Pride of place means a lot when the time comes every year for Frameline, the International LGBT Film Festival, in San Francisco. But as the ten films from Argentina, Brazil and Peru collected under the banner of South America's New Queer Cinema will attest, the festival has reason enough for pride of geographical breadth, too.
This particular group has the good collective sense to ask: What sorts of LGBT-themed films might be emerging from places so often identified by patriarchal Catholicism and intolerant politics? As Lucho Ramirez writes in the program notes, "It has been the tradition of many of these countries to have highly defined gender expectations, where queer sexuality or gender variance stand apart from culturally policed ideals."
When change does come, as it evidently has, so does a strange aura: the simultaneous feelings of dying and being born. This must at least partly explain why a few of the standouts in Frameline's South American group have seemed so preoccupied with cycles of life.
Undertow (Contracorriente) (June 22, 7pm, Castro Theatre) begins and ends with burials at sea, and comes to a high point in the middle with a baby being born. Beneath the easygoing lyricism and sun-kissed pastel palate of its setting, a Peruvian seaside fishing village, this is the potentially harrowing and literally haunting tale of a man so closeted that he's willing to swear on his newborn son that nothing happened with that other guy.
In Elvis & Madona (June 19, 4pm, Castro Theatre), a gangling charmer and proven crowd-pleaser from Brazil, the blooming romance between a trans woman cabaret performer and her lovely pizza-delivery dyke is, shall we say, complicated. "I've never had anything with a woman who's not a woman but who is a woman," says Elvis. But there is also the matter of somebody's adult-industry past -- and, perhaps most importantly, the matter of somebody else's unintended pregnancy.
Dzi Croquettes (June 21, 11am, Castro Theatre) documents the eponymous queer Brazilian performance troupe, clearly the kindred spirits of San Francisco's own Cockettes, by lacing footage from the glamorous 1970s glory days together with many fond talking-head remembrances. It's a film about the birth of a moment, but notably pervaded by a eulogizing tone.
Even the pauses are pregnant in One for Another (in the Gayby shorts program, June 22, 7pm, Roxie Theater), a short subject in which two male partners try to talk their female friend out of having an abortion -- and to ready themselves for the end of life as they've known it. It questions the certitude of pregnancy as a female condition, and of the male role therein. And it further illuminates the life cycle of a society in transition.
Yes, beginnings and endings have made for movie plot points since the dawn of film. But they seem to assume a new resonance here, with cultural foundations rendered so newly permeable that the results can be fatal, or natal.
Frameline34 runs June 17-27, 2010 at the Castro, Roxie and Victoria Theatres in San Francisco and the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (415) 703-8655 or visit frameline.org.