FRAMELINE 41 initiated a pair of press days for those of us covering the festival, and it offered me a rare opportunity to talk to many of the participating filmmakers while they were all gathered together in one place. The result was my inspiration to do a pop quiz with them, and the question I sprang on them was “What is the importance of art in the time of Trump?”
Below are the answers I received, all of them insightful, all of them reaffirming the importance of the arts for everyone, no matter what their profession.
Fawzia Mirza, actor, producer, and of SIGNATURE MOVE, advocates comedy as a tool of rebellion. Her direct response to Trump is a film called THE MUSLIM TRUMP (TheMuslimTrump.com to watch online), and in finding our intersectional truth.
Mike Roma, writer/director of the wise and winsome comedy DATING MY MOTHER (and the equally delightful web series, Danny The Manny), emphasizes showing the queer community living regular lives.
Damon Cardasis, writer/director of the musical exploration of gender and religion, SATURDAY CHURCH, cites art’s ability to inspire people and to give them hope, and the parallels between the American present and Weimar Germany.
Legacy Bailey, the star who got a standing ovation at a Frameline screening of her film the lyrical love story BOBBYANNA, sees art as giving voice to those who are usually denied one, particularly in the black queer community.
Rudi Dolezal is the co-director, with Nick Broomfield, of WHITNEY: CAN I BE ME?, about what the singer was forced to hide in order to become a superstar. An Austrian, Dolezal addresses the responsibility of the artist to speak out. He also shares the current political climate in Austria, and the national reaction to Trump’s election. He also uses a few NSFW words.
Allison Tate is the writer/director of the sly short, CAROL SUPPORT GROUP, about a group of people attending a 12-step program to deal with their obsession with Todd Haynes’ film, CAROL. Tate asserts that art has never been more important because it is light, it is action in the face of feeling hopeless.
I talked to them as a group, and so I present them as one, too. The crew from THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN, Frameline 41’s opening night film that chronicles the life and times of the iconic author of Tales of the City, among other classics. Co-director Jennifer Kroot quotes Maupin himself with a hearty expletive in her response. Bill Weber, co-director and editor, talks about the threat to funding in these times, and the need to make films that are filled with kindness as a way of not giving in to the ugly dark hate he has seen coming from Trump. Grant Nelleson, who contributed the wonderful animations seen throughout the film, hopes that art can open communication between people who are so polarized. Composer Michael Hearst shows a daring sense of humor, but also speaks to the collaborative nature of art, how it requires us to see things from many different angles, in direct contrast to Trump. He also recalls the groups reaction to Trump’s reaction, which occurred while they were finishing the film. Producer Gerry Kim’s own quick wit has been on display during the opening night post-screening Q&A when he claimed that, like Maupin himself, he too could claim descent from a Confederate general, albeit a little-known Korean one. In response to my question, he cites art’s ability to help us tap into empathy. Last, yet anything but least, producer Mayuran Tiruchelvam, shares his concern that Trump’s regime will lead to bad political art, as in that which appeals to the worst part of our natures. Instead, he hopes that art in the time of Trump will make a positive emotional connection.
Julia Solomonoff’s film about immigration, NOBODY’S WATCHING, takes on a special resonance these days, though it was made before the election. Solomonoff, originally from Argentina, shares the realization that a scene she had originally cut from her film needed to be restored as a result of the election. She also speaks to the role art plays in creating empathy.
Victor Villanueva’s comedy, JESUS IS DEAD is one of my favorite film titles from this year’s festival. I’ll let him explain the premise before he moves on to talk about comedy being the first line of defense in a challenging political climate as a way of encouraging critical thinking. He also discusses making LGBTQ films in the Philippines, with a shout-out to M to F trans star, Jake Zyrus. NB: Villanueva has a great sense of humor, which he expresses with some strong language.
Samantha Lee, writer/director/producer of MAYBE TOMORROW, is also from the Philippines. She finds similarities between the patriarchal political climate here and in her home country, and sees the role of art as being both a reflection of the times, and as a record for the future.
Gail Friedman’s documentary, HOT TO TROT, introduces us to the magic of same-sex ballroom dancing competitions. She sees her film as an idiosyncratic attack on bigotry, and, in a larger sense, that is the role of the arts now in general, and in her film in particular, is to show characters that are living the issues, not working the issues. She finishes with a profane evaluation of Trump.