On the closing day of San Francisco Pride, a day full of a grand parade through the streets of San Francisco one of the most brilliant films of the Frameline LGBT Film Festival, Derek screened to an audience at the Castro Theater. The artistic director of the festival Michael Lumpkin had wanted to show one of Jarman's films, which were impossible to find in a 35mm print in the USA. That is something to take note of since Derek Jarman and his films reminds us of a time in British filmmaking that no longer exists, a combination of the political, the artistic and, with a focus on gay sexuality in several complex films such as Sebastiane (1976) and Caravaggio (1986). Jarman served as production designer for Ken Russel's fascinating treatise on sexuality and the repressed clergy - The Devils. (1970). And without Jarman, Tilda Swinton said her industry career would never have taken off. She was asked to deliver a lecture on Jarman, a lecture that turned into a documentary film that she produced and wrote and which was beautifully directed by Isaac Julien.
Swinton is featured in the documentary, staring at times straight into the camera as she did in Sally Potter's Orlando. "Here I am, and this is what I believe. So what do you think? Her and Julien's appearance in the film personalizes it and is never out of place. It allows for the material to update, and for the memorial to take place. And when we look at the images, we do miss Derek Jarman.
Jarman was productive at a time before Margaret Thatcher and while the lucrative funding the British Film Institute gave to artists to develop their own voice in cinema was intact. Looking at some of his work it is with melancholy that one notes that this kind of film is not being made, this kind of film is not screened at Frameline, for after all Frameline simply culls from what is out there and is a showcase of the latest in LGBT cinema. Jarman marched in gay parades, just as we did today and when diagnosed with HIV gave a voice to his illness. Recall the years when Pride parades were virtually non existent in the 80's. His last film Blue with a voice over on his illness set to a blue screen was made just before he died in 1994.
Derek is an outstanding collage of the work of Jarman, his films, music videos, and a lengthy interview with Colin McCabe in 1990 at his home Prospect Cottage in Dungeness which serves as a voice over to his images. His artistic sensibility is so incredibly rich and dynamic that it is impossible to not be inspired by his work and appreciate his contributions to cinema, art and set design. Swinton and Julien's homage hits home.
Of all the films at Frameline, an evening with experimental work is a night to remember. From a woman who learned how to make movies at San Francisco State. And when she went to school she saw the films of only one woman: Maya Deren: the filmmaker that chose to make experimental, personal films.
Its time to wash away the made for TV scripts, the lesbian love that is unrequited, and the women who kills themselves because they can not have the one they love. There were several films this year at Frameline. Are we learning yet? Are these retrograde themes harking back to Sandy Dennis being felled by a tree in The Fox or Susannah York being forced to eat Beril Reid's cigar in The Killing of Sister George a metaphor for something that is happening to lesbian identity today? Even if so, Barbara makes us remember that its beautiful to be a lesbian at any age, and that the experimental format is a powerful tool of expression.
Here is a film that uses metaphor, to show an incredible joy for life despite a life threatening experience at the risk of alienating the public. "How has this film been received?", asked someone in the audience. "I don't know, you are the first audience", answered Barbara. As one of the first spectators I can only ask, what would the world be without Barbara Hammer? She has brought to lesbian filmmaking a uniqueness, a passion, a daring challenge to see and experience, sit and squirm , feel uncomfortable and provoked, and afterwards feel that you have gone through an ordeal into visionary and auditory realms that have made you richer for the experience. The choice of music by Meredith Monk, another incredible veteran artist , empowered the film and sent it soaring. "I always wanted to ride a horse", says Barbara, who took to the saddle faced with the acknowledgement that life is precious and can be cut short, so you better darn well enjoy all you can.
There is a trained staff of volunteers that usher in the block long length of women, and if you are on time there is no problem with a seat. The tradition of the festival is to serve food, also free, to make everyone feel at home. The feedback that each filmmaker gets from her film is enough to keep the images rolling for a long time, for the crowd is generous and knows what it likes.
To celebrate this event, a representative of Mayor Gavin Newsom spoke about how the festival is appreciated and honored by the City of San Francisco. With the new passage of legalized marriage in California and a conservative backlash already in gear to try to defeat the measure in November, strong community action is underway to get people out to vote. According to the representative, "let's get the measure passed, then worry about deconstructing the institution of marriage". Right on. Activism is a key component to the Queer Women of Color Festival (QWOCMAP), with leaflets in the vestibule for signatures to Mayor Newsom, "I support having a city owned Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center in San Francisco", and to Governor Schwarzenegger, " I recently attended the QWOCMAP Film Festival that was part of the Unisted States of Asian America Festival and National Queer Arts Festival". In California, public support of the arts is 3 cents per person, whereas the national average is one dollar.
This year Pratibha Parmar was the special invited guest to the festival, a British Indian who was born in Kenya and grew up in London in a working class neighborhood. She never went to film school but has made several films, one of which won the public prize for the best film at the Créteil International Women's Film Festival - Khush, a film about gay and lesbians in South Asia, and those interviewed came out for the first time . "Khush" means "ecstatic pleasure" in Urdu.
Parmar was interviewed by the award-winning journalist Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. Two other films were shown in a retrospective of Parmar's work: Bhangra Jig and Wavelengths. The films are archived by Women Make Movies in New York, an organization that rents films to schools and universities. Parmar noted the quality of the films on video and is planning on a DVD release of her work in the near future. Of particular interest is Parmar's latest film Nina's Heavenly Delight which has won several top awards at festivals in Fresno, Tampa and the Cineffable Lesbian Film Festival in Paris. Parmar plans to spend more time in the Bay Area with her partner of 16 years.
Programs were divided into three themes this year in addition to the special Sunday screening "Sexually Subversive": "Kindred Spirits", films about family relations, and "Delectably Yours", a pageant of films on food.
Highlights of some of the films this year include: Labels Are Forever (Jinky de Rivera, 2008).The opening titles reads like the introduction to Star Wars in this humorous saga about 007 Secret Agent J. Wong. Wong is sent by her boss to investigate how labels are used by a group of women only to discover that the assignment is bogus.
Han was also the better half in One in a Million by Monifa Porter (2008) a playful journey into the twists and turns of a lesbian fertility rite. If you click here you can see the festival's secret agent on duty.
Renacimiento de una bruja (Zemaya, 2008) is a spiritual oddyssey by a woman with the earth and her ancestors.
Queering My Mother (Lourdes Rivas, 2007) tells the story of mother that polices her daughter too much especially when she has met that special woman. As the title suggests, the evolution of awareness by the filmmaker's mother is at stake, and she does it in style.
Jagadamba, Mother of the Universe (Amber Field, 2008) is about a young South Korean woman comes to terms with her adoption in the USA while also questioning celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie who have adopted children from developing nations to give them better lives. The evolution of the young woman is traced as she comes to terms with being a lesbian and also a martial artist.
In Too Much Plain (Caroline Le, 2008) A young woman tries to figure out what's wrong with all her girlfriends with her best friend, only to discover that its because she wants to be more than best friends with her confidant.
A handful of the films were also shown at the Frameline32 LGBT Film Festival June 19-29 in a section called "Magical Promise", which is precisely what you can say about so many gifted directors at QWOCMAP.
The 61st Cannes Film Festival ended on May 25 after a 10 day run, the festival which is one of the most prestigious and which is known for screening artistic world class films. What was really refreshing about this years Cannes was the choice of the jury president, Mr. Sean Pean, a man who has worked hard for films with social issues and who has really come into his own. Other jury members included Natalie Portman and Alfonso Cuaron.
The Palme d'Or this year when to The Class by Laurent Cantet and was presented by Robert De Niro. This is the first time a French film won the top prize in 21 years. The film is about a teacher who tries to prepare a junior high school class in a rough neighborhood in Paris for the future, though the students challenge the way that he goes about it. The story is autobiographical and the teacher, François Bégaudeau, plays himself. The jury chose this film unanimously and Sean Penn said it is the young people of today who have the responsibility for the future of the planet.
Two veterans received the special Prize of the 61st Festival de Cannes the so-called ex-aequo awards.
Catherine Deneuve for A Christmas Tale by Arnaud DESPLECHIN also starring the French-Italian actress Chiara Mastroianni, the daughter of Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni.
And Clint EASTWOOD won for The Changeling, the story of a mother played by Angela Jolie whose kidnapped son is returned but who knows it is not her son.
The Award for the Best Director went to Nuri Bilge CEYLAN for Three Monkeys, a film that like its title deals with corruption in a family that doesn’t want to see hear or speak the truth.
At the press conference for the jury it was noted that the two acting awards went to films with social relevance:
Benicio Del Toro was awarded for his performance in Che, by Steven SODERBERGH, the story of Che Guevara, the Argentinean doctor that sailed to Cuba to help bring about the downfall of Batista together with Fidel Castro. Soderbergh understands that the length all of 267 minutes, may scare off the average audience and his hope is that it can be shown in installments.
Sandra Corveloni won the other award for her role in LINHA DE PASSE by Walter SALLES, a film about the hopeless conditions for four brothers in Sao Paolo who struggle to avoid falling into a life of crime. Corveloni plays their mother the housemaid Clueza,
Other veterans who have been awarded at Cannes previously were Jean-Pierre et Luc DARDENNE who won the Best Screenplay award for Lorna’s Silence the story of an Albanian woman who acquires Belgian citizenship by marrying a Russian Mafioso.
The feeling this year was that there was a lot of good films, and not enough prizes to reward all of the good work. This was not a year when a film like The Brown Bunny, by Bad Boy Vincent GALLO stood among the talent. And Sean Penn brought a quality to the festival that will make the 61st edition stand out for a while, with a French film at the top.
Broadcast on Movie Magazine International, San Francisco, May 26, 2008.