The 37th annual LGBT International Film Festival starts next Thursday, June 20 and runs for 10 days at various Bay Area locations. As always, the fest is a cornucopia of queerness, featuring 238 films, short and tall, representing nearly 30 countries. One can see queers all over town poring over the pages of the festival catalog trying to figure out the must-sees among this year's offerings. As we do every year, we have forged through stacks of preview DVDs to provide you with this handy viewer's guide.
Local Grrl Makes Good
Valencia (Friday, June 21, 9pm, Castro Theatre)
Topping our list is the much-anticipated film adaptation of local author Michelle Tea's queercore classic Valencia, a loving snapshot of the lesbian literary underground that took root in San Francisco's Mission District in the late 1990s. Frankly, no one is more adorable than Tea, with the possible exception of the 18 women (and a couple of men) who portray her in the movie. With the magic mushroom-fueled mantra, "If nothing matters and everything matters, none of us could ever fuck up," Tea shares her open-minded (and open-hearted) lust for the lusty life, capturing the exuberant dyke energy of that particular time and place with anarchic humor and wit. (Rarely does a notion pass through her head that isn't immediately pursued or put into quirkily poetic words.) The filmmaking is exuberant, with a collage style mirroring both SF's fertile underground film traditions and the DIY ethos of the community portrayed. Do not miss the world premiere; it is going to be one hell of a party.
C.O.G. (Saturday, June 22, 9:15pm, Castro Theatre)
This adaptation of a David Sedaris short story is as darkly funny as it is heartbreaking. Following a vague notion that he can be redeemed through manual labor, recent Yale grad David changes his name to Samuel and travels to Oregon to work picking apples for a season. Eventually, he moves on to another job sorting apples in a local factory and then comes to rely on the charity of a Christian man, who teaches him to make Oregon state-shaped clocks. Anchored by Jonathan Groff's wide-open and vulnerable performance, the film finds surrealism and subtle humor inside the smallest details of David's intimate interactions with the small town eccentrics he encounters, including Dean Stockwell as the apple orchard owner and Dennis O'Hare as the Christian clockmaker. There is one very long final shot of Groff's face that is devastating to witness. C.O.G. is the only story Sedaris has allowed to be adapted to the screen and proves itself more than worthy of the honor.
The Happy Sad
The Happy Sad (Tuesday, June 25, 9:30pm, Castro Theatre)
The perfect date movie for any kind of couple, The Happy Sad is like watching a handsome collection of very talented NYU acting students intelligently explore sexual confusion in the big city. Though that sounds like the most backhanded of compliments, it is seriously what recommends the film. Two young couples, one gay and one straight, attempt to open their long-term relationships and become polyamorously entwined and emotionally confused. Their small group of friends includes a couple of waiter-slash-actors, the leader of an indie rock band and a stand-up comedian, hence the above-mentioned feeling of watching young actors at work redefining sexuality for a new century.
G.B.F. (Sunday, June 30, 7pm, Castro Theatre)
The titular "gay best friend" seems to have become all the rage -- this season's must-have accessory for young starlets and the mean girl high school divas who emulate them. BFFs Brent and Tanner find themselves and their small group of misfit friends on opposing sides of a three-way battle for prom queen when Brent accidentally outs Tanner, making him the most popular boy in school. Tanner becomes an unwilling "queen-maker" in a battle that pits smart, blonde Fawcett against fierce, drama club diva Caprice and frisky, Mormon redhead 'Shley. The plot gets tangled; alliances shift and one-liners fly fast and furious as prom night approaches.
The Man That Got Away
The Man That Got Away (Something Real shorts program, Thursday, June 27, 1:45pm, Castro Theatre)
Several of the shorts in this year's fest have decided to "say it through interpretive dance" to greater or lesser success. The one that hits the mark is The Man That Got Away, the filmmaker's loving biography of his troubled gay uncle. Each significant section -- misfit childhood, joining the navy, misspent youth, time spent in rehab -- is told via musical number in period costume. All take place in a circular parking garage, the reason for which becomes sadly apparent at the end. The music is great and the numbers are beautifully choreographed, including a stand-out performance by Connie Champagne as Judy Garland, who the uncle met and befriended while in rehab. As she has been doing for much of her adult life, Champagne captures the gay icon's nervous, drug-addled tics while somehow channeling that amazing voice and the sadly broken spirit behind it.
Interior. Leather Bar.
What The ??
Interior. Leather Bar. (Sunday, June 23, 9:15pm, Castro Theatre)
The premise is that filmmakers Travis Matthews and James Franco have set out to reconstruct the "lost" footage cut from William Friedkin's 1980 thriller Cruising. The story of a straight cop, played by Al Pacino, who goes undercover in New York's gay leather scene to catch a serial killer, the film sparked controversy both for its explicit subject matter and its nightmarish depiction of gay sexuality. However, Matthews and Franco suffer from an elusive, non-rigorous approach to the subject. Is the film they have made (notably listed in the festival's fiction category) a phony document of their attempt to recreate the infamous footage? Or is it an elaborate episode of Punk'd (literally), the point of which is to film straight actors watching gay men have sex? The film is provocative, but infuriating; its makers don't bother to do any research into the nature of the lost footage, failing to interview either Friedkin or Pacino or to document any attempt to unearth the footage in question from the studio's vaults. Indeed, they decide to not even use existing footage to recreate the sets or the original scenes. It's as though they came up with an interesting premise and then got too stoned to make the movie. There is some interesting discussion about why the gay actors wanted to be involved in the project and the various levels of discomfort straight actors have in playing gay characters. Who cares? Franco is repeatedly asked to provide a rationale for what is referred to as "Franco's Faggot Film" and is unable to come up with a coherent response.
Young and Wild
On a Christian Mission
Young and Wild (Saturday, June 29, 8:30pm, Roxie Cinema)
Seventeen-year-old Daniela documents her burgeoning sexuality on a popular Santiago blog, while her followers alternately damn and encourage her exploits. After getting kicked out of school for "fornication," Daniela (played with devilish charm by Alicia Rodriquez) goes to work at a local Christian T.V. station, where she immediately begins pursuing both Antonia, her sexy cubicle-mate and the pious virgin Tomas. Are the religious constraints against which Daniela is rebelling making her sexual awakening hotter or are they unnecessary hindrances to her sexual exploration? Young and Wild, like several other films in this year's festival, seems to be questioning how religion and sexuality function alongside one another.
Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival runs June 20-30, 2013 at various Bay Area locations. For tickets and information, visit frameline.org.