Preview: San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival

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Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin): An impressive first feature for Laura Bispuri

It’s time once again for the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, which – in addition to screenings in Berkeley – expands its East Bay presence into Oakland this year. The festival (produced, as in years past, by Frameline) comes to both Rialto Cinemas Elmwood and Landmark Theatres Piedmont, bringing with it a wide assortment of programming – including a number of films made by local artists.

Screening at the Elmwood at 9:30 p.m. on Wed. June 24, director Laura Bispuri’s Vergine giurata (Sworn Virgin) is an Italian feature about young Albanian Hana/Mark (Alba Rohrwacher), born and raised female but now living as male. Despite taking a traditional vow of chastity that ‘allows’ the locals to recognize her as a man, Hana/Mark still finds the ultra-conservative climes of her homeland stifling and decides to up sticks for liberal Italy, where stepsister Lila (Flonja Kodheli) now lives.

Though Hana/Mark remains biologically female, the vow has helped her ignore the stultifying limits placed on rural Albanian women, who aren’t allowed to smoke, drink alcohol, shoot a gun, or choose a husband. Italy, however, provides Hana/Mark the opportunity to reassess that decision.

Is Hana/Mark a transgender character? I suspect most viewers will answer ‘no’, but in the context of Albanian society her decision is a brave and treacherous one indeed. Rohrwacher gives a superb double performance (Hana is seen in flashbacks that establish her need and desire to take the vow), and Sworn Virgin is an impressive first feature for Bispuri.


The Yes Men Are Revolting (screening at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, June 22 at the Elmwood) is the latest film from the puckish situationist pranksters previously seen in The Yes Men (2003) and The Yes Men Fix the World (2009). This time, Andy Bichlbaum (who comes out as gay in this feature) and Mike Bonanno tackle global warming, while coming to terms with middle age and, to be blunt, the general ineffectiveness of their activism. If you enjoyed the earlier films, you’ll get similar mileage from this one. At the very least, it’ll probably encourage you to buy a Survival Ball.

If you’re interested in seeing films produced by Berkeley residents, you have several choices. Rick Goldsmith’s Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw (9:00 p.m. on Friday, June 26 at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco) is a documentary about a brilliant female basketball player who also works tirelessly as a mental health advocate. Director Goldsmith is scheduled to attend the screening, also the film’s West Coast premiere.

Malachi Leopold’s Alex and Ali (4:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 21 at the Roxie) is another documentary, this one focusing on the forbidden love between a Peace Corps worker (Alex) and the man he met in Iran in 1967 Iran (Ali). The film examines the separation compelled by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the couple’s decades-long efforts to be reunited. Director Leopold is expected to attend.

Finally, Sam Berliner’s five-minute Float screens as part of the Festival’s short subject collection ‘Transtastic’ at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, June 22 at the Roxie. According to the film’s promotional material, Float is “stunningly celebratory and shot completely underwater”and “features trans and genderqueer folks swimming naked … to the music of trans musician Rae Spoon.”

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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