Sports in focus at Frameline39

Professional and collegiate sports are woven into the fabric of American society, with Americans devoting a significant amount of their leisure time to following them. And sports, or more specifically the LGBTQ athletes who compete in them, are a key focus of Frameline39, the San Francisco LGBTQ film festival.

Opening Thursday, the 11-day event is featuring 16 films that showcase LGBTQ athletes. Two of the most prominent sports-oriented films in the festival are the inspiring documentaries “Out to Win” and “Game Face.”

Directed by award-winning Sundance alumni Malcolm Ingram, the centerpiece feature “Out to Win,” screening June 24, follows the lives and careers of former, current and aspiring LGBTQ athletes, including David Kopay, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, John Amaechi, Billy Bean, Wade Davis, Jason Collins, Brittney Griner, Charline Labonté, Michael Sam, Conner Mertens and Chandler Whitney.

For most of the athletes profiled in “Out to Win,” living a closeted life has been an emotionally difficult experience; many of the subjects didn’t come out until after they left their sports careers. A recurring theme, however, in “Out to Win” is how the lives of these athletes changed once they came out.

“Everybody’s life got a bit better when they came out,” Ingram says. “But for many of the athletes the process involved being afraid of what will happen to you if you do come out.”

The coming-out process was particularly difficult for athletes from older generations, such as Kopay and King; but when they did come out, they served as inspiring role models for younger LGBTQ athletes.

“The groundwork that pioneers like Kopay set for later athletes was a very important development in sports, Ingram says. “I think that everyone who experiences being in the closet benefits from having a representative role model in the LGBTQ community.”

Unlike “Out to Win,” “Game Face” (which screens Saturday in San Francisco and June 25 in Berkeley) follows two LGBTQ athletes: professional mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox and college basketball player Terrence Clemens, both of whom came out during their sports careers.

“There are similarities among the coming-out experiences of athletes, but each person has their own path,” says Michiel Thomas, who directed “Game Face” and competed in professional basketball as a gay athlete in his native Belgium. “Everyone has a different blueprint.”

Thomas also stresses the importance of role models for LGBTQ athletes, with Collins featured in his film as a mentor for Clemens, and openly gay MMA fighter Liz Carmouche a source of support for Fox.

Noting that the involvement of transgender athletes such as Fox in sports is a novel concept for most people, Thomas says, “When I was introduced to Fallon, I didn’t know anything about transgender people. I needed to educate myself.”

IF YOU GO
Frameline39
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St.; Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., S.F.
When: June 18-28
Tickets: $10 to $35
Contact: (415) 703-8655, www.frameline.org
Note: Screenings also are at Rialto Cinemas in Berkeley and Landmark’s Piedmont in Oakland.

SELECT HIGHLIGHTS

I Am Michael: The opening night film by Justin Kelly stars James Franco as gay rights advocate Michael Glatze, who shocked his followers when he renounced his homosexuality and embraced a heterosexual life. [7 p.m. June 18, Castro]

Tab Hunter Confidential: Director Jeffrey Schwarz is slated to receive a Frameline award at a screening of his film based on actor Tab Hunter’s 2006 autobiography, which traces his rise to Hollywood superstardom and his secret life in an era when being openly gay was unthinkable. [4 p.m. June 20, Castro]

Game Face: The documentary tracks the parallel stories of the first transgender pro mixed martial arts fighter and a gay college basketball player. [7 p.m. June 20, Roxie; 7 p.m. June 25, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Berkeley]

The Summer of Sangaile: The Sundance winner from Lithuania directed by Alante Kavaite is a lusty, visually lush coming-of-age story pivoting on a slow-burning romance between two teen girls. [7 p.m. June 23, Castro]

Jason and Shirley: Director Stephen Winter’s film is a fictitious account of the making of Shirley Clarke’s controversial 1967 film “Portrait of Jason,” a confessional biography of gay, African-American hustler and aspiring cabaret performer Jason Holliday. [9:30 p.m. June 23, Victoria]

Out to Win: The documentary tells stories of and describes ongoing challenges facing professional LGBT athletes. [6:30 p.m. June 24, Castro]

Bare: The festival closing program is director Natalia Leite’s drama starring Dianna Agron as a young woman living in a small desert town in Nevada who becomes romantically involved with a female drifter, played by Paz de la Huerta. [7 p.m. June 28, Castro]

James Ambroff-Tahan
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James Ambroff-Tahan

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