June on the Big Screen: Frameline39 and DocFest15

by Sura Wood

Summer kicks off with a pair of crowd-pleasing film festivals.

Summer kicks off with a pair of crowd-pleasing film festivals. Often playing to packed houses during its 11-day run, Frameline’s San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, celebrating its 39th year, showcases features and documentaries reflecting a wide range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer experience, while SF DocFest furthers its reputation as a festival of the offbeat, sometimes downright weird and the musically inclined. Its opening night film, “All Things Must Pass,” one of a host of music-centric docs on this year’s program, is directed by actor Colin Hanks. He relied on Kickstarter and a supportive tweet from his father, Tom Hanks, who has over 2 million Twitter followers, to fund the nostalgic saga of the rise and precipitous fall of Tower Records; the global music store chain, which posted $1 billion in revenue in 1999, fell into bankruptcy five years later. With Tower’s entrepreneurial founder, Russ Solomon, providing colorful commentary, Hanks uses the fate of a chain patronized by rock royalty like John Lennon and Elton John to examine larger changes roiling the recording industry in this era of downloads and consumer preference for shopping online.

Making a movie is the best revenge; at least that’s the conclusion one could draw from “The Desk,” by Andrew Goldman, who once wrote the celebrity Q&A feature “Talk,” a regular fixture in The New York Times Magazine. Part doc, part quirky fictionalized reenactment, the film begins with a send-up of Goldman’s attempt to direct a short about Paul Henry, a disgraced, obnoxious Aussie talk show host, but the heart of the story concerns Goldman’s abrupt firing by the Times. The termination was prompted, he says, by his interview with fashion mogul Diane von Furstenberg, which offended its influential subject.

“Sympathy for the Devil: The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment” tells the tale of an apocalyptic self-actualization cult that sprang up in swinging 1960s London and took up residence in a sprawling townhouse in the fashionable Mayfair district. Wearing black capes and crosses of medieval clerics, the highly educated followers, many of them offspring of wealthy families, worshipped Satan and Christ, and engaged in theatrical pseudo-religious rituals where they turned Catholic Church iconography on its head while promising recruits the chance to liberate their minds. The mostly fond recollections of former members combined with
psychedelic animation sequences help evoke the loopy hippie gestalt of the period. The press loosely tied the group to the 1969 murders committed by the Manson Family—Charles Manson and his followers subscribed to some tenets of Process Church philosophy—which effectively put an end to the organization. “We were either mad or idiots,” recalls a chatty former church poohbah. “But we’d never have wasted our time with a punk like that.”

If Process adherents played at conjuring the devil, Heinrich Himmler, who implemented Hitler’s Final Solution, was the real thing. Relying on a cache of archival footage and Nazi propaganda clips as well as correspondence, diary excerpts and photographs discovered in
Himmler’s home after the war, Vanessa Lapa’s “The Decent One” weaves a chilling portrait of a bespectacled family man and doting dad who orchestrated mass murder when he was away from the homestead. His fastidiousness, obsession with efficiency and fanatic nationalism manifested early, along with his anti-Semitism, which was shared by his Nazi wife; his naughty paternalistic love letters to her, read aloud on the soundtrack, are genuinely creepy.

SF DocFest

June 4 →18

Roxie, Brava and Vogue Theaters


SF/Arts Listing


Justin Kelly’s provocative drama

“I Am Michael,” which opens the LGBTQ fest, stars ubiquitous Palo Alto native James Franco. Last seen in the goofy comedy “The Interview,” Franco takes a serious dramatic turn here portraying the real life Michael Glatze, a conflicted gay youth activist and journalist who stunned friends and colleagues when he “renounced” his homosexuality, began identifying as a heterosexual and became a Christian fundamentalist pastor.

Sexual identity issues also figure in “Tab Hunter Confidential,” a gossipy profile directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, winner of this year’s Frameline award. With his muscled physique and tanned blond surfer-boy looks, Hunter, a middling actor, became a huge teenybop heartthrob in the 1950s. But behind the façade of the clean-cut all-American dreamboat, promoted by Hollywood publicists, Hunter was gay, a secret that, if revealed, could have tanked his career but somehow didn’t when he was outed by a scandal magazine in 1955. Based on a memoir of the same name written with Noir City founder Eddie Muller, the film incorporates video, archival images and interviews with the still handsome, good-natured former star. Now in his 80s and happily ensconced in a committed 30-year relationship far from the glare of the movie business, Hunter reminisces about his career—he was featured in John Waters’ “Polyester”—his pal James Dean and covert liaisons with actor Anthony Perkins, who was married at the time, and Olympic figure skater Robbie Robertson.

Professional sports remains an arena where many LGBTQ athletes still feel compelled to keep their
sexual orientation hidden, but because some brave sports stars have risked coming out that state of affairs may be changing. NFL Draft pick Michael Sam, tennis champs Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, former major league outfielder Billy Bean and Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, among others, share their stories on-camera in Malcolm Ingram’s “Out to Win.” The film also sheds light on the ongoing obstacles—the bigotry of fellow players, management and fans—faced by men and women wanting to be themselves while simultaneously striving to be the best in their fields.

The abrasive, often contentious AIDS activist and writer Larry Kramer gets his due in Jean Carlomusto’s “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger.” Kramer was a vociferous critic of an indifferent government that he believed ignored the mounting death toll from the disease because the afflicted population was predominantly gay or drug addicted. Though his relentless, in-your-face style alienated many, Kramer, founder of the militant protest group ACT UP, is credited with helping to accelerate AIDS research and treatment. Carlomusto also covers Kramer’s childhood and ventures in the film industry, which met with mixed results, assembling clips of Kramer in action, along with video, photos and comments by admirers such as NIH director Anthony Fauci. The film, an important contribution to the history of the fight for LGBTQ rights, illustrates how one loud, persistent voice can make a profound difference.


June 18 → 28

Various venues


SF/Arts Listing