had a son), there's very little footage on her personal life. This heartbreaking film allows us to glimpse a genius at age 59 still trying to find herself, as with searing candor she bares her soul in an intense conversation with the audience; stellar and unmissable.

'A House Is Not a Disco'  

"Everywhere I look I see stories," says a year-round citizen of Fire Island Pines, the subject of the documentary, "A House Is Not a Disco." Shot over two seasons, the film interviews residents and visitors of this small town on a sand strip 49 miles from Manhattan that in the years following Stonewall became a sanctuary and fun safe haven for primarily gay men.

The island became a sexual hedonistic paradise ("You could have sex three or four times a day) in the 1970s, but the older residents mourn all their friends lost to AIDS in the 1980s and '90s (when one third of the homes were put on the market after their owners died).

The place still functions like a gay summer camp, but not everyone feels welcome, especially people of color, trans folk, and older men, who no longer look like Greek gods. However, the millennials are arriving and injecting new energy, resulting in a renaissance. Although a bit repetitive, the film celebrates the delight of unabashedly being yourself without one's sexuality ever being a deal breaker.

'High Tide'  

Heartbroken and adrift, Brazilian immigrant Lourenco (Marco Pigossi) finds himself in the gay mecca Provincetown in the tender, melancholic, lovely narrative feature "High Tide." Having met Joe visiting Brazil and eager to leave his small town and fundamentalist Christian mother (lying that he got into Harvard), he travels to Provincetown, but soon after he's dumped by Joe.

He's staying in a cottage owned by kindly Scott (a poignant Bill Irwin), a widower friend of Joe's, eager for Lourenco's company. Leaving voicemails for Joe in the hopes he'll return, Lourenco supports himself as a cleaner of BNBs and painting rich people's houses. He wants to stay, but his tourist visa is about to expire.

Depressed, he has meaningless sex with strangers, but meets Black tourist Maurice (James Bland) on the beach. Maurice, a nurse, is on his way to Angola. Tired of racism and being one of the few POCs in P-town, he bonds with Laurenco through their mutual loneliness and feeling like outsiders. They start an affair knowing Maurice will depart by the weekend.

The last third of the movie becomes melodramatic, but it's the star-making performance of Pigossi, real-life lover of director/writer Marco Calvani, projecting empathy and vulnerability, that is the highlight of "High Tide," a subtle, under the radar romance, not to be overlooked.

Another lost 23-year-old not knowing what to do or where to go, perceiving life as a continual obstacle, is the setting for "Fallen Fruit." Alex (Ramiro Batista) gave up on his B.A., went to New York where his boyfriend got a job, but after a catastrophic breakup, has returned to his parent's home in Miami.

He's reunited with his childhood friend and confidant Sam (Krystal Millie Valdes), but she's leaving for a job in LA. He gets fired from Sam's mother's camp counselor job, but does secure a low-paying position at a campus Gay Students Association. He meets Chris (Austin Cassel) in his late twenties and feels in love again, but Chris may have other ideas about what this relationship is. Alex discovers his father's old camcorder and starts filming his new life.

Not much happens in this film. I would use the word inert. I suspect writer/director Chris Molina wanted the film to mirror the languid lifestyle of Miami.

In the second half, a hurricane (an obvious metaphor alluding to Alex's inner storms) is heading for Miami forcing Alex's family to evacuate but even here that crisis seems low-key. At one point, Chris characterizes the city as "chewing you up, spitting you out, and fucking you up five ways," which one suspects the Miami Tourist Bureau will not be adopting as its new slogan.

Unfortunately, by the end of the film Alex doesn't seem any wiser, repeating the same mistakes he did at the beginning. Queer millennials probably will appreciate Alex's plight and be more empathetic about the messiness of becoming an adult.

While yet another coming-out drama in "Riley," but there's a difference here, as this one concerns a closeted teen football player, Dakota "Riley" (Jake Holley). His father, who's also the coach, was a football legend, his career waylaid by a shoulder injury.

Superstar athlete Riley has the potential to be the greatest high school receiver in his state's history, which brings a huge amount of pressure. His best friend and workout partner Jaeden (Colin McCalla) is staying with him after a fight with his mother. Riley has a straight crush on him and you can feel the sexual tension between them.

Riley pursues secret Grindr hookups with an older man. A fellow out classmate Liam (Connor Storrie), who actually stands up to school bullies part of Riley's clique, ridiculing him, eyeing all the pics of hot men on Riley's phone, exposes his cover and is attracted to him. Riley is also being pressured by his girlfriend Skylar (Riley Quinn Scott) to have sex.

Writer/director/producer Benjamin Howard based the film on his own experience as a secretly gay high school football player. All the actors are very good, but the film is marred a bit by the fact all the teen actors are clearly in their mid-20s. It's the old conflict between being who one is expected to be vs. who one really is. Howard makes a strong case about how difficult it is for athletes to de-closet and Riley isn't quite there at the end of the film. But viewers will be rooting for Riley to live authentically and find peace within himself.

The costs of fame are detailed in the Canadian drama, "We Forgot to Break Up." A Canadian teen indie punk band, The New Normals, led by a trans man, Evan (Lane Webber) from a small town in Ontario in the late 1990s through the early aughts, follow their dreams of success to Canada's music capital, Toronto.

But it also centers around two couples Evan and Isis (June Laporte), Angus (Jordan Dawson) and Coco (Hallea Jones), complicated by the addition of Angus's gay brother Lugh (Daniel Gravelle) as the new guitarist. Evan secretly begins having sex with Lugh, even as he continues his personal and professional relationship with Isis, writing the band's songs, some of which are good. There are grainy behind the scenes home videos exploring the private lives of the members, but we learn little about their backgrounds except Evan has a thorny relationship with his father.

The film falters when it focuses on the romantic entanglements and we're never quite sure how they impinge on the band's success. The film is on firmer ground when it explores selling out as Evan entertains the possibility of going solo. The audience will have to decide whether Evan is a success or not in this mediocre but occasionally enthralling paen to the Toronto music scene at the turn of this century.

Another ambivalent adventure on dating apps is featured in Brazilian writer/director Daniel Ribeiro's "Perfect Endings." It's been a decade since Ribeiro's debut feature film "The Way He Looks," one of 2014's best LGBTQ features. In his new film, Ribeiro is attempting to invigorate another queer staple, a couple's breakup, only it's not as winning as his previous effort.

Joao (Artur Volpi) is a 32-year-old filmmaker living in San Paulo, who after ending his 10-year relationship with Hugo (they didn't live together and they're still texting friends), turns to dating apps in search of another boyfriend.

His screenplay is delayed by his production company. Tired of editing boring institutional and educational films, he finds success as a cameraman filming private couples having sex in amateur arty porn films, some of whom invite him into the action which he declines.

His hookups disappoint him so he incorporates aspects of his dating life into his scripts. He processes his dejected life with besties Alice and Chico in umpteen coffee klatches, who remind him of his tendency to idealize the past and forget bad experiences. The film feels like a sitcom at times, though not hysterically funny.

It has a bright, breezy feel to it, but "Perfect Endings," lacks the emotional depth its original title promised us. It's certainly watchable, but a letdown in light of the superb "Way He Looks."

If you haven't heard of her, director Deborah Craig, is intent on making sure you will be well informed about local teacher, writer, lesbian/feminist, and political activist Sally Gearhart, in the superb documentary, "Sally!" making its debut at Frameline.

Gearhart (1931-2021) should be best known for her role along with Harvey Milk in helping defeat the Briggs Initiative (aka Prop 6), a 1978 state bill which would've banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Both she and Milk debated State Senator Briggs on television exposing the lies he was telling about gay men as child molesters.

Craig was properly outraged that when Van Sant's film on "Milk" was released, Gearhart was not included in the debate included in the movie and wants to correct this erasure due to sexism.

She became the first out lesbian to be granted tenure at San Francisco State University in the Speech and Communications department, as well as cofounding one of the first Women Studies Department. She wrote a lesbian cult classic fantasy novel, "The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women," an ecofeminist utopia about a women-only society in nature, where they have psychic powers so they can communicate with each other and animals, as well as keep violent men off their land.

Craig is to be commended, that while Gearhart was charismatic, well-spoken, and brilliant, she was prickly, feisty, and somewhat narcissistic, having transferred her dogmatic views on religion (which she later renounced, "Feminism has done more for women in 20 years than Jesus Christ did in 2000 years") onto her strict rules about lesbian feminism ("Women is always spelled W-I-M-Y-N") alienating some.

Craig embraces all Gearhart's contradictions, recounted by former lovers (she did not believe in monogamy) and friends, but still beloved. Graphic animated scenes from Wanderground add little to the film, a vain attempt to paint the serious Gearhart as whimsical, but still this is a stirring tribute to a lesbian pioneer who deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

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