10 movies to catch at big SF LGBTQ film fest

The narrative road most LGBTQ-themed movies used to travel went something like this: A sheltered, often shy person experiences a sexual awakening and finds tentative passion/love and and begins the never-easy journey towards coming out.

No more. The shift in queer cinema is reflected in the robust lineup at the 46th annual Frameline LGBTQ film festival, which runs June 16-26. An encore online program is available June 24-30.

The collection of 125 narrative features, documentaries and shorts often defy, dare and challenge, with most steering clear of standard tropes and talking points. This year’s slate attempts to shake out hard truths about such matters as living in Brazil, being gay and Black and Brown, and other introspective topics.

The fest kicks off with a sneak peek at the first two episodes of the Amazon Prime series “A League of their Own” (adapted from the 1992 film of the same name) and wraps up June 26 with a screening of François Ozon’s “Peter von Kant,” starring Isabelle Adjani.

Those screenings are already in most filmgoers’ radars. So let’s shine a spotlight on 10 smaller gems that haven’t received as much ink but deserve it.

“Black As U R”: Theater/film director Micheal Rice drops in at barbershops, chats up young kiki performers and then spends time with an addicted sex worker. That’s a lot to take in, but Rice is fearless and committed — even seeking a better understanding about his own closeted adolescence — as he daringly explores whether the Black Lives Matter movement truly embraces the LGBTQ community. The answers prove provocative and hard-edged in a low-budget doc that’s equally candid and thought provoking. Justly “Black As U R ” has been honored with the first Out in the Silence Award from Frameline. It puts a mirror to a reality that people don’t want to talk about but need to address. Screening: 6:15 p.m. June 19 (observing Juneteenth), Castro Theatre, also available to stream.

“Unidentified Objects”: My favorite film in the festival happens to be Juan Felipe Zuleta’s weird, bizarre and marvelous first feature. Ostensibly a “road” picture, it finds the grouchy and pretentious Peter (Matthew August Jeffers, in a performance of bristle and anger) agreeing to drive eccentric sex worker Winona (Sarah Hay) to the site where she said she had a close encounter with aliens. What could have been a dumb road trip transforms into a meaningful, at times funny story about two entities — a man who has dwarfism and a woman with a wretched past — coming together in a world that doesn’t necessarily care to nurture let alone accept them. Leland Frankel’s screenplay, the two lead performances and the compassionate direction from first-timer Zuleta make it a celestial wonder worth discovering. Screening: 8:30 p.m. June 19,  AMC Kabuki 8, also available to stream.

“Donna”: A number of good documentaries (“Last Dance” being one) this year focus on courageous drag performers, but this short and unfussy film won me over from first frame to last. That’s because San Francisco luminary Donna Personna launched her drag career at the age of 60 (you go, girl!) and is such an engaging presence to hang out with. Her story includes being present during the pivotal pre-Stonewall San Francisco moment in 1966 when she and others stood up against belligerent cops at the Compton’s Cafeteria and raised the voices of unsung Bay Area heroes. Director Jay Bedwani captures what makes Donna such a sensation. It receives a world premiere. Screening: 11 a.m. June 25, the Castro.

“Moneyboys”: A rather salacious scenario — handsome  Liang Fei (singer/actor Ko Chen-tung) turns to sex work so he can fund his cash-strapped family in China and then flee to somewhere different — turns ever more complex in director C.B Yi’s bold first feature. Shot in Taiwan, it reflects China’s hardline, dangerous attitude toward the LGBTQ community, as Liang’s family benefits from his trade but then won’t accept him and his sexuality. The cinematography by Jean-Louis Vialard is astonishing, as is Ko’s sensitive, crawl-into-your-soul performance. Screening: 9:15 p.m. June 21, the Castro, also available to stream.

“Uýra: The Rising Forest”: Director Juliana Curi’s debut film is an under-the-radar doc about the inspiring Brazilian trans-indigenous artist Uýra Sodoma, and it’s an absolute gem. Curi takes a transcendental visual approach to her subject and it poetically punctuates what Uýra is trying to get across to younger generations: that preserving the environment comes from the same place as appreciating LGBTQ identity. You do need to see it on a big screen. Screening: 8:30 p.m. June 22, Oakland’s New Parkway, also available to stream.

“El Houb – The Love”: In yet another impressive film that dares to take a hard look at a societal view that drags down LGBTQ representation, first-time director Shariff Nasr plumbs the senseless hatred aimed at a gay Muslim man whose family can’t fathom nor accept his sexuality. Both funny and devastating in equal measures, it finds successful Moroccan-Dutch businessman Karim (an electrifying Fahd Larhzaoui) stowing himself away once his father comes to his apartment and is greeted with an attractive, semi-clothed lover (Emmanuel Ohene Boafo) answering the door. Nasr’s “El Houb – The Love ” takes no prisoners as exposes the festering hate swirling inside a “picture-perfect” family. It receives a world premier. Screening: 8:31 p.m. June 20, the Castro.

“It Is In Us All”: Moody, hypnotic cinematography — the sort that deserves to nab Piers McGrail an Oscar nod — combined with an intoxicating, star-making performance from Cosmo Jarvis covers up some storytelling lapses near the finale of Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ impressive, challenging first feature set in rural Ireland. Jarvis plays a shallow, privileged guy who returns to tie up loose financial ends at his aunt’s house after she dies. Those intentions fall by the wayside when he becomes involved in a fatal car accident that kills one young passenger and leaves behind another teenage survivor (Rhys Manion) with whom he becomes entranced. “It Is In Us All” taps into the dangers of repression and past secrets, and resoundingly declares the arrival of a fine filmmaker and one great lead actor. Screening: 8:30 p.m. June 23, AMC Kabuki 8, also available to stream.

“When Time Got Louder”: In this family drama, vibrant sister Abbie (Willow Shields) feels the tug of sibling guilt when she relocates to a California college and becomes involved with a woman, leaving her dependent brother behind. Connie Cocchia’s debut drama might be overly earnest at times, but it tells a compelling story of familial love shared between Abbie and her autistic brother Kayden (a sensational Jonathan Simao) and the struggles that parents Tish (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Mark (Lochlyn Munro) realize, having relied too heavily on their daughter. It’s a moving and personal film, and receives a world premiere. Screening: 12:30 p.m. June 20, the Castro, also available to stream.

Girl Picture”: Even though it took home an audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Alli Haapasalo’s observant, unpredictable and smart “sex dramedy” finds two bored teen-aged mall workers in Finland testing the waters of their friendship and sexuality. One discovers she likes women and the other tries to find satisfying sex, something that continually eludes her. Haapasalo’s film is a liberating exploration of two women finding out what not only pleases them about life but what pleasures them as well. It’s simply wonderful and is one of the Centerpiece selections. Screening: 6 p.m. June 24, the Castro.

“In From the Side”: What makes this supremely sexy sports melodrama so special is that it avoids traditional tropes. Matt Carter’s passionate film is refreshingly not about the anguish two masculine guys feel about being in love; it’s about two guys already partnered and bending the rules of their own relationship goals. As the two players who can’t get enough of each other, Alexander Lincoln and Alexander King smolder. Carter’s film loses its footing near the finale, but this still one to see. Details: 6 p.m. June 25, the Castro.

Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]


FRAMELINE

When: June 16-26; some films available to stream June 24-30.

Where: Several San Francisco theaters as well as the New Parkway, Oakland

Tickets: Most screenings $15.50-$17.50, special events and centerpiece films cost more; streaming films $8.50-$10.50; full pass $105-$120; www.frameline.org/

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