Friday, June 13, 2014


The 38th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (Frameline38)

Dancing in the cold summer wind, rainbow flags are now all over Market Street—the spine of San Francisco. These flags symbolize the Pride season. They also indicate that it's time for another annual San Francisco International Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Film Festival—Frameline38.

Frameline 38 Web Site

This year's festival presents 214 films from 31 countries, including 82 features and 132 shorts. Over the past few years, it is quite impressive for Frameline to maintain its momentum while most other major film festivals in San Francisco have been downsizing in terms of the number of films shown at a festival. However, the festival eliminates the tagline this year, which makes the festival look like forgetting a fabulous hat when coming out the door.

The festival opens on Thursday, June 19, with a compelling documentary "The Case Against 8" (USA 2014) about a Supreme Court case that overturned California's anti gay-marriage Proposition 8. Ten days later on Sunday, June 29, the festival concludes with a German(!) comedy "I Feel Like Disco" (Ich fühl mich Disco | Germany 2013) about a gay teenager's awkward relationship with people around him.

This year, the festival presents its annual Frameline Award to the legendary George Takei for his achievements in social media world (such as Facebook), as well as his unparalleled activism and community service. Associated with the award, the festival exhibits centerpiece documentary "To Be Takei" (USA 2014) which tells a story about Takei's dynamic life.

To Be Takei

However, despite the fact that celebrated Asian American George Takei is drawing the spotlight at this year's festival, I am disappointed by the overall under-representation of gaysian films that are created by, for or about the Asian, Pacific Islander, South Asian and Asian American LGBT communities. During last couple years at Frameline36 and Frameline37, I was delighted by a welcoming trend of solid showing of gaysian films. This year, the music seems to stop playing. Despite the festival presents five gaysian narrative features ("Anita's Last Cha-Cha," "Dyke Central," "Eat with Me," "Lilting," and "Quick Change") and five gaysian documentary features ("Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy," "Kumu Hina," "Limited Partnership," "Purple Skies: Voices of Indian Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transmen," and "To Be Takei"), this year's festival has no feature film from China, South Korea, or Japan.

Another surprise is that there are four films in this year's program that were shown at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF57) just less than two months ago: "Bad Hair" (Pelo malo | Venezuela 2013), "Salvation Army" (L'armée du salut | France/Morocco/Switzerland 2013), "Yves Saint Laurent" (France 2014), and "The Dog" (USA 2013). If these SFIFF selections are compelled to be shown again in less than two months, I am perplexed by the noticeable omission of "Eastern Boys" (France 2013).

Frameline's shorts programs have been strong and extensive over the years. Every year the traditional "Fun in Boys Shorts" and "Fun in Girls Shorts" always entertain the festival goers with crowd pleaser comedies.

After viewing a handful features from this year's program, two films stand out. One is the opening night's documentary "The Case Against 8" (USA 2014) and the other is a showcase presentation "The Way He Looks" (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho | Brazil 2014). I recommend these two films without any hesitation. As for other films listed here, the chance is that you may enjoy them more at the festival than I do.

As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program which has the showtime and venue information. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available.

  • The Case Against 8 (USA 2014 | 109 min. | Documentary)

    If the notorious Proposition 8 were to put on the ballot today to ban gay marriage, it would not have passed, period. However, the irony is that if Proposition 8 were not unfortunately passed back in 2008, and eventually overturned by the Supreme Court as my birthday present last year, the opinion toward gay marriage would not have been as supportive as today.

    Winning the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award in the U.S. Documentary category, directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White's compelling "The Case Against 8" chronicles the fascinating legal battle for marriage equality heading to the Supreme Court.

    When Proposition 8 was passed in 2008 and banned gay marriage in California, it was a devastating defeat for the LGBT community, as well as for anyone who stands for equal rights and anti-discrimination. When a legal team comes together headed by conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, who previously represented the opposite sides in Bush v. Gore, a historical battle begins. With almost unlimited access to the legal team and the plaintiffs, the film unfolds the emotional and thrilling journey to the victory.

    The plaintiffs are two courageous couples: Paul Katani and Jeff Zarillo, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. Through candid interviews and heartfelt testimonies, we not only learn the legal case, but most importantly see human faces behind the cause. The film brilliantly makes the point that this legal fight isn't about special gay right, it's about love, equality, and human dignity which shouldn't be taken away by a popular vote.

    Sure, the film seems one-sided without arguments from the other side who against gay marriage. But perhaps it's because the righteousness is so overwhelmingly on the marriage equality side that it's almost impossible to get a reasonable argument on camera from the other side for the sake of balance.

    Instead, the film simple witnesses the history as it happens and tells a profoundly moving human story.

    This is the opening night film at Frameline38.

    The Case Against 8 Official Site

    Go to the list of titles

  • The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho | Brazil 2014 | in Portuguese | 95 min.)

    Obsession, jealousy, happiness, confusion, longing, excitement, and heartbreak, they are just a few typical attributes when it comes to adolescent love and friendship. In his feature directorial debut "The Way He Looks," Brazilian writer/director Daniel Ribeiro beautifully captures these subtle feelings through the superb performance by three talented young actors.

    Although Leo (Ghilherme Lobo) is blind, with the help from his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim), he is fairly independent and doing just fine in high school. When a new student Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives in their class, suddenly the status quo is broken. Gabriel begins to replace Giovana's place and that upsets Giovana on so many levels. Leo also comes to discover himself when his friendship with Gabriel deepens.

    The tangled triangle relationship is convincingly portrayed and intimately displayed in the film. With great precision, the trio actors impressively convey the complex emotions of these arresting and likable characters.

    This splendid film won Panoroma Auidence Award and Teddy Award at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. If you were to see only one film at Frameline38, this should be it.

    The Way He Looks Official Site

    Go to the list of titles

  • Lilting (UK 2014 | in Chinese/English | 91 min.)

    Watching a mom's grieving to her son's death is perhaps one of the most heart wrenching experiences. Yet, I can't feel more detached while watching director Hong Khaou's melodrama "Lilting," about a Chinese mom who mourns his son while his son's British lover tries to make connection with her.

    After her only son Kai (Andrew Leung) suddenly died in an accident, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng) is left alone at a retirement home, speaking no English. Junn knows Kai's lover Richard (Ben Whishaw) only as Kai's roommate and resents him for being in the middle between a mother and a son. In order to connect with Junn, Richard hires an interpreter (Leila Wong) to overcome the language barrier.

    When I hear Andrew Leung speaking Chinese with an unbelievable heavy accent as Kai, it makes me think Kai is Junn's adopted son who hardly spent any time with her as a child. How else can we explain he sounds like just enrolled a Chinese class for the first time at a community college? It gets worse when the interpreter translates Junn's sentences like a mindless app on a smart-phone.

    With a lazy script, implausible plot, and unengaging characters, the film fails to connect with the audience, just like Junn and Richard fail to communicate in the film.

    Lilting Official Site

    Go to the list of titles

  • Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy (USA 2014 | 78 min. | Documentary)

    Hailed as "America's Gaysian Sweetheart," comedian Alec Mapa is well known in the entertainment industry. But perhaps what's less known is his new family: Alec Mapa and his husband Jamison Hebert adopted a five-year-old boy Zion in 2010. The America's gaysian sweetheart now is a baby daddy.

    Inspired by this life changing episode, Alec Mapa developed a stand up one-man show touring big cities. First time documentary director Andrea James captures the show in "Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy."

    Like most stand-up comedy shows, materials can be rowdy, the language can be filthy, and jokes can be hilarious when they are wittily written and smartly delivered. Being a loud gaysian comedian and seasoned entertainer, Alec Mapa's one-man act has its funny and raunchy moments, while his young son maybe sit in the audience listening to his R-rated or even X-rated jokes.

    But watching this film is more like watching a late night stand-up episode on Comedy Central, with a few behind the scene shots. The film is basically a recording of Alec Mapa's show in its entirety, and it hardly has any cinematic element to call itself a documentary.

    Now, there you have it, a recorded show, so you don't have to go to a live performance or invite Alec Mapa to your private party to hear his dirty jokes.

    Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy Official Site

    Go to the list of titles

  • Eat with Me (USA 2013 | 100 min.)

    Expanded from his short film "Fresh Like Strawberries," write/director David Au's feature directorial debut "Eat with Me" isn't really about food. It's about a mother and her son's searching for the right place to be in their lives.

    Middle aged Emma (Sharon Omi) runs away from her failed marriage and looks for a shelter at her gay son Elliot's (Teddy Chen Culver) apartment in Los Angeles. Now Elliot not only has to deal with the crisis in his Chinese restaurant business, he has to rebuild the relationship with Emma who doesn't fully embrace Elliot's sexuality.

    During the first part of the film, the director David Au swiftly establishes his characters and grabs our attention waiting for his story to unfold. Both Elliot and Emma seem interesting and we are confronted with the same question as the characters: "what now?" However, it seems that the storyteller doesn't know the answer either. The film seems to be stuck. It drifts around trying to find a way to explore its characters deeper but no luck.

    So, the film brings in a new character, a friendly neighbor Maureen (Nicole Sullivan) as Emma's new friend, to spice the film up a little bit. Although Maureen does add a few strange comical moments to the film, they seem to be more filling the time than helping the character development.

    Toward the end, the film pulls its last trick—let George Takei enlighten Emma with a few words of wisdom. But it's too little and too late, even George Takei cannot revive the film at that point. And, how does Elliot get a new trendy restaurant when his old one faces foreclosure? Never mind, it no longer matters.

    Eat with Me Official Site

    Go to the list of titles

Frameline38 runs June 19-29, 2014 at Castro Theater (429 Castro Street), Roxie Theater (3117 16th Street), Victoria Theater (2961 16th Street) in San Francisco, and Rialto Cinemas Elmwood (2966 College Avenue) in Berkeley.

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