The Manual, Just Me?, Rainbow’s End, and To My Women Friends (Frameline, NR)

frameline4.jpgFrameline—a distributor of films, videos, and DVDs relevant to the gay, lesbian and transgender communities—releases four new DVD that are worth your time and have something interesting to say.

 

Frameline, a distributor of films, videos, and DVDs relevant to the gay, lesbian and transgender communities, recently released several interesting new DVDs. All four reviewed here are worth your time and have something interesting to say: my personal favorites are The Manual and Just Me?

The Manual (Frameline, NR), a 15-minute short from 2006 by the Sydney-based writer and director Sarah Spillane, powerfully communicates a simple story by planting clues which leave much unsaid but allow the viewer make the connections. When we first see 7-year-old Sonny, he’s completely open to the wonder of life, chasing butterflies and spinning about in a skirt he pulled off the clothesline. Unfortunately, his dad (Steve Le Marquand) hears a radio announcement by one Professor Joseph Grey (Jack Thompson) about the danger of ignoring homosexual tendencies in children, and Sonny is abruptly packed off to an unnamed psychiatric institution. Twenty years later, Professor Grey has moved to television and now warns of the dangers of ADD and childhood schizophrenia. On the home front, Sonny’s niece, a beautiful and sensitive child, is being medicated for what her parents consider an overactive imagination. The ending has a beautiful and unexpected twist which I won’t spoil here. Outstanding cinematography by Joseph Pickering and music by Felicity Fox complete a very pleasing short film.

Just Me? (Frameline, NR), a 22-minute short documentary from 2007 written and directed by Amy Neil, is a charmer about discovering the hidden past within your own family. Composed primarily of still photographs with voiceover narration, Just Me? chronicles Neil’s discovery that her great-grandmother Nana had a long-term, significant relationship with another woman, Betty, which was known to Neil’s family without being openly acknowledged. Although Nana always brought Betty to the annual family reunion, for instance, the family photo album had no pictures of them together. One relative offers this explanation of the relationship: Nana wasn’t a lesbian, but her friend Betty was.

Neil gradually pieces the story together: after being widowed at a young age, Nana lived with Betty until a family emergency required her to move back home. Even then, she continued to spend summers with Betty, traveling all over the United States and visiting friends, activities scrupulously documented in her private photo albums. The many pictures of all-female groups, smiling and mugging for the camera, suggest that Betty and Nana were not alone in their predilections. The culmination of the film is a visit to Betty, which makes it clear that Nana was the love of her life.

Rainbow’s End (Frameline, NR) is a 2006 documentary about the difficulties still faced by gay and lesbian people in Europe, despite the many political and social gains of the last few decades. As Peter Tatchell of OutRage! (a direct action gay and lesbian group in the UK) puts it in this film, history does not progress in a linear fashion from oppression to liberation. If it did, the extraordinary freedom enjoyed by gay people in 1920’s Germany should have been followed by legalization of homosexuality. Instead, we got the Nazis and their concentration camps.

Directors Jochen Hick and Christian Jentzsch follow a number of different stories in different countries: everything from a gay Brit trying to win the right for his partner from Belarus to remain in the U.K., to a Polish gay pride parade met with open and sometimes violent hostility and references to the Nazi past (one counter-demonstrator suggests "Hitler should be here" and another says "Send them to the damn ovens"). Claus Wowereit, the openly gay mayor of Berlin, appears at regular intervals, as does Tatchell.

A recurring thread is the clash between liberal Western European values in cities like Amsterdam, versus extreme anti-homosexual opinions held by some recent émigrés from other countries. These émigrés often live in the suburbs of major cities (where housing is cheaper), and some members of their community feel free (in fact, some feel obligated) to threaten and harass gay people. Gay teenagers from these communities are often so ostracized that they must leave home for their own safety. A second recurring thread is the attempt to get the U.N. to pass a resolution prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian people, a motion defeated by the unlikely alliance of the Vatican and a number of Muslim countries. A third is the need to interest young gay people in political organization: having won the freedom to enjoy their lives, some take it for granted rather than viewing it as a resource which must be constantly renewed.

The cuts between stories sometimes become confusing, and the general ambiance is not helped by overly-authoritarian voiceover narration which may set off flashbacks to those wonderful educational films you enjoyed in school. But there’s so much information packed into this filmthat it’s worth overlooking these faults and concentrating on what it has to offer.

To My Women Friends (Frameline, NR), a 1993 documentary by Natasha Sharandak, consists of interviews with six lesbians about their lives in the former Soviet Union (where homosexuality was a criminal offense) and in the present day. The stories are in some ways similar to those told by lesbians in almost any country: realizing from an early age that you are different, without having a name to put on that difference. Going through the motions of heterosexual courtship and sometimes even marriage and childbirth, even though you know it really isn’t working for you. Meeting your first girlfriend and realizing what you had been missing all along. Making the necessary adjustments to the world, including settling down to some kind of work and finding a way to deal with your family and coworkers.

It’s no accident that this film was made in 1993, the year homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia. The women interviewed are willing to have their faces shown on camera, although they are not identified by name and no information about locations is supplied, unless they choose to provide it during the interviews. The need for confidentiality is understandable, but a little more information would have been useful, particularly since the subject at hand will be new to most people. The film is basically just the interviews, sometimes intercut with footage of all-female gatherings, which are also not identified. To My Women Friends is about as stripped-down as a movie can be, so much so that it often seems more like raw material than a finished product, and at 64 minutes barely qualifies as feature-length.

But on the other hand, how much do you know about lesbian life in the former Soviet Union? Probably not very much. So Sharandak’s documentary fills a need and the material itself is so interesting that the lack of development can be overlooked. The women include two self-identified transgender people (one of whom flirts shamelessly with the cameraperson), a poet and folksinger who founded the lesbian organization Wings (it’s not clear from the context if this is the gay and lesbian center by that name in St. Petersburg), a bus driver who met her first girlfriend during her training course, a former drug addict who was surprised to find true love in an all-woman prison, and a shy intellectual who says that love is not the most important thing in her life.

The Manual, Just Me?, Rainbow’s End and To My Women Friends, are distributed by Frameline. Further information is available from the company web site www.frameline.org or by calling 415-703-8650. | Sarah Boslaugh

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