Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


Spellbinding debut feature 'Concussion' opens Frameline 37

Stacie Passon and Rose Troche in San Francisco ©Moira Sullivan
The Frameline 37 opening film "Concussion" filled the Castro Theatre to capacity in San Francisco on June 20. On hand were filmmaker Stacie Passon and producer Rose Troche. Troche had been at the Castro 19 years ago as director of the cult classic "Go Fish", and hoped that the experience would be just as good for Passon. Apparently it was, for Passon whipped out a small digital camera to take pictures for her children of the massive audience seated at the Castro waiting to see her film.

"Concussion"will receive its theatrical release in San Francisco in October so the Frameline screening was a peak preview for San Francisco. (Passon and Troche will be featured in an exclusive radio interview for Movie Magazine International San Franciso in the autumn.) This is a smart film with a provocative and captivating script (Passon),  slick edits (Anthony Cupo), brilliant camera work (David Kruta) and a soundtrack that feels Eastern set to Western instruments (composer Barb Morrison and Micki Kaufman,Tommy Mokas).

The film belongs of course to lead actress Robin Weigert who is a master at subtle facial expressions that tell it all without the need for dialogue. An ensemble cast who are equally convincing in their roles supports her.  Weigert plays Abby, a 42-year-old lesbian mom who is ignored by her partner and who doesn’t seem to have much to do. After an accident in which she is hit in the head with a baseball by her son, she decides to redecorate a loft with the help of Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), a young straight man. He has many skills and later sets her up with 'The Girl' (Emily Kinney) who arranges the referrals of rich young college women who are willing to pay for a 'mature situation' with a high scale escort.  Justin somehow even signs up the married Sam (Maggie Siff)  from Abby's community outside New York. 'The Girl' is in law school and just can't get caught, so negotiations are disguised as discussions about home decoration.

Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) seems oblivious to the needs of her partner and apparently regards her home, job and even her children as possessions. Weigert revealed that when the film opened in Berlin where it won the Teddy Award in February 2013, that she was asked if the film was making a statement about the bourgeoisie. It may sound like a strange question in the USA but it is perfectly relevant with the middle class setup of "Concussion" that does not bring a state of ‘Being’ in the existentialist sense. 

The film is a collaborative effort between Rose Troche (who won the Berlin Teddy Award in 1994 for "Go Fish") and Stacie Passon who were clearly enraptured with each other and the cast and crew on stage. Troche is a clever producer and director who has skillfully stewarded Passon in making a film of such extraordinary completion that it is mind boggling it is a first.  Passon’s 'Being' clearly shows and everyone who worked on the project admitted that the film gelled under her direction.

The subject of the film will be familiar to heterosexual as well as LGBT spectators, since monogamy and the acquisition of wealth by established couples, with or without children, can spin out of control over time, and the unknown in the outside world becomes more and more appealing. This is an intriguing subject, which the film explores with enough space for spectators to pose their own questions.

Frameline has corporate sponsors to maintain its operations, and AT&T picked up the tab for opening night. "Concussion" as a first feature is eligible for an awarrd of $7.500 from Wells Fargo in one of several competitive categories, including the Audience Award.

Frameline is a festival where there are world premieres but films like "Concussion" debuted at one of the A line festivals – Sundance --the others are Toronto, Berlin, Cannes, San Sebastian and Venice. The San Francisco festival is a public festival with a ready-made audience given the expanse of the LGBT community in the area. Some directors don’t like their films to be regarded as a “gay film” in order to reach the widest possible audience. Those who choose Frameline for their world premiere know it is just the right spot. Filmmaker Monika Treut calls Frameline, "the Cannes of LGBT filmmaking". Add to LGBT -- a 'Q' for 'queer'.
Passon and Troche at Frameline 37 ©Moira Sullivan


Jamie Babbit receives 'Frameline 37 Award'

Jamie Babbit at Frameline 37 

Jamie Babbit was honored with the Frameline 37 Award on June 22 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. It's reassuring to know that there are some well-admired talented writers, directors and actors who continually turn out brilliant work in the LGBT world. When they return to Frameline with their films it is a special event. Jamie Babbit is one of them and we always look forward to her latest creations. She is only in her early 40's but has been working for over two decades.

Babbit first gained early critical attention with her short film “Sleeping Beauties” (1999) about two women who become attracted to each other on a photo shoot. It’s an unusual shoot where Sno Blo, a dead rock star, is being made up by Heather (Sarah Lassez), a mortician from 'Rolling Headstones Funeral Home'. Clea (Clea DuVall), the photographer’s assistant, falls for Heather and wonders if she ever has worked on the living. It was just 13 minutes but an enchanting twist on Sleeping Beauty.

But I'm A Cheerleader (2000)

The next year, Babbit’s first feature “But I’m a Cheerleader" was released. There are two other filmmakers that come to mind who can do to the kitschy set design that Babbit did on this film – Pedro Almodóvar and John Waters. The film is a comedy about a conversion therapy camp where young gays are trained to be straight. Megan (Natasha Lyon), a high school cheerleader is sent to be reformed but falls for Graham (Clea DuVall).

The scary therapy is banned in California. On the same day Babbit won her Frameline award (June 22), the news broke about Alan Chambers, the leader of the largest conversion therapy group "Exodus" who resigned, apologized and admitted he was attracted to men.

When I first interviewed Babbit in Paris in 2000, I could barely pronounce her name or get a grasp on the title of this new film. She proceeded to win the Audience and Graine de Cinéphage (youth prize) awards at Créteil Films de Femmes. On stage she told the audience she was surprised she won since she had been told that the French didn’t have a sense of humor. Clearly the humor in this film and those to follow is international and has attracted a dedicated following. Babbit struck an accord with LGBT spectators from the beginning.

Stuck (2002)

In 2002, we met again in Cologne at Internationales Frauenfilmfestival (International Women’s Film Festival) where Babbit’s black comedy short screened - “Stuck”, about two aging lesbians with a long overdue spat who hit something living on a desert road with their pickup. Producer and partner Andrea Sperling and Babbit attended my lecture on filmmaker Maya Deren at the festival. Deren was about the same age as Babbit (26) when she made her first short film and the avantgarde filmmaker is one of Sperling’s mentors. Ace producer Sperling received the Frameline Award in 2007.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007)

We met again at Frameline five years later. I had recommended Babbit's film that screened that year at Frameline - "Itty Bitty Titty Committee"(2007) to a film festival in Sweden. The intelligent and hilarious script by Babbit, Sperling Tina Mabry and Abi Shafran is about the birth of a young woman’s political awareness and her involvement in an extremists group, which was a refreshing sign that the torch of feminist activism had been passed to a younger generation of lesbians.

After the award on June 22 and screening, Babbit and Andrea Sperling, producer of Babbit's latest film "Breaking the Girls" came up on stage with writer Guinevere Turner, one of the most productive actresses and writers in lesbian filmmaking behind several episodes of "The L Word". Multiply that by Rose Troche who was at Frameline Thursday night as producer of the opening film "Concussion" directed by Stacie Passon, and who worked on "Go Fish" with Turner.

Breaking the Girls (2013)

"Breaking the Girls" is a lesbian thriller about a double homicide. Babbit said it was made on a shoestring budget and that Sperling can make a buck stretch a long way. The tint of the film is dark, fitting the noir ambiance of the film, which today is the equivalent of the black and white of the 1950's genre. Babbit threw in some Patricia Highsmith touches - a snail that grossed out Turner but was insistent on keeping in the script.

The story opens with Sarah (Agnes Brukner) who works at a bar and is hit on by the homicidal tipsy hipster Alex (Madeline Zima). Later they return to her condo, break a few glasses make out in a hot tub and attend a party for a Taxidermy conference. As they enter the space there is a stuffed pig on its back, feet up, evoking Hitchcock. Alex falls for Sarah but its complicated since she since she hates her stepfather’s girlfriend Nina (Kate Levering) so much that vengeance gets in the way.
Davenia McFadden as Detective Ross (Breaking the Girls)

The feature has more than a few surprising twists and turns that fuel the plot. Babbit said she appreciated the humor in the audience that Frameline is renowned for during this annual 10-day festival. The slick collaboration of Babbit and Turner on the script includes casting the commanding seasoned veteran Detective Ross - the fabulous Davenia McFadden - who works to solve the homicides. Turner revealed at the Q&A that she is sometimes actor sometimes writer: when she gets sick of people she writes and when she’s lonely she acts. 

In addition to films, Jamie Babbit has directed dozens of TV shows such as "Drop Dead Diva", "United States of Tara", "Ugly Betty", "The Gilmore Girls", and "Emily Owens M.D". You will always find a female character with sharp skills in the centerfold of her films.

Babbit creates believable lesbian characters and scenarios that have endeared her to the public. She is a clever and resourceful filmmaker with a great sense of the bizarre, the comic and real and immediate LGBT issues. She clearly deserves this honor tonight at Frameline.


Aisha Tyler's outrageous stand up intoxicates 'Cobb's Comedy Club'

The crowd is there to celebrate Aisha Tyler:part Lana Kane “Archer” fans from the FX animated sitcom television series and part Andrea Marino fans from the first season of“Ghost Whisperer”.
Tyler transformed into different personas in an electric and intuitive cascade, a litany of eclectic insights on television, racism, hotels and her husband. What is central to her show is her shrewd perception of how our differences give us our humanity. The talented African American reminds us of Jean-Paul Sartre’s claim that “we are nothing other than what we make ourselves”. Her show also illuminates one of the French philosopher’s central tenets on the human condition by “making us conscious of who we are and that we are solely responsible for our existence”. Tyler takes charge and illuminates how TV does NOT make us feel good and that we should get that. The negative messages from ads are abundant, she extolled: “you’re fat”; you’re a slob – clean your house”. She admonishes us that if we take in those messages it is our responsibility. This is an empowering rant.
The San Francisco native has the experience of growing up in a multicultural environment, after the efforts in the 70’s by Mayor George Moscone to carve up the city into broad based districts, represented by the people who lived there, not just businessmen who represented their own interests. Supervisors got together and hammered out criteria for a harmonious existence in the City. It is because of Moscone’s vision that Harvey Milk got elected. The late Mayor’s legacy is part of the magic of San Francisco and why you can sit in a club in North Beach on a Saturday night and listen to one of its most outspoken artists.
This is the San Francisco Aisha Tyler is born from and she represents this cultivated diversity. “How does that work when you go to the Midwest”, asks Tyler? Things change. Some white people can be patronizing. “On tour, someone came up and said I was so cute, she wanted to bake me a pie”. “Honey I don’t know you that well”, Aishi responded. She described a racially divided town where the white people stare at the black people when things need to be done and take turns asking each other “are you going to do it? until a Mexican comes along who says, “I’ll do it”.
Tyler reveals the intricate layers of multiculturalism in a colorful fashion in her standup and it is clear she is one of the gifted artists that undergoes a phenomenal metamorphosis when speaking to the public, becoming an altered spirit. She can deliver her material full throttle and go ballistic, then slow down, cruise, and smile, in an embodied sense of humor, a humor that genuinely goes home with San Franciscans.
Tyler’s shows are not only successful here but also all across the United States and Canada. Americans are feared in Canada says Tyler, like the Mexicans in California. She admits she hails from "the Great State of Mexico", and then adds, “they’ll get it back again”, alluding to the dark history of California where Mexico and Native American land was cheaply sold or just appropriated by the U.S. Government. Canadians fear that Americans will come and take advantage of their social democratic programs too, like the Mexicans in California, quips Tyler. Then there was someone Canada, clearly in awe, who asked her if she owned a gun.
Not all of Tyler’s show deals with race and diversity; a lot of material is focused on sex, and the battle between the sexes for sex. She is proud to be married for 19 years to a white man, and he often comes up in the show. For example, she boasts that he is good to have in the car when she is stopped by a policeman, who figures if she is with a white man she is "supervised", and waves her on.
One unique part of the show is entitled “mysterious injuries”, that freakishly occur walking though your house, explains Tyler especially when you are older. And she illuminates some of the fears of being 40 + and aging (though she claims throughout the show she is 30). She discusses alcohol (mis) use in a way that sounds like the exploits of drinking gone wrong at an AA meeting. (“I am so wasted and am supposed to be at work at 9, and it’s 9.45”.)
Much of Tyler’s material has to do with how repressed men and women are sexually, noting synthetic drugs like Viagra for sustained sexual prowess into the supernatural realm. As proof, when she is in a hotel room with her husband, they, like others, do things they would never do at home and put a glass up to the wall and compare experiences. After a night in a hotel, the bellboy serves breakfast for her and her husband - glass to the wall - “the Cowboy”.
Aisha Tyler is a powerful woman, clearly in command of herself and confident of her abilities. Although this is her commentary, one can’t help wonder why so much attention is given to men when it comes to sexuality and little to women and herself. It is almost as if by discussing male sexuality, she becomes empowered for having the guts to talk about it.This part of the script calls for more ingenuity. Here her material is a little like comedian Margaret Cho, without all the constant accolades to gay men.
In this show, stereotypes are abundant for the gay population and for the heterosexual population in San Francisco from the Mission, to nearby Marin. Diversity is visible. The warm-up act to her show is a gay Iranian man who comes out asking if the audience thought he was a lesbian because of the way he looked: short hair, casual attire - sweatshirt and sweatpants and clearly at least 100 pounds overweight sporting a “Michelin tire”. He then tells the audience he loves lesbians and asks if any are in the house. During one part of Aisha’s routine he comes out dancing when she mentions that she feels like Jennifer Beales in “Flashdance”.
Aisha Tyler defines herself as she chooses to be. The hope is that by pointing out our diversity with humor we are brought together as humanity. The approach seemed to jell with the audience, who were invited to meet her after the show. Judging by sustained applause and hysteria for over an hour, it was obvious that many felt mirrored by her powerful observations.
Reprinted from San Francisco -

66th Cannes Film Festival – Palme d’Or Winner La Vie d’Adèle

WARNING: No cell phones, no texting, no computers, with young people speaking face to face during the making of the film with real dialogue.NOT Made in the USA.

By Moira Sullivan. 
In an unprecedented decision, the jury for the official competition of the 66th Festival de Cannes, led by President Steven Spielberg, awarded the French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche and French actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos the Palme d’Or for La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitre 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Color). The prize was shared by all three, which is a confirmation that the onscreen performances were recognized as auteur work. Kechiche has proven himself a master of capturing the joy of youth on film, but equally the lead actresses of the film Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos command the screen with their raw, emotional performances as co-creators in this epic tale of two women in love. Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, the film stood out among the other entries at Cannes primarily because of the creative use of the camera and editing but also the gestalt of these two exceptional actresses in screen space. The majority of film is shown in closeups and the editing aligns these spectacular shots into a cohesive story magnificently.
The story opens on the life of fifteen-year-old high school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos). She has a brief but meaningless fling with a classmate ends after a one-night stand, which leaves the boy in tears. Afterward, Adèle realizes she is missing something. By chance, she finds herself attracted to the beautiful Emma (Léa Seydoux), a striking girl in her mid 20’s with dyed blue tinted hair. After a brief encounter on the street where Emma is walking with her girlfriend, Adele later dreams about her. Her literature class is reading about the anticipation of desire from the 18th century novel The Life of Marianne by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, and this only serves to heighten her passion.
Kechiche is excellent in putting this essence on screen and Sedoux and Exarchopolous brilliantly help realize the ambition of the film. The actresses articulate many of the emotions of youth, which to the audience should be painfully familiar. Adèle marches in political rallies for worker rights, better education and gay pride. But her classmates’ comments are cruel when she is seen with Emma, the “tomboy”. Adèle goes to a gay bar, with a friend from school and not long after to a lesbian bar on her own where she meets Emma. An hour into the film Emma and Adèle spend the night. The sex scenes are explicit, passionate and joyful. The close-ups are so microscopic that you can see the tiny hairs on their skin.
Adèle aspires to be a primary school teacher, and Emma is a student at the School of Fine Art (École des Beaux-Arts). As their relationship develops, Adèle becomes an art model for Emma who calls her a muse. However, the differences between the two women become notable when it is time to meet their parents. Emma’s parents are acceptant of Adèle and Emma, but Adèle’s parents are unaware of their daughter’s relationship. The internalized homophobia that both women feel comes across at the dinner table. Furthermore, Adèle cannot introduce Emma to her friends after the bullying she received in school, but Emma has “cultured” art friends who nonetheless ask stupid questions, such as “is this your first time with a woman?”
Emma speaks with a friend at a party, a pregnant woman named Lise, who shares similar interests with her. Soon, she is telling Adèle to get an interest in life other than her. Emma’s world is high art culture, which differs from Adèle’s interests in primary school pedagogics and popular cinema. Emma begins to spend her evenings away discussing Egon Shiele and Gustav Klimt with Lise. And so, Emma and Adèle’s differences, which were the source of attraction, begin to polarize them and they drift apart.
Ellipses in the film time line are frequent during the decline of their relationship. Three years after Emma throws Adèle out of her home, they meet in a café. The sexual attraction is still there but Emma has a family now with Lise and her two kids. She admits she is no longer in love with Adèle. When Emma has her first art show, she invites Adèle. Lise reminds her how her presence is still in Emma’s paintings. The newer canvases in charcoal have a touch of commercialism. One of Emma’s friends claims that she is absent in her gaze in her latest work, perhaps now that Adèle is gone.
As the late French actress Maria Schneider said, “Film is the memory of our time” and to this one can add, the memory of our youth and our loves. Nowhere is that more evident than in La Vie d’Adèle. Echoing these sentiments, the Cannes critics, particularly the French, proved to be in love with the film and its characters. It is the kind of cinema that is appealing to a French audience with a strong frame of reference for literature and cinema, a predilection for good food and parties, and a vested interest in French education. Twelve out of fifteen critics cited in Le Film Français gave Kechiche’s film a Palme d’Or rating symbol.
La Vie d’Adèle is a narrative that compels the spectator to know more. At the press conference on May 23, Kechiche revealed there is enough material for two more films and is willing to put this into more chapters. In fact, he shot a total of 700 hours and cut it down to three. Both Sedoux and Exarchopolous said they are willing to go on with the story, and were surprised that so many  scenes were not in the final cut. It can be understood that further chapters will be assembled if Kechiche decides to do so.
Kechiche underlines that the film is about two people who are attracted to each other , like any other love story, and does not emphasize the implication of the sexual politics in this film. “It’s not good to delve or say anything about homosexuality”, said Kechiche at the press conference. Not only the director but also Sedoux and Exarchopoulos, who are both heterosexual, had little to say on the subject. The fact that gay marriage was hotly debated in France at the time the film was made was something Kechiche decided to avoid in Adéle, despite violent protests in the streets in Paris in April.
Kechiche has proclaimed that a revolution must contain a sexual revolution, so his film nevertheless goes a long way and makes a huge statement. As yet, he has not gone on record that gay marriage is a legitimization of same sex relationships as part of the revolution. Still, Emma and Adèle are two lesbians living in a heterosexual world, a matter the first official press conference at Cannes addressed, and as the film opens itself up to wide screen distribution, it becomes time for Kechiche and the co-creators of La Vie d’Adéle—Sedoux and Exarchopoulos—to take note.
Distributor Wild Bunch informs that the film has already been sold to the US and other countries and that the 179 hour runtime will remain intact. La Vie d’Adéle will be released in France on October 9, 2013.
Moira Sullivan is an accredited journalist at Cannes, and served on the Queer Palm Jury 2012. She is a member of FIPRESCI with a doctorate in cinema studies from Stockholm University and graduate studies in film at San Francisco State University.
Reprinted from Film International, published in the UK.