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    LGBT Highlights from the SF Film Fest

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The San Francisco International Film Festival opens April 9 with a screening of the dramatic thriller Naked Singularity, and closes on April 18 with a screening of the documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. In between, the legendary Rita Moreno will introduce her documentary Rita Morena: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. There are also a number of LGBTQ shorts, features, and documentaries available for screening online or at the Fort Mason Flix drive-in theater. Here is a rundown of the queer films playing at this year’s fest.

    A centerpiece film at this year’s festival is Bo McGuire’s bold documentary Socks on Fire,which recounts an ugly chapter in the gay filmmaker’s northeast Alabama family’s history. When his beloved grandmother dies without a will, Bo’s aunt Sharon tries to force her drag queen brother out of his grandmother’s house because, “She didn’t like his lifestyle.” This navel-gazing film, however, is tweedious—intermittently engaging and often too precious and personal to be fully involving.

    Socks on Fire will be presented online and at a live drive-in event on April 10 where McGuire will emcee a drag performance following the screening.

    The intoxicating Ma Belle, My Beauty has Lane (Hannah Pepper-Cunningham) visiting her former lovers Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Fred (Lucien Guignard), who are now married to each other. Lane hopes to win Bertie back, but she also takes up with Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon). The magic of writer-director Marion Hill’s charming film is that everyone’s desires and motivations are clear. Hill also offers some keen insights about relationships along with beautiful people in a beautiful setting.

    Tove is a handsome period drama chronicling the life of the bisexual artist and author of the Moomin books, Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti). The filmdetails Jansson’s personal and professional ups and downs as she ekes out a career and manages her relationships with Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), as well as Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), a woman who becomes her muse and lover. Pöysti makes the artist’s search for love, happiness, and success affecting.

    Nudo Mixteco is a potent drama set mainly in the small Mexican village of San Mateo. Maria (Sonia Couoh) is returning home to attend the funeral for her mother. Her father (Sabel Sánchez Sánchez), whom she is estranged from, does not welcome her with open arms. In fact, he sends her away from a ceremony when she arrives. However, Piedad (Eileen Yañez), embraces Maria; they are former lovers. Rekindling their passions, Maria implores Piedad to leave with her. Nudo Mixteco creates an authentic portrait of these lives that are caught between family, tradition, and desire. The lesbian storyline forms only a third of this superb film’s triptych. The other overlapping tales concern Esteban (Noé Hernández), who returns to discover his wife Chabela (Aida López) is having an affair, and Toña (Myriam Bravo), who is trying to end a cycle of abuse. Nudo Mixteco is wonderfully filmed and acted as it portrays stories of female empowerment.

    Seyran Ates: Sex, Revolution, and Islam is an inspiring profile of the controversial bisexual, feminist lawyer who advocates against gender discrimination. A female Imam of a liberal mosque in Berlin—it accepts men and women, as well as members of the LGBTQI community—Ates is under police protection because of two fatwas. When she wonders aloud, “Why do you want to kill me?” Ates enumerates the reasons her work is so important for ending hate and promoting dignity and equality. She may be called names by haters (and admits many liberals disagree with her), but Nefise Özkal Lorentzen’s affectionate documentary shows Ates to be a kind, thoughtful woman. She travels to Madrid and Oslo to combat Islamophobia and extremism, meets with sex workers in a German brothel, and LGBT youth in Beijing to address issues of shame and discrimination. One of the most moving stories in the film involves her nephew, who comes out as gay, and talks about his homophobic father. Seyran Ates introduces viewers to a pioneering woman who deserves attention and respect. This film shows why her efforts to rethink sexuality and Islam are critical for improving the world.

    Shorts Program 2 features two LGBT-themed films. Freezerburn, by Sarah Rattay-Maloney, is a comic story about Lou (Sonia Mena), who announces something relationship-killing during sex with her boyfriend, Sam (Ben Lorenz). And once that cat is out of the bag, a literal CAT, (Julius Powell), shows up in their apartment in all his glittery fabulousness. When Sam and Lou meet to talk openly and honestly, Ray (John Wollman) turns up looking for his lost cat. Can these two couples survive? Freezerburn’s delights in providing a playful answer.

    The Night Train, written and directed by Jerry Carlsson is a fantastic short about Oskar (Erik Nilsson), who is travelling home after an interview. He spies Ahmad (Khalil Ben Gharbia) sitting opposite him in the train car, and the two young men cannot stop looking at one another. Their silent seduction, which brims with sexual tension, is irresistible and it comes to a head when they meet in the train’s bathroom for some passionate kissing. Carlsson captures this encounter with minimal dialogue. The actors express everything they need to with their eyes and body language. Moreover, the symbolism of a juicy orange slice Ahmad offers Oskar speaks volumes. This short is highly satisfying.

    Kapaemahu, by gay filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, who worked with Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, will screen in Shorts program 6. This hypnotic animated film, which was shortlisted for this year’s Oscar, concerns two-spirits in Tahiti and Hawai’i.

    Also of gay interest, but not available for preview, is Dance of the 41, about a scandalous party in 1901 Mexico where men dressed as women.

    For more information about tickets, films, and events, visit

    © 2021 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 April 8, 2021