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    Queer Films at the 2017 San Francisco Documentary Film Festival

    By Gary M. Kramer

    The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, May 31–June 15, features several films with LGBT content. Here is a rundown of four interesting films screening at the fest.

    Finding Kim is a thoughtful documentary portrait about Kim Byford, a transgender man in Seattle. Since childhood, Kim has felt like a guy. Called “he” as a little girl wearing dresses, Kim was bullied at school and not allowed into the girl’s bathroom. While Kim searched for acceptance, he found it reading Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. Now, at age 50, Kim is looking to transition, taking testosterone shots and meeting with Dr. Tony Mangubat about surgery. Kim eloquently expresses his angst about his chest (he binds his large breasts) and his fear to discuss his transitioning with his conservative parents.

    Director Aaron Baer also includes interviews with other members of the trans community, ranging from A Soldier’s Girl subject Calpernia Addams, to porn star Buck Angel, and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera. The chorus of voices discusses the changing attitudes towards the trans community, from combating judgment and prejudice through education. What emerges is an inspiring doc that showcases the people working to improve how we think about and promote gender identity issues.

    Another inspiring film is Shelter, an observational documentary about Covenant House in New Orleans. Dedicated to helping runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth ages 16–24, the film profiles several residents in the program. Matthew is seen working on his resume and getting a job. In contrast, Elizabeth is a difficult young woman who abuses drugs and alcohol and spends too much time on the streets. The film also briefly introduces Raven, a transgender young woman who talks about Janet Mock and Carmen Carrera as her role models. Raven seems to find peace at Covenant House through cooking. The film’s strength is that it shows how the men and women who work with the at-risk youth treat them with the dignity and respect that is missing from their lives.

    Everybody Has an Andy Dick Story is an affectionate doc about the polarizing, bisexual comedian. Created and directed by his friend Cathy Carlson, the film has Dick watching footage of his friends and fellow comedians, including Kathy Griffin, Ben Stiller, Pauly Shore, Kate Flannery, and Vicki Lewis, among many others, recounting stories about him. While his friends praise Dick’s unique “crazy genius” brand of humor, it is his outrageous and out of control antics that truly stand out.

    Robert Cohen, one of the writers of The Ben Stiller Show, describes chasing Dick, who was dressed as Sandra Bernhard at the time, through the streets of Los Angeles, while the actor/comedian was falsely accusing him of rape. Loveline co-host Mike Catherwood explains how Dick was repeatedly determined to touch his naked penis (and succeeded, twice).

    Carlson also addresses some of Dick’s legal troubles and issues with addiction and getting (and staying) sober. Everybody Has an Andy Dick Story includes clips and photos to show the actor as genuinely misunderstood. While the film won’t likely change the minds of anyone who doesn’t already appreciate the comedian, it will certainly satisfy anyone who loves Andy Dick.

    The provocatively titled Homo: The Documentary, by local filmmaker Riley Hayes, has five straight individuals taking a road trip across America a year before the Supreme Court decided the case that established marriage equality. Their goal is to investigate how ordinary folks view the LGBT community. Homo journeys to the heartland—stopping in Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina—to show, unsurprisingly, that where people have queer friends or family members, they are enlightened about equality.

    In contrast, people with strong religious backgrounds are less accepting. The step-and-repeat nature of Homo is further weakened by the film’s amateur quality. Even when the interviews are interesting, they are rarely dynamic. Episodes depicting an equal rights vote in Roeland Park, Kansas, or a visit with a Pentecostal Prophet in Spartanburg, South Carolina, go on too long before or after the salient points are made. The even-handed approach to the topic is useful, but Homo: The Documentary would have been stronger if it had generated some real emotion. It seems to be preaching to the converted.

    Also playing at the fest is Memories of a Penitent Heart, by Cecilia Aldarondo. It is a poignant documentary about the filmmaker seeking out her late uncle Miguel’s lover, Robert, decades after Miguel has died from AIDS. Miguel was estranged from his family when he moved to New York City from Puerto Rico, and Robert was shunned by the family after Miguel had passed. Aldarondo investigates the reasons behind her family’s treatment of Miguel and Robert, discovering long-buried family secrets in the process. It’s a remarkable story, well told.

    © 2017 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