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Friday, June 17, 2011

Opening Night at LGBT Film Festival Frameline35 Feels Like Coming Home

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2011 at 11:03 AM

Frameline35 volunteers Sonya (left) and Chewy celebrate their first anniversary at opening night. - STEPHANIE ECHEVESTE
  • Stephanie Echeveste
  • Frameline35 volunteers Sonya (left) and Chewy celebrate their first anniversary at opening night.
At some film festivals, people talk to you only because they want to steal the seat next to you or think you might be able to get them into the afterparty. Frameline35 is different. Opening night of the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival was buzzing with friends, albeit mostly gay men, who welcomed each other excitedly, with the same kind of joyful hugs and smiles you'd give to your sister after a long flight home for the holidays.

It felt like more than a film festival. It felt like a homecoming.

frameline35_castro_exterior.jpg
Over 11 days Frameline35, the world's largest and longest-running LGBT film festival, will showcase more than 200 films from 30 countries. All promise to move you regardless of how you identify with regard to gender or sexuality.

The festival kicked off last night at the Castro Theatre with Gun Hill Road, the directorial debut of Rashaad Ernesto Green. Before the film, trailer after trailer from past festivals played onscreen, taking us from the beginning to today's 35th anniversary and illustrating how far LGBT film has come.

Enrique (Esai Morales) struggles to understand his teenage son Michael (Harmony Santana) in Gun Hill Road.
  • Enrique (Esai Morales) struggles to understand his teenage son Michael (Harmony Santana) in Gun Hill Road.
Gun Hill Road tells the story of an adolescent boy undergoing gender transition within the machismo culture in the South Bronx. The performances of the main characters, Enrique (Esai Morales); his wife, Angela (Judy Reyes); and their teenage son, Michael (Harmony Santana), were spot on, as was the depiction of the multi-ethnic neighborhood in which they live, which became a character itself.

The one flaw in the film is the undeveloped character of Enrique. His hatred of homosexuals, which seems to run much deeper than his supermacho Latino identity, is viscerally thrown at us in the opening scene. Instead of foreshadowing, however, Enrique's first actions are wholly disconnected from his feelings toward his son, and even though later in the film he is clearly acting out his anger at his son when he assaults another man, it doesn't make much sense or show much depth of character.

The Q+A enhanced the film. Green revealed how he found Santana while scouting for talent at the Queens Pride Parade where she was working at an AIDS prevention booth and still dressing as a boy. The transition seen in the film is representative of what was going on in real life for Santana. She was the true star of the film, and proof that the more LGBT media that exists, the more reflective it is of reality.

Gun Hill Road is a Frameline Completion Fund recipient; the director met Esai Morales through his scholarship from the National Hispanic Fund of the Arts. The film was part of the official selection at Sundance, and has a theatrical release on Aug. 5 in New York and Los Angeles. These accomplishments demonstrate the value of organizations such as Frameline in propelling LGBT media into the mainstream. As Morales said last night, "This is what filmmaking is about, getting to know and respect each other as human beings."

Frameline35 is definitely something to check out. The films were chosen from various film festivals, and they all have the potential to speak to everyone. Last night I was probably the only straight, Hispanic, single female who identifies as female in the entire theater, but I, too, felt like I was coming home.

Frameline35: The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival continues through June 26 at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro), Roxie Theater (3117 16th St.), and the Victoria Theatre (2961 16th St.) in San Francisco as well as the Rialto Cinema Elmwood (2966 College) in Berkeley. Admission is $8-$11.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Stephanie Echeveste

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