Sunday, June 28, 2009

Drama and Passion in the "Redwoods"

Writer-director David Lewis with actors Brendan Bradley and Matthew Montgomery

Redwoods”, one of the most popular films at Frameline’s 2009 San Francisco Int’l LGBT Film Festival, sold out very early, leaving large numbers of people unable to see the film, which was screened at the Victoria Theatre on June 24. The description in the festival program drove the filmerati and the casual film fans to snatch up the tickets.

“Set amidst the romantic splendor of the Russian River, ‘Redwoods’ portrays the difficult choices one faces when confronted with an unshakable love.”

That is Sean Uyehara’s synopsis. The good news is that the film was picked up for distribution by TLA Releasing, and will be on DVD in the near future.

The San Francisco premiere of “Redwoods” drew an eager audience, and for a change the Q&A afterwards was charged with intelligent questions. Director David Lewis revealed that he drew on an experience of his own to create the script. Some of the viewers were there because they enjoyed Lewis’ popular 2007 romantic film “Rock Haven,” which had religious fundamentalism as an obstacle to gay love. Lewis also penned the script for late director Todd Wilson's charming "Under One Roof," an interracial gay romantic comedy filmed in San Francisco.

Coolness in the partners’ relationship in "Redwoods" was obvious, because when one character got naked in front of the other, he did not react. And when the lovers say goodbye for several days, there was not even a kiss on the cheek. Their bond was their adopted autistic son, and the routines of daily life. The arrival of a tourist and the spark of lust with the possibility of a new relationship is the engine that drives the film forward. Passionate sex and the drama of life decisions pull the audience into the story.

The scenery of the Russian River was beautifully filmed, and there was a lot of that footage. It conjured up the scent of redwood trees
and romantic memories in and out of canoes, cabins, and hot tubs.

At one private press screening there were outbursts usually heard at horror films. In the movie the partner who was left behind encounters an attractive tourist and is invited to step into his room. Shouts of “No!” and “Don’t do it!” rang out from the nervous married gay men as they watched.

Two scenes remarkably resemble artworks by gay genre painter Robert Morgan. There is a scene of the lover and the tourist walking down a grassy hillside with mountains in the background. The hillside kiss scene in “Room With a View” is brought to mind. Then there is the same pair of guys wearing swim trunks and holding hands while walking into the Russian River.

The opening night after-party was at the Castro neighborhood’s Sausage Factory, where Harvey Milk was a frequent diner. The same owners who served Harvey Milk presented just about every style of excellent pizza on the menu to the “Redwoods” guests. The red wine met with approval all around the crowded event. When director David Lewis stepped into the party he was met with sustained applause, similar to scenes from Hollywood films set in Sardi’s theater restaurant in New York City.

Lewis made a point of thanking the actors and the crew. The fine actors who played the lover and the tourist so well, Brendan Bradley and Matthew Montgomery, were on hand to mingle with their fans. And the young man who played their son so believably in the film, Caleb Dorfman, was there with his family.

Director David Lewis is working on a greatly anticipated third film, which is also romantically themed. He was a guest at Frameline’s Closing Night Party, which was enhanced by visits by actresses Rosie O’Donnell and Sharon Gless.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Tenderloin Health Reception at the Clift Hotel: Support Despite Severe Budget Cuts

Tenderloin Health hosted a gala reception at the luxurious Clift Hotel in San Francisco’s theater district on June 16, 2009. The hotel’s swank and softly lit penthouse provided a beautiful setting and spectacular city views for a large turnout of clients, supporters, donors, and friends of the agency. Huge floral displays and the impressive fireplace were admired by the well-dressed guests, many attired for work downtown.

Tenderloin Health was founded to provide maximum mental and physical health services for the Tenderloin’s neediest citizens. A goal is to establish self-esteem and then stabilization with housing and jobs for people vulnerable to the worst of the Tenderloin’s streets and alleys.

The evening began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and a silent auction that featured Steven Saylor’s popular ancient Greek and Roman murder mystery novels. Saylor was on hand to interact with his fans, and the Frameline LGBT Film Festival was also represented with dozens of other desirable donors of goods and services.

Chuck Gee & Friends performed the evening’s entertainment with just the right musical note, and with the stiff and quickly poured cocktails, guests mingled and signed up for auction items. The lamb chops were judged to be superb, and the red wine was a fine choice.

San Francisco City Supervisor Bevan Dufty was in the program as master of ceremonies, but he was engrossed in The City’s torturous budget deliberations, so board member Troy Brunet, who was a client, stepped forward to express the board’s appreciation for the agency’s work and to honor former executive director Tracy Brown’s vision in merging Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center (TARC) and Continuum HIV Day Services. Tenderloin Health was the result of the merger, and more than 12,000 residents used its services last year, which was possible because of Tracy Brown’s perception that the single agency would be more efficient.

MC Troy Brunet then introduced board of directors chair David Krimm, who spoke about his satisfaction in knowing that Tenderloin Health had increased its programs despite cuts in its budget and revealed that he was stepping down after years on the board, to be replaced by Andy Chen. Krimm also thanked the professional caregivers who make the agency’s work possible.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer sent her aide Megan Miller to the event, and she read a proclamation from the senator. A large framed proclamation from California State Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee was on display, and a certificate from Fiona Ma was also on the mantle. A client named Mark Myers read a charming poem of appreciation.

The moment that everyone was waiting for, the introduction of the honoree Tracy Brown, came with an unfortunate surprise. Brown had to step down from Tenderloin Health because of illness, and it was announced that he would not be there to accept his trophy and proclamations because of his illness — under orders from his doctor. There was a suggestion that much drama was involved when Tracy Brown was given the news. New executive director Colm Hegarty introduced Tracy Brown’s lover of 18 years, Gregory Holland, and he accepted the trophy for Brown. Greg Holland is the Chief Executive Officer of for the Shorenstein Theater Company that is presenting the amazing “Wicked” at the Orpheum Theater, and he and his company are strong supporters of Tenderloin Health. Holland and Hegarty made it clear that Tracy Brown saw unnecessary suffering in the Tenderloin, and he set out to do something about it. Tenderloin Health and it successes and the hope that it brings are a tribute to him.

Notable patrons and supporters at the reception included philanthropist Timothy Wu, Positive Resource Center executive director Brett Andrews, Carlos Bermudez and Sarabh Bajaj from API Wellness Center, Troy Brunet’s friend John Kiltinen, and political analyst Wayne Friday.

There was a scramble to sign up for last minute silent auction bids. The party was officially over at 8:00PM, but the more effervescent guests hovered around the bar until almost 9:00, the mark of a successful event — guests don't want to leave.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Radar Superstars Amaze Their Fans

An unusually rich literary event occurred at the San Francisco Public Library on June 9, 2009. Hostess Michelle Tea pulled together a program of superstar writers for the 6th anniversary of her Radar Reading Series that drew a full room at the library’s modernistic Koret Auditorium. Shawn Stewart Ruff, with a must-read first novel, spoken word performer Raquel Gutierez, club kid turned literary sensation James St. James, and legendary lesbian author and activist Sarah Schulman had the audience hanging on every word. Each author read, then hostess Michelle Tea bribed the notoriously reticent guests with gourmet cupcakes to ask questions.

All of the authors traveled great distances to be at the library. Gutierez came in from East Los Angeles, and Ruff, St. James, and Schulman visited from New York City.

Michelle Tea introduced the readers, saying that they would blow the audience’s mind. New novelist Shawn Stewart Ruff pulled the listeners into a graphic scene from a boy’s life when a man described as a “player” pulled up to his mother’s home in a Thunderbird and invaded a bathroom while the boy was the bathtub.

Raquel Gutierez created an intense atmosphere with her account of a Southern California Latino neighborhood being gentrified, the Night Stalker on the loose, and the pungent toxic mist of state-ordered insecticide in the air.

James St. James related the multiple layers of process for his progression from writing the true-to-life, club kid, murder book “Disco Bloodbath,” that evolved into the book and popular film “Party Monster.” Macauley Culkin starred, and St. James said that his favorite moment came when he saw the young actor’s butt. That drew muffled nervous laughs.

Sarah Schulman’s large fan base was well-represented, and she did not disappoint them. It was a momentous event for Schulman, since it was the 25th anniversary of her first novel “After Delores” and also this year is her 50th birthday. She read from “After Delores” and it was an emotional vision of women trying to get closer to each other while trying to overlook their differences. Schulman is a novelist, historian, and playwright. She has written 14 books, was a founder of the first Dyke March, and protested against AIDS, anti-abortion groups, and homophobic ballot measures across the U.S.

High points of the event came when James St. James said that “The goal is to do away with reality. Reality is for poor people and everyone else.” There was shock and delight and light applause. And Sarah Schulman said that the evident collapse of the traditional publishing industry will make way for young and alternative authors to more easily reach readers. That also was appreciated with light applause and some sighs.

Shawn Stewart’s novel, “Finlater” was promoted by MC Michelle Tea, and Raquel Gutierez mentioned her performance group Butchalis de Panotchitlan and their future projects. James St. James heard gasps when he said that a publisher wants him to write a children’s book. Sarah Schulman mentioned that she is trying to have her plays that feature lesbian heroines produced in uptown New York City, her controversial new novel about teenage sexuality “The Child” is selling well, and that she is working on a book about how 81,000 deaths from AIDS accelerated NYC gentrification. And she worked on the impressive film “ACT UP Oral History Project Series”, which is being screened at the 2009 San Francisco Int’l LGBT Film Festival. It is a remarkable achievement that should be emulated in other cities that had large active groups of AIDS activists.

The evening ended with the literary stars and their fans on the sidewalk outside the library inhaling ozone from a surprise rainstorm, squeezed together for last lingering interactions.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ending API Families' Isolation

The Asian & Pacific Islander (API) Family Pride Banquet was presented again at the Hotel Whitcomb on May 30, 2009. Greeter and board member Daniel Bao made guests feel welcome and he and his family were featured in the Family Honor Role program and in the “Wall of Pride” display that ran along the length of the ballroom. API Family Pride Director Belinda Bronkers-Laureta and her husband John also extended cordial greetings to attendees.

The goal of API Family Pride is to end the isolation of families with LGBT members, and support parents who support their LGBT children. Family Pride feels that the passage of Proposition 8 made it clear that much work needs to be done for the respect, acceptance, and inclusion for API LGBT’s, and for human rights for everyone.

Emcees Trinity Odona and Desiree Thompson kept the program moving through the evening, and the entertainment was first rate. Heiwa Taiko women drummers, who were a big hit at Maitri’s Bliss, kicked off the banquet with a bang. Excellent singer Salvador Real charmed the audience with his voice and Pride of the Pacific Islands hula dancers added the perfect touch between the awards ceremonies.

Acclaimed lesbian civil rights leader Helen Zia honored her mother Beilin for her determined survival in China, her adjustment to life in America, and her embrace of Helen and her partner. Beilin Zia was abandoned as a child in China by her family and endured hardship and the Japanese occupation during the war. But she maintained a positive attitude and moved to the U.S., married, and raised six children. And she welcomed Helen’s lover Lia Shigemura into the family.

Hard-working and highly regarded Tawal Panyacosit, who is the Director of API Equality, honored his mother Lily. His sister Shirley and his nieces Eden and Celeste shared in the ceremony.

Beilin Zia, Lily Panyacosit, and the other honorees, the Lok family, and Rev. John Oda and Rev. Jeffrey Kuan received stunning crystal sculpture awards. And the honorees were assured that they would join future “Wall of Pride” displays, with large family photographs and tributes.

The buffet dinner was varied and delicious, and there were three choices of cakes. GAPA was well represented, and API Wellness Center supporters were present. Famous military resistor Stephen Funk greeted friends, and spoke about his new job battling HIV/AIDS at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Funk sat with his fellow veterans from the Alexander Hamilton American Legion, which is well known for their monthly bingo game with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. An API Family Pride Day Proclamation from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office was read, and there was quick check over of silent auction treasures before the auction and the banquet ended.

Brokeback Fair in the City

Steven Satyricon and Tod practicing on each other in the kissing booth

The AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) scored another fundraising success with their County Fair at San Francisco’s County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park on May 31, 2009. The Western theme was picked up and run away with by chanteuses Connie Champagne and Arturo Galster, and of course, studly Bill Holt in his pink cowboy hat. Winslow Associate’s Neil Figurelli expertly coordinated the event with the AEF and a small army of smiling volunteers.

The AIDS Emergency Fund and its affiliated Breast Cancer Emergency Fund assist people who are suffering with disabling illness. Clients, employees, and volunteers joined to make the fair fun and successful.

Singer Connie Champagne thrilled the large, boisterous crowd with her fine rendition of “Stand By Your Man” decked out in a satin cowgirl outfit. She is starring in the upcoming re-mounting of the Cockettes classic “Pearls Over Shanghai.” Arturo Galster as Patsy Cline, beautifully gowned, served up an introduction about the Proposition 8 fundamentalists and then sang “Crazy.”

Sundance Saloon male dancers performed a six-man line dance, and then Christy Cote and Mila Salazar, who also dance at the Sundance Saloon, took a couple close turns around the floor. Then Ron Jenkins and Protis Phiranis showed off their Country-Western moves.

The AEF was very thoughtful in providing a large quantity of food tickets for each guest and the taste treats were extraordinary. The best sweet potato fries, buttered corn on the cob, creamy coleslaw, and onion-covered chicken sandwiches hit the spot for the city guys who imagined that they were out in the California countryside. Blue Angel Vodka, a beverage sponsor, was liberally poured, and it even found its way into the lemonade!

There were booths with games, but the booth that had fair-goers stopped in their tracks was the kissing booth. The stuff that dreams are made of, handsome Steven Satyricon and Tod, were warming up for visitors with two-tongue exercises and deep kissing. Satyricon is a professional dancer and actor, and he is a guest star in the monthly SF Boylesque shows. The leather arm band toss onto dildos was another popular booth, and some guys played Roller Bowler just to get near smoking hot Thomas, who ran the game.

AEF executive director Mike Smith headed a team of pie-tasters, and passersby nervously watched them to make sure that the sampling was not too extensive. When they finished and picked a winner, a horde of diners descended on the pies to devour them and check each other out at close quarters.

Hundreds of desirable men and some women enjoyed the fair and there was heavy cruising around the silent auction items.

Prominent guests included attorney Walter Parsley and his friend MUMC president Steve Adams, District 8 city supervisor contenders Rebecca Prozan and Scott Wiener, San Francisco treasurer Jose Cisneros, Project Open Hand executive director Tom Nolan, San Francisco city supervisor Bevan Dufty and family, and the Health Commission’s Jim Illig.

Honorees included Congressional Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s aide Dan Bernal and generous event soundman Randal Schiller. Mark Paladini, Liz Baldwin, Lance Brittain, and Stacy Aldrich were also honored.

Sister Roma and provocative Rafael Musni kept the event moments moving, and Randal Schiller’s sound brought their commentary to every corner of the vast space.

[Photo caption: 5/31/09 — The AIDS Emergency Fund's County Fair at San Francisco's County Fair Building. Steven Satyricon and Tod practiced on each other at the kissing booth. A rousing city Brokeback experience with dancing, a dildo ring toss, and great food and drink treats.]