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    A Handful of LGBTQ Films Will Screen at This Year’s San Francisco International Film Festival

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The 67th San Francisco International Film Festival will take place April 24–28, 2024, at various Bay Area locations. The annual festival features a curated program of features, documentaries, and shorts from around the corner and around the world.

    This year’s festival will open with Didi, director Sean Wang’s feature debut, set in Fremont, about a teenage Taiwanese American boy coming of age. The festival will close with Thelma, a wry comedy about the 93-year-old title character (June Squibb), who seeks revenge on a phone scammer. In between there will be tributes to Chiwetel Ejoifor, whose solid new film Rob Peace will screen, and Joan Chen, who will be honored for her debut feature as director, 1998’s Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.

    A handful of LGBTQ films will screen at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Here is a rundown of what to watch.

    Luther: Never Too Much (April 25 at 8:30 pm, Marina Theater)is director Dawn Porter’s enjoyable documentary about the late singer, songwriter, and producer extraordinaire, Luther Vandross. Told through anecdotes by his friends and fellow musicians, as well as archival clips and concert footage, the film traces his life from being a “Motown child,” worshipping singers like Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick—with whom he would later work—to appearing on Sesame Street, singing backup, and collaborating with David Bowie and Bette Midler, and even working and singing commercial jingles. But it is his solo career where his incredible talent and ambition are fully realized, even though he was pigeonholed as an R&B musician and never quite achieved the crossover success he deserved and desired. Luther does address some of the singer’s troubles, including his ongoing struggles with his weight, his fear about the stigma of coming out, and a car accident in 1986 where his passenger was killed. Although the film is hagiographic, Luther’s lush voice and music still generate goosebumps. Although Vandross was not crazy about being called “Doctor Love” because his songs were so seductive, it is hard not to feel all the love and respect the musicians, friends, and fans still have for him in this cinematic valentine.

    Wakhri (April 28 at 2 pm, Marina Theater) is an empowering drama about women’s rights in Pakistan. Noor (Farya Mehmood) and her queer best friend Guchhi (Gulshan Majeed), decked out in drag, are first introduced in a nightclub where they dance and protest against the patriarchy. Noor, a single mother and schoolteacher, has long been independent, and while she is looked down on by members of her family, she fights to keep custody of her young son, and sets her mind on building a school for girls after the school where she teaches is being shut down. Needing money, Noor makes some fundraising videos, but when she poses on a stage as Wakhri, and advocates for freedom for women and against toxic masculinity and control, her video goes viral and galvanizes as many people as it angers. As Wakhri becomes a controversial figure—the story is inspired by influencer Qandeel Baloch—Noor’s safety is threatened. Wakhri is all about how Noor finds herself fighting for a cause and the positive and negative impact it has. The performances by screen newcomers Mehmood and Majeed are electric, and the film’s messages are heartfelt. 

    The documentary Agent of Happiness(April 28 at 12 pm, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive/BAMPFA)has Amber Kumar Gurung surveying various Bhutanese people about their level(s) of happiness as part of a project of nation state building. One of his encounters is with a non-binary individual who is mostly unhappy; they are treated with care by their mother, who is dying of cancer and fears for her child’s future without her. Another interesting episode features the three wives of a man who is very happy, however, his spouses are better connected to each other than to him—especially when he is angry. Agent of Happiness provides an interesting peek into a little-seen world and culture, which alone makes it worthwhile, and it will likely prompt viewers to consider their own happiness index.

    The short I Did Not Wake Up Dead Today (April 27 at 12 pm at Marina Theatre) by non-binary director Erin Macpherson, features a teddy bear (playing the director) talking about their depression. “I am not eating, not sleeping, not thinking, not feeling,” Erinbear says in a visit with their therapist. They feel like crying all the time. As they have a bike accident, talk with their mother, and go on a date (with a taxidermist, no less), they grapple with their thoughts about suicide. Macpherson’s short is perceptive in its expression of their depression.

    In addition, two films with queer connections — the documentary Seeking Mavis Beacon, about the “face” of the famed typing software, and the feature Sing Sing, starring out gay actor Colman Domingo as an incarcerated man involved with a prison theater troupe—were not available for preview.

    For tickets, showtimes, and additional information, please visit

    © 2024 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.” He teaches Short Attention Span Cinema at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and is the moderator for Cinema Salon, a weekly film discussion group. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on April 18, 2024