Frameline44, the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, is set to run this year from September 17 to 27. The 11-Day Festival features 39 programs from 24 countries — including 18 premieres — streaming directly to audiences in California! From side-splitting comedies to suspenseful thrillers to poignant dramas, check out a sampling of the newly released line-up for this year’s digital festival.
Ahead of the Curve
DIRECTOR: Jen Rainin
What made Curve magazine (first published in 1990 as Deneuve) ahead of its time wasn’t just the radical choice to boldly print “lesbian” on the cover next to out and proud figureheads such as Melissa Etheridge, Wanda Sykes, and k.d. lang. Curve was filled with unapologetic images and stories that radiated community and dignity from cover to cover, quickly becoming a cornerstone of lesbian culture. So in 2019 when founder Franco Stevens heard that the magazine might go out of print, she was left with two questions: Was a lesbian magazine still important for lesbian visibility? And, how had visibility changed over three decades
In Ahead of the Curve, director Jen Rainin and producer Rivkah Beth Medow craft a personal journey that follows Stevens’ process grappling with questions of community and legacy. Linking lesbian histories with contemporary viewpoints, the film moves between interviews with LGBTQ+ tastemakers, “celesbians” (including Jewelle Gomez, Kate Kendell, and Lea DeLaria) and rich archival footage. Rainin lovingly uplifts the personal and political struggles, adventure, and community that birthed an institution, honoring its visionary legacy while exploring whether a groundbreaking print publication remains relevant in a digital age.
Shit & Champagne (Drive-In)
DIRECTOR: D’Arcy Drollinger
San Francisco’s own drag queen extraordinaire D’Arcy Drollinger trades the stage for the big screen in his first feature Shit & Champagne, a wacky send-up of ’70s sexploitation flicks. Drollinger stars as the titular Champagne Horowitz Jones Dickerson White, a charismatic stripper who finds herself in danger after her fiancé and half-sister are both murdered. When the cops refuse to investigate, Champagne takes matters into her own perfectly manicured hands to find answers.
A string of messy booty bump incidents leads Champagne to uncover an evil plot at mega retail chain store Mall-Wart and a discount escort service run by an evil mystery woman. As Champagne becomes increasingly embroiled in the seedy underbelly, she has no choice but to go undercover to get to the bottom of things. Adapted from Drollinger’s wildly successful stage show, Shit & Champagne is fiendishly fun wall-to-wall slapstick and camp, thanks to the unerring comic timing of Drollinger and a supporting cast of all-star drag talent, including Drag Race’s Alaska Thunderfuck and local faves Steven LeMay and Matthew Martin.
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
DIRECTOR: Ali LeRoi
A gay Black teenager is killed by cops on his way to a party…or at the beach, hanging with his boyfriend…or in front of a convenience store, waiting for a friend…or all of the above, as 18-year-old Tunde wakes up again—and again—on the last day of his tragically short life. Timely and urgent, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson updates the Groundhog Day structure for a riveting tale at the intersection of anti-Black police violence and the resurgence of homophobia in the Trump era.
Hauntingly played by Steven Silver (13 Reasons Why) in a mesmerizing performance that shifts with each twist of fate, Tunde lives with suicidal thoughts, a Xanax addiction, and a hot-but-closeted jock boyfriend who can’t find the courage to come out. Infused with emotion and sexuality by director Ali LeRoi (Everybody Hates Chris) and subtly written by 19-year-old, Nigerian-born discovery Stanley Kalu, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is an uncommonly empowering and unique motion picture that offers a vivid, inventive portrait of growing up Black and gay in America today.
Through the Glass Darkly
DIRECTOR: Lauren Fash
The sleepy hamlet of Elrod, Georgia—a mysterious town where girls have a habit of vanishing—is the setting of director Lauren Fash’s tense, psychological thriller. Since the sudden disappearance of her daughter a year ago, Charlie (Robyn Lively of both Teen Witch and Twin Peaks fame) has never given up hope, still plastering telephone poles with “Missing” signs. But at home, the relationship with her partner Angela (Ozark’s Bethany Anne Lind) has become increasingly frayed, and her only solace is a drink at the local bar. When another girl goes missing, Charlie sets out to find answers, digging deeper into the community’s dark past and being forced to confront her own destructive secrets.
Fash’s impressive thriller smartly uses genre trappings to explore the inner workings of its heroine as she struggles to cope with reality. With a rich supporting cast which includes Shanola Hampton (Shameless) and Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica), Through the Glass Darkly rests confidently on Robyn Lively’s complex, nuanced lead performance, which adds an emotional depth to its intriguing mysteries.
DIRECTOR: Anna Kerrigan
In a breathtaking Montana landscape, Troy (a dynamite Steve Zahn, who won the Best Actor prize at the Tribeca Film Festival) escapes to the Canadian border on horseback with his golden-haired, 11-year-old son Joe. How did these “cowboys” wind up here? Unfolding clue by clue through flashbacks, this moving, suspenseful feature from writer-director Anna Kerrigan skillfully tells the story of a contemporary family struggling with how best to raise a transgender child.
Joe’s anxious mother (Jillian Bell, Brittany Runs a Marathon) still calls her child “Josie,” insisting on dresses and banning cowboy boots unless they’re pink. Troy grasps their son’s identity, but his sensitive parenting is offset by a wildness that puts Joe’s life in danger. As for Joe (remarkable trans newcomer Sasha Knight), he just wants to live his truth: cutting his hair short, fishing in a country river, and being a real cowboy. Cowboys also stars the always wonderful Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) as a dogged detective closing in on the fugitive duo as tension mounts toward an explosive climax.
DIRECTOR: Lisa Donato
Featuring an excellent ensemble cast of familiar faces and original music from Sarah McLachlan, the directorial debut of Lisa Donato (co-screenwriter of festival fave Signature Move, Frameline41) is a heartfelt tale of big dreams and unlikely friendships in 1986 suburban Missouri. Bored with his new home and looking for an escape from his parents’ constant arguments, vocabulary-obsessed 9-year old Tate Millikin (Jackson Robert Scott, It) sparks a strong bond with two of his neighbors: a Black transwoman named Gossamer (Alexandra Grey, Empire) and her retired English professor father Edward (Franklin Ojeda Smith, Boardwalk Empire).
Tate finds in Gossamer and Edward what he desperately lacks from his parents: guidance, care, and respect… not to mention being introduced to all sorts of new words. But as threats to separate the group begin to mount—all while Gossamer entertains the idea of following her dreams to NYC—Tate must accept the possibility of losing the first meaningful friendships he’s ever had. Jen Richards, Yeardley Smith, Shane West, and Sprague Grayden also star in this poignant drama.
DIRECTOR: Emma Seligman
Family obligations can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. But for Danielle (breakout star Rachel Sennott, Tahara, Frameline44 Pride Showcase), a sexually-liberated, bisexual post-grad reluctantly dragged to a Jewish funeral service by her parents, the persistent questions about her weight, love life, and career goals can make the dead seem like they’re getting off easy. Also, who was it that died again?
Confronted with the third degree from a cavalcade of characters—all while avoiding her overachieving, law student ex-girlfriend who happens to be lingering around the buffet table—Danielle finds that she is unable to escape her past, present, or future. When her current beau shows up, what was once merely awkward turns into a hilarious exploit in truth avoidance, one-uppance, and neuroses of the highest order. Writer-director Emma Seligman expands her 2018 short into a sharp, perfectly-paced, universal take on conflicting versions of self and how hard it is to live up to anyone’s expectations… even your own. This hysterical feature debut also stars Dianna Agron (Glee), Jackie Hoffman (Feud), and Fred Melamed (Lady Dynamite).
DIRECTOR: Hong Khaou
When Kit (Crazy Rich Asians heartthrob Henry Golding) returns to his native Saigon for the first time since his family fled during the Vietnam-American War, he unwittingly finds himself embarking on a personal journey to understand his true roots. No longer able to speak his native tongue, Kit searches this unfamiliar land for a proper place to scatter his parents’ ashes, while also reconnecting with estranged family members and striking up a budding romance with handsome ex-pat Lewis, potently played by Parker Sawyers (best known for BBC’s World on Fire and for playing Barack Obama in Southside with You).
Tenderly evocative and with gorgeous cinematography, Monsoon is the long-awaited sophomore feature from Cambodian-born British filmmaker Hong Khaou (Lilting, Frameline38). Khaou paints a deeply intimate exploration of displacement and the rootless experience of immigration, informed by the director’s own background, which found his family relocating as political refugees to the United Kingdom in the 1980s. As Kit, Henry Golding further showcases his effortlessly charming star power, commanding the screen with a delicate vigor.