Trailblazing Cinema in San Francisco
One of the harbingers of Spring in San Francisco is the San Francisco International Film Festival, now in its 56th year. For the next two weeks, the city hosts some 150 films and live events. There will be more than 100 filmmakers in attendance, and two dozen awards in numerous categories will be given. If you go, though, expect to wait in a queue: more than 70,000 attendees are expected.
Two powerful documentaries, a concert film and a comedy, are the key LGBT-themed movies in the oldest film festival in America, the San Francisco International Film Festival.
How does the Christian right in America export evangelical Christianity to the African nation of Uganda, disguising the hatred for homosexuality as the sounds of the gospel? "God Loves Uganda" is a powerful, yet disturbing documentary that shows how this movement has turned Uganda into one of the most dangerous places on earth for gays.
Would it be too far fetched to believe that Uganda’s extreme hostility and violence toward gays originated from Kansas? Roger Ross Williams, who won an Oscar in 2009 for his documentary "Music by Prudence," gained unprecedented access to the Kansas City-based evangelical group, the International House of Prayer (IHOP). The film explains why IHOP church leaders see Uganda, which has fifty percent of its population younger than 15-years-old, as "the pearl of Africa," perfect for indoctrination. The evangelicals believe that they were mandated by God to rule the world.
The film follows a group of youngsters from the church who journey into Uganda to help the local communities by building schools and hospitals. Their other mission was to teach Ugandans what is right for them. The prevention of HIV and AIDS comes with the doctrine of abstinence. Non-condom use was preached and homosexuality was not only frowned upon but also stigmatized and despised to the extent that a bill has been enacted to punish homosexuals with death.
Featured in the documentary is Lou Engle, the creator of The Call, which brings together tens of thousands of believers to pray against the evil of sex. It takes viewers into the world of the most evangelical minister in Uganda who lives in luxury, and shows how a preacher creates hysteria with anti-gay rhetoric to a congregation.
The documentary also features an interview with Ugandan gay activist David Kato shortly before he was murdered, which draws the link between preaching intolerance to a culture where people often take the law into their own hands. "God Loves Uganda" is a heart wrenching investigation documentary that forces one to answer, "Is this really what God would have wanted?"
Growing old and gay
From the gay rights activists in the seventies to the survivors of the AIDS epidemic in the eighties, how have you ever thought about the issues of gays growing old? With advances in medicine and the quality of life, many in the gay community are likely to hang around for a while. "Before You Know It" takes us into the world of gays growing old.
Ty, an active member in the LBGT community in Harlem, is in a long-term relationship with a partner who does not seem to want to make that final commitment when New York legalizes same sex marriage. For him it’s an option that poses a new problem. The lack of commitment puts Ty in a vulnerable spot. At his age, the assurance of knowing that you can mutually depend on a partner comes with urgency.
Robert, the owner of a gay bar in Galveston, proclaimed the oldest in Texas, has built a family from his bar patrons over the years. With a legal battle in the horizon, he risks losing this kinship that accepts him for the man that he is.
Dennis, who was married over a long period, has been keeping his cross-dressing habits a secret. Now a widower, he tried living in a gay retirement home in Portland, albeit with loneliness, and gives a shot at attending gay cruises. Watching Dennis trying to befriend men who are younger than he, and his doing so in drag, can be a tough watch, but his courage to live in his own skin is one bound with admiration.
These three men are the subjects in the latest documentary by PJ Raval, named Out Magazine’s 100 Out in 2010. His previous documentary "Trinidad" uncovers the transformation of a Colorado town to the "sex change capital of the world." In "Before You Know It," Raval provides a glimpse into our future and raises an entire layer of questions linked to the issue of same sex marriage that straight couples have taken for granted.
Born in Toronto and now calling Berlin home, forever pushing the marker of sexuality and palpability, Peaches has put together "Peaches Does Herself," a proclaimed "wild transsexual rock opera" from a series of live stage productions featuring over twenty songs with titles as colorful as "Set It Off," "Lovertits," Diddle My Skittle," "Shake Yer Dix" and "F*** the Pain Away."
The icon’s website says, "She invites her audience insides her pink, caricatured world without inhibitions" in what Peaches called an anti-jukebox musical that was inspired by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
The film has touted to contain a performance featuring exploding penises. Perhaps that will pose the challenge of how this is a scene that can be tastefully done.
Gay mother and son
Ever wondered how gay sons are usually called the de facto caretaker of the family when all your other children are busy with their families? Gay novelist Lorenz leaves his adopted home of Berlin to a provincial Swiss town to take care of his mother who is ailing from a stroke in the comedy "Rosie."
When mother and son reunite, Rosie, while refusing to give up her vices in alcohol and cigarettes, gets a go at meddling with her son’s affair with a fan half his age.
Starting out as a comedy, "Rosie" poses tough questions about end-of-life care as well as unveiling some family secrets. Marcel Gisler’s comedy stands out from quite a number of Swiss films last year with four performances nominated in the Swiss Film Award 2013, winning Best Actress for Sibylle Brunner who plays the title character.
The "Before..." series continues
Worthy of a shout out, the film festival picks the third installment in the "Before..." series as its closing film. It was 1995 when many cineastes fell in love with the couple, the American guy Jesse and the French girl Celine, who met on a train from Budapest to Vienna. The seemingly spontaneity of the dialogue and the chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy becomes the soul, often lacking in romantic comedies, in "Before Sunrise," Nine years later, Jesse has become a published writer, thanks to that experience in Vienna with Celine, who wrote a best seller based on that one night romance. The two met in Paris this time when Jesse is doing a book tour. The two discovered their chemistry never wavered in "Before Sunset."
Another nine years have passed, director Richard Linklater re-teams with his two muses to take us to the next chapter in this couple’s lives. Jesse and Celine are now in Greece, vacationing with their children. How will this journey unfold? Having premiered in Sundance and Berlin film festivals, "Before Midnight" has drawn warm praises. One can hardly ignore this series of romantic dramas that all began from a film that is so tender and genuine that it almost seems like a cinematic miracle to see sequels coming out of it.
The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival runs from Apr. 25 to May 9 at the Castro Theatre, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, New People Cinema in San Francisco, and Pacific Film Archive Theatre in Berkeley. For information or tickets, visit festival.sffs.org