Docs Shine at 29th Annual Frameline LGBT Fest in S.F.
by Karl Beck
As the world's oldest and largest queer film festival, the San Francisco International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival, remains a remarkably dynamic event. With screenings in the highly trafficked queer Castro neighborhood and multi-ethnic Mission District, people watching is never boring while waiting for a screening. Multiple lines, exiting and entering patrons, passersby, onlookers, and Frameline's signature crowds (queens, kings, daddies and dykes) means the festival has the tendency to generate a lot of infectious energy.
French directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau presented the opening night screening with their feature "Côte d'Azur," which was well-received by a festive and packed Castro Theater.
Interestingly though, it seems that this year's festival was not marked by the strength of narrative films, but rather by its abundant amount of documentaries. Queer filmmakers looked to a multitude of sources and themes in defining and exploring the cultural roles, achievements and landmarks of the LGBT community.
Looking back 15 years, Jennie Livingston's seminal "Paris Is Burning" (1990) was screened along with her new visually lush narrative short film "Who's The Top." Joseph Lovett's "Gay Sex in the '70s" took a reminiscent and mature look back to New York City, and focused on the sexual revolution that took place amongst the newly liberated gay community, while in "Ending Aids," Bill Jersey and Michael Schwarz's documentary explored the history, achievements and challenges relating to the most serious pandemic of our era.
Films about sports were prevalent in programming and audience interest, as the gay rugby players of "Rugger Buggers" demonstrated. While performer, writer and chanteuse Charles Busch's role in NYC's 1980's East Village arts scene was documented by Josh Catania and Charles Ignacio's "The Lady in Question is Charles Busch." Numerous patrons, meanwhile, were turned away from packed screenings of Daniel Peddle's "The Aggressives," a portrait of butch women who identify themselves by this new moniker.
Sasha Aicken's "Blood, Sweat and Glitter" was the first show of the festival to sell out, and ended up taking the Audience Award for Documentary feature. This very entertaining doc details the 2004 Miss Trannyshack Pageant, a highly competitive annual San Francisco drag event featuring numerous outrageous art performances. Surpassing the tired drag rigmarole, Aicken's film is engrossing while relishing and documenting the crazy and fresh drag revolution happening in San Francisco.
Jennifer Morris, director of festival programming, noted several Themes in both documentary and narrative submissions this year -- the festival screened at total of 90 features and 177 short films. "We noticed that films about sports were very prevalent. Also, we saw a lot films by and about transgender people," Morris said. Three high profile films about transgender issues were well-attended and received by audiences. Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker's documentary "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria" details a gay rights riot predating Stonewall, and Jeremy Simmon's documentary "TransGeneration" follows four transgender college students through their academic year, while Duncan Tucker's film "Transamerica" was featured as the closing night film. Acquired by the Weinstein Company at the Tribeca Film Festival, "Transamerica" went on to win the Audience Award for Narrative Feature.
The audience's favorite short film went to Jen Gilomen's "In My Shoes - Stories of Youth with LGBT families." Indeed the youth and family oriented screenings were numerous and often quite moving. In tune with this market of growing numbers of LGBT families, Frameline continued with their 2nd annual "Kids Matinee," showing the '70s cartoon film version of "Charlotte's Web."
Youngsters are only one demographic Frameline hopes to reach. Drag/film impresario Peaches Christ presented her tran-iology of terror with a series of comedic drag/horror/homage shorts. Other memorable spectacles from this year include the mob of champagne drinking shock/high-art drag queens amassing for their entrance to Sean Mullens' documentary "Trannyshack," a love letter cum music video to the now legendary Tuesday night party in San Francisco's SOMA area.
Not all film subjects received a loving reception, however. The subjects of Wash Westmoreland's "Gay Republicans" were treated to a rowdy Q&A, by a sold-out theater of angry, frustrated and vocal audience members, though serious adulation was what Tammy Faye Messner received as she entered the Castro Theater for the screening of Chris McKim's entertaining documentary, "Tammy Faye: Death Defying." Audience members were treated post screening to an organ performance by Mrs. Messner.
No festival would be complete without a few memorable parties. Several shindigs fulfilled this requirement, including the filmmaker party staged at "Tom & Jerry's" private home, and offering up stunning views of the entire Bay Area.
Frameline's centerpiece party, celebrating Don Roos' new feature "Happy Endings" was held at Foreign Cinema, a hip indoor/outdoor venue with an art gallery feel. Attendees guzzled down the free drinks while films screened on the venue's huge concrete wall.
The frenzied madness of San Francisco on gay pride weekend needs to be seen to be believed, which many festival attendees experienced. As masses of people arrived for the Pink Saturday Castro Street Party, the festival's screening of a making-of an adult film documentary "eXposed" played to a packed house. Directly afterward, partygoers filled into the "Ho' Down" in the Castro Theater parking lot, where partiers were treated to beer and hot dogs and some unwelcome San Francisco fog. While the madness of the street party raged, giant bare chested models from Colt Studios posed for cameras with grinning party attendees.
The festival's closing night party, held at the downtown Old Federal Reserve Building, filled quickly with tired folks recovering from a long stretch of films and celebrations. Many enjoyed a bit of the Hair-of-the-dog, and said 'goodbyes' while keeping their heavy eyelids open for one last party.
With yet another year under its belt, Frameline now has its eyes set on raising serious capital for its "Changing the World, One Movie at a Time" campaign. While continuing to produce the annual San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the year round non-profit is now hoping to expand its distribution wing, while advancing its filmmaker support and offering year-round screenings. Considering the state of politics and the abundance of film festivals, it's refreshing to see that Frameline successfully reaches out to other communities while continuing to look ahead and advance the portrayal of queer lives at home and in theaters.
[ Karl Beck is a self-proclaimed film festival guru, freelance writer and photographer. Along with covering Frameline29, Mr. Beck also worked as the theater host coordinator for the festival. ]