Critic's Notebook, Frameline30

Dennis Harvey June 22, 2006

In some of life’s occupations (and preoccupations), turning 30 is a point many would prefer to defer. Supermodels, acrobats, and San Francisco gay men among them. Yes, “maturity” is “nice” in theory — but facial lines, thinning hair and a body-fat percentage that no longer stays low all by itself can seriously cramp a boy’s lifestyle. Though not, of course, a bear’s.

On the other hand, longevity in gay institutions is always a plus, since our communities’ public histories have been so short, as well as so often embattled by oppression, the AIDS epidemic, and other impediments to survival. Thus the 30th anniversary marked by this year’s S.F. International LGBT Film Festival represents more than just a healthy and well-loved cultural treasure’s long-term success story — it offers a forum for the LGBT community to celebrate its own hard-won survival and progress. Certainly spirits have been high — but then they usually are — at Frameline30’s events so far. Writing at the festival’s midpoint, and having come directly from a double bill of Indonesian and Filipino features that drew audiences thoroughly mixed in gender and ethnicity, one thing that struck me is how comfortable with its own diversity the S.F. gay community has become. Back in the day — count yourself lucky if you’re young enough to have missed this stuff — it was not uncommon to hear some queen in queue express pique at the general ickiness of having to see some Sapphic action in a mostly gay-male shorts program. And it was even more common to hear womyn (remember that term? don’t worry, nobody else does either) decry the political incorrectitude of some lesbian films, their insufficient number in Frameline programming (of course, a festival can’t show what isn’t being produced), and even allowing men to purchase tickets to lesbian programs that might eventually sell out. Ah, Separatism: Among things the ’70s gave us, you rank neck-and-neck with Bobby Sherman’s Greatest Hits, and thankfully have just as little remaining cultural currency.

Fortunately, we now can all get along, and the worst political incorrectitude is intolerance between any one S.F. LGBT community and other — be they twink, leather, femme, butch, drag king, tranny, artfag, or cowpoke.

A lot of that diversity-embracing has been on display in the fest’s screenings to date. Saturday afternoon’s world premiere of Todd Holland’s “The Believers” sold out the Castro Theatre for a documentary about the globe’s first transgender gospel choir — The Transgender Gospel Choir, to be exact, which made a roof-raising onstage appearance afterward. Then there was the tumultuous reception given the prior night to filmmaker Marc Huestis (who co-founded the Festival thirty years ago) and star Louis Biedak’s midlife-crisis-goes-surgical documentary “Lulu Gets a Facelift.” Opening night had been the expected love fest, with director Maria Maggenti and cast members lauded after “Puccini for Beginners,” the romantic comedy that represents her long, long, long-awaited second feature. (The first was “Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love,” which had won the same Frameline slot 11 festivals ago.) Technical difficulties caused a major delay mid-screening, which Maggenti covered with a sort of making-of standup routine. The next evening, viewers were torn between soft-focus boarding-schoolgirl fantasia (“Loving Annabelle”), old-guard gay avant-gardism (“Jack Smith & the Destruction of Atlantis”), and widescreen Spanish musical tranny dramatics (“20 Centimeters”). Late-nighters at the Victoria faced “Flirting With Anthony,” which director Christian Calson (“Shiner”) noted was “an experiment” he’d consider a success if it gave viewers a boner. This succession of in-extremis scenes featured shaven-headed guys pummeling each other, sister and boyfriend engaging in pin-down tickle sessions with her gay teenage brother, and so forth; one could tell the audience didn’t share most of these outr

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