By Gary M. Kramer–

At the 18th annual San Francisco Greek Film Festival, which ends on April 25, there are still a few days to watch films. The more than two dozen feature films, documentaries and short films are available online free of charge upon prior reservation. (Some geo-blocking applies.) This year’s program features four short films with gay and transgender characters. Here’s an overview of what to see.

Escaped the fragile planet written and directed by Thanasis Tsimpinis, begins with a disclaimer that the short film was shot in July 2019, and all similarities to COVID-19 are purely coincidental. It quickly becomes clear why. Two young men (Michail Tabakakis and Nikos Lekakis) meet when one enters a record shop where the other worked. There is a deadly pink mist outside, and with no one having to live long, the boys spent the rest of their time together on earth. Tsimpinis’ short film is a charming, if short, romance. The characters talk about their fears, eat lots of junk food, and bond through a magic trick, dance, or challenge. And when they finally kiss, it’s magical. The characters wear masks, which gives Escaping the Fragile Planet an eerie sense of timeliness, but this poignant short is mostly adorable.

The calling is a breathtaking 10-minute short film shot in a single shot. A transgender woman (Nektarios Theodorou) dresses to go out when she receives a call. Her brother informs her that her mother has died. This disturbing news sparked a heated discussion that reveals a lot about the main character’s estrangement from her family. The director and cowriter Marios Psaras lets the audience overhear this private moment and slowly moves his camera closer and closer to the subject of the film as the call progresses. The one-way conversation allows viewers to fill in the blanks when the woman makes sarcastic comments or refuses to put on “normal clothes” and claims that her closet is full of “normal clothes”. Her remarks suggest that her family is still not accepting her true gender identity. The call gives Theodorou a great showcase in the monologue, and the film delivers an emotionally powerful ending. This is an excellent short film, both in terms of style and content.

Madonna F64.0 is probably the weakest of the queer shorts in the festival. Maria (Konstantina Lia) is recovering at home after surgery. Her sister (Penelope Tsilika) is wrestling with a new baby. But Maria’s sister doesn’t want her near her child. The tension that exists between the sisters is palpable, especially when they are having a fight that becomes physical when Mary is referred to as a man. Despite a striking final shot, this short film lacks real power.

Draw with me is the only documentary film queer short. It’s also the only one that was shot in English rather than Greek. This inspiring story is an American production by Greek filmmaker Constantine Venetopoulos about Brendon Scholl, a transgender teenager. you [Brendon] are the nephew of Jennifer Lopez (who is introducing the short film), and their story is told through interviews with her family, including her mother, father, and aunt Lynda (Jennifer’s sister). The discussions are open. Brendon’s mother initially struggled to come to terms with her child as a transsexual, and Brendon described how her mother found her folder, which led to this conversation. Brendon also describes how her father loves and cares for Brendon, but he is largely silent on the subject of their gender identity.

Draw with Me shows how art gave Brendon the opportunity to express her feelings as if they were eye-catching. The film also looks at the mental health problems they face as a trans youth. At a particularly stressful time, Brendon attempted suicide, which, according to the documentary, is four times more common among LGBT youth than heterosexual youth, and that a high proportion of the trans community attempt suicide before the age of 25.

However, the film also features positive scenes where Lynda interacts with Brendon and talks about the rewards of moving around the world, where using gender pronouns and even giving her preferred name can be a political act.

Draw with Me includes a clip starring Jennifer Lopez and President Biden. A year later, the program ends with an additional segment with Lynda and Brendon. Brendon started taking testosterone (her voice is noticeably lower) and they are in college and have a strong network of trans buddies. They also talk about their activism for the Black Lives Matter movement in the era of COVID-19. It’s gratifying that the follow-up is brief to see how far Brendon – and her family – have come.

To reserve free tickets for the 18th annual San Francisco Greek Film Festival: https://sfgff2021.eventive.org/welcome

© 2021 Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews and co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

Published April 22, 2021