Frameline turns 39 this year and in spirit, the fest has programmed an ambitious showcase of hot circuit titles, world premieres and retrospectives, with juried and audience awards to follow. In total there are 180 films lined up from 33 countries, including 18 first features and 64 films directed by women. For San Francisco movie lovers, Frameline offers a wonderful West Coast counterpart to LA’s Outfest in July.
Tonight, the world’s longest-running LGBT film fest opens with “I Am Michael,” an earnest portrait of gay activist turned born again heterosexual Michael Glatze (James Franco) and his strained relationship with his longtime partner (Zachary Quinto). Writer/director Justin Kelly, a protege of Gus van Sant, lures a strong performance out of Michael as a troubled and, at times, hard-to-like man who took the opposite trajectory of most gay men.
Debutante director Joey Kuhn’s “Those People” examines the betrayals a triad of handsome upper-crust Manhattanites inflict upon each other. Lensed gorgeously are Charlie (Jonathan Gordon), a would-be artist obsessed with his best friend turned emotionally icy lover Sebastian (Jason Ralph) until he meets a swarthy, sexy Middle Eastern piano player (Haaz Sleiman) whose arrival complicates things, making for a stormy and asymmetrical love triangle.
British provocateur Peter Greenaway’s quasi-biopic of a tortured queer filmmaking genius “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” follows the Russian iconoclast 10 sensually stirring days spent in the title city in 1931, a heady influence on his life and films. This international cast includes Finnish actor Elmer Back in the title role, Mexican actor Luis Alberti in the role of his guide (Palomino Canedo), South African actor Stelio Savante as Hunter S. Kimbrough and Lisa Owen as Mary Craig Sinclair.
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Another hot title will be “54: The Director’s Cut.” Director Mark Christopher’s glitter bomb of sex, drugs and debauchery in New York’s 1970 party scene vanished almost as quickly as it dropped in 1998. It turned out that Christopher had directed two films: his version, and Miramax’s version. Now, we get to see his version, which premiered in Berlin this year. “54: The Director’s Cut” is indeed a new gay cult classic, a glorious, hedonistic revelry that transports us to an underground utopia of sexually liberated freak flyers, only to plunge us into its inevitable ruination. We follow gorgeous-bodied Shane (Ryan Phillippe) out of his dingy New Jersey life and into the titular Studio 54, where he hustles and parties with aspiring 54 singer Anita (Salma Hayek) and her busboy husband (Breckin Meyer) while selling his body and soul for the club’s desperately pathetic owner (Mike Myers). Shane, who’s almost exclusively in his undies, works his way up to being a bartender, which leads to his downward spiral we didn’t get to see in the 1998 version.
Frameline perennial François Ozon returns with yet another whimsical slice-of-Parisian-life with “The New Girlfriend,” this one starring Anaïs Demoustie, Isild Le Besco, Romain Duris and Aurore Clément. Duris plays a widower whose transition into becoming Virginia is aided by his dead wife’s surviving best friend (Demoustier), and their union sparks unexpected fizzles of feeling between the pair.
If you don’t know Tab Hunter, a svelte Hollywood hunk who got his screen start in 1950s war pictures, no problem. Jeffrey Schwarz’s latest documentary, “Tab Hunter Confidential,” un-closets Hunter for a new generation of fans. And he was gorgeous, and he talented. The film chronicles his meteoric movie career and how he managed to remain (mostly) secretly gay the entire time, carrying on affairs with athletes and actors including the elusive Anthony Perkins, at whom the film takes a good long look, while maintaining ambiguous relationships with women such as Natalie Wood for the public eye. Director Schwarz receives an honorary award from Frameline this year.
SXSW premiere and gay urban millennial drama “Naz and Maalik” has just been acquired by Wolfe for US release and will play Frameline. This energetic and empathetic film looks at two closeted Muslim teens loving, and scheming, in Bed-Stuy whose lives are upended by FBI surveillance on the basis of their religion. Debut writer/director Jay Dockerdorf tapped area Muslims for their real life experiences to make this stirring and quietly explosive indie.
Another winsome documentary, “Do I Sound Gay?” features LGBT mascots Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, Dan Savage and George Takei, among others, as director David Thorpe explores the gulf between sexuality and speech, and all the anxiety and cultural baggage that come with having “the gay voice” (or “queer tongue,” as I prefer to call it). Back at Toronto, doc guru Thom Powers called Thorpe “a winning and sympathetic guide who doesn’t shy away from confronting taboos and vulnerabilities.”
Perhaps most exciting, for cinephiles, will be a retrospective screening at the glorious Castro of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s steamy and sumptuous “Querelle.” This 1982 Jean Genet adaptation stars Brad Davis (who died battling AIDS in 1991) as a hirsute-chested sailor tangled up in a lusty French port town, where Jeanne Moreau rules as the mother-figure madam of a local brothel. The screening accompanies Danish filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen’s “Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands,” a documentary tribute to the tireless German filmmaker who would’ve been 70 this year.