Frameline Film Festival

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Frameline is a nonprofit media arts organization that produces the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the oldest ongoing film festival devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) programming currently in existence.[1] Frameline's mission statement is "to change the world through the power of queer cinema".

With annual attendance of 60,000 to 80,000 it is the largest LGBT film exhibition event in the world and it is the most well attended LGBT arts event in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 39th annual festival will be held in June 2015 at the Castro Theatre, Roxie Theater, and Victoria Theater.


The 1970s[edit]


Both the festival and Frameline trace their roots to January 1977, when a "rag-tag band of hippie fags" (in the words of co-founder Marc Heustis) formed a group they called Persistence of Vision.[2] Their stated goal was to "provide a forum for our art and at the same time provide a pool of talent, energy and equipment to help each other".[3]

In a 2001 Twenty fifth-Anniversary history of the festival historian Susan Stryker noted that the founders of the group, Heustis, Ric Mears, Wayne Smolen, Berne Boyle, Greg Gonzalez, Billy Miggens, Daniel Nicolletta and David Waggoner, were inspired by the activist ideals of the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, and by Gay activist Harvey Milk’s campaign to become a San Francisco Supervisor and the nation’s first elected gay official. Many of the participating filmmakers took their footage to Milk’s camera shop on Castro Street for development. Nicolletta and Waggoner both worked there.[2]


February 9, 1977

On February 9, 1977, at a long-gone gay community center at 32 Page Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition, the members of Persistence of Vision staged a "Gay Film Festival of Super-8 films” that is now recognized as the first edition of the oldest and largest gay film festival in the world.[2][3][4]

According to Stryker, the organizers of that first San Francisco festival “plastered the city with handbills announcing the free screening of their work, and the event succeeded wildly. Two hundred people crowded into a room meant to accommodate a hundred twenty-five, and a hundred more were turned away at the door. ... In spite of the film splices breaking repeatedly and an unpopular no-tobacco-smoking policy, the response to the first festival was overwhelmingly favorable". Three repeat screenings were held on March 13, June 22 and October 26.[2]

Those early screenings, Stryker wrote, "...had a decidedly homegrown ambiance, tending to feature short films made by the organizers themselves. The documentaries reflected contemporary gay concerns like Anita Bryant’s campaign to push back gay-rights protections in Florida. Some films explored more artistic and experimental themes, while others simply celebrated gay sexuality".[2]

The super 8 movies shown that first year included Miracle on Sunset Boulevard by Marc Heustis (starring Silvana Nova), A Bicentennial Film by Ken Ward, A Woman One Day by Cleve Jones, Changes by Billy Miggins, The Blow Job by Ric Mears, T.K. Perkins, David Waggoner and Stephen Iadereste, and The Assassination of Anita Bryant, a “symbolic comedy, non-violent, of course,” by Berne Boyle.[3]

Marc Heustis also remembers that first San Francisco festival for a film that wasn’t shown. He and the other organizers rejected an early film by Rob Epstein, who would go on to become one of America’s most accomplished gay filmmakers and to win two documentary Oscars for The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads. According to Heustis, the jurors felt Epstein’s film, which featured shots of his lover John Wright washing himself in a bathtub intercut with images of their cat grooming herself on a windowsill, "wasn’t gay enough". Fortunately Epstein, who confirms the story, would return to screen many other films in later festivals, while Wright would end up playing a major role at Frameline as a board member and assistant festival director from 1982 through 1985.[5]


June 22, 1978

Persistence of Vision presented the second San Francisco Gay Film Festival – a single evening of super 8 movies – on June 22, 1978 at another vanished gay community center at 330 Grove Street[6] (now the site of the city’s Performing Arts Garage).

According to Susan Stryker, the move to June presaged the festival’s future role as one of the City’s premiere annual gay pride events.[2] In addition to repeat screenings of Blow Job (now billed as a POV group effort) and The Assassination of Anita Bryant, the second festival featured Daniel Nicoletta’s Dancing is Illegal (with The Angels of Light), Basket Case by Marc Heustis, Sunday Afternoon by David Waggoner, Mouse Klub Konfidential by Jim Baker, Early Patterns by Ric Mears, and Narcissus Lingerie-Screen Test of Lawanda Rose and How to Cook a Plantain Properly by Berne Boyle.[6]


June 19, 22 & 23, 1979

1979 marked a number of turning points for the now “annual” festival. The organizers expanded the program to three days, moved the screenings out of the Gay Community Centers and into the Roxie Cinema and Lumiere Theater, showed the festival’s first works in the new video format (prompting the temporary addition of "video" to the festival name), and included work by filmmakers from outside the Bay Area – including Long Beach, Staten Island, and Kansas City – for the very first time.

But out of all the historic firsts that year, two stand out: the 1979 festival was the first to screen works by lesbian filmmakers, and the first presented under the group’s new name: Frameline.

Some things stayed the same: it was the third festival in a row to feature a film called Blow Job, this time a new short by San Francisco’s Tim Stirton. Other titles included You Just Love Your Children by Jeff Lunger and Ritch James, Five Minutes, Ms. Lenska by Thomas Gaspar, Breaking by Doug Haynes, WHITE JUSTICE: A Case of Diminished Capacity by Lowell Williams and Joegh Bullock, Kahala by Karen Harding and Sara Banks, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions by Geoff Leighton, Olivia Records: More than Music by Anita Clearfield, Dyketactics and Sappho by Barbara Hammer and Mason’s Life by New York Gay Film Festival founder Peter Lowy.

Unfortunately, putting on the growing festival was taking its toll on the newly renamed but still all-volunteer group. As the original founders began to burn out and drop out, those left behind issued a plea for new recruits to help with the next festival. Two San Francisco State graduate film students, Paul Bollwinkel and Michael Lumpkin, were among those who answered the call.

The 1980s[edit]


June 24–26, 1980

The fourth festival new recruits Paul Bollwinkel and Michael Lumpkin helped to stage in 1980 featured screenings at the Roxie, the South of Market Cultural Center and the San Francisco Art Institute’s Canyon Cinematheque.

Highlights included Wedding of the Year: Chuck and Vince by Christine Wynne, a portrait of a gay wedding that was way ahead of its time, and an experimental film by Wayne Justice called Roger: The Death of Wayne described as “The conflict between the personalities and sexualities of a young man who was run over by a bus and came back to life and died in a bowling accident.” Other memorable titles included Greta Schiller’s Greta’s Girls, Susana S. Blaustein’s Susana, John Canally and Marty Monroe’s Nuclear Family and Honey Lee Cottrell’s Sweet Dreams.

But the fourth festival is perhaps best remembered for being the first to include a film from outside the USA – Denmark’s Bogjavlar/Damn Queers – and for bringing Michael Lumpkin to Frameline.


Lumpkin, a native of Longview, Texas, had co-founded a student gay rights group called The Denton Gay Alliance as an undergraduate film student at North Texas State University (NTSU), and had already been presenting gay-themed films on campus at San Francisco State, where he was pursuing a graduate degree in film. At Frameline he immediately started looking for ways to raise the festival’s profile and expand the audience for gay films – and not just in San Francisco. Before 1980 was over he would travel to Philadelphia and New York to stage screenings of the fourth festival program under the Frameline banner – an experiment that would never be repeated. But Michael was just getting started.

Over the next thirty years he would devote himself to turning Frameline's little festival into a world-class event, and keeping it going through right wing attacks, economic downturns, internal strife and times of tragic loss. In the process he would play a key role in encouraging the growth of a new LGBT Cinema, the emerging visibility of queers and queer culture, and struggles over gay rights and artistic expression that would echo from the Castro Theater to the Halls of Congress.


June 22–27, 1981

By the time the fifth festival opened in June 1981 Michael Lumpkin had dropped out of San Francisco State and assumed the title of Festival Director (an unpaid volunteer position – he also took a job at Wells Fargo Bank to pay his bills). Lumpkin moved the Frameline “office” into a desk in the bedroom he shared with his lover, Mark Page, and recruited Page and their roommate Gary Rorick as volunteer board/staff members. Rorick would design the fifth festival poster (and the 6th). He and Page laid out the fifth festival catalogue on the kitchen table of their Castro Street apartment – using blue pencils, rubber cement and x-acto knives in those pre-computer days.

But the DIY nature of their efforts didn’t keep Lumpkin and the rest of his new Frameline colleagues from dreaming big. First Lumpkin added “International” to the festival’s title. Then he announced that the fifth edition would include screenings at one of the city’s largest venues, the landmark Castro Theater, for the very first time.

The Castro has been the festival’s primary home ever since (though screenings have continued at the Roxie and other venues). But back in 1981, there was no guarantee gay films could fill such an enormous theater. Taking the festival there was seen as a gutsy move on Lumpkin’s part.

As Susan Stryker wrote in 2001, “Although the Castro Theatre had become a fixture of local queer film culture by the late 70s, long-time Castro programmer Bob Hawk notes that ‘moving the Festival there required a leap of faith’. The Castro's 1,500-seat capacity was five times the size of Roxie Cinema, where the Festival had played the year before, and could swallow the combined audiences of all previous festivals. Rising to the challenge, Lumpkin produced a festival designed to pack the house – not just for one night as in earlier years, but for a whole week.”[7]

With film historian Vito Russo acting as Master of Ceremonies, the Fifth festival opened at the Castro with the world premiere of Greetings from Washington DC, a documentary filmed at the 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights directed by Lucy Winer and produced by Winer, Rob Epstein, Frances Reid and Greta Schiller. According to Stryker, “the addition of gala opening night festivities, where viewers could meet celebrities, pointed towards the Festival's future as a red-letter event on San Francisco's cultural calendar".

Over the next five days the Festival presented both features and programs of new independent shorts, including films by Arthur Dong (Public), James Broughton (Hermes Bird), Doug Haynes (Common Loss), Barbara Hammer (Our Trip), Donna Grey (After the Game) and now-celebrated British filmmaker Terence Davies’s early masterpiece, Madonna and Child.

Lumpkin revealed his interest in exploring the history of Lesbian and Gay representation in the movies by including rare screenings of Leontine Sagan’s Maedchen in Uniform (Germany, 1931) and Melville Webber and J.S. Watson Jr.’s Lot in Sodom (USA, 1933), and by bringing Russo back to the Castro stage to present his Celluloid Closet lecture and clip show before an enthusiastic crowd. Stryker called it the festival’s “indisputable highlight.”[8]

Lumpkin also justified the fifth festival’s new International title by presenting a number of films from outside the USA. European titles included French director Phillippe Vallois’s We Were One Man (the handsome Vallois thrilled the Castro audience when he took the stage, setting a precedent for personal appearances at the festival), and three films from the Netherlands.

Two of those Dutch films, Paul de Lussanet’s Dear Boys and Nouchka van Brakel’s A Woman Like Eve were hits with Frameline’s expanded audience. But the third, George Sluizer’s Twice a Woman, was another story.


Starring Anthony Perkins and Bibi Andersson in a convoluted story of romance and deception, Twice a Woman sparked Frameline’s first “Lesbian Riot” when its manipulative narrative and violent climax caused the mostly female audience in the Castro Theater to erupt in outrage – even though the festival program had explicitly warned them what to expect.

The angry women howled as the credits rolled. Then they poured into the lobby to confront festival staffers, demanding to know why the offensive film had been included in the festival, and who had programmed it. They also called for more lesbian inclusion in Frameline, which they denounced as a group dominated by white men.

Ironically, one male member of the screening committee that year recalls that most if not all of the men who previewed Twice a Woman actually voted against including it. But the women, citing international superstar Andersson’s presence in the lead role and the paucity of Lesbian images of any type on screen, were unanimous in insisting it be shown, a fact the angry lesbians in the audience – who were convinced a man was responsible – didn’t know.[9]

Nor did they know that many of the reforms they were calling for at Frameline were already being put in place.

Lumpkin, who had been a member of an informal “men’s auxiliary” to The Denton Women’s Liberation Union during his undergraduate days at NTSU, had already been working to make the festival more inclusive of Lesbians. He had been aggressively recruiting gay women to join Frameline as volunteer staff/board members (including Chris Olson, Sue Mitchell and Susan Passino) and members of the Festival screening committee (including local businesswoman Kathy Nelsen, Liz Stevens of Iris Films and filmmaker Honey Lee Cottrell). He had also made a point of programming as many works by women as he could find. Barbara Hammer even recalls Lumpkin showing up on her Oakland doorstep one morning to personally solicit more of her films.[10]

The "riot" pushed Lumpkin and his colleagues to ramp up their vital outreach to the women’s community. It also inspired them to take an important step in the festival’s evolution into a truly inclusive event by adding “Lesbian” to the title of 1982’s sixth edition for the very first time.

But Twice a Woman wasn’t the only film in the 1981 Festival that ended up expanding Frameline’s horizons.


Shortly after the fifth festival came to an end Michael Lumpkin was packing up the print of We Were One Man to ship it back to Phillippe Vallois in Paris when it hit him. Sending the only English subtitled print of a wonderful gay film back to France made absolutely no sense at all (especially in the days when getting a print of a “gay” film through US Customs wasn’t always easy to do). So why not keep the print and act as the film's US distributor? Michael called Phiilippe to get his ok. He said yes, and on that day in 1981 Frameline Distribution was born.[11]

Other titles soon joined Vallois’ feature in Frameline's catalogue, starting with Denmark’s Bogjavlar/Damn Queers. Under directors of distribution Mark Finch, Nancy Fishman, Desi del Valle, Moira King, Alexis Whitham and others Frameline Distribution has expanded in the years since to include hundreds of films and videos from around the world.

In 2012 Frameline began offering many of its titles through Frameline Voices, a free online channel dedicated to “showcasing diverse LGBT stories with an emphasis on films by and about people of color, transgender people, youth, and elders.”[12]


June 21–26, 1982

Adding Lesbian to its title wasn’t the only innovation Lumpkin and his crew – now including John Wright in his first year as Assistant Festival Director – came up with for the festival’s sixth edition in 1982. They also expanded the programming to six days, presented Frameline’s first screenings in the East Bay (at the Pacific Film Archives), and, not surprisingly, scheduled more programs for women than ever before.

Opening night featured another champagne reception in the Castro mezzanine, followed by a rare screening of Natasha Rambova and Charles Bryant’s Salome (1922) with Bob Vaughn at the Castro organ, and Vito Russo in an on-stage conversation with Making Love screenwriter Barry Sandler on “Hollywood’s entrance into Gay Cinema”.

Other highlights of the year included tributes to Iris Films and Barbara Hammer, a benefit work-in-progress screening of Out of Order, the documentary project that would evolve into Rob Epstein and Richard Schmeichen’s The Times of Harvey Milk, Kenneth Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle retrospective, and new films by Ulrike Ottinger (Madame X, An Absolute Ruler), Ron Peck (Nighthawks), Alexandra von Grote (Depart to Arrive), and Rosa von Praunheim (Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts).

The 1982 festival also presented the first of two International Exhibitions of Lesbian and Gay photography curated by a subcommittee that included Greg Day, Clare Wren, and Marshall Rheiner, and introduced a series of side bar festivals of works on video curated first by John Canally, and later by Daniel Mangin.

Outside the festival, 1982 marked the debut of Frameline Presents, a one-hour video anthology program broadcast every other Thursday on San Francisco cable station 25, and of a Frameline-sponsored film and video class at San Francisco City College on the history of lesbians and gays in cinema.


June 20–26, 1983

1983’s Seventh Festival opened at the Castro with a rare revival screening of Anders Als Die Anderen (Different From the Others), Richard Oswald’s 1919 German silent that is believed to be the first to tell a gay story on film, followed by the local premiere of Tuija-Maijs Niskanen’s The Farewell (Finland, 1980).

The following days brought a tribute to James Broughton, three more films from Terence Davies, Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames (USA, 1983), Eloy de la Iglesia’s The Deputy (Spain, 1980), Barbara Hammer’s Audience (which includes a cameo appearance by Lumpkin working the Roxie Box office at the sixth festival) and Wieland Speck’s The Sound of Fast Relief (West Germany, 1982) – just a selection from an expanded seven day festival offering more films and videos than ever before.


The seventh festival’s most enduring innovation came with Lumpkin's introduction of a new Audience Award for Best Feature and the announcement of the first winner, Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames.[13]

Audience Awards for Best Documentary and Best Short were added the following year. Frameline audiences have been casting their votes ever since. The Awards are announced at the closing night party, usually after a frenzied last minute count of the final ballots, led for many years by Rick Solomon, one of Frameline’s most stalwart and indispensable volunteers.


June 18 – 24, 1984

The eighth festival held steady with the seven day format introduced the previous year. Lumpkin’s imaginative opening night program paired the west coast premiere of Mauvaise Conduite (Improper Conduct), legendary cinematographer Nestor Almendros and Orlando Jimenez Leal’s powerful documentary on the plight of gays in Castro’s Cuba, with a revival screening of Kuro Tokage (The Black Lizard), Kinji Fukasaka and gay icon Yukio Mishima’s 1968 intense Japanese drag noir.

International films screened in the following days ranged from Susan Lambert’s On Guard (Australia, 1983) to Margarethe von Trotta’s The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (West Germany, 1978) and Reinhold Schuenzel’s Viktor und Viktoria (Germany, 1933). US and West Coast premieres included Amos Gutman’s Nagua (Drifting) (Israel, 1983), Phillippe Vallois’ Rainbow Serpent (France, 1983), Djalma Limongi Batista’s Asa Branca – A Brazilian Dream (Brazil, 1982) and Antonio Gimenez-Rico’s Vestida de Azul (Dressed in Blue) (Spain, 1983).

Local filmmakers featured in the 1984 festival included Curt McDowell (Sparkle’s Tavern, Stand By), Cathy Zheutlin (Lost Love) and Artie Bressan (Pleasure Beach).


As Michael Lumpkin pushed to expand the SFILGFF in the 1980s, Frameline's all-volunteer staff and board struggled to keep up. So he set out to remake Frameline into an organization strong enough to sustain the festival’s growth – to transform it from an all-volunteer organization, where board, staff and volunteer were one and the same, into a professionalized non-profit with a board and a paid staff (still supplemented by scores of volunteers).

Lumpkin and his colleagues also worked through the 80s to develop a reliable funding stream for the organization from a combination of ticket sales, membership fees, grants, sponsorships and donations. Over the decade the growing flow of funds would make it possible to move the Frameline office from Lumpkin's bedroom to the basement of 16th Street’s Red Brick Building, and then to the former convent of Notre Dame at 347 Dolores, across from Mission Dolores.


June 21–30, 1985

1985’s ninth festival brought brought another growth spurt with the addition of three more days to the program to create Frameline's first ten-day event.

The festival opened with one of Lumpkin’s odd-couple double bills: Alexandra von Grote’s moving World War II lesbian melodrama November Moon paired with Jim Bidgood’s delirious late-sixties gay art porn extravaganza, Pink Narcissus.

Lumpkin unleashed more historic psychedelia with Steven Arnold’s 1971 avant-garde classic, Luminous Procuress, featuring San Francisco’s own fabulous Cockettes. Then he explored the emergence of sympathetic, if doomed, gay characters in early 60s British cinema in revivals of A Taste of Honey, The Leather Boys, The L-Shaped Room and Victim.

The ninth festival also featured the San Francisco premieres of Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris’ powerful feminist polemic Gebroken Spiegels (Broken Mirrors), British Icon Derek Jarman’s hypnotic Angelic Conversation, German avant garde hero Rosa von Praunheim’s dizzy ode to expressionism, Horror Vacui, and Elfi Mikesh and Monica Treut’s wonderfully cinematic Verguhrung: Die Grausame Frau (Seduction: The Cruel Woman).

On the non-fiction side, Vito Russo returned to moderate “Documenting a Public Forum”, a “discussion on the growing movement in the Gay community to discover and preserve its past.” A diverse range of documentaries, including Rob Epstein and Richard Scmeichen’s recent Oscar winner The Times of Harvey Milk, Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg’s Before Stonewall and Lucy Winer’s Silent Pioneers helped Russo to make his point.

Monica Treut’s Bondage added some welcome lesbian S&M spice to the non-fiction stew. Debra Chasnoff and Kim Klausner’s groundbreaking Choosing Children unleashed a rallying cry for a new movement.

But three other documentaries struck a more somber – and perhaps even more historic – note that year: AIDS: Chapter I and AIDS: Portrait of an Epidemic, by Harvey Marks and For our Lives by Michelle Paymar. Together, they mark a turning point as the first of many films about the new plague sweeping the world’s gay communities that would screen at Frameline in the coming years.


The AIDS epidemic took a massive toll on Frameline, as it did on all of San Francisco and communities around the globe. Festival founders David Waggoner and Berne Boyle, staff members Gary Rorick and John Canally, board member Howard Sullivan, filmmakers Artie Bressan, Richard Schmiechen, Curt McDowell, Peter Adair and Marlon Riggs, the Roxie Cinema’s Robert Evans, Castro staffer Jeffrey Sevcik and Celluloid Closet author and festival regular Vito Russo are just a few of those Frameline and the local gay film community lost to HIV. Not to mention hundreds, if not thousands, of audience members.

The epidemic also had an impact on Frameline’s programs. After the first three AIDS documentaries played the festival in 1985, dozens more followed. Features did too, starting with the very first dramatic film to address the epidemic, Artie Bressan’s “Buddies.” Frameline recognized the film’s importance by showcasing “Buddies” in a world premiere screening at the Castro to benefit the Shanti Foundation in late 1985, and then showing it again in the 1986 festival. It would be decades before Frameline would mount another festival without a film about AIDS.


As Michael Lumpkin began making plans for the tenth festival he took a trip that would change the way he thought about both the festival and Frameline, thanks to a tip from Rob Epstein. Epstein had taken The Times of Harvey Milk to the Berlin Film Festival in 1985. After he got back he urged Lumpkin to check it out. Lumpkin made the first of many trips to Berlin the very next year. The importance of that trip, and of the many others Lumpkin made to Berlin, Sundance, The Toronto Film Festival and other festivals gay and straight in the following years, cannot be overstated. By being an out gay film programmer seeking and promoting queer films, Michael helped to make Lesbian and Gay film in general, and Frameline in particular, key parts of the international film festival scene.

Wherever he went Lumpkin worked to burnish the festival's growing reputation as the premiere showcase for lesbian and gay media – and to lure directors and films to San Francisco. He also developed and maintained key relationships with film professionals around the world that would help the festival to prosper, including a close friendship with a talented young film programmer at the British Film Institute named Mark Finch who would play a major role at Frameline in the 1990s.

Lumpkin’s first trip to West Berlin in 1986 at Epstein’s suggestion was the beginning of it all. The trip had a profound effect on Lumpkin, who came back impressed by the Berlin Festival’s mix of innovative programming and well-organized operations – including events designed to give filmmakers and festivalgoers a chance to schmooze and connect – and its use of awards to celebrate and encourage filmmakers and call attention to their work.

Over the next few years the lessons he learned in Berlin would help Lumpkin complete the SFILGFF's transformation into a world class event.


June 20–29, 1986

The ten-day tenth festival opened with another champagne reception at the Castro and the introduction of Maria Kellett as the Festival’s new associate director, the “highest ranking” female staffer in Frameline’s history.

The San Francisco premiere of Mexican director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo’s Dona Herlinda Y Su Hijo (Dona Herlinda and Her Son), came next, followed by the first of many retrospective programs in honor of Frameline’s tenth anniversary, a screening of Allan Moyle’s Times Square, which had been a hit at the sixth festival in 1982.

Over the next nine days Lumpkin, Kellett and their team presented hundreds of films and videos at the Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, Video Free America, and KQED. Highlights included the US premiere of Enrique Dawi’s Adios, Roberto (Argentina, 1985) and the west coast premieres of Orlow Seunke’s Pervola, Sporen in de Sneuw (Pervola, Tracks in the Snow) (Netherlands, 1985), Paul Donovan’s Self Defense (Canada, 1983) and Wieland Speck’s Westler – East of the Wall (West Germany, 1985).

One of the year's most memorable screenings brought the San Francisco debut of Mala Noche, a first feature by a promising new director named Gus Van Sant, who made one his earliest public appearances in the city at the Castro screening.

Noteworthy shorts included Amy Goldsteins’ Commercial For Murder, Michael Rogowsky’s Sleeping Around, Richard Fung’s Chinese Characters and David Weissman’s Beauties Without a Cause starring local “Beauties” Lulu, Silvana Nova and Tommy Pace.

The repeat screening of Artie Bressan’s Buddies lead the way for a wave of films about AIDS, including Peter Adair and Rob Epstein’s The AIDS Show, Marc Heustis’s Coming of Age, Canadian Nick Sheehan’s No Sad Songs and a number of powerful shorts, from Bill Pope’s autobiographical Portrait of a Native Son to Debby Chapnick’s 'The Hero of my own Life.

AIDS also lent a special poignancy to one of the 1986 festival’s most historic moments when Lumpkin took the Castro Stage to present the first annual Frameline Award to film historian, The Celluloid Closet author, activist, and long time festival friend Vito Russo, who had been diagnosed with HIV in 1985.


Designed to honor those who have “made a major contribution to LGBT representation in film, television or the media arts”, The Frameline Award has been given at each festival since 1986 to:

1986 Vito Russo

1987 Alexandra von Grote

1988 Divine

1989 Cinevista/Promovision

1990 Robert Epstein

1991 Elfi Mikesh

1992 Marlon Riggs

1993 Pratibha Parmar

1994 Christine Vachon

1995 Marcus Hu

1996 Peter Adair

1997 Channel Four Television

1998 Dolly Hall

1999 Stanley Kwan

2000 Barbara Hammer

2001 The Festival’s Founders

2002 Isaac Julien

2003 Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato

2004 Rose Troche

2005 Gregg Araki

2006 Francois Ozon

2007 Andrea Sperling

2008 Michael Lumpkin

2009 George & Mike Kuchar

2010 Wolfe Video

2011 Margaret Cho

2012 B. Ruby Rich

2013 Jamie Babbit

2014 George Takei

Lumpkin’s presentation of the first Frameline award to the beloved Russo in 1986 was followed by a standing ovation from the Castro audience. Vito then took the stage to present the latest edition of his Celluloid Closet lecture and clip show to the delighted crowd – which rewarded him at the end with yet another round of cheers. But not all of the tenth festival’s programs were so well received.


On Wednesday, June 25, a quiet 6 pm screening of Lesbian shorts at the Roxie unexpectedly erupted into chaos when a non-explicit male-to-male sex scene in Midi Onodera’s Ten Cents A Dance (Parallax) caused the mostly female audience to rise up in a protest that would become known as Frameline’s second “lesbian riot.”

As historian Susan Stryker noted in her 25th Anniversary Festival history, “Discontent had simmered for years among some women who felt Frameline paid insufficient attention to lesbian concerns. A film by Canadian-Japanese lesbian Midi Onodera, Ten Cents a Dance (Parallax), became the focus for these long-standing dissatisfactions when it closed a lesbian shorts program one muggy Wednesday evening. As a portion of the film depicted two men having sex in a public restroom, some disgruntled women streamed down the aisles to protest the representation of male sexuality in a lesbian program, while others noisily disrupted the screening. Before the night ended, the Festival's beleaguered staff had been raked over the coals verbally by an angry crowd.”[14]

Kellet and Lumpkin bore the brunt of the anger, which may have been driven in part by the fact that 1986 was a relatively slow year for women’s films. Just two new “Lesbian” features were screened at the festival in `86: Angela Linders’s Mara (Netherlands, 1985), which was only 58 minutes long, and Bruno Moll’s Das Ganze Leben (The Whole of Life) (Switzerland, 1983), which was directed by a man.

Fairly or not, many women blamed Frameline’s male majority for the Festival’s lack of films by and about Lesbians. Seeing male sex depicted in a Lesbian program was all it took to push them over the edge. As author Marc Siegel noted in an insightful 1997 article for Jump Cut, the reaction to Ten Cents a Dance, “cannot be fully understood outside of its festival context, namely that it was screened on a lesbian shorts evening at the Roxie by a festival programming committee already perceived as indifferent to lesbian concerns.”[15]

As Siegel also pointed out, some of the resentment behind the riot had been building up ever since the Festival’s move to the Castro in 1981. “While this shift dramatically increased the festival's scope,” Siegel wrote, “the existence of two very different venues (these are still the two main spaces) also meant films could be divided along a number of axes: feature films vs. shorts, conventional narrative or documentary vs. experimental, films presumed to be of general community interest vs. those for a more specialized audience, and, perhaps most significantly, gay vs. lesbian.”

“The association of lesbian concerns with the smaller, less fashionable venue, the Roxie,” Siegel continued, “came about for a number of reasons. The Roxie is closer to some of the more important women's institutions in the city — the Women's Building, Old Wives Tales Bookstore, and Osento Baths. But, as Stryker notes, since most lesbian filmmakers at the time produced less technically finished products than their male counterparts, their work was already destined for the Roxie, the venue for most experimental work ... these factors combined to create the impression that lesbians were of secondary importance to the festival.”

Lumpkin, Kellett and the Frameline Board knew the women’s concerns had to be addressed if the Festival was to survive as a Lesbian and Gay event. A few months after the riot they sponsored a forum at the women’s building to give the angry women another chance to vent and talk about how Frameline should respond. The feedback confirmed a level of discontent with the festival’s male dominated programming that surprised Lumpkin and the rest of the staff. They had always tried to program every lesbian film they could find. But every year there were more films by and about men than women. The women’s comments taught them that blaming the festival’s gender imbalance on the lack of women’s films – no matter how true – would no longer be accepted. Lumpkin and his team had to become proactive in creating a festival that welcomed and represented women and men on equal terms.

“It was awful at the time," Lumpkin later recalled, "but it was very important because of the changes it brought".[16]

The riot, Marc Siegel noted, succeeded “in motivating Frameline to engage with community concerns about its programming practices. This subsequently resulted in Frameline's greater sensitivity to not only lesbian representation within the festival and within its own organization, but also to its increased concern with minority representation in general. Finally, this level of interaction between audiences, films, and programmers is precisely what marks the lesbian and gay film festival as a community event".

Lumpkin and Kellett knew meeting the women’s demands would be a challenge. But after years of fundraising and development, Frameline’s board and staff were ready to take it on. By 1986 Frameline had achieved a level of financial security that allowed its board to offer Lumpkin a paid position as Festival Director. He accepted, and finally told his co-workers at Wells Fargo Bank goodbye for good.

The now full-time Frameline employee redoubled his efforts to improve the festival and hire more paid staff – including a female co-programmer to help address the need for gender balance that was now one of Frameline’s top priorities. He also started raising funds for a new program he hoped would help ensure his eventual partner would actually have Lesbian films to program: The Frameline Completion Fund.


In the aftermath of the 1986 controversy over the lack of Lesbian representation at the SFILGFF Michael Lumpkin established The Frameline Completion Fund to provide grants to emerging and established filmmakers. According to the Frameline website, “this program seeks to provide a much-needed source of financial contributions to artists who often struggle to secure funding to complete their works. Grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 are available for films that represent and reflect LGBT life in all its complexity and richness.”

"Since its founding the Completion Fund has provided over 120 grants to help ensure that LGBTQ films are completed and viewed by wider audiences. Films finished with assistance from the Frameline Completion Fund include Pariah, Appropriate Behavior, Call Me Kuchu, To Be Takei, Last Call as Maud's, The New Black, Brother to Brother, Kumu Hina, The Cockettes, Vito, Freeheld, We Were Here, and Gun Hill Road."[17]


June 19–28, 1987

Michael Lumpkin’s campaign to transform the SFILGFF into the premiere showcase for queer media and his second trip to Berlin paid off big in 1987 with the announcement of an impressive festival lineup of films and videos from around the world and every continent except Antarctica - topped off by the local premieres of not one but three new films by the exciting up and coming Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar: Sisters of Darkness (aka Dark Habits), What Have I Done To Deserve This? and Law of Desire.

Opening night at the Castro featured the North American premiere of Sheila McLaughlin’s She Must Be Seeing Things (in a screening to benefit the newly created Frameline Completion Fund), followed by the San Francisco premiere of Yves Simoneau’s Canadian feature, Pouvoir Intime.

The diverse program that unspooled over the following days ranged from Sergio Amon’s Aquele Dois and Sergio Toledo’s Vera (both from Brazil) to Rosa von Praunheim’s A Virus Has No Morals, Lothar Lambert’s Desert of Love, Dagmar Beiersdorf’s Wolfgirl (all from West Germany), Yu Kan-Ping’s The Outsiders (Taiwan), Yannick Bellon’s La Triche, Christine Ehm’s Simone (both from France), Takis Spetsiotis’s Meteor and Shadow (Greece), The Sankofa Black Workshop’s The Passion of Remembrance, Hugh Brody’s Nineteen Nineteen (both from Great Britain) to Lionel Friedberg’s Across the Rubicon (South Africa).

Short works in the eleventh festival included Gus van Sant’s Five Ways to Kill Yourself and My New Friend, John Greyson’s A Moffie Called Simon, three Derek Jarman films to songs by The Smiths, Greta Schiller and Andrea Weiss’s International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Michelle Parkerson’s Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box, Su Friedrich’s Damned if You Don’t, Sally Potter’s The London Story and Tom Rubnitz’s Drag Queen Marathon and Wigstock: The Movie.

Special programs included “MAINSTREAMING: Lesbian Filmmaking in the 80s”, a panel discussion moderated by Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies featuring filmmakers Sheila McLaughlin, Alexandra von Grote, Andrea Weiss, Frances Reid and Barbara Hammer, “BLOOD AND ROSES: Under the Spell of the Lesbian Vampire,” a presentation with film clips by Andrea Weiss, a “Lesbian TV Party” and tributes to Women Make Movies, Alexandra von Grote (recipient of the 1987 Frameline Award) and Marc Huestis.

AIDS continued to impact the festival, which was dedicated to filmmaker Curt McDowell and Frameline board member Howard Sullivan, who both died just weeks before opening night. AIDS-themed films included John Canalli’s Heroes, Michael Aue’s I’m Still Alive: A Person With AIDS Tells His Story, and A Plague on You by Great Britain’s Lesbian and Gay Media Group.

Lumpkin’s highly anticipated Pedro Almodóvar triple bill took a hit when the West Coast premiere of Sisters of Darkness (aka Dark Habits) had to be cancelled at the last minute after the print got lost in transit. But What Have I Done to Deserve This? was a huge hit and the San Francisco premiere of Law of Desire provided the festival with one its most unforgettable closing nights.

Almodovar’s brilliant melodrama brought the sold out Castro Audience to its feet for a standing ovation. Their enthusiastic response and the buzz the screening generated helped to bolster the SFILGFF’s growing reputation as a launch pad for new feature films.


JUNE 17 - 26, 1988

Frameline’s twelfth festival opened with the enthusiastically received delayed debut of the film that had been held up in transit the year before, Pedro Almodóvar’s Dark Habits, followed by a revival of Geza von Radvanyi’s 1957 version of Maedchen in Uniform starring Romy Schneider and Lilli Palmer.

Other international features in the 1988 festival included Ron Peck’s Empire State and Derek Jarman’s The Last of England (both from Great Britain), Pisan Akarasainee’s The Last Song and its sequel, Anguished Love (Thailand), Stefan Henszelman’s Friends Forever (Denmark), Per Blom’s The Ice Palace (Norway), Karoly Makk’s Another Way (Hungary), Michael Thornhill’s surreal The Everlasting Secret Family (Australia) and Monika Treut’s The Virgin Machine' (West Germany).

The fascination with Lesbian vampires seen in the previous festival continued with a revival screening of Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter from 1936 and the debut of Amy Goldstein’s Because the Dawn (another benefit for the Frameline Completion Fund).

Andrea Weiss returned for two programs: Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women, a documentary co-directed with the also returning Greta Schiller, and "A QUEER FEELING WHEN I LOOK AT YOU: Hollywood Stars and Lesbian Spectatorship,” another presentation with clips. Weiss and Schiller also joined Cathy Korniloff, Monika Treut and Barbara Hammer for “Sapphic Celluloid”, a panel discussion on Lesbians on film.

Other special programs included “The Days of Greek Gods”, a look at the physique films made by Richard Fontaine between 1949 and 1962, and a 75th birthday tribute to James Broughton. Daniel Mangin curated a groundbreaking “AIDS Video Symposium”, that included John Greyson’s THE ADS EPIDEMIC (Acquired Dread of Sex) Pratibha Parver’s Reframing Aids, Isaac Julien’s This is not an AIDS Advertisement' and Ellen Seidler and Patrick DuNah’s FIGHTING FOR OUR LIVES: Facing AIDS in San Francisco.

A moving festival highlight came with the posthumous presentation of the 1988 Frameline Award to the fabulous Divine, with director John Waters taking the Castro stage to accept the award for his longtime friend and muse.

But 1988’s most influential screenings may have come with the debuts of Gregg Araki’s Three Bewildered People in the Night and Juliet Bashore’s Kamikaze Hearts – two anarchic and exciting works that were already pointing the way to a “New Queer Cinema” movement that wouldn’t get its name for four more years.


In 1992 a wave of well-received Sundance and Toronto film festival screenings of innovative gay-themed works by out LGBT filmmakers would inspire critic B. Ruby Rich to decree the birth of “The New Queer Cinema” or “NQC”.[18] But those straight film fests were just catching up to a movement given birth in the 80s and early 90s in lesbian and gay film festivals like the SFILGFF. Frameline, as the largest and most influential of these festivals, played a major role in the NQC’s pre-christening rise – and subsequent fall.

The eclectic approach to programming Michael Lumpkin pioneered at Frameline gave the movement’s edgy auteurs the chance to show their work next to filmmakers aspiring to a more mainstream style. As these rival visions played out on screen, Frameline’s ticket buyers never hesitated to make their preferences known. Their passionate and outspoken reactions would help determine the New Queer Cinema’s fate, and shape the future of LGBT film.


June 16–25, 1989

The 13th Festival swept Frameline into its teens with an age-appropriate flood of rebellious and hormonally charged works from the filmmakers who were already creating the New Queer Cinema’s first new wave. Trendsetting NQC-ish titles at the `89 festival included Roger Stigliano’s Fun Down There, Isaac Julien's Looking For Langston, Gregg Akaki’s The Long Weekend (O’despair) and John Greyson’s Urinal.

But the NQC wasn’t the only story in 1989. Lumpkin’s opening night program paired the world premiere of Canadian Anne Claire Poirier’s Salut Victor! with a revival of Radley Metzger’s Therese and Isabella (France, 1966). Shusuke Kaneko’s Summer Vacation: 1999 (Japan), Jean-Yves Laforce’s The Heart Exposed (Canada) and Philip Saville’s Wonderland (Great Britain) were among the other new international features that followed over the next ten days.

Ulrike Ottinger’s epic Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia (West Germany) brought the Castro crowd to its feet and emerged as a surprise festival favorite.

Noteworthy shorts included David Weissman’s Song From An Angel, Abigail Child’s Both, Su Friedrich’s Gently Down the Stream, Richard Kwietniowski’s Ballad of Reading Gaol and Sonja Roth’s Interior Decorator From Hell.

Desire, British director Stuart Marshall’s look at the Holocaust through a queer lens, stood out in the year’s strong documentary roster, as did a program of shorts on the growing protests around AIDS, and Laurens C. Postma’s Derek Jarman: Know What I Mean.

1989’s special programs ranged from “Nelly Toons: A Look at Animated Sissies” introduced by Vito Russo, to a lecture on “the lesbian cinema’s search for a new voice” by Dutch film scholar Annette Förster, a history of lesbian erotica with Susie Bright, a panel on Lesbian/Gay media in the 90s, and programs of new shorts from both John Greyson and Barbara Hammer.


Special Frameline presentations in the year between the 13th and 14th festivals included a Castro screening of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Oscar winning COMMON THREADS: Stories from the Quilt; Richard Kwietniowski's seven city tour of "Policing the Bedroom", a collection of British shorts dealing with gay representation and laws of desire; and another presentation of Vito Russo's ever popular Celluloid Closet clip show and talk.

FRAMELINE IN THE 1980s - Part 2

The late 1980s saw two significant turning points in Lumpkin's on-going dual campaigns to secure a dependable funding stream for Frameline and expand its staff.

In 1988 Frameline received the first of a series of grants from The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The much needed funding was welcomed as a sign of LGBT film's growing credibility. But it came with an unexpected price tag. Over the next few years a culture war over federal funding for "indecent" and gay art would erupt in Congress and on talk radio. Frameline's NEA funding would turn it into a target of the Republican right wing.

In 1989 Frameline welcomed Linda Farin as its first Executive Director - a big step forward for a group that had been all unpaid volunteers just a few years earlier. Lumpkin assumed the title of Festival Director. But making Frameline's expanding payroll wouldn't always be easy.

The 1990s[edit]


As Frameline prepared for the 1990 festival Lumpkin - always looking for ways to publicize the festival - decided to try something new: a festival trailer. With little money to spend he turned to poster and program guide designer Tom Bonauro and asked him to whip one up. The result (featuring music by Voice Farm and a cameo appearance by the back of Rex Ray’s head) was a hit with the Frameline crowd and a new tradition was born. Now every year the debut of the latest trailer is an eagerly anticipated event to be greeted with cheers and/or jeers by a festival crowd waiting to weigh in on the relative merits of each annual offering.

Frameline’s trailers can all be seen at


June 15 – 24, 1990

Frameline's 14th festival kicked off with Bonauro's infectious trailer, followed by the North American Premiere of a film that was both a historic first, and an equally historic last: Heiner Carow’s Coming Out, the first gay film made in communist East Germany, and the last, since it opened in Germany on the night the Berlin Wall fell.

1990’s opening night also brought the West Coast Premiere of Nocturne, a British TV movie directed by Joy Chamberlain and starring Lisa Eichhorn, which Mary Wings described as “a new benchmark for Lesbian film.”

Highlights among the year’s other new dramatic features included I Am A Man, M.L. Bhandevanop Devakul’s Thai version of Boys in the Band, Miguel Picazo’s Spanish nun melodrama, Extramuros, Erik de Kuyper’s sword and sandal art epic, Pink Ulysses, Beeban Kidron’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Anette Apon’s Crocodiles In Amsterdam.

Lumpkin’s exploration of queer cinema history continued in a “script to screen” retrospective of films inspired by Jean Genet featuring Genet’s own Un Chant D’Amour and three films based on his work: Vic Morrow’s Deathwatch with Leonard Nimoy, R.W. Fassbinder’s Querelle with Brad Davis and Jeanne Moreau, and Joseph Strick’s The Balcony with Shelly Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant and Nimoy.

The lesbianesque women’s prison classic Caged got a revival too, along with Prisonnieres and Scrubbers, two even more outrageous if less well known `80s takes on the genre.

The 14th festival also hosted “Rules of Attraction: A Conference on Lesbian and Gay Media.” Organized by Liz Kotz, the ambitious and innovative symposium explored topics ranging from “Feminist Theory/Lesbian Media: Rethinking Sexual Representation” to “AIDS and Media: Strategies for the 90s.”

Aids again took its toll on the festival, which was dedicated to recently deceased founding member David Waggoner. The year’s AIDS films were showcased in a Phil Zwickler-introduced side bar festival called “AIDS: The Passionate Mission”. Titles screened included Rosa von Praunheim’s Silence = Death, Praunheim and Zwickler’s Positive, John Greyson’s The World is Sick (sic), and Catherine Saallfield and Zoe Leonards’ Keep Your Laws Off My Body.

Other special programs included a tribute to 1990 Frameline Award recipient Rob Epstein, a marathon screening of shorts by East Village videographer Tom Rubnitz, and a trio of works dedicated to exploring African American Gay life featuring Marlon Riggs’ transformative and influential Tongues Untied.

But no screening that year was more memorable, or received a more enthusiastic standing ovation from its cheering Castro crowd, than the West Coast Premiere of another film on Black Gay life: Jennie Livingston’s provocative and moving documentary on the Vogueing scene in New York City: Paris is Burning.


The 1990 festival introduced two newcomers who would go on to play major roles at Frameline in the early 90s: new Executive Director Tom DiMaria and Associate Director/Distribution Manager Mark Finch.[19]

Historian Susan Stryker, writing in her 25th Anniversary Festival History, gives DiMaria major credit for pushing Frameline to become a truly inclusive organization. “When Tom di Maria stepped into the Executive Director position in 1990,” Stryker wrote, “he took the mandate to diversify the organization seriously. Di Maria attributes his multicultural sensitivity to his years with Urvashi Vaid at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. ‘Urvashi first taught me what multiculturalism meant,’ he said. ‘When I came to Frameline, I looked at achieving multicultural diversity not as a burden, but as an exciting goal to attain’.”[2]

DiMaria would also spearhead a number of other major initiatives during his time at Frameline, including funding campaigns and a 1991 road trip to the Soviet Union to present the first Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals in Moscow and Leningrad under the Frameline banner.

Finch, a native of Manchester, England, who grew up in Cambridge, had already made his mark on the international film festival scene as a founding staff member at London’s Picadilly Film Festival and as a founder/programmer of the British Film Institute’s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which he had helped to launch in 1987.[20] Lumpkin lured him away from the BFI for a one-year sabbatical by offering him the chance to oversee an ambitious expansion of Frameline Distribution and assist in programming the festival.

Mark’s insight, intelligence, wit, and naughty British Schoolboy charm quickly won him legions of fans at Frameline and across San Francisco. By the time he returned to London at the end of his sabbatical Lumpkin was already looking for a way to bring him back.

FRAMELINE IN THE EARLY 90s - More Programs, More Right Wing Attacks

Frameline’s “continuing effort to bring the work of Lesbian and Gay media artists to the widest possible audience”[21] made the early 1990s one of the organization’s most exciting and innovative eras.

After three years of fundraising and development The Frameline Completion Fund awarded its first grants in 1990: a total of $5,000 dollars to Peter Adair and Janet Cole for Absolutely Positive, Catherine Saalfield for Among Good Christian Peoples and Paris Poirier for Last Call At Maud’s.[19]

1990's special programs included the San Francisco premiere of New Queer Cinema darling Todd Haynes' Poison (warmly received by an enthusiastic Castro crowd), The Second Annual Lesbian TV Party, and a five-month “Best of the Festival” series at the Castro Theater, which included revivals of 12 feature films and a retrospective of the works of German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger.[19]

In early 1991 Frameline partnered with the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission to organize the first gay film festival in the Soviet Union. That summer Tom DiMaria and long time board member and volunteer Paul Thurston led a Frameline contingent to Moscow and Leningrad to present Queer films and filmmakers to 20,000 eager film fans in in a series of groundbreaking events - a great leap forward for queer film.[22]

In October Frameline partnered with the Washington DC-based gay arts organization One in Ten to present Reel Affirmations, the first gay film festival in the nation’s capitol. Frameline provided advice, administrative assistance and financial support to the budding event. Over the next few years it would help the now independent festival grow into the fourth-largest festival of its kind in the United States.[23]

Even where no brick and mortar festival could be imported or established Frameline Distribution, now home to the world's largest catalogue of lesbian and gay films, kept LGBT films available to anyone in the world who wanted to see them.[24]

But opponents of Gay Rights seemed to be taking notice of Frameline's growing success in spreading LGBT media around the globe. The early 90s brought renewed attacks on the organization - and on its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. "Our latest battle," Lumpkin wrote in the 1990 program guide, "is with conservative elements calling for the suppression of freedom of expression and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency which supports thousands of organizations and artists around the country - including Frameline.”[19]

Frameline fought back by orchestrating a letter writing campaign during the 1990 festival that sent thousands of messages in support of the NEA and Frameline to Washington DC. Tom DiMaria later credited those letters with making “a valuable contribution towards the subsequent reauthorization of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Frameline’s 1991 grant from the endowment.” But he also warned that the SFILGFF continued to be “repeatedly … targeted by organizations and individuals opposed to federal funding for lesbian and gay artists.” [25]

The enemies of free expression and lesbian and gay arts scored a victory when the NEA was finally forced to stop funding the festival in 1992. “For the first time since 1987,” DiMaria wrote in the 1992 program guide, ”this Festival has been produced without support from the National Endowment for the Arts. … At Frameline, we’ve spent a lot of time in the last four months working with NEA staff to respond to the constant barrage of criticism aimed at the Endowment’s funding of our Festival. It is important to remember that these attacks do not originate at the NEA, but come from organizations and individuals who have long opposed lesbian and gay visibility in any form.”[26]

The loss of the endowment’s vital support came as a blow to Frameline’s ambitious efforts for LGBT film. But it was just one of many hits that would make the mid 90s one of the most difficult eras in the organization’s history. A series of crises, controversies, budget shortfalls and tragedies would bring the organization to the edge of collapse – even as the festival it presented experienced a period of unprecedented growth.


June 21 – 30, 1991 Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, Eye Gallery

Frameline dedicated its 15th festival to the memory of LGBT cinema's latest and perhaps greatest loss to AIDS, Vito Russo. In a tribute in the festival program Michael Lumpkin eulogized Russo as “the spiritual founder of this festival and every lesbian and gay film festival throughout the world.”[27]

Opening night brought the West Coast Premiere of “My Father is Coming” Monika Treut’s pan-sexual comedy about “the quirky assimilation of a German girl into New York’s East Village”, complicated by the arrival of her Bavarian father. Closing night featured the West Coast Premiere of Derek Jarman’s “The Garden”, which Paul Bollwinkel described as “a challenging, ultimately very moving look at the link between homosexuality and religion”.

Cecilia Dougherty’s “Coal Miner’s Granddaughter”, Pina Bausch’s “The Complaint of the Empress”, Bruce LaBruce’s “No Skin Off My Ass”, Jan Oxenberg’s “Thank You and Good Night” Jochen Hick’s “Via Appia” and P.J. Castanaletta’s “Together Alone” were some of the other features that made their debut at the 15th festival.

Stuart Marshall’s “Over Our Dead Bodies”, The New York Testing The Limit Collective’s “Voices From the Front”, and Robert Hilferty’s “Stop the Church” were among the year’s AIDS documentaries. Peter Adair’s and Janet Cole’s “Absolutely Positive” and Catherine Saalfield’s “Among Good Christian Peoples” became the first films funded by the Frameline Completion fund to make their festival debuts.

Notable shorts included David Weissman’s “Complaints”, John Greyson’s “The Making of Monsters”, Pratibha Parmar’s “Khush”, Marlon Riggs’s “Anthem” and Tom Bonauro’s “Free Love” (a music video for Voice Farm). “Passing the Bucks: Funding for Lesbian and Gay Media,” a panel on funding options for Queer filmmakers, and “Psycho Killers and Twisted Sisters: Gay and Lesbian Stereotypes of the Silver Screen”, a clip show with commentary by film scholar Daniel Mangin were two of the year’s special programs.


But the 1991 festival's greatest milestone came with the introduction of Dutch film scholar Annette Förster as Frameline’s first lesbian co-programmer – finally satisfying a demand first voiced by the angry women in the infamous Lesbian riots of 1981 and ‘86 .In addition to sharing general programming duties she put together a retrospective of works by 1991 Frameline Award winner Elfi Mikesh, curated a special program on the films of Su Friedrich, and selected an eight-film series investigating Catholic Iconography in Lesbian Cinema.[28] Förster returned to Amsterdam after the festival, but Frameline has never again been without at least one female co-programmer on staff.


Soon after the 15th festival came to a close film makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman asked Michael Lumpkin if he would be interested in serving as co-producer of a documentary they were hoping to make based on Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet. Lumpkin was feeling burned out after 11 years at Frameline’s helm and wanted to say yes – but only if the right person would step in to take his place at the Festival. The one and only qualified candidate for the job, as far as Lumpkin was concerned, was Mark Finch.[29]

After Finch agreed to take Lumpkin's place at Frameline, he made his departure. One era was ending, and a new one was about to begin – a point Finch seemed eager to drive home with a saucily retro trailer and poster for his first festival featuring the tag line, “that was then, this is now.”[30]


Finch wasn’t the only eager young newcomer who assumed an influential role at Frameline in 1992. Minnesota native Jenni Olson, who had founded the Minneapolis/St. Paul Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Transgender film festival in 1986, was recruited to take Förster’s place as guest lesbian programmer.[30] She and Finch would form a strong professional and personal bond as they worked together to advance the cause of queer film and take Frameline to new heights.


June 19 – 28, 1992 Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, Eye Gallery, Pacific Film Archive

Finch opened his first Frameline festival with a sneak preview of Richard Schmiechen’s inspiring documentary Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a biography of the crusading straight psychologist whose research proved that homosexuality is not a mental illness.[30]

Screenings over the next ten days ranged from the West Coast premieres of Caught Looking and North of Vortex by Constantine Giannaris, to the Bay Area premieres of Nigel Finch’s The Lost Language of Cranes and The Twin Bracelets, Yu-Shan Huang’s “lesbian version of Raise the Red Lantern.”

Jaime Chavarri’s The Affairs of Love and Rosa von Praunheim’s Affengeil (Life is Like a Cucumber) also screened in the ‘92 festival. Noteworthy shorts included Cheryl Dunye’s Vanilla Sex and She Don’t Fade, Richard Kwieniowski’s Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Chasing the Moon by Dawn Suggs, and Mark Christopher’s The Dead Boys Club, one of the festival’s all-time favorite shorts.

The year’s other highlights included “Sex, Lesbians and Videotape” and “She Likes Girls”, two of a number of shorts programs curated by Olson, a tribute to 1992 Frameline Award winner Marlon Riggs, and four programs of works by Latino/a filmmakers designed by guest curator David Olivares to help the festival “reach beyond its familiar constituency and reach a new audience.”

Special programs such as “She IS Seeing Things: A Panel Discussion on Lesbian Film and Video”, “Barry Walters’ Fabulous World of Queer Pop Video” and “TRUE COLORS: Film And Videomakers Discuss Their Work and Issues of Diversity” took stock of the current state of queer media, circa 1992.

Revivals of 1930’s Borderline, 1936’s Craig’s Wife, 1951’s Olivia, 1969’s That Tender Touch, 1979’s Ernesto and 1980’s Can’t Stop the Music provided a survey of its past.

While a preview of LGBT cinema's possible future came with the premieres of three landmark works from the movement film scholar and critic B. Ruby Rich had only recently dubbed The New Queer Cinema:[31] Christopher Munch’s The Hours and Times, Tom Kalin’s Swoon and Greg Araki’s The Living End, which Finch featured as the closing night film.

As the Castro Theater’s curtain closed on Araki’s edgy road movie, Finch’s first festival ended on a high, if highly-debated, note. Audience members seemed to either love or hate the film. Which probably suited Mark just fine.

“He was truly fearless about wanting to bring to people the broadest range of messages and images and insights about lesbian and gay life,” Danny Mangin later recalled. “A lot of times he made choices that made the gay community very uncomfortable, but he just believed in putting the gay and lesbian world out there, and letting the public, letting audiences decide for themselves what was going on.”[32]

“His friends and colleagues recognized him as a fighter in the trenches for art,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle reporter Peter Stack. “His attitude about homosexual films embraced a surprisingly egalitarian outlook, and the film festivals he helped shape in San Francisco and London in essence took homosexuality itself out of the closet for a larger world to behold.”[32]

“Artists all over the world appreciated him for it,” Mangin continued, “because he gave them a chance that no one else would. If there was one curator in the world who was going to fight for them, it was Mark Finch."[32]

Mark fought for all kinds of queer filmmakers. But the auteurs working on the New Queer Cinema’s cutting edge seemed to excite him the most.

According to Stack, Finch saw the New Queer Cinema as “a distinctive art form driven and shaped by its own activism. … He saw these films as an entire world coming into a light, carrying with it the shadings of an extraordinary humanity, beautiful at times, ugly at others, shallow or flamboyant or tragic, but undeniably vital.”[32]

Finch’s enthusiastic embrace of the New Queer Cinema would have a big impact at Frameline over the next few years. It would also help to shape the future of LGBT film, as the raw indie movies he showcased pushed the festival audience out of its comfort zone … and the audience proved ready to push back.


June 18 – 27, 1993 Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, Eye Gallery, AMC Kabuki Theater, SF Art Institute, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, Towne 3 Theater, San Jose

The 17th festival brought two key personnel changes to Frameline. Jill Jacobs replaced Tom Di Maria as Executive Director, while Jenni Olson moved up from guest curator to permanent festival co-director alongside Mark Finch. Their first festival as a full-fledged team would be the biggest yet, starting with a first-time expansion to San Jose.[33]

Finch and Olson kicked the festival off in grand style with dual opening night ceremonies at the Castro Theater and the Towne 3 Theater in San Jose followed by the simultaneous two-city West Coast premiere of Forbidden Love, Aerlyn Weissman and Lynn Fernies’s documentary/feature hybrid look at lesbian life in pre-Stonewall Canada and the history of the lesbian sex novel.

They packed the days that followed with an ambitious series of premieres, revivals, shorts programs and special events, including an evening with filmmaker and 1993 Frameline Award Winner Pratibha Parmar, a panel on Funding for Lesbian and Gay artists, “(Mis)Leading Ladies/Self-made Men: Film, TV and Transexuality”, a clip show and talk on transgender representation on film with film historian Daniel Mangin and writer/performance artist Kate Bornstein, and the “steamy, voyeuristic” presentation of “The First Annual Gay Men’s Erotic Safe Sex Video Awards” (with clips) live on the Castro stage.

Olson and Finch’s picks for the year’s revivals ranged from Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche to Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses and George Schlatter’s Norman is that You? They showcased the best of the year’s documentaries in “D-Days”, a series of noon to 8 pm screenings at Eye Gallery – though a few of the docs, including Teodoro Maniaci and Francine M Rzeznick’s One Nation Under God managed to squeeze into the theaters too.

1993’s shorts programs introduced the Frameline audience to a flood of notable new works by Isaac Julien, Todd Verow, Catherine Saalfield, Jack Walsh, Eric Slade, Jim Hubbard, Nancy Kates, Augie Robles, Monika Treut, Thomas Allen Harris, Hirouki Oki, Dawn Suggs, Sadie Benning, Cheryl Dunye, Cecilia Dougherty, Wieland Speck and many others.

Dutch feminist icon Marleen Gorris’s feature length The Last Island received its Bay Area premiere. West Coast debuts included Amos Gutman’s Amazing Grace, Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein (featuring Tilda Swinton), Vince Colyer’s Being at Home With Claude and Irma Achten’s Dutch Lesbian feature Belle – the first of two closing night films.

World premieres included Kris Clarke and Sarah Mortimer’s Confessions of a Pretty Lady with Sandra Bernhard, and closing night’s final feature, Richard Glatzers Grief starring Kent Fuhr, Alexis Arquette, Craig Chester and Illeanna Douglas. Glatzer’s “smart, uncomplicated, old-fashioned comedy” was a stark contrast to Greg Araki’s angry closing night entry of the year before. It set the template for many more gay comedies to come.

Its relatively mainstream (if low-budget) aesthetic and accessible story telling – along with the ‘93 festival’s lack of major features from the New Queer Cinema’s anointed auteurs – left some thinking that B. Ruby Rich’s highly-touted movement had already peaked by the time she gave it a name.

The `94 festival would make them think again.


June 9 – 19, 1994 Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, Center for the Arts, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, Towne 3 Theater, San Jose

The “New Queer Cinema”, or NQC, which had seemed surprisingly under-represented in the ‘93 festival came roaring back in 1994, for better and for worse. The local premiere of Rose Troche’s Go Fish on opening night led the way.[34]

Triumphant screenings at Sundance and Berlin and an unprecedented distribution deal with Samuel Goldwyn had made Troche's film the NQC’s new standard-bearer and one of the festival’s most anticipated events.[34] Frameline’s opening night crowd cheered the film’s indie black and white look, appealingly diverse cast (featuring co-writer Guinevere Turner) off-kilter romance, and loose ensemble acting.

Their enthusiastic response seemed to prove that the New Queer Cinema could be a hit with mainstream lesbian audiences. B. Ruby Rich – recognizing the San Francisco festival’s unique importance as LGBT film’s “ground zero”[35] – would later describe the screening as the NQC’s “culminating moment.[35]

Other well-received screenings of Bruce La Bruce’s Super 8½ and shorts by Todd Verow (Built for Endurance) and Todd Haynes (Dottie Gets Spanked) showed that gay men could embrace the NQC’s unconventional films too. But the angry response to a sneak preview of Steve McLean’s Post Cards From America during a tribute to 1994 Frameline Award winner Christine Vachon proved that Frameline’s audience could only be pushed so far.

Vachon, one of the NQC’s most influential figures, was an executive producer on Go Fish and the producer of Post Cards From America. But filmgoers who showed up at her tribute looking for another sexy Go Fish style-romp were in for a shock. McLean’s ambitious experimental biopic of poet and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz plunged them deep into its subject’s harrowing and often brutal life.

B. Ruby Rich would call the near riot that followed Mark Finch’s “darkest hour”.[36]

“The lesbians in the house,” Rich wrote in 1999, “were mad at the exclusively male focus, while the gay men emerged furious at the ‘negative’ representations: hustling, drugs, and alienation were not the images of gayness they wanted projected to America.”[36]

Verow’s non-traditional narrative, blunt visuals and raw style – all trademarks of the NQC – didn’t help. The audience’s hostile and vocal response would prove a near fatal blow to the once promising movement’s fragile popularity – just days after it had found its greatest success with Go Fish.

Rich later wrote that the New Queer Cinema movement she had named just two year earlier “gasped its last breath”, at the disastrous screening.[35] (Though Frameline audiences would have to sit through a few more death rattles before the NQC’s coffin was finally nailed shut.)

Lingering anger over McLean’s film cast an unfortunate shadow over the rest of a strong lineup of crowd-pleasing programs and films. The festival closed with the Bay Area premiere of “Desperate Remedies”, New Zealand directors Stewart Marshall and Peter Wells’ “insanely campy bodice-ripper about a turn-of-the-century lipstick lesbian and the ridiculously handsome men who seek to defame her.” By then the 1994 event had broken all previous records to become the biggest yet.

A post-festival press release announced that attendance had reached 55,000, an almost unbelievable leap from 1991’s 19,600. But attendance wasn’t the only thing that shot up in 1994. Festival expenses did too. Paying the bills drove the seemingly successful Frameline to the brink of bankruptcy [2] As the board struggled to keep the organization afloat, festival insiders began to fear that Finch and Olson’s groundbreaking 18th festival might also be the last.


“Late in 1994,” Susan Stryker wrote in her 25th Anniversary Festival History, “most outsiders would have seen Frameline as an organization on the brink of a wildly successful future, ideally positioned to amplify - and benefit from - the recent explosion of interest in the ‘new queer cinema.’ Frameline's budget increased geometrically as money flowed in from private and corporate sources, doubling every year during the first half of the 90s. It ballooned from just over $100,000 in 1991 to about $800,000 in 1994.”[2]

“Unfortunately,” Stryker continued, “serious difficulties lay ahead. A chronic deficit reached crisis proportions when bills came due for the 18th Festival. The situation reflected the paradoxes of explosive growth – an organization that generated half a million dollars in one fiscal year could bring in a million the next and still find itself $100,000 in the hole.”

When Executive Director Jill Jacobs left after just one festival Frameline Board member Peter Fowler volunteered to fill the void on an interim basis. Fowler deserves credit for stepping into the breach. But the lack of consistent leadership left the organization adrift at a key moment.

In October 1994 former Los Angeles Lesbian & Gay Film Festival President Tess Martin was brought in as the new ED and given a mandate to balance the books. In November she and the Frameline board announced they were scaling the 1995 festival back and laying-off most of the staff. Jenni Olson was among those let go.[2]

The move surprised the Frameline community, but by early January plans for the once endangered 1995 festival seemed back on track. Strand Releasing’s Marcus Hu had already been chosen to receive the Frameline Award. Mark Finch had agreed to present the World Premiere of NQC auteur Todd Verow’s “Frisk” (which Hu had produced) after he accepted the award on closing night.

It would turn out to be the most controversial programming decision of Finch’s career … and possibly the last.

MARK FINCH 1961 – 1995

On the afternoon of January 14, 1995, a security guard discovered a briefcase on the Golden Gate Bridge’s eastern walkway. Inside, he found a suicide note signed by Mark Finch.[32]

In it, Mark revealed the existence of more notes in his office desk. He had apparently spent the morning calmly composing the last of them – some of which included details on his plans for the upcoming festival – while those around him never suspected a thing. Then, he had walked casually out to the street, hailed a taxi to take him to the bridge, left his briefcase on the sidewalk, and jumped to his death. Surprisingly, no one saw him make the leap.

Those who had been with him that morning – and everyone who knew him – were left to wonder how they could have failed to see what was happening, and what could have pushed Finch over the edge.

“Rumors abounded about his green-card status, a positive HIV test, and scandals involving gross financial misconduct at Frameline,” Susan Stryker wrote in her history of the festival. “The far less sensational truth was that Finch had suffered his entire life with a serious clinical depression. Notes left for friends and co-workers stressed that his own inner dynamics, not the recent turmoil at Frameline, lay at the root of his decision.”[2]

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Peter Stack called Mark’s final notes “an eloquent yet curiously methodical last statement by a man who sought release from a long, compounding depression.” [32]

“Finch asked friends and colleagues not to blame themselves or feel guilty or speculate about why he chose to jump” Stack wrote. “The notes -- there were 10 of them, some typed, some handwritten -- said there was no single reason for his actions, and he seemed almost as astonished as anyone about the fact that he was doing it.” [32]

“A world of friends and artists and co-workers was stunned at the loss,” Stack continued. “They wept or could not speak. When they did speak, they broke down as they talked about their friend.” [32] Jenni Olson's grief over the loss of her friend and former colleague would inspire her award winning film, The Joy of Life[37] and drive her to become an outspoken advocate for the installation of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge

“Finch was idolized by young filmmakers for his unflagging support of new work,” Stryker recalled. “Only 33 at the time of his death, Finch was also respected by senior colleagues. He left a distinct imprint on Frameline, the Festival, and the wider queer film industry.”[2]

On February 26, fans, co-workers and friends from every corner of Mark’s world joined his mother and younger brother in the Castro Theater for a moving celebration of his life. They shared their memories of Mark through eulogies and film clips, and mourned the loss of a son, a brother, a friend, a colleague, and a visionary advocate for queer film.

By then, efforts to salvage the 19th festival Finch had just started to program were already underway. Finch’s programming assistant Boone Nguyen had agreed to step in as Programming Director. Long time volunteer, intern and press assistant Jennifer Morris had assumed the duties of Festival Co-programmer.[2]

With the support of Executive Director Tess Martin and Frameline veterans Bob Hawk, Marcus Hu and Michael Lumpkin,[2] Nguyen and Morris would go on to create a diverse and exciting festival worthy of the memory of Mark Finch.


June 9 – 18, 1995 Castro and Victoria Theaters, Southern Exposure Gallery

The still traumatized and cash-strapped Frameline’s 19th festival got off to a surprisingly comic start with the debut of one of its all-time favorite trailers, David Weissman’s “The Short, Short Trailer” starring Marga Gomez as Ricky Ricardo and Lulu as Lucy. Both Weissman’s trailer and the festival were dedicated to Mark Finch.[38]

Opening night continued with Maria Maggenti’s Lesbian Rom Com, “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love” (which proved to be a major hit with the opening night crowd – if not with B. Ruby Rich S[39]). It ended it with Barry Shils’ delirious feature length documentary, “Wigstock: The Movie”,[40] an unforgettable journey through the East Village Drag underground, by way of the band shell in Tompkins Square Park. In between, the opening night gala kept spirits high.

In the days that followed rookie programmers Boone Nguyen and Jennifer Morris treated festivalgoers to “more features and premieres than ever before”, and an “unprecedented number of lesbian feature films.”[38] Highlights included Aerlyn Weissman and Lynn Fernie’s documentary, “Fiction and Other Truths: A Film about Jane Rule”, Maria Luisa Bemberg’s Argentine period lesbian nun drama, “I The Worst of All”, and “Midnight Dancers”, Mel Chionglo’s “powerfully erotic indictment of the effects of crime and poverty on the lives of three brothers,” that had been banned in its native Philippines.

The 19th festival also saw the first appearance of two programs that have gone on to take a cherished place in the festival calendar: “Fun in Boys Shorts” and “Fun in Girls Shorts.” In every festival since these upbeat collections of the year’s most entertaining shorts have been featured in eagerly anticipated screenings on the mornings of the festival’s first Saturday and last day. And every year the festival directors take to the stage to introduce the program wearing shorts – a tradition first introduced by Mark Finch and carried on by Nguyen and Morris.

As 1995’s closing night drew near the low budget festival the two newcomers had put together was already a hit with the Frameline crowd. “Given the circumstances,” wrote Susan Stryker, “the 19th Festival was a resounding success. Attendance figures were only a few thousand tickets short of 1994's record of 55,000, and corporate sponsorship levels hit an all-time high.” [2]

But once again, an otherwise popular festival would be overshadowed by a controversy sparked by Mark Finch’s unwavering support for the New Queer Cinema, when the closing night screening of Todd Verow’s “Frisk” Finch had programmed before his death sparked a mass walk out by outraged members of the Castro crowd.[41][42]

According to San Francisco Examiner film critic Barry Walters the evening began on a positive note with the presentation of the Frameline Award to Marcus Hu, and a tribute to Finch. “Not only was the emotion in the room high,” Walters wrote, “but the crowd had been primed for something special … the featured film on the festival's closing night, which, of course, intentionally falls on Gay Pride Day.” [43]

As Verow’s grim and grisly tale of a remorseless gay serial killer played out on the screen, the mood quickly soured. “At least half of the Castro Theatre's 1,500 sold-out seats were abandoned,” Walters wrote, “as filmgoers left seething with anger, some even screaming at the screen.” [44]

Filmmaker Magazine columnist Charles Lofton wrote that the enraged audience “demanded an explanation for ‘Frisk’s’ violence and technical flaws.” [42] Marcus Hu later told B. Ruby Rich that the intensity of the crowd’s fury had him literally fearing for his life.[36]

The controversy over “Frisk” would leave a pall over both the 1995 festival and the struggling New Queer Cinema (which B. Ruby Rich had already declared dead[35]). Barry Walters panned the film in his Examiner review as “an awkward and often boring exercise in pretention by marginal talents who take themselves too seriously.” [45]

Unfortunately for Verow and his colleagues in the NQC, lesbian and gay filmgoers were beginning to see their entire movement in the same light – thanks in large part to publicity around the poorly received Frameline screenings of films like “The Living End”, “Postcards From America” and now “Frisk”.

But in 1995 what mattered most at Frameline was that Martin, Nguyen, Morris and their team had made it through closing night. Their heroic efforts had saved the festival. Now the job of rebuilding the troubled organization could begin.

Though first the revolving door in Frameline’s executive office would have to take a few more spins.


By the end of the 19th festival Jennifer Morris had clearly found her calling and her cause. The Downey, California native had already made a name for herself on San Francisco’s queer scene as a DJ under the rubric Junkyard. She would have an even greater impact in the years to come as a high profile member of the festival staff, where she would become known for her passionate advocacy for lesbian films and filmmakers, embrace of the trans community, skillful programming, and dapper suits.

But Tess Martin and Boone Nguyen had had enough. Soon after the festival ended Martin announced she was leaving the non-profit world to start a business. Nguyen, who had come to Frameline right after getting his BA in American Studies at Yale, revealed he was moving to San Diego to pursue his MA in ethnic studies at UCSD. As the Board began looking for their replacements, one candidate for both jobs stood out. Former Festival Director Michael Lumpkin.

Lumpkin, who had finally wrapped up his duties as co-producer of “The Celluloid Closet” documentary, had been watching Frameline’s decline with growing concern. In late 1995 he accepted the board’s invitation to return to the organization as both ED and Festival Director – a two-for-one arrangement designed to help cut down on payroll.

“I came back knowing that I would be here for an extended period of time,” he told Filmmaker Magazine columnist Charles Lofton a few months later, “because I think Frameline’s biggest problem of the past few years was an annual turnover of directors and staff. There’s been no stability at the top of the organization.” [42]

Lumpkin would devote more than a decade to stabilizing and rebuilding the struggling organization. He would also oversee the programming of a series of increasingly popular festivals – starting with the 20th edition in 1996.


June 21–30, 1996 Castro Theater, Roxie Cinema, Victoria Theater

Lumpkin and Morris opened their first festival as a team with the local premiere of Cheryl Dunye’s Watermelon Woman, “one of the first (openly acknowledged) feature films by a black lesbian” , preceded by a video clip of Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra denouncing the film – and its NEA funding – from the House Floor.[46]

Frameline’s opening night crowd booed Hoekstra, then stood to cheer as Watermelon Woman came to a close.[47] Dunye’s eclectic mix of genres, unconventional narrative style and focus on the politics of sex and race proved that the much talked about demise of the New Queer Cinema wouldn’t keep LGBT filmmakers from creating innovative and ambitious works.

Exciting new offerings from festival and/or NQC veterans John Greyson, Barbara Hammer and Rosa von Praunheim backed that message up. First time filmmaker Susan Streitfeld’s Female Perversions seemed to do the same, thanks to its sometimes-opaque narrative and wonderfully stylized star turn by the still underground Tilda Swinton. But the presence of Field of Dreams actress Amy Madigan in the role of Swinton’s depressed kleptomaniac sister hinted at a different story.

As the NQC faded away, some “LGBT” movies weren’t just going mainstream. They were going Hollywood – and straight. Two of the 1996 festival’s most talked about “lesbian” films were made by straight men and featured heterosexual Hollywood stars in lesbian roles.

The neo-noir Bound was written and directed by brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski (in the days before Larry became Lana). Straight actresses Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon starred as a gangster’s moll and a plumber who meet, fall in love, have a couple of steamy sex scenes, take on the mob and hit the road to a happy ending. Michael Winterbottom’s Butterfly Kiss starred Amanda Plummer as a murderous lesbian who takes to the road to terrorize everyone she meets as she frantically searches for a long lost love.

These straight gay films had B. Ruby Rich and others wondering if the innovative LGBT film culture nurtured in festivals like the SFILGFF was being coopted by outsiders eager to cash in.[35] But the enthusiastic reception for Bound (The San Francisco Chronicle’s Edward Guthmann wrote that the “Castro exploded” [48]) seemed to prove that the Frameline crowd was eager for more technically polished and coherent films in the Hollywood style – no matter who made them or where they were from.

Even perennial Canadian bad boy Bruce la Bruce seemed to be cleaning up his act. The San Francisco Examiner’s Barry Walters praised la Bruce’s Hustler White for its the “cleverly scripted dialogue and striking cinematography” and called the “sweet and playful” feature la Bruce’s “most accessible and professional film.” [49]

But LGBT cinema’s apparent rush away from the fringe and into the mainstream wasn’t the only story unfolding across the festival’s screenings of 55 features and over 150 shorts. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Peter Stack noted an increase in films “on transgender themes” and quoted “festival organizers” who told him films on “trans-sexuality, cross-dressing and transgender lifestyles appear to be the biggest growth segment in the homosexual film industry”.[50] This trans film boom would explode in the years to come.

Documentaries in the 1996 festival included Debra Chasnoff’s It’s Elementary, I Shall Not Be Removed: The Life of Marlon Riggs, first time filmmaker Karen Everett’s tribute to her late teacher and mentor, and Family Values, Pam Walton’s look at her relationship with her homophobic right wing Christian father.

Lumpkin and Morris’ only nods to the festival’s historic 20th anniversary came in two nostalgic programs of shorts. “The First Festival” recreated the line-up of 8 mm films shown back in 1977. “Your Shorts Are Showing” presented a selection of favorite shorts from the decades since. Otherwise, just about everything in the festival was brand new – much to the surprise of critic Dennis Harvey, who praised the festival for showing “great films” but expected the landmark year to inspire Frameline to spend more time looking back. “The major disappointment of this year’s festival” he wrote in The Bay Guardian, “is the minimal lip service it pays to its own illustrious history. ”[51]

The truth was, the flood of new LGBT films in 1996 had left Lumpkin and Morris little time for retrospectives. But queer history still played a key role in some of the year’s most memorable programs.

Closing night was dedicated to filmmaker Peter Adair, winner of the year’s Frameline Award, who had died due to complications of AIDs just three days earlier.[52] The award had been presented to the already seriously ill Adair the previous January during a special tribute at the Castro Theater.

The festival wrapped at the Castro with the local premiere of Stonewall, Nigel Finch’s stirring, sincere and straightforward retelling of the modern gay movement’s founding battle that would win the year’s audience award for best feature.[53] As the Castro crowd applauded the film’s final credits, relief that Lumpkin and Morris had spared them the pain of another “Frisk” fiasco surely added to their joy.

Their enthusiastic response brought a successful festival – which racked up 28 sold out screenings and 50,582 attendees [54] – to an upbeat close.

Since 2000[edit]

Guest Lauren Ambrose in 2000

In 2004 the festival changed its name to the shorter Frameline28,[55] the festival being the 28th annual event. Subsequent festivals have followed this naming pattern.

In 2007 Frameline in conjunction with the Bay Area Bisexual Network hosted Bi Request a program of short films curated by Amy André, comprising a selection of films made by bisexual directors and/or about bisexual subjects.[56] In their introduction to the evening, Frameline noted that "Bi Request was inspired by Frameline’s ongoing commitment to promote bisexual visibility and display bi images in film".

Additionally, two other bisexual themed feature films were presented, The DL Chronicles[57] and The Two Sides of the Bed (Los dos lados de la cama).[58] In March 2007, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism and the South West Asian, North African Bay Area Queers (SWANABAQ)[59] initiated a campaign to pressure Frameline to end its relationship with the Israeli government.[60][61]

In an open letter signed by more than 100 artists and writers, including Sophie Fiennes, Elia Suleiman, Ken Loach, John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Ahdaf Soueif, Eduardo Galeano, Brian Eno, and Leon Rosselson, Frameline was asked "to honor calls for an international boycott of Israeli political and cultural institutions, by discontinuing Israeli consulate sponsorship of the LGBT film festival and not cosponsoring events with the Israeli consulate".[60][61] In June 2007, Frameline made the unprecedented decision to pull a juried and listed film, The Gendercator, directed by Catherine Crouch, from the 2007 Festival weeks before the opening. Protests and debates surrounded the decision about the film came from mainly transgender activists and community members. Some denounced the 20-minute science fiction piece as demonising and slandering transgender people while others in the same communities protested what they saw as censorship. The film subsequently was both shown and pulled from other LGBT-related film festivals and continues to be used as a source for discussion on transgender issues, perspectives and censorship.

In October 2008, K. C. Price, former director of the SF Ninth Street Film Center, was named executive director of Frameline, joining Jennifer Morris as artistic director. In September 2011 Frameline announced the departure of Jennifer Morris, after seventeen years with the organization. Desiree Buford was named the new Director of Exhibition & Programming, and would oversee the festival along with K.C. Price.


The festival gives out four awards; "Best Documentary Award", the "First Feature Award", the "Audience Award", and the "Frameline Award" given annually to an individual who has played a key role in the history of LGBT cinema.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stack, Peter, "Gay Film Festival to Go On Despite Director's Vanishing". San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, January 20, 1995, pp. D1.
  3. ^ a b c First San Francisco Gay Film Festival Program Guide
  4. ^ Contrary to local legend the 1977 event in San Francisco was not the world's first gay film festival. That title goes to a "Festival of Gay Films" staged in Australia by the Sydney Filmmaker's Co-op in June 1976. (See: Queer cinema as a fifth cinema in South Africa and Australia, by Ricardo Peach, PhD Thesis;jsessionid=5ED3E42735FC6B492419FECC51EAF375?R=DSPACE_%2Fwww%2Fapps%2Futsepress%2Fdspace%2Fassetstore%2F14%2F98%2F93%2F149893218288535254059250095790480807227) However, that was a one-time event. The Australian Film Institute founded The “Gay and Lesbian Film Festival” that became the direct precursor to today’s Mardi Gras Sydney Gay Film Festival two years later, in 1978. (see Which leaves the San Francisco event, with its 1977 debut, as first in the US, and the oldest continuous annual Gay Film Festival in the world.
  5. ^ Story told by Marc Heustis and confirmed by Rob Epstein
  6. ^ a b Second San Francisco Gay Film Festival Program Guide
  9. ^ Mark Page
  11. ^ Michael Lumpkin
  12. ^
  13. ^ The choice of Born in Flames as the winner of the 1983 festival's Best Feature Award is confirmed in the 10th SFILGFF program guide listing for Sunday, June 29, 1986
  15. ^ Marc Siegel: Spilling out onto Castro Street, Jump Cut, no. 41, May 1997, pp. 131-136 copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1997, 2006
  17. ^
  18. ^ B. Ruby Rich, “The New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut”, p. xv
  19. ^ a b c d 1990 SFILGFF Program Guide
  20. ^
  21. ^ 15th SFILGFFprogram p. 9
  22. ^ 38th SFILGFF Program Guide
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ 1991 SFILGFF Program Guide
  26. ^ 1992 SFILGFF Program Guide
  27. ^ 15th SFILGFF Program Guide
  28. ^ 15th SFILGFF Program Guid
  29. ^
  30. ^ a b c 16th SFILGFF Program Guide
  31. ^ B. Ruby Rich: "A Queer Sensation”, The Village Voice, March 24, 1992
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h
  33. ^ 17th SGILGFF Program Guide
  34. ^ a b 18th SFILGFF Program Guide
  35. ^ a b c d e SF Bay Guardian, June 19, 1996, “Selling Out”, by B. Ruby Rich
  36. ^ a b c B. Ruby Rich, “The New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut”, p. 35
  37. ^ Jenni, Olson (January 14, 2005). "Power Over Life and Death: Another toll goes up on the Golden Gate Bridge". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. B9. 
  38. ^ a b 19th SFILGFF Program Guide
  39. ^ F Bay Guardian, June 19, 1996, “Selling Out”, by B. Ruby Rich
  40. ^ Not to be confused with Tom Rubnitz’s 1987 short of the same name
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b c
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, Datebook, June 24, 1996 “Opening Night Jitters” by Edward Guthmann
  47. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, Datebook, June 24, 1996 “Opening Night Jitters” by Edward Guthmann
  48. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, Datebook, June 24, 1996 “Opening Night Jitters” by Edward Guthmann
  49. ^ San Francisco Examiner, June 21, 1996, “It’s What a Film Festival Should Be,” by Barry Walters
  50. ^ Peter Stack, “Gay Film Festival Unveiled”, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday May 29, 1996
  51. ^ San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 19, 1996, “Two Steps Forward: The Frameline festival turns 20 with great films and little fanfare” by Dennis Harvey
  52. ^
  53. ^ San Francisco Examiner,28 Sellouts at Lesbian, Gay Film Festival, by Barry Walters, Friday July 5, 1996
  54. ^ San Francisco Examiner, 28 Sellouts at Lesbian, Gay Film Festival, by Barry Walters, Friday July 5, 1996
  55. ^ Meyer, Carla, "Gay festival trims name, adds screens". San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, May 26, 2004, pp. E1.
  56. ^ [1][dead link]
  57. ^ [2][dead link]
  58. ^ [3][dead link]
  59. ^ [4][dead link]
  60. ^ a b Bajko, Matthew S. "The Bay Area Reporter Online | Political Notebook: Queer activists reel over Israel, Frameline ties". Retrieved 2014-01-27. 
  61. ^ a b "San Francisco Queers Say No Pride in Apartheid". The Electronic Intifada. Retrieved 2014-01-27. 
  62. ^ "Awards at San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved December 19, 2006. 

External links[edit]