San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ Frameline Film Festival goes online this weekend for the 2020 online showcase, with highlights including Ema, Summerland, and Stage Mother. If you are in California, you can watch films online here.
Two of the biggest LGBTQ+ film festivals in North America, both usually held in June, are opting for entirely different strategies in the time of the Coronavirus. Toronto’s InsideOut Film Festival has entirely postponed its run until October — a move that seems overly optimistic given San Francisco’s Silent Film Festival has already canceled its delayed festival in that slot. San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival, meanwhile, is going the route of Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival: an online streaming festival around its usual date and an in-person later in the year.
Frameline’s Virtual Film Festival works in a similar way as HotDocs recently did though with a more pared down selection and shorter timeframe: geo-locked to California by billing address, you can stream any of the films at any time during the festival’s 4-day run from June 25 to 28. The smaller selection makes the festival easy to navigate, but as it’s just, according to the website, the “first round of this year’s festival offerings,” it’s also disappointing compared to past editions, which is not to say there’s nothing worth catching!
As a festival that regularly screens some of the best LGBTQ+ films of the decade, including God’s Own Country, Closet Monster, Women He’s Undressed, Girls Lost, and Summertime, Ema is the only film in this year’s selection that comes close to that level — at least from my limited sampling. Pablo Larraín’s delightfully bonkers dance film has been available on Mubi everywhere in the world but the US. Though one of the best films of the year, and absolutely worth your time (I interviewed Larraín about it at TIFF last year), it’s one of those rare films you absolutely want to see on the big screen, in large part for the sound design. I recently rewatched it on my computer with my tinny speakers, too lazy to put on headphones, and it was still a wild delightful ride, but it does lose a bit of its power when watched this way. It’s meant as a full sensory experience, which you can’t ever fully get at home (unless you’re Martin Scorsese). I’m not sure how to place Ema in the queer canon; it’s the kind of film that is easy to forget is queer at all, despite the graphic sex scenes.
Jessica Swale’s directorial debut, Summerland, is a tear-jerker British period piece that yanks your heart. That’s largely on the strength of Gemma Arterton’s central performance as a misanthropic writer pining after her lost love (an excellent Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is so good you wish she had more screen time). Arterton’s Alice is so headstrong and uninterested in being liked that it’s easy to fall head-over-heels for this unconventional heroine in an otherwise very conventional film — including some treacly not-quite-coincidence. With recent roles in films like The Escape, Their Finest, and Vita & Virginia, Arterton has quickly become one of the most exciting British actresses to watch, taking on complex female roles. Summerland is no exception. The film is penned by Swale who also wrote Nell Gwynn, the play for which Arterton received an Olivier and Evening Standard nomination.
The opening shots of Stage Mother, which feature the marquee of the Castro Theatre, are sure to make you ache for yesteryear when people gathered by the hundreds in that venue for this all-important annual queer film showcase. Those nostalgia pangs won’t even be thwarted by the fact that the SF footage is obvious B-Roll (the film was shot in Halifax, Canada), though the film is very much about the SF queer (and specifically, drag scene). Starring an excellent Jacki Weaver as a Texas choir leader estranged from her recently deceased gay son, the film is winning even as it’s incredibly treacly, featuring way too many cliched dialogue exchanges about accepting yourself. Nevertheless, Canadian director Thom Fitzgerald is to be commended for keeping Weaver from the over-acting of her O. Russell parts, and a welcome motherly presence in the community of misfits that were her son’s chosen family. Your mileage will vary here, depending in part on how delighted you are to see Lucy Liu having some fun as a brash single mother and some truly excellent drag numbers featuring Tangerine’s Mya Taylor.