Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The 36th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (Frameline36)

Without a doubt, San Francisco is still the mother-ship of gay culture in the world. A terrific VIP lounge on this fabulous ship is Frameline, the annual San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Film Festival. Despite who you are, you can be a VIP guest to the lounge—the festival welcomes all with the world's largest showcase of LGBT cinema. All you need to do is to join tens of thousands of others to attend the festival screenings during this Pride month.

The tag line for this year's festival is "Find Your Story." I am sure you will find stories at this year's festival that you resonate personally.

Frameline 36

From June 14-24, 2012, the 36th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (Frameline36) takes place at Castro Theater, Roxie Theater, Victoria Theater in San Francisco, and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley.

This year, the festival presents 217 films, including 89 features and 129 shorts, in 104 programs from 30 countries.

In the past few years, I have expressed my disappointment about the lack of Asian representation in Frameline's programing. However, not this year. I am delighted to see a fair number of Asian films in this year's program, I call them gaysian films. Although I am surprised that a few anticipated gaysian films are not selected in this year's festival, I am pleased to see the progress on the inclusion of more gaysian cinema in the programming. And overall, this year's film selection seems to have a higher quality compared to the past.

As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program site that contains details about the filmmaker(s), showtime, and screening venue. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site when it is available.

  • Opening Night Film: Vito (USA 2012 | 93 min.)

    Vito Russo is one of the most important figures in the LGBT history. He is also a pioneer of queer cinema study and is the author of "The Celluloid Closet."

    Director Jeffrey Schwarz candidly tells Vito's incredibly inspiring life story in this deeply moving documentary "Vito." Meantime, you will get a healthy dose of a history lesson on queer cinema, including vast amount of amazing historic footage.

    Once again, Vito appears at Castro Theater, but on the big screen, to exhibit his charismatic personality, his vigorous political engagement, his intelligent academic film research, and his unshakable passion for life, love, and freedom.

    This is certainly one of the strongest opening night films at Frameline.

    VITO, photo by Bettye Lane/HBO

  • Closing Night Film: Cloudburst (Canada 2011 | 94 min.)

    Academy Award winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker are no strangers to us. However, I bet you have never seen them together for 32 years as a lesbian couple.

    Now you can see that touching relationship on the big screen in director Thom Fitzgerald's hilarious new film "Cloudburst." In this immensely entertaining comedy, Olympia Dukakis wonderfully plays the butch foul-mouthed Stella and Brenda Fricker plays her witty partner Dot. When Dot's granddaughter threatens to put Dot into a nursing home, they go extra miles in Stella's pickup truck to Canada in order to stay together, with a little help from a handsome drifter Pretice (Ryan Doucette).

    Trust me, this should be the first ticket you want to secure at this year's Frameline. You will never forget the experience that how you end this year's festival by laughing with more than thousand other people together at the Castro Theater until you fall off your seat. I am sure you will have to buy the DVD later because you probably won't hear what the characters are saying— others are still laughing out loud at those previous lines.

    Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker in Cloudburst

  • Fly By Night (Short programs with total running time 85 min.)

    Every year, Frameline has two traditional shorts program called "Fun In Boys Shorts" and "Fun In Girls Shorts," which are almost always entertaining and funny. Unfortunately, I am not feeling anything in the Boys' Shorts this year. Luckily, there is a fantastic shorts program titled "Fly By Night" that you will be delighted.

    This is a shorts program that consists seven gaysian short films. Even almost none of the relationships portrayed in these shorts ends well, these films are engaging, sincere, and sometimes entertaining.

    This is the first gaysian shorts program I have seen at Framline, and I certainly hope this new trend will continue in the future as a tradition like "Fun in Boys Shorts."

    A Song of Despair from the shorts Fly by Night

  • Graupel Poetry (霰雪 | China 2011 | in Chinese | 77 min.)

    If I were the one to choose only one Chinese film for this year's Framline, I would have picked Hong Kong based director Scud's new film "Love Actually... Sucks!" (愛很爛, 2011), which might be as provoking and controversial as the director himself.

    However, that film is surprisingly not included. Instead, this year's Chinese language feature film is director Bruce Saxway's feature debut "Graupel Poetry," a surreal flick that is moody, confusing, and a little bizarre by any standard.

    The story involves a strange triangle love between brothers and a woman. However, when the credits start to roll, you probably still cannot figure out who is in love with whom, if they are brothers, and what is real and what is fantasy.

    After the film, you might feel that you just wake up from a dream, and the dream is the movie—you can't quite remember what happened, but you vividly remember one or two scenes that you are trying to make sense of it.

    Graupel Poetry

  • Yes or No? (อยากรัก ก็รักเลย | Thailand 2010 | in Thai | 102 min.)

    By now, everyone probably has seen a heart melting Thai drama called "The Love of Siam," which is about the love of two innocent looking boys and one of them is supposedly not gay. Now, it's girl's turn! Director Sarasawadee Wongsompetch's romantic comedy "Yes or No?" creates a parallel love story to the boy's version. This time, it's the love between an innocent looking lesbian college student Kim and his supposedly straight roommate Pie.

    Even the plot is predictable and formulated, the film is cute and the actors are cuter, which makes it hard for you to dislike the film, just like how you may feel about "The Love of Siam."

    Yes or No

  • Arisan! 2 (Indonesia 2011 | in Indonesian/English | 113 min.)

    Even you have not seen director Nia Di Nata's previous film "Arisan!" (2003), you will have no trouble to follow the story in its sequel "Arisan! 2," because this film is just like another episode from a sitcom.

    Arisan means community social gathering in Indonesia. In this film, it's the gathering among a bunch of extremely wealthy and fashion crazed housewives, plus many gay men. The film appears to resemble little to the life in Indonesia we normally see in the news or on TV, if anything at all. You might mistake the story takes place in Los Angeles or New York City, if they were not speaking Indonesian. Even when they speak Indonesian, they throw in English every other sentence for no reason.

    Oh, yes, somebody is dying of cancer as well in the film, just in case you think these housewives and gay men are not causing enough drama.

    Arisan! 2

  • Zenne Dancer (Turkey 2011 | in Turkish/German | 107 min.)

    Inspired by a true story, directors Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay's drama "Zenne Dancer" tells a story about three gay men living in Istanbul.

    A German photo-journalist Daniel (Giovanni Arvaneh) is interested in taking photographs of a flamboyant belly dancer Can (Kerem Can), who is trying to avoid the Turkish army's draft. When Daniel meets Can's bearish friend Ahmet (Erkan Avic), they fall in love. However, the homophobic culture in Turkish tradition can only bring tragedies to these gay men.

    The story is only mildly engaging and characters are not convincing some times, but the color and the cinematography are dazzling.

    Zenne Dancer

  • Wildness (USA 2012 | in Spanish/English | 74 min.)

    Even you are not a regular club goer, you probably are intrigued by the performer/director Wu Tsang's feature debut documentary "Wildness." It chronicles the rise and fall of a historic night club Silver Platter in Los Angeles since 1963. The club begins with mostly Spanish speaking Latino immigrants and evolves into a hot spot for LGBT patrons, with glamorous weekly drag performances.

    This uneven documentary lacks a focal point to engage the audience. It doesn't help either when the quickly disappearing English subtitles can't keep up with the fast talking interviewees. However, the film offers a rare glimpse into the operation of a gay night club that involves constant struggle and conflicts among different communities. Many local drag performer groups might resonate with Silver Platter's saga.


    Water a trailer here.

  • Mixed Kebab (Belgium 2012 | in Flemish/Turkish/Dutch/French/Arabic/Englis | 98 min.)

    Another film about multi-culture conflicts in Turkey at this year's Frameline is director Guy Lee Thys's drama "Mixed Kebab."

    27-year-old Bram (Cem Akkanat) was born and raised in Belgium, but plans to honor his Turkish family's Muslim tradition by marrying his cousin. Well, there is one problem, he finds out he is gay and falls in love with his best friend Kevin (Simon Van Buyten), a 19-year-old Belgian boy.

    If that's not enough drama to explode, Bram's trouble-maker younger brother Furkan (Lukas De Wolf) joins a radical Muslim group to cause more grief for Bram as well as everyone else.

    While the performances are decent, the story line is inconceivable for the most parts. The film looks like a made-for-TV drama at its best.

    Mixed Kebab

  • Children of Srikandi (Indonesia/Germany/Switzerland 2012 | in Indonesian/English | 74 min.)

    This well-made documentary is created by a group of eight young lesbian women who call themselves the Children of Srikandi Colllective. It's the first documentary about lesbian women who live in the most populated Muslim country—Indonesia.

    Each of the eight young women tells a first-person story and depicts the lives and struggle in Indonesia as a lesbian. They have to constantly battle with the repression from the religion and culture.

    They find comfort and consolation in Srikandi, an ancient mythological character of the Mahabharata. The gender neutral Srikandi provides these young women a spiritual support that they certainly can benefit in a deeply religious society.

    Children of Srikandi

  • A Showcase Presentation: North Sea Texas (Noordzee, Texas | Belgium 2011 | in Dutch | 96 min.)

    Director Bovo Defurne's beautiful feature debut "North Sea Texas" is a must see at this year's Frameline. It tells a boy's touching coming-of-age story with great sensibility and genuine sentiment.

    Set in the 1970s, 15-year-old Pim (Ben Van den Heuvel) lives with his single mom Yvette ( Eva van der Gucht), who is more interested in meeting men than taking care of him. Pim falls in love with his next door neighbor, a 18-year-old boy Gino (Nathan Naenen) while Gino's sister Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas) has a crush on Pim.

    When Gino moves away with a new French girlfriend and Yvette disappears, Pim's fragile adolescent mind reaches its full capacity for Pim to handle.

    By new comer Ben Van den Heuvel's superb performance, the young protagonist's innocent yet complex feeling can be heartfelt. It brings out all the bittersweet memories we all have gone through when we grow up.

    North Sea Texas

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