San Francisco's LGBTQ+ Film Fest Shares History With City's Theaters
One of the feature films at Frameline46 (June 16–26, 2022) is Impresario, which documents the work of filmmaker and producer, Marc Huestis, who founded the San Francisco organization to "change the world through the power of queer cinema." A force of nature who survived the AIDS crisis (he's a longtime HIV survivor) and various addictions, Huestis was also a key figure in early LGBTQ+ liberation (when he argued for embrace of the queerer elements of the community) and in San Francisco's response to AIDS (he organized numerous fundraisers and pre-death memorials). The film also centers on his long association with the Castro Theatre (where many of the fundraisers/memorials were held and where he was charge of programming for two decades). This year, as the historic Castro celebrates its 100th birthday, Frameline plans a special screening of Impresario and an intimate conversation with Huestis himself. (Tuesday, June 21 at 4 p.m. Castro Theatre, San Francisco)
Image: Frameline founder Marc Huestis and Impresario director Lauretta Molitor in front of the Castro Theatre.
An actor, Huestis came to California's queer Mecca in the early 1970s and quickly fell in with other performers and activists in the Castro neighborhood. He attended City College's film school and began making queer cinema with a Super 8 camera. In addition to founding Frameline, Huestis organized San Francisco's first first LGBTQ+ film festival in 1977. As the documentary recalls, the Gay Film Festival of Super-8 Films, showed the movies on a screen made from a bed sheet.
Image: Frameline founder Marc Huestis (right) in front of the Castro theatre in the 1970s
The Castro Theatre
In 1922, San Francisco’s Nasser family opened the Castro Theatre: an event that came to define an era and what would become a gay neighborhood. A century on, it is the longest continually family owned movie theatre in the United States.
“The Castro is much more than a theatre,” Mary Conde, senior vice president for Another Planet who oversees the overall Castro Theatre Project said in a statement. “An LGBTQ touchstone, a film-lovers icon, a community landmark and an architectural gem, the Castro is unique. Another Planet is honored to restore, renovate and revitalize the Castro as a home to everything we’ve come to love about the Castro, and expand its audience.”
The theater will celebrate its birthday with programming celebrating 100 years of filmmaking in San Francisco.
In announcing this year's lineup, Frameline executive director James Woolley noted, “We are beyond excited to welcome cinephiles back to in-person screenings at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre — which celebrates its 100th birthday during the festival — as well as other venues around the Bay Area. It is our hope that this year’s festival will remind us of the importance of community and connection, as well as continue to inspire change through film.”
“This year’s festival builds on Frameline’s long-standing commitment to celebrate and amplify queer voices,” added Frameline director of programming Allegra Madsen. “The diverse lineup of films shed light on what it means to be queer around the globe.” (We feature 10 of our favorites here.)
Reflecting on the relationship the festival has with the historic theater, Madsen says, "the survival of art house theaters really is in question."
With that in mind, we also wanted to highlight the other theaters that will host the first in-person Frameline in two years.
Roxie is an arts nonprofit and one of the oldest continuously operated cinemas in the United States, with its history tracing back to the early 1900s. Located in San Francisco's Mission District, the Roxie positions itself as "Guided from the start by crazy visionaries who pursued dreams over profit, we strive to keep the weird and wonderful alive in our little corner of San Francisco."
With a mission "Guided by the passionate belief that engaging with a movie doesn’t end with the credits, we invite filmmakers, curators, entertainers and educators to interact with our audiences," notes the organization's website. "We provide inspiration and opportunity for the next generation, and serve as a forum for the independent film community reflecting the spirit of the diverse Bay Area population."
Check out this short documentary about Roxie's re-opening after 434 days closed during the city's pandemic lock-down:
AMC Kabuki 8
Originally opened in 1960 as a large dinner theater, the Kabuki Theater was the first multiplex in San Francisco. As part of the Japan Center’s mission to showcase Japanese culture, it was the first authentic Kabuki theater in America, designed in a traditional 17th century style with a revolving stage, and trap doors. It is now operated by AMC as a more traditional American movie theater.
Image: actor Philip Ng meets San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at screening of Birth of the Dragon at the AMC Kabuki 8 theater in 2017
Proxy Walk-in Theatre
Proxy is a temporary two-block project in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley that offers an ever-changing mixture of food, art, culture, and retail pop-ups housed in reclaimed shipping containers. It’s also home to the Proxy walk-in outdoor theatre. Designated temporary, because the land it’s on is ultimately slated for residential housing, after nearly a decade, Proxy straddles the nexus between permanent and temporary. Adjacent to a park and the portions of Hayes Street that now closes to traffic every weekend, Proxy’s plaza has become a beloved multi-use pedestrian space – but it nears the end of it’s lease, and it’s currently unknown if that lease will be extended by the city.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has always considered film an essential medium of modern and contemporary art and has pioneered the presentation of film in museums since its first cinema program launched in 1937. Throughout its history, SFMOMA has explored film in relation to populism, social movements, and experimentation. Its state-of-the-art Phyllis Wattis Theater provides a destination venue for film festivals like Frameline, offering screenings in dialogue with exhibitions or hosting public discussions with visiting filmmakers.
The New Parkway
Located across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland’s Uptown district, the New Parkway Theater is a community-centered cinema and pub where the two screening rooms offer loveseats, reclaimed vintage chairs, and other ecclectic seating. The theater screens a variety of new releases, cult classics, and special programming. The café offers food and local beer and wine (and will deliver directly to your theater seating. The New Parkway prides itself for being “quite possibly the greenest movie theater in the world. With nearly everything being reusable, we strive to produce as little waste as possible.”