Frameline43 Showcases LGBTQ+ Cinema

By Sura Wood

This year’s 11-day film festival screens over 170 features and shorts

In 1977, the Gay Film Festival of Super 8 Films was launched; it ran for a single weekend in a small upstairs room of a gay community center on Page Street, where a sheet, suspended from the ceiling, served as a makeshift movie screen.

Forty-three years later, the festival—now known as the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (Frameline)—has grown into an inclusive, 11-day community event attended by over 60,000 people. This month, Frameline continues its tradition of highlighting the cultural, ethnic and sexual diversity of LGBTQ+ cinema with more than 170 features and shorts dedicated to an audience looking for authentic portrayals of issues and people Hollywood too often ignores or relegates to second-class status. Following are some of its highlights.

The festival’s opening night feature, “Vita & Virginia,” brings vivid, erotic life to a well-known lesbian love affair between two literary lights of the 20th century: the androgynous feminist socialite Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton), and the reserved, introspective Virginia Woolf, who suffered bouts of depression and would ultimately drown herself in 1941. The relationship between the subdued, soon-to-be sexually awakened Woolf (played by willowy Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki), and the free-thinking, glamorous Sackville-West, who was the inspiration for the gender-bending time traveler of Woolf’s novel “Orlando,” scandalized 1920s London (both women were married at the time). Chanya Button’s film, an adaptation of a 1993 play by Eileen Atkins, combines the aesthetic pleasures of an elegantly appointed costume drama with literary biography; Isabella Rossellini is Vita’s snarky, aristocratic mother.

Fast forward to the 21st century for “Bit,” Brad Michael Elmore’s amusing take on the standard issue coming-of-age story. There’s trouble ahead when Laurel, a SoCal transgender teen, starts running with a crowd of queer feminist vampires. Unsure whether they want to murder, devour or recruit her, she tags along for the ride with the bloodthirsty clique that’s intent on purging the streets of predatory men. It’s screened at what promises to be a rowdy late-night show at the Castro.

For an all-out campy romp, there’s the world premiere of “Kinky Boots: The Musical,” an HD capture of a live performance (not to be confused with the 2005 movie) of the production at the Adelphi Theatre in London. The stage version, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and original songs by Cyndi Lauper, translates the improbable real-life saga of the partnership between the proprietor of a straitlaced shoe company on the brink of insolvency, and Lola, the high voltage, over-the-top drag queen who saves the business with her flamboyant footwear creations.

In Jeffrey McHale’s “You Don’t Nomi,” San Francisco drag star Peaches Christ holds court with an assortment of critics, writers and fans who playfully dissect and reassess “Showgirls,” a misogynist 1995 flop from director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas that depicts gratuitous sexual violence as it tells the story of Nomi, a nubile young woman who aspires to be a Las Vegas stripper. The discussion is intermingled with archival interviews and clips; some commentators revel in the film’s awfulness, while others praise it as misunderstood and subversively funny. 

“Sid & Judy” chronicles the love affair between Judy Garland and her husband, producer and closest adviser Sid Luft. Director Stephen Kijak weaves together concert footage, including a rare duet Garland performed with Barbra Streisand, film clips and excerpts from Luft’s 2017 memoir, “Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland.” The third of her five husbands, Luft is credited with shaping the singer’s concert career, masterminding her comeback after she was kicked off the MGM lot due to her drug use and erratic behavior and producing the Oscar-nominated 1954 version of “A Star Is Born.”

More Hollywood lore is delivered in “Making Montgomery Clift,” one of 14 profiles of artists in this year’s festival. The film is an intimate portrait of the handsome, brooding movie star whose aching vulnerability and wounded beauty melted Elizabeth Taylor’s heart in “A Place in the Sun.” (The two actors were close friends.) Clift’s private life certainly had its painful aspects: he was closeted sexually; struggled with alcohol and drug addiction; survived a near fatal car crash that disfigured his face; and died at the age of 45. In this revealing documentary, which includes previously unseen footage, audio recordings and interviews with Clift’s family, filmmakers Hillary Demmon and Robert A. Clift, the late actor’s nephew, go beyond the well-crafted public image to dispel myths surrounding a complicated, tormented man.

“State of Pride,” from Oscar award-winning San Francisco documentarians Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, examines the history and evolution of Pride events that commemorate the Stonewall riots, which happened 50 years ago this month. Integrating archival footage and personal accounts, the doc revolves around activist and queer social media influencer Raymond Braun and his travels to Pride celebrations across the country, from Alabama and Utah to San Francisco.

Frameline43 ends on a hopeful note with “Gay Chorus Deep South,” a behind-the-scenes doc about the 300-member San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and its 2017 tour of the Southeastern U.S. Scheduled during a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry and hate crimes, the 10-day “Lavender Pen Tour” was an attempt to promote understanding and acceptance in response to the divisive 2016 presidential election and a wave of discriminatory legislation passed by Southern states. The film—the first produced by Airbnb—follows various chorus members who reflect on their encounters with local people while bringing the group’s gorgeous harmonies to churches, homes and concert halls in the region.


June 20 → 30

Theaters in SF, Berkeley and Oakland