Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Uplifting and Serious Films for Discerning Fans

More than 58 films from 16 countries are being screened at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the variety of celluloid offerings is sure to please the most discerning film fans.

The festival opened in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre with "Mabul (The Flood)" which meshes the biblical story of a great flood with a modern-day dysfunctional family. Yoav Rotman, the young Isreali star of the film, was congratulated over and over at the opening night party at the Swedish American Hall, while his mother stood nearby beaming. The hors d’oeuvres were superb and the cocktails were stiff, and the large crowd moved from room to room for taste treats and to chat up fellow filmerati.

Executive Director Peter Stein was joined by his partner Brian Freeman, and Corey Tong, Jenni Olson, Dan Wohlfeiler, and San Francisco Pride Grand Marshal Aaron Belkin made up some of the LGBT film contingent.

Actor Kirk Douglas was honored with the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award on July 24 for his brave action in demanding that blacklisted "Spartacus" script writer Dalton Trumbo be given credit in 1960. Douglas’ philanthropy was praised, as was his brilliance at playing forceful characters in such films as "Out of the Past," "Paths of Glory," and "Lust for Life" which were on display on film clips. Douglas also played an over-the-top Viking in "The Vikings" that seethes with authentic violent excesses and bold histrionics.

What was largely missing from the ceremony is that Douglas not only re-learned to speak after a stroke 15 years ago, but he is also an inspiration to the tens of thousands who suffer strokes every year. Douglas seemed to be enjoying himself and he was buoyed by the 1,400-person standing ovations to and from the stage. Too many people do not pursue a life as a stroke survivor and isolate themselves in their homes. Douglas not only speaks in public, he was a witty and clever presenter at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He was equally witty and clever on the Castro Theatre’s stage at the Jewish Film Festival.

The festival ends on July 28 with the closing night film "100 Voices: A Journey Home" and live performances should not be missed. Think Al Jolson’s dramatic singing finale in the first sound movie "The Jazz Singer," and this will be ten times more intense with four singers and the Castro Theatre’s organ.

Most of the best festival films will be screened after July 28 in Berkeley, San Rafael, and Palo Alto. Checking will help in locating these movies.

LGBT themes can be found in "Mary Lou" and "The Queen Has No Crown." Both films were endorsed by celluloid connoisseurs. One film that delves into the betrayal of French Jews by their fellow citizens who collaborated with the occupying Nazis is "The Roundup." There are films for young adult viewers and even Israel’s first horror film. Israel has achieved more Academy Award nominations for its films than any other Middle Eastern country, and now it can claim a cinematic experience of movie characters yelling for help in Hebrew while facing a mindless bloodfest.

Karen Larsen and her publicity associates Ani Klose and Leo Wong again achieved a successful festival, and the only cloud in the cinematic sky was that Executive Director Peter Stein is retiring and he will be greatly missed. Hopefully his sensational award winning documentary "The Castro" will now be followed by equally fine future film projects.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Jean Harris Memorial at Delancey Street: A Fearless Activist, and a Hell of a Friend

Lesbian activist Jean Harris speaking about Domestic Partnership legislation in October 1999

The cover of the Jean Harris memorial program featured an eye-catching portrait and a quote from California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton: “A fearless activist, and a hell of a friend.”
Burton joined more than forty political activists and friends of Harris at Delancey Street in San Francisco on July 21 to present a tribute to the tireless promoter of LGBT rights. Burton said that he received numerous complaints about Harris being a “pain in the butt” when she was working for the Democratic Party. He said that “A pain in the butt that gets the job done is better that someone who does not do the job.”

Harris lost her two daughters to an ex-husband in a custody battle. That set her on an activist course that would lead to other lesbians and gay men not losing their children to ex-partners, and multiple other rights now taken for granted. She co-founded Lesbian Agenda for Action, the first lesbian political action committee (PAC) in the U.S., steered San Francisco’s domestic partner legislation to victory when she was an aide to San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, and co-produced the “Lavender Sweep” that elected several lesbian and gay candidates. Harris also instigated needle exchange while working for San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan, became the executive director of Basic Rights Oregon to take on homophobic bigots, and the first executive director of the organization that became Equality California (EQCA).

Harris was front and center at a Queer Nation marriage equality protest at San Francisco City Hall, and she shooed the San Francisco Police Department Tactical Squad away after a storming of the City Clerk’s office and a mock wedding for eight couples. Her small army of domestic partnership campaigners easily overwhelmed local and bussed-in fundamentalists who tried to stop her. She met her match during the Rodney King protests in San Francisco when she was clubbed along with many others, and a huge angry cry went up when her clubbing was screened at the Roxie Theatre. Harris was decked out in a tuxedo and thoroughly enjoyed herself as the host of an election night celebration when Harry Britt became San Francisco Board of Supervisors President with over 110,000 votes.

Notables who attended the event at Delancey Street included: Kate Kendell, Roma Guy, Eileen Hanson, Happy Hyder, Dianne Jones, Dana Van Gorder, Geoff Kors, Ken Jones, Rafael Mandelman. Leslie Katz, Sharon Johnson, Kate Monica Klein, Lea Militello, and Melinda Paras. The reception was coordinated by Carol Stuart, and the choice of space and catering was impeccable.

Democratic Central Committee member Carole Migden passionately and eloquently summed up Harris and she received sustained applause:

Democratic Central Committee member Carole Migden

“Jean Harris was an absolutely original person, a harbinger ahead of her time. Coming from an awful life, Jean blasted into town in the mid eighties with a fierce agenda and a razor focus. She quickly gained access to important people. She intuitively understood the levers of power and how to use them. She was intense and charismatic and she cared nothing about status or personal gain. She provoked and prodded, dressed like a man and took the bullet that came with that. She was cool, older than us, attracted women like a magnet and usually traveled in a pack. Jean was confident, and you knew when she entered the room. Many times over the years Jean would stop by my office unannounced. In came Jean, in came the most important issue of all time. To experience Jean Harris was like being caught in a tidal wave. You are awestruck and transfixed. You know you are witnessing something profound and encompassing. The force was stronger than you, you stopped resisting for the best and knew here there’d be a lot of mopping up later. Jean invented a social media way before Zuckerberg and way before texting and tweeting took hold.  I love Jean Harris. She made me shine and she gave me many good times. I hope her profound contributions to LGBT equality get the recognition they deserve.”

The Trikone Protest at the Indian Consulate: Protesting Bigotry in San Francisco

Members of Trikone, an LGBT organization of people of South Asian descent in the San Francisco Bay Area, converged on the Consulate General of India in San Francisco on July 22 to protest homophobic bigotry. An official in a position to help or do harm, Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad, had claimed that men who have sex with men are committing unnatural acts.

Trikone drew about two dozen members and supporters to the protest. Success was achieved when Deputy Indian Consul General Kumar Tuhin agreed to receive a letter of grievance from Trikone’s Susmita Thomas and Harsha Mallajosyula. The letter condemned the health minister’s bigoted statements, and it will be seen and hopefully commented on by the Consul General based in San Francisco. There were also complementary protests in New Delhi, Mumbai, and other Indian cities.

The last LGBT protest at the Indian Consulate in San Francisco was a few years ago, when there was a strident reaction to some hospitals in large Indian cities that chained people with AIDS to beds.

For more information:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The GAPA Happy Hour at the Lookout Bar: Cocktails and a Runway Pageant Kickoff

Chi Chi la Woo (out of drag) and Keri Hanna

The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) hosted a crowded and friendly gathering for their Happy Hour at the Lookout Bar across the street from CafĂ© Flore in the Castro district on July 21. Promotion of GAPA’s Runway Pageant was a key impetus for the event, and the complexities of the pageant’s production was a leading topic over cocktails and complimentary pizza.

Glamorous Keri Hanna, the partner of popular South Bay comic Marty Grimes worked the room to get a feeling for her possible competition for Miss GAPA this year. Former Miss GAPA Chi Chi la Woo appeared out of drag in a sleek suit and he conferred with GAPA Second Princess Marijoy Tabatsoy, who also skipped his drag but he did wear his sash with some highly elevated masculine attire.

One of the most experienced GAPA party promoters and hosts, Ken Hamai, was the party's center of attention. Again this year he will be hosting the GAPA Runway VIP Reception, which is a wondrous hour of exciting guests both in and out of thrilling drag, fine liquor and wine, and gourmet fusion taste treats that starts at 5:45 PM on Aug. 13. The show starts on time at 7:00 PM.

Marijoy Tabatsoy (out of drag) and Keri Hanna

Runway is a unique pageant because of emcee Tita Aida’s talent for drawing out the best of the Miss and Mr. GAPA contestants, and because of the almost continuous, hilarious situations that have the audience laughing with the title-seekers. It is a fantastic pageant experience for a good cause that should not be missed.

The Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center is the event beneficiary.

More information at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

AIDS Walk’s 25th Anniversary: 3 Million Dollars Raised to Support HIV/AIDS Services

On July 17 more than 25,000 people gathered in Golden Gate Park for the 25th AIDS Walk San Francisco. More than 3 million dollars was raised for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) and HIV/AIDS programs and services throughout the Bay Area.

The SFAF is well known for its excellent Black Brothers Esteem, the Magnet clinic that is the medical and cultural center of the Castro, and El Grupo that serves Latinos. It is the 30th year of the HIV/AIDS scourge and the SFAF has battled it since it was founded in a two-man office space on Castro Street by Cleve Jones.

There was a steady roar of voices in the audience and around a couple acres of booths and check-in stands at one end of the huge space and music from the stage coming from the other direction. More than a thousand volunteers registered and coordinated the walkers, recycled throwaways, and handed out bananas, yogurt, health bars, and drinks.

The event began with a bang when Culture Shock dancers joined by former San Francisco City Supervisor Bevan Dufty led the crowd in a warm-up and motivational exercise. SFAF CEO Neil Giuliano inspired with his comments: “The funds raised by AIDS Walk San Francisco play a vital role in our efforts to radically reduce new HIV infections in San Francisco, ensure everybody knows their status, and make sure all people living with HIV/AIDS get the care they need. And AIDS Walk San Francisco is about a community of people coming together not only to create something special, but also to make a substantial impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS across the Bay Area.”

More than 74 million dollars has been raised by AIDS Walk San Francisco in the last 25 years. 48 organizations receive funds from the event. It is an optimistic and positive experience balanced by the knowledge that almost a thousand people sero-convert every year in San Francisco. The SFAF is working to half the infection rate by 2015, assure HIV+ individuals receive proper care, and just about everyone know their HIV status.

Emcees and celebrities included ABC 7’s Dan Ashley, Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty"), Alan Cumming ("The Good Wife"), and Cloris Leachman ("Raising Hope"). San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spoke and gave a proclamation to Giuliano, praising the vast scale of the fundraiser. Notables included State Senator Mark Leno, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Supervisors Scott Wiener and Ross Mirkarimi, Treasurer Jose Cisneros, and Police Chief Greg Suhr.

Actress Leachman is a polarizing figure in many groups in San Francisco. Her inexcusable behavior at Donna Sachet and Gary Virginia’s Pride Brunch a few years back undoubtedly limited her public appearances, but there were a few people who delighted in her AIDS Walk mooning, leaping onto the lap of  Foundation Board Chair Tom Perrault to swig water, and grabbing the sign-language interpreter on stage.

Mary Birdsong from Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City: A New Musical” performed a sublime “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with four smiling backup singers. Judy Kale, also from Maupin’s show, sang an uplifting “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as the 25,000 began their several-mile trek.

Concerned volunteers mentioned that the SFAF had taken over the former California AIDS Ride to establish AIDS/LifeCyle to deny a producer a large amount of the funds raised, and asked why they have not taken the AIDS Walk San Francisco production away from Craig Miller’s MZA company. A boost to the funds available for fighting AIDS would result, and AIDS/LifeStroll was a popular proposed name for a re-named event.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Magnet Anniversary: Eight Years of Medicine and Culture in the Castro

Most of the Magnet staff made an appearance at the eighth-year anniversary party on July 9 at their beautifully designed space. On Magnet's inauguration day, Mayor Willie Brown exclaimed that it “looks like the W Hotel!” The design is a combination of blue and a shade of green not favored by many outside of art schools, with clear and colored plastic panels. The ceiling panels appear like they will fly out onto the street momentarily.

Steve Gibson, Magnet’s director, spoke about the clinic before it opened, and as he gathered support its importance became known when community activists realized that the San Francisco LGBT Community Center would not be hosting men and women’s health clinics. The Los Angeles and New York City centers provide HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and other health services for people who would rather be at an LGBT center to receive those services. Those centers receive millions of dollars for those clinics, and millions more for youth services.

Initially conceived as the health place for 1,500 clients, now Magnet sees more than 9,500 clients yearly. There are special flu shot opportunities, and considering the city’s charges for Hepatitis A and B shots, Magnet is the preferred location for those all-important injections. STD and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment is the clinic’s main function, and its most noticed difference from other clinics is the friendly staff and volunteers. Many of the clients are agitated and distraught about a sudden change in their health, and the Magnet greeters and treaters are able to provide an educational and calming experience. An array of young men and more seasoned gay and bisexual men are sprawled daily on modern seating, and the tension level rises and subsides with the glances and the music.

There is a monthly art or photography display, and on the evening of each month’s first Friday there is an opening party that draws a varied audience of sometimes intense locals and also friends of the presenter.

Cupcakes from Luna Bakery, a mother-and-son business, were served instead of the traditional anniversary cake, and Steve Gibson’s eloquent comments about the future for the health center drew the attention of San Francisco Human Rights Commissioner Mark Kelleher and psychiatrist and sex therapist David Ortmann and three dozen other guests.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Three Extraordinary Directors: Frameline Festival Treasures Revealed

Frameline's San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival is over for 2011, but its best directors and their films are still being discussed by the filmerati and people who just love the movies. Documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff, gay romance filmmaker David Lewis, and gay short film director Philippe Gosselin presented some of the festival’s finest moments.

Chasnoff mentioned from the stage at the Castro Theatre that her latest film, "Celebrating the Life of Del Martin," is her ninth film to premiere at the Castro Theatre. Del Martin was the partner of Phyllis Lyon for more than 50 years, and they are the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first modern lesbian activist group. Martin and Lyon are shown brilliantly in the film as intuitive activists, knowing when to push forward with their lesbian, human rights, and senior issues, and their book "Lesbian/Woman," is given the prominence that it deserves as a groundbreaking conscious-raising educational tool.

Debra Chasnoff is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who was able to capture the risk-taking, the community service, and also the fun that Martin and Lyon have provided as an inspiration for future leaders.

David Lewis has infused his newest film "Longhorns" with some of the easy-going romance of his popular earlier films "Rock Haven" and "Redwoods." "Longhorns" may not have the sheen of the other two films, but considering its home-movie texture and the raw gay-on-straight sexuality in the first half of the film, a romantic sheen would be out of place. His films have a theme of timing and missed opportunities, and they should be screened together for their full visceral and primal impact. The nudity in his films is not gratuitous, but natural, which is surprising compared to the panorama of gay films shown at festivals.

Lewis received invaluable producing assistance from filmmaker H.P. Mendoza ("Fruit Fly" and "Colma: The Musical") and editing and music from Lewis Tice.

Philippe Gosselin’s new short film "The Rescue" drew shouts and loud laughter of pleasure as the guide at The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Boyfriends led an attractive man from viewing room to viewing room to check out a possible future mate wearing just underpants. The scene was filmed at the famous Wag Hotel in San Francisco, which is an internationally known as the place to park your canine. Gosselin’s earlier film that was shown at film festival, "The Window," is still talked about for its humor and sexual audacity. "The Rescue" went way beyond inventive in its creativity, giving actress Cynthia Seats as the guide, and infamous actors Steven Satyricon as the bear-otter mix and Michael Soldier as the pig bottom a opportunity to maximize their verbal and visual impact in just a few moments.

All three filmmakers surpassed themselves in their latest films, and their fans are looking forward to future projects.