Frameline39 is Pride of LGBT Films

James Franco (left) and Zachary Quinto in
Frameline39's opening night film 'I Am Michael'
Frameline is a nonprofit media arts organization that produces the San Francisco International Film Festival, the oldest ongoing film festival, currently in existence, devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) programming. The festival kicks off its 39th annual event today, Thursday, June 18 and runs until Sunday, June 28.

With an annual attendance of 60,000 to 80,000, it is the largest, LGBT, film-exhibition event in the world. The festival is held according to a schedule that allows the eleven-day event's closing night to coincide with the city's annual Gay Pride Day, the last Sunday in June.

Despite its size and prestige, in reality, the festival is the 2nd stop on a tour that most LGBT features make on the independent circuit for gay films. The first stop is the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (MGLFF) in April. Frameline seemingly borrows from MGLFF as well as other top-notch festivals of the past year like Toronto and Sundance, but there are some world premieres here that will set the stage for the rest of the stops on the LGBT film tour.

The next stop is Outfest in Los Angeles, but, surely, you'll see some of the films here at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival (RBIFF), which specifically curates LGBT films and international fare. You're also sure to see films here at July's QFlix in Philadelphia and August's Reel Affirmations in DC.

The Opening Night film at Frameline is I Am Michael, which is probably the most high-profile film playing at this or any LGBT festival. It stars Oscar-nominee James Franco and Emmy-nominee Zachary Quinto in an adaptation of a New York Times Magazine article about an ex-gay pastor.

The Closing Night film is Bare, a Tribeca Film Festival import starring Diana Agron (Glee) and Paz De La Huerta (Boardwalk Empire) in a young lesbian romance about two drifters. It also stars Chris Zylka (The Leftovers) who also has a role in I Am Michael.

The Centerpiece is The Summer of Sangaile, a Lithuanian version of Blue is the Warmest Color.

Yet, there are nine films that are part of the Showcase Programs. Those nine are gems that are handpicked by Frameline's organizers from the hundreds to spotlight. Of those nine, three films are particularly note-worthy.

Natasha Lyonne (left) and Judy Greer in
Frameline's Showcase 'Addicted to Fresno'
Addicted to Fresno is the latest from filmmaker Jamie Babbit who is probably best known for But I'm a Cheerleader, the brilliant gay satire starring Natasha Lyonne years before her gig on Orange is the New Black. Lyonne returns in Babbit's new film opposite Judy Greer (Arrested Development and Two and a Half Men) in a story about co-dependent sisters.

Tab Hunter Confidential is another Showcase Program. It's a documentary adapting the memoir by the 1950's heartthrob who was secretly gay. Those People is the other Showcase Program I want to recommend. It's the new film by Joey Kuhn that has been getting good reviews.

However, Frameline has a section of movies within the umbrella called Game Changers: Sexuality & Sports. These are titles focusing on LGBT athletes or sports-related events that affect LGBT people. Of the six titles in total in this section, three are note-worthy. The first is Game Face, about Fallon Fox, MMA's first transgender pro fighter. The second is Out to Win, about former pro-athletes like John Amaechi, Billy Bean, Billie Jean King, Jason Collins and Martina Navratilova. The third is To Russia With Love, a doc in this section also featuring King and Navratilova talking about the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the anti-gay Russian law in effect there.

The Frameline Retrospective is the controversial Querelle (1982), the final work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, an avant-garde, German filmmaker. The Frameline Retrospective also has 54: The Director's Cut, the Berlinale discovery, which restored over 30 minutes of sex and drug use to the 1998 film starring Ryan Phillippe and Mike Myers.

The Frameline Special Preview is Magic Mike XXL. The sequel to the hit film about male strippers, which goes in wide release on July 1st. Frameline will provide an advanced screening of the movie on Saturday, June 27, three days before it opens. Despite not having any LGBT characters or story lines, the movie does employ a gay actor, Matt Bomer, and does appeal to gay male audiences, purely for prurient reasons.

Frameline also has an advanced screening of the documentary Do I Sound Gay?, which opens in limited release on July 10. The Yes Men Are Revolting plays at Frameline on June 19, one week after its official theatrical release on June 12, as well as it being made available on VOD platforms like iTunes, Vimeo and Amazon.

Other films to keep an eye out include Jason and Shirley by Stephen Winter, Henry Gamble's Birthday Party by Stephen Cone and The New Girlfriend by Fran├žois Ozon. There's also How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) by Josh Kim, Xenia by Panos Koutras, which was nominated for the Queer Palm at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and Larry Kramer in Love and Anger by Jean Carlomusto, which is playing this weekend at AFI Docs but will air on HBO on Monday, June 29, two days after it plays at Frameline.

In preparation for this festival, I was able to review five of the films in contention. I was even able to interview the filmmakers involved. Based on seeing these movies, it's an indication that this will be a good year for independent gay films. The five films with links to the reviews and to filmmaker interviews are the following.

1. Beautiful Something by Joseph Graham.

2. Naz & Maalik by Jay Dockendorf.

3. The Surface by Michael J. Saul.

4. Alex & Ali by Malachi Leopold.

5. S&M Sally by Michelle Ehlen.

Most, if not all of these films will get some kind of distribution. Wolfe Video for example just acquired Naz & Maalik. If not theatrically, these movies will be available on DVD or VOD hopefully within the year. Put them on your must-see list.

For more information, go to Frameline39's web site.

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