Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Hello, Frameline!


Scene from co-directors Jennifer Kroot and Bill Weber's "The Unknown Tales of Armistead Maupin." Photo: Courtesy Frameline
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The 41st edition of the nation's premier LGBTQ film festival unspools with a record number of films by and about women. The techno-savvy will appreciate all the ways our favorite devices figure in dramas and comedies, features, docs and shorts. Our picks for Frameline's first week follow. The venues: the Castro, Roxie and Victoria in San Francisco; East Bay programs at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood and Landmark Theatres Piedmont.

"The Unknown Tales of Armistead Maupin" Jennifer Kroot's (with co-director Bill Weber) bio-doc is several films in one. It's a funny, ironic account of how a "son of the old South," with a rock-rib conservative dad, does all the dutiful things expected of a first son: Navy service in Vietnam; jump-starting a journalism career with a stint at a Marin weekly; and adopting a Dickensian style for a diary-like column, "Tales of the City," making witty fiction of Maupin's nightly sexcapades. This leads to a daily San Francisco Chronicle series filled with increasingly explicit queer content, culminating in a wildly popular PBS TV series. That show, despite its huge audience, was driven off the air by a vengeful witch-hunter – ironically, Maupin's first employer, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

The film offers candid audio snapshots of the subject from his adopted family, including Neil Gaiman, Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Sir Ian McKellen and Amy Tan. The filmmakers eloquently portray an urban community moving from the highs of sexual freedom in the 70s (including Maupin's relationship with a Hollywood superstar, the closeted Rock Hudson) to the devastating reality of AIDS, to a world where freedom and prudence are lovingly if precariously balanced. (Castro, 6/15)

"Prom King, 2010" What do you suppose a hopeless romantic would wish for if he were a 21-year-old college kid with expectations that eclipse those of every post-Stonewall generation? First-time director Christopher Schaap stars in his own sweet romance, unfolding in present-day New York. (Castro, 6/19)

"My Friend Dahmer" Marc Meyers is out to pull off the impossible: create an empathetic portrait of a young man whose crimes live on well past his own prison-block demise. Drawing on a popular graphic novel, Meyers mixes a veteran cast (Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts as the clueless parents), a brave newcomer (Ross Lynch as Dahmer) with a black-comic touch that some have likened to David Fincher's 2007 serial killer opus "Zodiac." (Castro, 6/20)

"Dating My Mother" Mike Roma covers well-plowed ground: the romantic yearnings of a 23-year-old wannabe screenwriter. Danny's attempt to find gratification via online dating sites is matched by his mom's (Kathryn Erbe) efforts to move beyond widowhood. Danny (Patrick Reilly) is his own worst enemy: screwing up his professional chances with an ill-timed poolside pass at a straight friend, reading mom's beads over her fumbling stabs at returning to the dating game, and being an all-around mean little shit. Director Roma's brazen trick of having mom and Danny share a bed in the wake of the recent death of her hubby pays comic dividends without reading the least bit creepy. Sprinkled with comic cameos, this may be one of the festival's handful of commercial breakouts. (Castro, 6/16)

"Discreet" Small-town Texas is the stage for a revenge-fueled melodrama that features a full panoply of Web-driven American culture, from video-lounge hookups to sex-starved teenage boys. Director Travis Mathews ("Interior. Leather Bar.") centers his twisted tale on the return of sexy drifter Alex (Jonny Mars). (Victoria, 6/19)

"Princess Cyd" Writer-director Stephen Cone ("The Wise Kids") returns with the adventures of a spirited lass who benefits from the wisdom of her grounded Aunt Miranda. (Victoria, 6/20)

"Saturday Church" Damon Cardasis gives us a trans-identified youth, Ulysses (newcomer Luka Kain), who flees a homophobic religious aunt for the freewheeling life around Manhattan's West Side piers. (Castro, 6/16)

Scene from director Jerome Reybaud's "4 Days in France." Photo: Courtesy Frameline

"4 Days in France" (France) Director Jerome Reybaud kicks off his fictional travelogue with a bored 36-year-old skipping out on his humpy boyfriend in a white Alfa Romeo to see what romantic adventures await in the provinces. This sex-with-attractive-strangers saga is fueled with all the latest techno toys, from iPhones to Grindr. (Castro, 6/19, 22)

"Center of My World" (Germany) A best-selling German novel is the basis for a randy schoolboy's misadventures. Phil returns home from French-language camp to discover Mom and Sis at odds. The start of school brings the appearance of a gorgeous new boy, Nicholas. (Castro, 6/21)

"Tom of Finland" (Finland) Dome Karukoski presents the story of a legend: Touko Laaksonen (1920-91), a once-obscure artist whose work became iconic. This biopic focuses on a WWII encounter with a Russian paratrooper that would prove decisive for the development of Tom's hypermasculine style. (Castro, 6/18)

Scene from director Ernesto Contreras' "I Dream in Another Language." Photo: Courtesy Frameline

"I Dream in Another Language" (Mexico) Ernesto Contreras examines why two elderly men have stopped speaking to each other, in their native tongue (Zikril, almost an extinct language). Warning: some parts of the film come sans subtitles, although most is presented in Spanish, subtitled in English. (Castro, 6/20)

"Becks" Daniel Powell and Elizabeth Rohrbaugh's hard-luck story of singer-songwriter Becks, played by Lena Hall ("Hedwig"). The story hits familiar live-music pit-stops with vigor and verve. (Castro, 6/21)

"The Archer" Valerie Weiss provides a twist to the usual women-behind-bars tale by having her protagonist Lauren be handy with a bow-and-arrow. (Castro, 6/16)

"Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall" Katherine Fairfax Wright presents YouTube celebrity, former "American Idol" contestant Todrick Hall as he makes a new album with 16 videos whose subjects include homophobic bullying. (Castro, 6/17)

"Girl Unbound" (Pakistan) Erin Heidenreich tells the story of Maria, a 16-year-old flaunting the taboos of her conservative Islamic community by becoming a champion squash player. English, Urdu and Pashto, with English subtitles. (Castro, 6/18)

"God's Own Country" (UK) 2017 Sundance World Cinema Directing Award winner Francis Lee presents a British male farmyard romance. John, a hard-drinking Yorkshire lad, has his routines upset by the arrival of a Romanian day laborer. His home life tough, his dad waylaid by a second stroke, John drowns his sorrows at the local pub. Leads Josh O'Connor and Alec Secareanu have a sizzling onscreen chemistry. (Castro, 6/17)

"The Wound" (South Africa) John Trengove explores a tribal initiation ritual where teen boys are taken on a retreat for circumcision and mentoring. The powerful story probes the meaning of masculinity and manhood today, and spotlights intergenerational relationships. (Castro, 6/18)

"Alabama Bound" Carolyn Sherer tackles the prickly subject of same-sex parenting and adoption in a state that could easily be considered the nation's most deeply red. The film takes us directly into the lives of lesbians and their children, whose human rights are put on hold while the state's white Christian oligarchy fights a rearguard battle against justice, led by right-wing state judge Roy Moore.

Cari and her wife fight a nine-year battle for joint custody of their son, born with a potentially deadly heart condition. Meanwhile an African American mother, Kinley, has to fight her ex-hubby for custody despite evidence that his new wife has physically abused their young son. The filmmakers make clear that this battle for the rights and humanity of Alabama's LGBTQ minority is an extension of the historic fight for equality of the races. (Victoria, 6/17)

"Hot to Trot" Gale Freedman's film spends 88 minutes surveying a topic that's a bit off-the-path: ballroom dancing. We view behind-the-scenes preparations for a competition that can take its finest participants to the Gay Games. Particularly moving is the story of Ernesto, a handsome Costa Rican who, losing one partner to illness, miraculously finds a replacement just before the big competition in Oakland. (Victoria, 6/18)

"Britney-Holics" Jerell Rosales finds a comic sweet spot in this 10-minute investigation of the inner workings of a high school fan club. Jumpstarts the popular "Fun in Boys Shorts" program. (Castro, 6/17)

The "Fun in Girls Shorts" program offers another delicious sampler of queer women's short films, including Allison Tate's "Carol Support Group," a spoof of a group dedicated to people stuck on the film "Carol." (Castro, 6/17)

"Bones of Contention" Andrea Weiss' daunting subject: the 40-year reign of Fascism under the Franco dictatorship. The film concentrates on the fate of LGBTQ communities under Franco, and the Fascist-ordered murder of gay poet Federico Garcia Lorca, among an estimated 120,000 fascist victims. (Victoria, 6/17)

"The Fabulous Allan Carr" How soon we forget. Docmaker Jeffrey Schwartz remembers the spectacular rise and tacky fall of a hard-working promoter. A show-biz shooting star thru the 70s-80s, Carr backstage-managed the careers of such La La luminaries as Olivia Newton-John, Michelle Pfeiffer and a big comeback for Ann-Margret. Then there was the 1989 TV Oscar show debacle, and it all came tumbling down. (Castro, 6/18)


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