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The 26th San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

San Francisco is the gay mecca of the United States. You can't go to Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago or New York and spot rainbow flags hung around the whole city. Being the gay capital, the 26th San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has the history and the clout to bring the best in cinema to screens all over the city. The films can vary from being totally focused on queer issues to simply having at least one queer character. This year's festival offers some gems not to be missed:

Notorious C.H.O. - OPENING NIGHT:
A lighter and raunchier follow-up to her previous film, the funny yet introspective, I'm the One That I Want, Margaret Cho (the new Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand and Cher of the gay community) touches upon a variety of topics such as colonics, male menstrual cycles, drag queen guardian angels and, of course, her mom's thoughts on life, all in typical Cho style. The comedic diva is so good that she can even make 9/11 funny. Filmed live in Seattle and directed by Lorene Machado, this movie captures Cho's stand-up act plus features little interviews with fans and you finally get to meet her very cute and supportive parents. This is the movie to catch. If you can't see it here, it's opening in San Francisco in July.

Set against the political turmoil of 1988 and the Tiananmen Square protests, Lan Yu tells the story of the on again/off again relationship of two men: Lan Yu (Liu Ye), a young and innocent student, and Chen Handong (Hu Jun), a debonair and wealthy businessman. Directed by Stanley Kwan this dark and moody (yet sweet) movie is similar to Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together in tone and color. The scenes play almost like vignettes spliced together and the pace is slow and thoughtful. It explores the complexities of relationships and the double life that many Asian gay men lead as they try to reconcile traditional values of hetero-marriage and family with their true desires.

Britney Baby - One More Time:
"Britney Spears is a tranny!" Well, not actually, but in this movie she is. Directed by Ludi Boeken, this witty and quirky movie is one of the festival's gems. Dude Schmitz (played by Mark Borchardt the infamous subject of American Movie) and his brother Mike (Mike Schank, also from American Movie) are trying to make a movie. They desperately need cash and somehow they manage to get commissioned by a local TV news station to get an interview with Britney Spears. The problem is they don't have access to the real pop diva, but they can get their hands on someone just as good - a Britney Spears impersonator (Robert Stephens aka Angel Benton) who just won a lookalike contest. Mark and his crew follow 'her' around and take a road trip to Ms. Spears' hometown. The results are bizarre and hilarious. Why the director chose Borchardt to play Dude, god knows, maybe cause Mark is Dude, but, anyways, it's so random it works. It's a classic tale of art imitating art imitating life.

Come out, Come out:
This shorts program is anchored by a hilarious yet moving film called No prom for Cindy directed by and starring Charlie Adler as Cindy, a popular teenage girl, in the body of a big, hairy middle-aged guy, who's coming to grips with her desire for girls and her community's reaction. Also starring Estelle Harris, best known as George's mom on Seinfeld, this skillfully directed piece portrays teenaged girls to a tee. Another funny short, Fairy Steps: A Gay Intervention. by Gabriel Quintero is a tongue-in-cheek look at interventions which helps lighten the load from the other three, more serious films. Like a Brother directed by Alexandra Steele, captures the fear and anticipation of desire and adds in a nice twist, Southern Family by Keith Wilson is a sweet, autobiographical short about coming out to two of the best grandmas in the world, and Alan Brown's O Beautiful is a stylish, moody look at violence, guilt and attraction.

All the Queen's Men:
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, this comedy focuses on the WWII hijinks of four men dressed in drag. Steven O'Rourke (Matt LeBlanc, the Friends star has finally graduated to a decent movie) plays an inept spy assigned a mission to infiltrate a woman-only factory to steal a valuable German coding device. His team consists of an aging clerk, an interpreter and a former soldier turned drag diva, Tony Parker (Eddie Izzard). The British comedian steals the show and brings depth to every scene. This understated comedy totally pokes fun at British stodginess, arrogance and adherence to rules while also avoiding slapstick humor and 'fag' jokes.

Running Blue:
Directed by Kim Yoo-min, this highly stylized feature from Korea has one of the hottest trannies in the world. This girl is dyn-o-mite (although, honestly, I'm not too sure if it's just a woman playing a tranny or an actual tranny). The movie is broken into vignettes with quirky titles that run like a Quentin Tarantino flick; they play with perspective and time. The lives of a promiscuous actress, a mysterious woman with a secret and a hip documentary filmmaker all collide in this very sexual (there are several parts that seem like a homemade porn) exploration of voyeurism and isolation.

Ke Kulana He Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place:
This powerful documentary examines the ways in which the indigenous culture and community of Hawai'i was detrimentally affected through years of contact with 'white men', missionaries and Christian, western influences. The focus is on the original Hawai'ian views on sexuality, which accepted Mahu (transgendered individuals) as a valuable part of society. Directors Kathryn Xian and Brent Anbe create a heartfelt film interviewing scholars, social workers, and authors as well as drag queens and Mahu; in addition, they interweave historical footage and beautiful traditional chants, music and dancing.

Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House - CLOSING NIGHT:
When you think of the GBLT movement you don't automatically think of two old Jewish ladies from Brooklyn. Ruthie and Connie were friends for 40 years and lovers for 25; traditional housewives, mothers and pillars of their community, they fell in love, left their hubbies and started a new life together. They are the doyens of the queer community. This documentary, directed by Deborah Dickson, is low-tech, unpretentious, and, at times, seems like a home movie. It tells the life stories and the trials and tribulations of these charming ladies from Contello Towers in Brooklyn, NY. You learn about their relationship through candid conversations with friends and one another about how their relationship affected their neighbors, community, and children as well each other. The end result is very endearing, sweet and powerful.


The 26th International San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

Showing from June 13
through June 30th
at various SF locations