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Sunday, January 23, 2022

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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: Frameline's Pride Showcase cruises onto your laptop

Screen Grabs: Frameline’s Pride Showcase cruises onto your laptop

The world's largest LGBTQ film fest shrinks to fit personal screens, but it's no less fabulous in reach and depth.

Frameline without the audience is a funny prospect—imagine the dismay among those patrons whom COVID has denied their annual chance to conspicuously stand near the front of the auditorium “looking for my friends” while making sure every other gym bunny at the Castro Theater gets those twenty minutes before the movie to check them out. It’s normally a “see and be seen” affair for sure. But this June you’ll only be seeing movies, not fellow moviegoers, and isn’t that really the point, anyway? (Don’t argue.)

Ergo, the Frameline44 Pride Showcase (6/25-28) shrinks the usual two-week, multi-venue affair down to a four-day “virtual event” that can fit in your living room, on your laptop, or wherever else you choose to watch. The online screenings, taking place this extended weekend (which happens to encompass the 50th anniversary of SF Pride itself), offer special introductions, Q&As, and other festival-like “enhancements.” You can watch a particular program at a particular time to participate in those elements “live,” or watch later (anytime before the Showcase’s end Sunday at midnight), when those elements will be archived for your enjoyment.

The world’s largest/oldest LGBTQ+ film festival does plan on holding a belated but more or less business-as-usual fest live at conventional venues this fall…sometime. Whenever things get back to normal, which at this point is anyone’s guess. So if you want to celebrate Pride with the usual gay-movie orgy, your current Frameline options are of the online variety. A factsheet on ticket purchasing and polices is here.

After a Wed/24 panel discussion of Disclosure, the new Netflix documentary about screen transgender representation which we reviewed here, the Showcase gets started in earnest Thurs/25 with three evening programs. First up is a free screening of the recently rediscovered short Parade, which captures the city’s first officially sanctioned Gay Pride Parade in 1971. Then there’s Mike Mossellam’s new feature Breaking Fast, with Haaz Sleiman as a gay Muslim doctor in West Hollywood who’s heartbroken when his closeted boyfriend caves to family/cultural pressure and marries. Things look up, however, when he meets an actor (Michael Cassidy) who’s handsome, available, and speaks Arabic to boot. Though there’s a familiar, sometimes sitcom-ish feel to the seriocomic complications here, the movie does juggle a lot of disparate culture-clash baggage in entertainingly amiable ways.

Things take a more international turn with Ema by the unpredictable, adventurous Chilean director Pablo Larrain (No, Neruda, Tony Manero, Jackie). With a shock of white hair like Andy Warhol, Mariana Di Girolamo plays the title figure, a bisexual performer in a modern dance troupe. She’s married to its choreographer (Gael Garcia Bernal), and tormented by the memory of the child they adopted, then “gave back” after some serious behavioral issues. Full of astringent relationships, mannered dialogue, raggaeton gyrating, striking imagery, polyamorous sex scenes, and one ludicrous whopper of a late plot twist, this is the kind of over-the-top Betty Blue-ish exercise that will have some viewers crying “masterpiece!” and others calling BS. Dull, it’s not.

Considerably less in-ya-face are several other globetrotting dramas premiering later in the program. Summerland is a first feature for playwright-director Jessica Swale, starring Gemma Arterton as a withdrawn writer in the wartime British countryside forced to take in a boy (Lucas Bond) evacuated from the London Blitz while still mourning the loss of her true love (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Isabel Sandoval’s Lingua Franca stars the writer-director herself as a trans Filipina hoping to get a green card while working as caretaker for a senile Brighton Beach native (Lynn Cohen), whose household expands with the arrival of her shakily just-out-of-rehab grandson (Eamon Farreri). It’s a delicate, impressive if sometimes narratively overly-ambiguous treatment of various complex issues.

Similarly low-key in a good way is Ray Yeung’s Suk Suk aka Twilight’s Kiss, in which two closeted Hong Hong men (Ben Yuen, Tai-Bo)—one divorced, one still married, both with grown children—try to find space amidst their familial and other obligations to love one another after meeting in their 60s. It’s a fine drama that situates its characters at a generational, political, and private crossroads without preachiness or contrivance. Probably not on their cultural radar, but a major figure amongst younger HK residents, is the titular star of Denise Ho: Becoming the Song. A Cantopop luminary and successful actress, Ho made waves eight years ago by coming out of the closet. She’s also earned the ire of mainland China with her pro-democracy stance and human rights activism. Sue Williams’ documentary looks at a remarkable career that’s still just at its mid-point.

Also fighting the good fight are the real-life protagonists in David France’s Welcome to Chechnya, which sees undercover Russian gay activists struggling to save victims of virulent, violent homophobia in the titular republic. By contrast, celebrating their own hard-won freedom are the recent generations of lesbians found Ahead of the Curve. Jen Rainin’s documentary chronicles the heady history of founder Franco Stevens’ magazine first called Deneuve (until a certain French actress took litigious offense), then Curve. Defining “lesbian chic” and a whole lot more in the 1990s, it’s been a sophisticated, glossy and envelope-pushing voice of a community for three decades now. In addition to its online availability, Ahead will also have the Showcase’s only “in person” screening—the night of Sat/27 at Concord’s West Wind Solano Drive-In, of all places.

Also geographically closer to home are Olivia Peace’s comedy Tahara—a Sapphic teen romance set at a Rochester, NY Hebrew school—as well as a special sneak-preview episode from the next season of African-American Showtime series The Chi. Spanning the globe will be those perennial Frameline favorites, the shorts programs Fun in Boys’ Shorts, Fun in Girls’ Shorts, and Transtastic.

The Pride Showcase officially ends Sunday night with Hanging Garden director Thom Fitzgerald’s Stage Mother. It has Jacki Weaver as a small-town Texas church lady who comes to San Francisco to bury her estranged gay son—and winds up taking over the drag bar he left behind. Never mind that there hasn’t been a drag-performance venue of the ilk depicted here for years (even Finocchio’s closed 20+ years ago), or that this Canadian production was primarily filmed in Nova Scotia. If you’re looking for a combination of glitter, tearjerking, lip-synching, Lucy Liu, and “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” this shameless crowdpleaser may be just the ticket. It would have gone over big at the Castro Theater…but oh well.

The Frameline44 Pride Showcase runs Thurs/25-Sun/28 online, with one live East Bay drive-in event Sat/27 (see above). For schedule, program guide, tickets and other info, go to www.frameline.org/festival

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