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Watershed moment for women at Frameline

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Molly Shannon, left, and Susan Ziegler appear in “Wild Nights with Emily,” a Frameline42 centerpiece feature. (Courtesy photo)

In 41 years of the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, women have been major players, but this year’s Frameline42, which runs Thursday through June 24, marks a new milestone, with 52 percent of its more than 150 films from more than 30 countries directed or co-directed by women.

The festival’s centerpiece U.S. feature, making its Bay Area premiere at 6:30 p.m. June 20 at the Castro, is director Madeleine Olnek’s “Wild Nights with Emily,” a funny and revelatory look at American poet Emily Dickinson starring Molly Shannon.

While the poet has been mis-characterized as an eccentric, reclusive spinster, the movie more accurately depicts her as sensitive, expressive and prolific. Much of the popular misunderstanding surrounding her stems from how, after her death, she was portrayed as a demure conformist who didn’t want her works to be published, and romantic references to her sister-in-law in her poems were erased, in order to make her a sympathetic figure acceptable to the public.

“It was very smart to spin this story of her as a victim, because she was a very subversive and independent figure,” Olnek says. “But this is the issue of how women’s history is erased, and that women have to start from zero. They aren’t allowed to see themselves in the lineage of writers or women who are doing things in the world. We lost a lot that way, but it’s also very important to understand what her life was like, especially for young women who are looking for paths for themselves in the world.”

Olnek maintains that it’s critical for female directors to have a major say in film narratives: “Opinions and attitudes toward women are shaped by what people see on screen, and that’s why it’s so important that women are collaborators on their images.”

Frameine42’s opening night feature “TransMilitary,” making its West Coast premiere on Thursday at the Castro, is co-directed by Fiona Dawson, sharing credit with Gabriel Silverman. (The film’s producer Jamie Coughlin is also a woman.)

The documentary, which won the Audience Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, focuses on the lives of four transgender people in the U.S. military who find themselves in peril due to the current presidential administration. (With some 15,000-plus active members, the military is the largest employer of transgender Americans).

“We had great relationships with the individuals who were putting their courage on the line to go inside the Pentagon and come out as transgender troops to top officials, and we had the privilege to film them before and after going into the Pentagon,” says Dawson, who adds, “Early last year we thought that we would be coming to the end of the film, but with President Trump’s (anti-transgender) tweets in July, it shifted the end of the story and we quickly went back into production and changed the ending.”

Notwithstanding sudden political shifts in the wind, the documentary makes it clear that transgender people are accepted, integral members of the U.S. military.

“Ultimately, what people want to know inside their unit is whether a person will do their job effectively, and that’s why we’ve seen so much acceptance at the on-the-ground level of people who are transgender,” Silverman says. “It only becomes a massive issue once politicians try to make it political for their own personal gain.”

IF YOU GO
Frameline42
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., S.F.
When: June 14-27
Tickets: $10 to $18 most screenings (except special events)
Contact: (415) 703-8655, www.frameline.org
Note: Screenings also are June 17-23 at the Rialto in Berkeley and Landmark Piedmont in Oakland.

OPENING NIGHT GALA

Where: Terra Gallery, 511 Harrison St., S.F.
When: After 7 p.m. June 14 “TransMilitary” screening at the Castro
Tickets: $35 movie only; $75 to $90 with party

U.S. CENTERPIECE
Wild Nights With Emily
Where: Castro
When: 6:30 p.m. June 20
Tickets: $15 to $18

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