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    What to Watch at Frameline45

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The 45th edition of the Frameline Film Festival will take place June 10–27 both in theaters—at the Fort Mason Flix Drive-in, the Castro, and the Roxie—as well as online with films streaming June 17–27. In addition, there are screenings of In the Heights on June 11 and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on June 12, at Oracle Park.

    This year’s festival offers dozens of features, documentaries, and shorts, by, for, and about LGBTQ moviegoers. Here (in alphabetical order) is a rundown of what to watch.

    Ailey (June 19, 9 pm; Fort Mason Flix Drive-in only) is a joyful documentary on the choreographer and founder of the American Dance Theater. It may skimp on the biographical details—there are a few brief discussions of his sexuality—but it more than compensates as a showcase for his work. Performance clips from productions of his key works, “Blues Suit,” “Revelations,” “Cry,” and more, illustrate the graceful, fluid, sensuous dance. Moreover, director Jamila Wignot presents a rehearsal of a piece honoring the company’s 60th anniversary. In between, there are discussions of the impact of Ailey’s work and life from Judith Jamison, George Faison, Bill T. Jones, and other luminaries. Ailey explains in the film that as a youth, “dancing started to pull at me,” and this celebratory documentary honors Ailey’s legacy.

    Baloney (June 20, 6 pm; Roxie only)is an affectionate documentary about the gay, all-male review (that includes one woman and a straight guy or two). Michael Phillis, who directs, and his partner Rory Davis, who choreographs, talk about how they celebrate gay and queer life experience and promote sex positivity though dance and burlesque. Phillis’ discussions about how getting naked on stage and doing drag helped him to be more authentic are particularly heartfelt. The documentary also features fabulous rehearsal and performance clips along with engaging profiles of the troupe’s members. This fun film will satisfy fans and surely win over new admirers. 

    Being Thunder (streaming June 17–27)is a respectable documentary about Sherente Harris, a genderqueer Indigenous teenager in the Narragansett tribe. Director Stéphanie Lamorré observes Sherente’s courage to live authentically while seeking to gain the acceptance of others. Sherente’s family is remarkably supportive, and scenes of them together show their collective strength and resilience—especially when Sherente faces discrimination at Powwows, or recounts stories of racism and homophobia in Rhode Island. The film chronicles Sherente’s efforts to get into college and observes family and tribal ceremonies. It is a drawback that Being Thunder is crudely filmed and edited, but Sherente’s spirit still comes across clearly.

    Boy Meets Boy (streaming June 17–27) is a charming, low-budget romance about Johannes (Alexandros Koutsoulis) and Harry (Matthew J. Morrison), who meet and kiss in a Berlin club. Johannes, a dancer, has lost his wallet, and Harry, a doctor, has a plane to catch back to Britain that night. They spend the day together walking around the city and talking about everything from being gay, to sex, happiness, love, work, and relationships. The attractive leads have a terrific rapport; they are especially affectionate riding a bicycle or dancing in a park. Boy Meets Boy may be slight—it runs a scant 69 minutes—but it is appealing as the guys determine if their relationship will last more than a day.

    Boy Meets Boy will screen with It’s Just in My Head, a sweet and sentimental short from Italy about Andreas (Claudio Segaluscio), a young man who is crushed on his buddy Alessandro (Carmine Fabbricatore). When Andreas makes his feelings known, he also worries how Alessandro will react.

    Encounters (streaming June 17–27) is an international shorts program with five moody entries that depict LGBTQ characters in various tenuous relationships. In the French entry, Dustin, the nonbinary title character (Dustin Muchuvitz), attends a party where they see their boyfriend Félix (Félix Maritaud) kissing another guy. After they get thrown out of the party, Dustin and their friends head to an apartment for an afterparty where Dustin’s gender identity is questioned. The film immerses viewers in Dustin’s world and depicts their experiences with sensitivity and candor. Panthers, from Spain, follows Joana (Laia Capdevila) and her best friend Nina (Rimé Kopoboru) as they navigate their teenage bodies. Writer/director Erika Sánchez’s film is a bit formless—and therefore frustrating—but it captures the dynamic between these two girls well. Also from France is the engaging drama Plaisir about Eleanore (Eleanore Pienta), who arrives at a retreat where she meets Sophie (Sophie Amieva) and develops a crush. Although the women have trouble communicating—Eleanore doesn’t speak French and Sophie doesn’t know English—they bond by dancing and hanging out. However, when Eleanore acts on her desires, the relaxed vibe between the women changes. The stylish short Pompeii, from the UK, unfolds largely in social media clips as Tam (Otamere Guobadia) reflects on his evening that started out promisingly, only to hit various snags and he has trouble getting into a club, and then his friend Dave (David Shields) ditches him for another guy. Rounding out the program is the touching Brazilian film Private Photos, which has Rafa (Lucas Galvino) and Matheus (Vinicius Neri) coordinating a threesome with Felipe (Antonio Miano). The sex among the men is erotic, but what happens after has a profound impact on the couple.

    Fun in Shorts (Castro Theater, June 26, 11 am and streaming June 17–27) is a collection of nine comic shorts with gay or lesbian characters. Early to Rise: Space Waste is a slight vignette about a trio of trapped astronauts on a mission who seek pleasure after an unfortunate turn of events. How Moving has gay couple Owen (writer/director Owen Thiele) and Jared (Richard Ellis) relocating to a new home together only to run into a conflict—“It’s not going to work out”—before they unpack. Will their relationship survive? This poignant short features cameos by John McEnroe and Bob Balaban. As amiable as it is aggressive, Sunday Dinner has the children of an Italian family meet for a traditional meal only to have one sibling drop a bombshell—and it’s not that he’s gay. The Test, arguably the most amusing short in the program, depicts the lesbian couple Jo (Michala Balas) and Sarah (Christie Whelan Browne) as they wait for some hopeful test results. To say more would spoil this clever film. The fun and funny Thanks for Being Here also involves a test—of wills—when Jude (Nick Pugliese) discovers his roommate Michelle (Danielle Kay) cheated on her girlfriend (though she prefers another word), which gives rise to the film’s biggest laugh. The Israeli import Virgin My Ass has Ophir (Tom Chodorov) ask his friend Harel (Avi Sarussi) for a very delicate, sex-themed favor. “This is such a mistake,” Harel says, as things get a bit awkward. But is there something more going on here? Writer director Adar Sigler’s film is more bittersweet than comic, but it’s terrific. Lastly, The Wash (in Love)from Spain is a sweet, wordless, and color-coded short about two female neighbors who keep meeting up—deliberately?—on laundry day. Fun in Shorts also includes two films, Coming Out and From A to Q, which were not available for preview.

    Instructions for Survival (streaming June 17–27) is an illuminating documentary set in Tbilisi, Georgia, where Sasha, a transman, and his wife Marie live “carefully and quietly.” Sasha recounts the relentless tension he experiences being on the street where he can be targeted and killed for being trans. He has difficulties obtaining an ID card for work and refuses to see doctors after having had a bad experience at a military hospital. While his parents do not accept Sasha, he does have a strong network of friends and supporters. However, his situation is not tenable, and Marie becomes a surrogate to seek asylum in Belgium. Their story is told with compassion by director Yana Ugrekhelidze, and it is hard not to hope that Sasha and Marie not just survive, but also thrive.

    Frameline gives viewers another chance to catch the intoxicating romance, Ma Belle, My Beauty (streaming June 17–27). Lane (Hannah Pepper-Cunningham) is 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 hooks 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.

    Milkwater (streaming June 17–27)is an amiable comedy about Milo (Molly Bernard), a young woman in New York, and what happens when she becomes a surrogate for Roger (Patrick Breen), a 50-something gay man who has long wanted a child. Milo’s decision is seen as impulsive by her friends Noor (Ava Eisenson), a pregnant lesbian, and her gay roommate George (Robin de Jesus). Bernard, who plays Milo with the right mix of spunk and insecurity, is ingratiating as she makes a big, snap decision that she may not be equipped to handle. But as Milkwater boxes its protagonist into a corner, Milo becomes self-destructive and sabotages her relationships. Bernard’s quicksilver performance makes viewers feel her every shifting mood, yet viewers will root for Milo even as her behavior becomes increasingly more erratic.

    The affectionate documentary, No Straight Lines (At the Castro June 27, 6:30 pm and streaming June 17–27)traces the careers of five groundbreaking gay and lesbian comic book artists and how they defined themselves and took risks to create a queer comics scene that is in full bloom today. There are charming anecdotes and illustrations as No Straight Lines shows how these artists “drew themselves as they wanted to be represented.” In doing so, they changed the landscape and formed a strong sense of community. This is a fun and at times touching film that should inspire viewers to seek out these artists’ work.

    The provocative documentary North by Current (streaming June 17–27)opens byasking, “How did you become who you became?” Trans filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax takes a reflexive approach to answering this question about identity-formation by investigating his own family. However, they are reeling from the death of his niece, Kalla. Both Madsen’s sister Jesse and her partner David are suspected of child abuse in a case that was initially ruled a tragic accident. But North by Current is not a true crime story. Instead, the film parses out information—about the case, and about the family history—to examine the truth and lies people tell in order to cope with a difficult reality. Madsen grapples with some painful remarks regarding his transition. But it is Jesse’s relationship with Madsen that forms the core of the film. Scenes of them talking honestly and openly about events in their lives, or recreating a scene from their childhood, are affecting. This is an intimate, personal, and quietly powerful film.

    Potato Dreams of America, (June 15, 9 pm at Fort Mason Drive-In; and streaming June 17–27) written and directed by Wes Hurley, is the fabulous feature film version of his fabulous 2017 documentary short Potato Dreams. Based on his life as a closeted youth growing up in the USSR, the visually stylish and dryly comic film recounts Potato (Hersh Powers in Russia; Tyler Bocock in America), coming to terms with his sexuality. He and his mother Lena (Sera Barbieri in Russia; Marya Sea Kaminski in America) emigrate when she marries a man (Dan Lauria) in Seattle who may not be what he seems.

    Prognosis: Notes on Living (Livestreaming and post-screening Q&A June 19 at 4 pm, with an encore presentation June 26 at 4 pm; both free with reservation)is a heartfelt documentary that chronicles the progress and process of Oscar-winning San Francisco-based filmmaker Debra Chasnoff as she is diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. “Chas,” as she is known, wanted to make a film about her experiences, and she—along with her co-director, Kate Stilley Steiner, who completed the film after Chas’ passing—take viewers along to her doctor appointments, a healing retreat (that Chas resists), cannabis regimes, and medical treatments. Prognosis also depicts Chas’ relationship with her partner Nancy, and her deteriorating mental and physical health as her reality, behavior, and cognition undergo dramatic changes. The film is life-affirming as it provides revealing moments such as a birthday party that show how Chas wants to prolong her life even as the inevitable happens. This film is highly personal, but it also speaks to more universal experiences. That does not make it any easier to watch, but it is ultimately gratifying.

    Summer of 85 (June 16, 9 pm, Fort Mason Drive-In) is writer/director François Ozon’s nifty adaptation of Aidan Chambers’ novel, set in a seaside community in Normandy. The film, which bills itself as a story about death, opens with Alex (Félix Lefebvre), a baby-faced teen, being taken in handcuffs by the police. He narrates this story of his loss of innocence and how he met David (Benjamin Voisin), who—spoiler alert—becomes the corpse in the story. Flashbacks reveal how Alex’s boat capsized one afternoon, only to have David save him. The two youths quickly become fast friends, spending as much time as they can together. Alex also takes a job in David’s family’s store, much to the delight of David’s mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Things only seem to improve when the two youths begin a romantic relationship. But Alex is provoked by jealousy as easily as he is seduced by the handsome and charming David, and that may be why he ends up dead. Summer of 85 is a lively tale of heartbreak and death, well-acted by the attractive leads and well told by Ozon. (If you miss it, Summer of ’85 opens June 18 in the Bay Area.)

    Swan Song, (streaming June 17–27) the third entry in director Todd Stephens’ “Sandusky” trilogy, is based on an iconic man Stephens knew in his hometown. Mr. Pat (Udo Kier) is a retired hairdresser asked to style a dead woman (Linda Evans) for her funeral. As he escapes his nursing home and travels across town, Pat reflects on his life. The film costars Jennifer Coolidge and out gay actor Michael Urie, and features cameos by Stephens’ regulars Stephanie McVay and Jonah Blechman. Stephens coaxes a phenomenal performance out of Kier, who captures Mr. Pat’s pathos with aplomb.

    © 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 June 10, 2021