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    Highlights from Frameline44 Pride Showcase

    By Gary Kramer–

    The Frameline Film Festival, normally held this month, will be having a virtual festival entitled Frameline44 Pride Showcase, June 25–28. There will be seven features, four documentaries, and three shorts programs available for viewing over the weekend.

    In addition to the films covered below, features include: Lingua Franca by Isabel Sandoval, about an undocumented Filipino transwoman caregiver; Stage Mother by Thom Fitzgerald, about a conservative woman inheriting a San Francisco drag club; and Summerland by Jessica Swale, about a woman and an evacuee in WWII England.

    The documentaries include: David France’s Welcome to Chechnya, about LGBTQ+ rights;Jen Rainin’s Ahead of the Curve, about the women who started Curve magazine;and House of Cardin, by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, about the famous fashion designer.

    The shorts programs will be Fun in Boys Shorts, Fun in Girls Shorts, and Transtastic shorts.

    One of the highlights of the online festival is out gay writer/director Ray Yeung’sgentle, bittersweet romance, Twilight’s Kiss (Suk Suk). This poignant drama has Pak (Tai-Bo), a taxicab driver, meeting Hoi (Ben Yuen) in a park where Pak was cruising one afternoon. The men slowly embark on a friendship that soon turns into a sexual relationship. However, both men are closeted to their families. Pak is preparing for his daughter Fong’s (Hiu Ye Wong) impending nuptials, while Hoi seems to constantly disappoint his religious son Wan (Lo Chun Yip). A subplot has Hoi secretly participating in a seniors’ group to develop a nursing home for gay seniors. Yeung’s sensitive film captures the quotidian aspects of these ordinary lives that undergo deep and profoundly subtle changes. A shot of Pak and Hoi’s hands clasping or feet touching brims with genuine affection, and an episode where Hoi visits the home of his friend Chiu (Kong To) speaks volumes about loneliness and aging. Yeung’s exquisite and wonderfully acted film is full of such quietly powerful moments.

    Denise Ho—Becoming the Song is an inspiring documentary about the out lesbian Cantopop singer and democracy activist in Hong Kong. Filmmaker Sue Williams charts Ho’s career from her early performances at 15 to being mentored by her idol, Anita Mui, to her rise to solo fame. Ho eventually used her popularity to address social issues. One of her biggest hits was “Louis and Lawrence,” a song about star-crossed gay lovers. (All of the song lyrics are subtitled.) But the idea of doing meaningful work extended beyond her concerts. Ho was encouraged to come out and do LGBT rights activism by fellow gay singer Anthony Wong. However, her involvement in the Umbrella movement, a student-led protest against the government, got her banned from China and she lost sponsorships with Lancôme. Becoming the Song concentrates more on Ho’s singing and activism than her sexuality—her personal life is limited to mostly scenes with her family—but there are many endearing moments, from her struggling to perform a song (“Montreal”) to her reinvention and resilience in crowdfunding a concert. This music-filled documentary should please Ho’s fans and generate new ones.

    Tahara, named for the Jewish ritual of washing and purifying a body after death, unfolds almost entirely in a synagogue during a service for Samantha, a teenager who committed suicide. Her classmates, Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah (Rachel Sennott), are best friends who attend the service and grief talkback, despite not being particularly close to Samantha. Hannah, who was allegedly hit on by Samantha, is crushed on Tristan (Daniel Taveras). She has flights of fantasy about kissing him that are rendered in colorful animation. When Hannah asks Carrie to practice kissing with her, Carrie, who is closeted, expresses her emotions in Claymation. But post-kiss weirdness develops between Hannah and Carrie, prompting Carrie to bond with Elaina (Shlomit Azoulay), whom Hannah dislikes. Later, Tristan asks Hannah about Carrie, whom he has feelings for, prompting Hannah to coordinate a threesome to get what she wants. Tahara wants to address the difficulties these teens have articulating their true feelings and the film sparks briefly to life when Carrie speaks honestly during the grief talkback or talks with Elaina. But too much of the film features Hannah being selfish and insufferable. This slight film feels long at 77 minutes, and the characters, who do behave like real teens, feel underdeveloped. The mini-dramas ultimately fail to illuminate the larger themes of identity, loss, truth, and purification.

    © 2020 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on June 11, 2020