by Kevin M. Thomas
Documentaries at Frameline 40, San Francisco’s LGBT Film Festival, are extremely topical, making this one of the best Frameline festivals ever.
While not all movies were available to screen, and due to time contraints I haven’t seen all of the options, but here’s a few highlights.
“Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” is a witch hunt if there ever was one. A heart breaking story of four Latina lesbians who go to jail because two children, nieces of one of the women, come forward and say they were sexually assaulted by their aunt and her friends. The four women battle as best they can as they have innocence on their side. But when being told they are sexual deviants and satanic, it’s no wonder they all go to jail. The movie offers hope though as it shows the strength of the women, how they stick together and never back down. Their story takes a lot of twists and turns and can’t be missed.
“Kiki” is a fascinating look and the subculture of young LGBTQ adults who turn to dance and competition as a form of expression and unity. Like “Paris is Burning?” this documentary showcases the various houses of dance style, all named after famous designers. While it’s a way to bond and become families within their own house, it all shows that these young adults are unapologetic about who they are and will not hide in the shadows. Instead, they sparkle and standout and demonstrate exactly what gay pride is.
“Growing Up Coy” is likely one of the most topical movies at Frameline. Six year old Coy Mathis
was born a boy but always identified as female. Her parents accepted her as a girl from the onset and for awhile everything was going well until the school forced Coy to use the boy’s bathroom. After fighting quietly with this for as long as they could, the parents went public, which has lead to the unisexual bathroom controversy that continues to stir up conversation and debate wherever we travel. But “Coy” the movie is more than a story of a trans little girl, but an entire family that has tried to stay together while often tiring of the battle. The film shows the highs and lows that any family might face and isn’t limited to just being the story of Coy.
“The Joneses” takes a look at what seems your typical family living in the Mississippi Bible Belt. The film focuses on the day-to-day relationships of a mother and her three adult children. There’s a lot of gay hate in the Bible belt –yet, one of the most interesting things about this movie is it doesn’t seem to be aimed at the Jones family even though the mother Jheri Jones used to be a man and one of the children comes out on screen as gay. Since hate crimes don’t’ seem to be aimed towards the Joneses, perhaps sometimes when you grow up in a small town, people accept you for who you are, especially since the town has known you you’re whole life. “The Joneses” makes you think such a world is possible.
“Upstairs Inferno” unfortunately couldn’t be more relevant. An unsolved mystery from over 40 years ago, 32 people lost their lives in an arson at a New Orleans gay bar. The stories of how these people were sentenced to death sounds a lot like a Nazi death camp. It became more horrific that, 40 years ago, more people didn’t care about the killings of LGBT people. This movie is hard to take – especially in view of what recently happened in Orlando. If anything positive can be taken out of any of this is it seems now people care more about what happens to fellow human beings.
“The Celluloid Closet” is likely the first book I
ever read about homosexuality. I also loved the movie so I am thrilled it’s being included in the history of Frameline and gay cinema. This book and movie educate us about how gays were treated as characters and actors in the old days of cinema. In a lot of old films, gays were often the killers. If not, then they killed themselves. The movie shows that if you’re gay, you needed to be punished.The film also shows how homosexuality was often homogenized and toned down or removed. Great example is “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” If you saw the movie and not the play, you might wonder what the deep secret Brick had…well, spoiler alert, he was gay! Alas, the movie version just shows him troubled. In the many years since this first came out, there’s been a lot of progress in putting gay characters in the mainstream.
“Women He’s Undressed” is a further step into documentary filmmaking from famed narrative director Gillian Armstrong, who manages to use actors and voice overs to convey moments from the past to help piece together the story of 3-time Oscar winning costume designer Orry-Kelly who was unapologetically gay – even though others were hiding in the closet, including his first long term boy friend Cary Grant. Beautiful, fascinating and unforgettable. But more than that- Orry-Kelly was a magical designer who knew how to hide body flaws of stars like Bette Davis and Natalie Wood and showcase the attributes of Marilyn Monroe, whose costumes in “Some Like it Hot” were so sexy that its surprising they made it through the rating’s board.
“Strike a Pose” reads like Oprah’s “Where Are They Now”, ironically that show is playing in the background of one scene. But the story of what happened to Madonna’s background dancer who skyrocketed to fame in her “Vogue” tour is more a story of brotherhood, sisterhood and family – and shows how we create our own families – blood or not. Many of the dancers completed their 15 minutes of fame in Madonna’s shadows while others have remained prominent performances. Check out our interview with the dancers from “Strike a Pose” here!
I love double features and these two movies complement each other well. “Political Animals” shows how four out lesbians in the State Assembly take years – and a lot bigotry – to try and pass laws to create the same rights for LGBT people. The movie shows how they bring up the same measures each year, slightly changing the wording so its more accepted by other assembly members who think each of these measures are against God and
unnatural. Then there’s “The Freedom to Marry” in which the movie shows the fight for same sex marriage as Evan Wolfson, the man behind this grassroots crusade, travels and targets one state at a time. The hatred faced in their journey is a testament of the fortitude that Wolfson and is troupe must face as they travel across the country in the months leading up to the Supreme Court ruling.
There are many more documentaries in the festival that runs through June 26. Check back here for updates of this article. But until then, check out www.frameline.org.