Frameline 40: Reconciling the Past and the Future

The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was very much on my mind as I watched the wide variety of films at the 40th Frameline Film Festival. It seems to me as though we are moving forward and backward in time here in the U.S. On one hand, many famous people are openly queer in a way that is not associated with shame or scandal (in film terms, I am thinking here of Tab Hunter, Rock Hudson, and Orry-Kelly, a subject of one of this year’s films). Big-name companies march at the Pride Parades, sponsor film festivals, and pull out of states to protest homophobic or transphobic local laws. We have Barney Frank, Christine Quinn and Tammy Baldwin. On the other hand, each mass shooting event brings out the voices and the lobbying money of people who think that violence should be confronted with more violence. Sane politicians resort to extreme filibustering to pass the lightest of gun control laws. The current state of bathrooms in North Carolina is comparable to that of the 1950s. Have we gone far or not much at all in terms of queer rights?

I think that the United States has come a long way in terms of queer rights but I feel that the state and sanctity of these rights are compromised because we haven’t moved as far forward generally in race and gender equality and reducing class and economic disparity. The march to queer rights has not been a (heh) straight path forward on a one-way street, but rather is a chain linked to other movements on occupying Wall Street, women’s rights, and civil rights. The rights of one group are linked to others; the security of one helps to secure the other. The present is a mix of our past prejudices, hatreds and misconceptions and of our future ideals for equality, harmony, compassion, and non-violence. In other words, we continue to reconcile ourselves with the past in order to move forward; the present is an opportunity to re-evaluate, re-orient, and reflect.

And there’s nothing like an all-inclusive film festival like Frameline 40 to capture the tenuous state which we are in, where the march forward is tinged with an awareness that, at any moment, a state can pass a discriminatory law or a new Supreme Court judge can undo civil rights. Some filmmakers at Frameline have duly recorded the past and put forward a thesis of what we’ve (hopefully) learned and what we still have to do. Others operate in a world and in a narrative frame where contemporary queerness brings a new set of questions and concerns that move way beyond the closet.

Frameline 40 opened with the Bay Area premiere of Kiki, Sara Jordenö’s documentary on the LGBTQ youth of color who comprise New York’s ballroom scene. At once a look to the past, with its remembrance of the seminal film Paris is Burning and to the present, with a thesis on the connections between homelessness, racism, and homophobia, it was an apt opening festival film that also paid homage to the history of queer cinema. Inside the Chinese Closet, Sophia Luvarà’s quiet but powerful documentary on young queer Chinese, reminded me of how much e-mail, chat rooms, websites, and other forms of connecting on the internet has helped the queer community find each other in meaningful (and sometimes funny) ways. Technology has helped them find friends, community, or, frequently, a fake straight husband, in an attempt to please the hetero-normative expectations of their parents’ generation while being (somewhat) true to themselves. This film illustrates perfectly my point of how the past and the future can co-exist and renegotiate in ways that was be unimaginable, say, even twenty years ago. In Out Run, the Philippines is a curious intersection of its Roman Catholic, homophobic past and its (hopefully) progressive present of LGBTQ political parties and out entertainers. The glamorous and sordid past of studio-era Hollywood is evoked in Gillian Anderson’s quirky film homage to the late great Hollywood costumer Orry-Kelly. Women He’s Undressed regards the Hollywood closet with a giddy, campy eye and a fully contemporary point of view, making us feel good, for once, about Hollywood – it is now okay to be gay. (As an aside, this film is worth watching for the fantastic interviews with costume designers Ann Roth and Catherine Martin).

A utopian future full of love is amply represented in romantic comedies like Me Myself and Her (Io e Lei) (Italy’s first romantic comedy about a female couple), Girl Gets Girl, (De Chica en Chica), Front Cover, and The Intervention, and dramas like AWOL, Arianna, and Jonathan. Io e Lei, in particular, which is set in the lush and manicured environs of Rome’s creative bourgeoisie, deals with class, gender, and sexuality in a sophisticated and subtle way, while still retaining its very Roman flavor (families, food, and film). De Chica en Chica owes much to Almodovar’s influence and legacy, with its cheerful cinematography, mostly-female cast, and easy defiance of labels, norms, and manners. Arianna, a stunning film that reminded me of Sally Potter’s Orlando and Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders, takes on the question of gender and answers it in poetic ways.

One of Frameline’s programming categories, LGBTQ Film as an Agent of Social Change, seemed to me a bit redundant, given that the festival has been around for forty years and, with each year, becomes more mainstream. That being said, with films like The Celluloid Closet and Upstairs Inferno, which chronicles the deaths of many at the UpStairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay bar which was deliberately set on fire in the 1970s, it is good to remember how much we have to honor the past while celebrating the future.

Frameline 40 runs in the San Francisco Bay Area from 16 – 26 June, 2016.

Arianna, dir. Carlo Lavagna, 84 mins. 2015. In Italian.
AWOL, dir. Deb Shoval, 85 mins. 2016.
De Chica en Chica, dir. Sonia Sebastián, 88 mins. 2014. In Spanish.
Front Cover, dir. Ray Yeung, 88 mins. 2015.
Inside the Chinese Closet, dir. Sophia Luvarà, 72 mins. 2015. In Mandarin.
The Intervention, dir. Clea DuVall, 91 mins. 2015.
Io e Lei, dir. Maria Sole Tognazzi, 97 mins. 2015. In Italian.
Jonathan, dir. Piotr Lewandowski, 99 mins. 2016. In German.
Kiki, dir. Sara Jordenö, 94 mins. 2016.
Out Run, dir. S. Leo Chiang, Johnny Symons, 75 mins. In Tagalog and English.
Women He’s Dressed, dir. Gillian Anderson, 100 mins. 2014.