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    Hits and Misses from the Final Days of Frameline43

    By Gary Kramer–

    The Frameline Film Festival ends Sunday, but there are still plenty of films to catch before it’s over. Here is a rundown of nine titles still to screen at this year’s program.

    Sócrates (June 27, 9:15 pm, Victoria) is one of the highlights of the festival. It is a gritty, gut-wrenching drama about the title character (Christian Malheiros), a gay 15-year-old Brazilian boy whose mother has passed in the opening scene. Sócrates barely has time to grieve, though. He has to find a job and come up with the rent. He is barely eking by and does not want a social worker to place him with his homophobic father (Jayme Rodrigues). He does find a source of comfort when he meets Maicon (Tales Ordakji), who calls him with an offer for work, but it turns into more of a date. Even this relationship is fraught with drama, such as when the lovers are harassed while kissing on the beach. Sócrates is beautifully made—the film is often shot in tight close-up maximizing the protagonist’s intensity—with a crew of teenagers as part of a program for social inclusion. The film boasts a striking authenticity, and Malheiros, in his film debut, is pitch-perfect, conveying Sócrates’ hunger (for food, money and love), his self-reliance and his despair in ways that are both heartbreaking and inspiring.

    Clementine (June 28, 6:30 pm, Castro) has Karen (Otmara Marrero) holing up in her ex’s lake house after their breakup. She is regrouping and planning her next move. Heading out to the water, she spies a young girl, Lara (Sydney Sweeney), who asks her to help her find her dog, which she does, bonding them. “I’m not really supposed to be here,” Karen soon admits. So too does Lara at one point. But these young women who are bored find a sense of comfort in each other. Lara asks to braid Karen’s hair. Karen teaches Lara how to put on mascara. They eventually share a bed, kiss and little else. Clementine takes a slow-burn approach to revealing the exact nature of their relationship, which will test the patience of viewers. When one plot line comes to a head, it is puzzling. Another reveal is only slightly more satisfying. At one point, Karen says that art is more about the emotional process than the result. Apparently, writer/director Lara Gallagher had to get something out of her system. But it doesn’t make for anything interesting to watch, despite a pair of not-uninteresting performances.

    Simple Wedding

    Simple Wedding (June 28, 9:15 pm, Castro) is a frothy marriage comedy about Nousha (Tara Grammy), an Iranian woman who cannot seem to find a husband—despite her mother Ziba’s (Shohreh Aghdashloo) endless efforts to set her up with guys. When she meets the funny, free-spirited bisexual artist Alex (Christopher O’Shea) at a feminist rally, though, she becomes smitten with him. Their courtship is charming, but a meet-the-parents dinner turns into an unexpected engagement. As the ceremony is being planned, Simple Wedding pivots slightly, introducing Alex’s mother, Maggie (Rita Wilson), a lonely woman who snipes at her gay ex, Bill (Peter Mackenzie), and his husband Steve (James Eckhouse), and becomes attracted to Nousha’s Uncle Saman (Maz Jobrani). Maggie’s spite towards Steve and Bill seems childish and is mildly insulting. At least Nousha’s lesbian friends, Lynne (Rebecca Henderson) and Tessa (Aleque Reid), provide positive queer contributions. This affable comedy about cultures clashing and uniting contains some witty one-liners and some amusing sight gags, which is why it is frustrating when it stoops low or goes too broad. As Nousha, Grammy is immensely appealing, and she does a mean Celine Dion impersonation. In support, Aghdashloo shows her comic chops as Nousha’s overbearing mother.

    Guest Artist

    Guest Artist (June 29, 2 pm, Castro) is based on a play by Jeff Daniels that is based on an actual incident. Joseph Harris (Daniels) is a celebrated, alcoholic gay playwright who has been commissioned to present his new work in Lima, Michigan. He is met, late, at the station by Kenneth (Thomas Macias), a sycophantic apprentice at the local theater who has artistic ambitions. As the men bluster and banter on—each needing or rejecting the other—Guest Artist goes nowhere slowly. But then Joseph concedes to read Kenneth’s play, and their conversation yields some pointed, almost transcendent, observations about the meaning of life, art and theater. Essentially a two-hander, Guest Artist is slight (75-minutes) and stagey, but Daniels and Macias generate some sparks with their tête-à-tête. 

    The Filth (June 29, 6:30 pm, Roxie) is a 5-part series about twentysomething Stella (Paige Hoffman), a bisexual plumber and her bestie Max (Jake Delaney) an effeminate gay actor in Los Angeles. The pilot opens with Stella getting dumped by her boyfriend (Chris Boudreaux), and Max going on an audition. These incidents help to establish the characters and introduce their supporting cast, which includes Xander (Nican Robinson), who lives with Stella, and the probably gay Danny (Jay Lee), who lives with Max. The Filth starts out on shaky ground with situations and lame jokes. Things improve over time, however, as Max meets Justin (the appealing Christopher Rivas), a potential romantic interest, and Stella connects with Jocelyn (Katrina Kemp), a little person who dances at the same club she does. There are some clever sequences, such as a “mind map” scene that involves “radiant thinking,” and a handful of funny one-liners (delivered in a delicious deadpan style). There is also some nice sexual tension as Max feels something for both Danny and Justin. The Filth looks for humor in its main characters’ desperation, but it is the supporting players who provide all of the laughs.

    History Lessons (June 29, 6:30 pm, Landmark Theaters Piedmont), from Mexico, opens with Vero (Verónico Langer) being rewarded for 30 years of teaching. But an incident in the classroom involving a new student, Eva (Renata Vaca), who misbehaves, ends her career abruptly. When Eva goes to apologize, the two women get to know one another. Eva helps Vero to dye her hair and takes her out to a carnival, and dancing. In turn, Vero helps Eva to deal with a troublesome situation. Eventually they strike out on the road. Their relationship, which teeters on being romantic/sexual, feels inappropriate, but writer and director Marcelino Islas Hernández mostly steers clear of being too prurient. (There is one odd sex scene.) And while History Lessons features an elegant performance from Langer, and a kicky turn from Vaca, the parts are greater than the whole. When Vero reveals what is really going on beneath the surface of her cold, hard exterior, this slow film gels, but it never quite comes to life.

    An Almost Ordinary Summer (June 29, 7 pm, Castro) is a pleasant enough diversion about Tony (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) and Carlo (Alessandro Gassman) telling their families not just that they are gay, but also that they are going to marry in three weeks. Those revelations create big emotions and allow for various secret and lies. Llong suppressed emotions and anger additionally come to light. The news prompts Tony’s daughter Penelope (Jamine Trinca) and Carlo’s son Sandro (Filippo Scicchitano) to secretly try to break up the engaged couple. The offspring both resent their fathers for different reasons. But An Almost Ordinary Summer does not quite make the campaign of sabotage much fun. A sequence with disruptive fireworks kind of misfires. This unsophisticated film is best when the two families bond, and do not argue, as a dance around a dinner table proves. The humor is broad and the emotions are heartfelt, but what distinguishes this comedy-drama is the performances by Trinca and Scicchitano. They stand out because their characters transform the most.

    Last Ferry (June 29, 9:30 pm, Castro) is an underwhelming thriller—mostly because it is devoid of thrills. Joseph (Ramon O. Torres, who also wrote, produced and edited) arrives on Fire Island in the off-season looking for action. He meets a guy who invites him to hook up, but Joseph gets drugged and mugged instead. When he rouses, Joseph spies what appears to be a murder on the beach. On the run, Joseph is rescued by Cameron (Sheldon Best), who takes him in and befriends him. The guys start to fall for each other, but when he encounters Rafael (Myles Clohessy) from the beach, trouble ensues. Last Ferry never builds tension because viewers—and even Joseph—know “whodunnit.” Moreover, the motive for the killing is unclear. Instead, the film provides a handful of talky (i.e. boring) scenes that stretch out the minimal action. Joseph acts irresponsibly, making him unsympathetic, and the supporting characters are so thinly written, they play as stereotypes. The sole exception is Best’s Cameron, who is appealing and intriguing, especially as the drama unfolds. The film might have been worthwhile had the story been told from his perspective, not Joseph’s.

    Gay Chorus Deep South (June 30, 7 pm, Castro) is a crowd-pleasing documentary about the week-long goodwill tour the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus took in five Southern states with strong anti-LGBT laws. The film showcases the music, of course, which is wonderful, but it is how the chorus changes the minds of the people they meet—and how the people change the minds of the chorus—that reverberates. Gay Chorus Deep South showcases the personal stories of several individuals who are returning to their Southern roots. Tim Seelig, the chorus’s artistic director, recounts how his coming out nearly destroyed his life in the Baptist church; Jimmy has mixed feelings about reconnecting with his father, whom he has not spoken to in nearly a decade; and Steve describes the bullying that occurred in his Southern school. But perhaps the most interesting story belongs to Ashlé, who is transitioning from male to female. Ashlé’s story emphasizes the family-like community of the chorus and features a show-stopping rendition of “I am Changing” at a nightclub. Gay Chorus Deep South shows how chorus members’ assumptions about Southerners are not always correct, and that while they experience some setbacks on their tour, the strength of their collective voices comes through as it inspires queer and closeted youth as well as old, white, straight, religious men and women.

    © 2019 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


    Highlights from Frances Wallace’s Years of Service to Frameline

    After the conclusion of Frameline43, Executive Director Frances Wallace will be departing the organization for new adventures.

    “Leading Frameline for over five years and working with the organization for more than a decade has been the most rewarding experience of my professional career,” said Wallace. “I’ve been continually strengthened by Frameline’s staff, board of directors, and constituents who support our work on so many fronts. Above all, I am inspired by the communities that we serve, and the filmmakers that astound us with invigorating, fresh queer content.”

    Michael Colaneri, Frameline Board President and AT&T Vice President – Global Business, said, “Frances has been a gift to Frameline.”

    She first joined the organization in 2001, subsequently became the Director of Strategic Partnerships & Senior Programmer, and was then named Executive Director in June 2014. The following are just some of the highlights from her years of dedicated service at Frameline.

    • Wallace directed and developed a multi-year Strategic Plan to elevate the Frameline brand and grow individual, foundation and corporate revenue.
    • She proudly oversaw the celebration of Frameline’s 40th Anniversary in 2016, including an award-winning brand refresh with design firm Mucho.
    • She helped to increase audience, filmmaker and industry attendance; elevated donor and sponsor support; grew distribution revenue; and expanded the Youth in Motion education program to reach all 50 states, serving an estimated 27,000 students at over 1,300 K–12 schools.
    • Wallace rebuilt the Frameline team, and at Director level hired Frameline’s Director of Exhibition and Programming, Paul Struthers; Director of Distribution & Educational Programming, Daniel Moretti; and David Warczak, Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships.

    We look forward to following her career in future. As for Frameline, the organization’s board of directors will begin a search for a new executive director that will begin following Wallace’s post-festival departure.