An Array of Asian and Asian American Films Revealed at Frameline43

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SAN FRANCISCO – ​Frameline43​, the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, is thrilled to showcase a broad range of new films from across the Asian and Asian American experience from June 20 to 30.

From a noir gay thriller set in 1980s Vietnam (“Song Lang”), to a Filipino high school lesbian romance (“Billie and Emma”), to an anthology of sci-fi transgender shorts produced in San Francisco (“Transfinite”), the Frameline43 program includes the latest and most innovative voices in international and independent cinema addressing LGBTQ+ themes, created by, for, or about the Asian, Pacific Islander, South Asian, and Asian American communities.

Highlights include the world premiere of “Straight Up,” the first feature by Los Angeles-based James Sweeney, and a Teddy Jury Award-winning drama from China, “A Dog Barking at the Moon.”

“Meili” (Taiwan/China), directed by Zhou Zhou. North American premiere. In this transfixing portrait of love and loneliness in a changing China, we follow impulsive Meili, toiling at a dry cleaner’s, cuddling and quarreling with her girlfriend, exploding at her money-hungry brother-in-law. She yearns to escape her stifling — and sometimes violent — everyday. But after her girlfriend abandons her, Meili soon finds herself jobless, friendless, and pushed to the edge of rage. Intimately shot and powerfully performed, “Meili” reveals one woman’s struggle to hang on to hope.

“Straight Up” (USA), directed by James Sweeney. World premiere. Panicking over the thought of spending his whole life alone, Todd turns his back on dating men and dives headlong into a relationship with aspiring actress Rory, his intellectual soulmate. But can a (probably) gay man and a straight woman become a truly happy couple? Quick-witted (with even quicker dialogue) and featuring charming performances from Katie Findlay and writer-director Sweeney making his feature debut, “Straight Up” mines the depths of our collective anxieties around loneliness, relationships, and love for the perfect modern thinking-person’s date night movie.

“Song Lang” (Vietnam), directed by Leon Le. Set in atmospheric 1980s Saigon, “Song Lang” is a gritty underworld noir hiding a romantic heart. Hunky, brooding Dung — a debt collector for a local loan shark — finds himself mysteriously drawn to a charismatic young performer in a Vietnamese folk opera troupe. Their bond will lead them into an emotional vortex of operatic proportions in this stunning feature debut, featuring rich scenes from a fading but potent art form.

“Stray Dolls” (USA), directed by Sonejuhi Sinha. Two young women stuck living and working at a squalid motel will do whatever it takes to escape their suffocating surroundings. However, they may have gone too far when they hatch a plot to rip off their nefarious drug-dealing boss (a deliciously wicked Cynthia Nixon), igniting an avalanche of violence and suspense in this explosive queer buddy crime drama that marks the promising feature debut of acclaimed short film director Sinha.

“Billie and Emma” (Philippines), directed by Samantha Lee. U.S. premiere. When baby butch Billie is outed and exiled to the countryside to live with her religious aunt, she tries to go unnoticed (despite combat boots) in her new school. But star student Emma is intrigued, and Billie’s initial distrust quickly develops into something more. Balancing classic teen romance with thoughtful reflections on love, choice, and women’s autonomy, writer-director Lee (“Maybe Tomorrow”) offers a tender queer film with a flavor all its own.

“A Dog Barking at the Moon” (China/Spain), directed by Xiang Zi. Xiaoyu is pregnant when she brings her American husband home to China to meet her affluent parents. She finds her mother deeply dissatisfied and drifting into a religious cult, while her father is aloof and detached, having long been forced to suppress his homosexual desire. Loosely based on the director’s life, this wrenching family saga unfolds across several generations in this fascinating and revealing look at one contemporary Chinese family.

“Kattumaram” (India), directed by Swarnavel Eswaran. West Coast premiere. In a small Indian village ravaged by a tsunami, Singaram is a fisherman working hard to care for his orphaned niece Anandhi, a local schoolteacher. Despite constant pressure from her uncle and the conservative society, Anandhi refuses to be married off. It isn’t until a new friendship with a fellow female teacher blossoms that people begin to suspect why.

“Memories of My Body” (Indonesia), directed by Garin Nugroho. Abandoned by his family in rural Java, young Juno loses himself in lengger — a traditional dance form where men dress and perform as women. Alternately shunned and desired due to his feminine appearance, Juno journeys through Indonesia seeking love and acceptance, witnessing his country’s violent social upheavals while discovering his body as a site of both personal and cultural memory.

“Razor Tongue” (USA), directed by Natalie Heltzel, Sarah Poynter, Puppett, and Kalena Ranoa. U.S. premiere. With a sharp comedic touch and real emotional bite, “Razor Tongue” explores the complexities of manifesting self-love in a world filled with misogyny and discrimination.

“Transfinite” (USA/U.K./India), directed by Neelu Bhuman. A collection of seven locally shot science-fiction/fantasy short films, skillfully brought to life by a cast of trans and queer actors. Rich with symbolism, the seven stories in this anthology film feature supernatural LGBTQ+ people, from many different cultures, who use magic and supernatural powers to love, teach, fight, and thrive. Beautiful animation and thoughtful camerawork make this omnibus of shorts shine.

For a complete schedule of the film festival and to become a member of Frameline, the most respected LGBTQ+ media arts organization in the nation, visit www.frameline.org

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