In honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan that represented a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States, we celebrate Pride Month every year in June. The occasion is marked by parades, parties, rallies and — more recently — with a recognition of the contributions and sacrifices made particularly by queer and trans people of color towards securing rights and safety for the LGBTQ community and beyond. Queer film festivals play an important role in highlighting and celebrating the stories of QTPOC community, locally and abroad. Frameline42 is the 2018 edition of the world’s largest and longest-running LGBTQ film festival, from June 14-24 in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Four Desi-led short films screening at Frameline focus on the lives of characters and real-life people tumbling through kaleidoscopic explorations in sexuality, gender expression, and love.
Dani Boi is a documentary short following a day in the life of Dani Weber, “a non-binary ‘dragtivist’ of Sri Lankan heritage who moved to San Francisco from Australia and who challenges gender norms through their drag king performances.”
This 6-minute film is narrated by Dani themself and beautifully shot with sequences of Dani’s gender-obscuring drag performances intercut with everyday moments like hanging out with friends and loved ones. This brief but highly impactful documentary from Melbourne-based director Logan Mucha is ultimately about standing in one’s truth and celebrating personal identity. (Dani Boi screened as part of the Coming Up Queer shorts program.)
Dropping Penny is a farcical short film directed by Jed Bell about “two trans dogwalkers in San Francisco” on a not so typical work day. As Sunny (played to hilarious effect by transgender queer Tamil-Sri-Lankan American artist D’Lo) and Nick (Nick Witherow) go about their pick-up/drop-off schedule, they cross paths with a seemingly endless assortment of parodic LGBTQ characters, including a “mystery femme,” who tugs Sunny’s heartstrings, a couple of “handsome butch daddies,” and a cowboy drag king. Their animal care skills are put to the test by an imposing customer who Sunny derisively dubs “Alpha Donna” and who runs a “Femme Court” for community members to field complaints. Meanwhile nearby, citizens are protesting the gentrification of “Lezbington,” and “The Lez,” San Francisco’s last lesbian bar that’s being threatened by exorbitant rent prices.
Dropping Penny is without a doubt a satirical send-up of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community politics, but the geographically specific focus of the short film doesn’t stop it from being relatable to queers across America. In fact, Dropping Penny comes off as a comedic profile of the people in our lives (bosses, colleagues, friends and lovers) who make up the ecosystems of our complex and vibrant communities. (Transtastic, Roxie Theater, Monday, June 18, 7PM)
Directed by Indian filmmaker Karishma Dube, Devi (Goddess), is set in New Delhi where closeted lesbian Tara (Aditi Vasudev) surreptitiously pushes against family and social boundaries as she pursues her household maid Devi (Priyanka Bose). At a roughly 13-minute runtime, this narrative is painfully short and leaves the viewer wanting to see much more of the story. It’s an emotionally jarring scene when Tara’s mother (played candidly and exquisitely by Tanvi Azmi) confronts the pair of young women about their behavior, and takes steps to ensure an end to their flirtation. We are left with no reckoning for the characters we’ve just witnessed, in all of their vulnerability, open up to one another in subtle but profound expressions of affection and deep caring.
Devi’s abrupt conclusion serves the twofold purpose of demonstrating the ways oppressive and homophobic households deal with the “indiscretions” of queer family members in quiet but sinister fashion, and perhaps also invites viewers to imagine the psychological paralysis one might feel when a fledgling love is cut short. (Would You Look at Her, Roxie Theater, Saturday, June 23, 4PM)
In the dramatic short film Monogamish (directed by Nardeep Khurmi) we’re invited to spend a tumultuous night with Sagar (Sachin Bhatt), Nishi (Nishi Munshi) and Ashley (Evan Todd), in which “agreements are made and boundaries are challenged.” Sagar is in an open relationship with Ashley but, in the course of an evening spent with Nishi, attempts to bond with her over their shared Desi backgrounds, going completely against Nishi’s stated “no strings attached” mentality about their arrangement.
What results is a revealing argument about the careful deceptions we tell ourselves and those we love to keep precarious relationships from falling apart. Monogamish weaves a tightly wound tale of the social and emotional webs in which people become entangled, in pursuit of personal connection. (Bi Candy, Wednesday, June 20, 7PM)
This year’s Frameline film festival takes place from June 14-24. Visit frameline.org/festival for details on screenings and tickets.
Anjali Misra is a Chicago-based nonprofit professional and freelance writer of media reviews, cultural criticism and short fiction work. She earned her MA in Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she spent nine years as a student and community organizer, focusing on inter-ethnic solidarity, interracial coalition building, and gender justice. She is an avid sci-fi media fan, and Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan is her patronus.