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San Francisco Chronicle

Worth a look at the lesbian & gay festival

Carla Meyer, Chronicle Staff Writer

These choices are promising among 271 films, videos

The 27th San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, which starts Thursday, features 271 films and videos from 33 countries. Here are some of the more intriguing offerings:

The Gift: This shocking documentary follows “bug chasers” — young men who seek out HIV through unprotected sex with positive partners. “It’s a relief,” one says, incredibly. “Now I don’t have to worry about HIV.” But rather than focus on their sensational stories, filmmaker Louise Hogarth explores a larger culture of tacit HIV denial — billboards using sexy images to sell HIV drugs, negative men afraid to discuss their status for fear of offending positive men — and the prevailing idea that HIV has become manageable. This is old- fashioned documentary activism, meant to provoke dialogue, and the STOP AIDs Project will lead a discussion after the film.
2:30 p.m. June 21, Castro. 62 minutes.

Die Mommie Die: Only a movie written by Charles Busch (“Psycho Beach Party”; “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife”) could combine lush, Douglas Sirk-style production design and a murder plot involving death by suppository. Busch looks Givenchy-great as Angela, a has-been singer and 1960s Beverly Hills matriarch whose daughter (Natasha Lyonne) hates her and whose son (Stark Sands) was booted from college after conducting a tutorial for male faculty “naked, on a lazy susan.” “Six Feet Under’s” Frances Conroy makes a devilishly dowdy maid, and Jason Priestley shows up as a gigolo offering a special family rate.
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Castro Theatre, followed by opening-night party at the Ferry Building. USA. 90 minutes.

Gender Bias: Robinson Stevenin won a Cesar — the French Oscar — for his transgendered noir heroine, and he’s amazing to watch. Part Mary Tyler Moore and part Johnny Depp, Stevenin commands the screen whether wielding a tasteful handbag as a weapon or flirting with a rugged cop. The bodies pile up along with the red herrings — a “one-eyed man” skulks around the edges of the story — and our heroine’s love for a thug with mommy issues goes way past masochistic. But Stevenin is always a joy to watch, because he’s gorgeous and because it’s nice to see a transgendered character carry a movie.
9 p.m. June 17, Castro. France. 106 minutes. In French, with English subtitles.

Party Monster: Directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) take a bloody, hallucinatory trip back to the heady days in the 1980s when some plucky, drug-addled New York club kids reinvented glamour. If a little murder happened along the way, that was just the price of being fabulous. Macauley Culkin, all grown up and oozing fey amorality, plays real- life killer Michael Alig, but Seth Green steals the show as Alig’s best pal/nemesis, displaying a mastery of platform heels and droll asides. Dylan McDermott wins sympathy as infamous impresario Peter Gatien, whose fatherly love for Alig couldn’t save either of them.
8:30 p.m. June 28, Castro. USA. 97 minutes.

Savage Roses: This girl-gang Bronx tale overcomes faulty production values through achingly heartfelt performances by Misha Gonzales and Tania Galarza. Gonzales plays Toro, a bitter butch who tips 40-ouncers and waxes thuggish from her stoop, and J.Lo look-alike Galarza is the young mother who softens her. Based on a play, “Savage Roses” is quite talky, and when gang violence erupts, it appears to have been choreographed by Russ Meyer. But you root for these two, and even for Toro’s gang buddies, whose raunchy tales of bedroom exploits provide consistent laughs.
6:30 p.m. June 15, Herbst. USA. 105 minutes.

School’s Out: The Life of a Gay High School in Texas: Dallas’ Walt Whitman High is that rare school where a student’s decision to cross-dress can be blamed on peer pressure. “Do you think I’m dressing as a woman because I’m transgendered, or do I just have a really high fashion sense?” asks impressionable Damien/Denise. Director Jeremy Simmons filmed the Whitman students during a 2001-02 school year of crisis: With a roll call of fewer than 10 students and teenage dramas causing more dropouts, Whitman was in danger of closing. Simmons uses rapid edits and MTV-style graphics to give the doc a “Real World” edge, but he eschews flourishes for such sobering scenes as a 16-year-old with HIV giggling about possibility having infected another student.
3:45 p.m. June 27, Castro. USA. 69 minutes.

Suddenly: Godard meets “Go Fish” in this black, white and flat-out phenomenal Argentine road movie. Scooter-riding rebels Mao and Lenin are talking about a sexual revolution with a shy, overweight lingerie saleswoman, but the trio’s trip to the ocean morphs unexpectedly from sexcapade to touching family reunion. Tatiana Saphir gives a lovely performance as the shopgirl who allows herself be rousted from a dudsville life, but it’s smoky- voide Beatriz Thibeaudin, as Lenin’s wise and spirited elderly aunt, who provides the picture’s real heart.
9 p.m. June 25, Castro. 94 minutes. Argentina. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Yossi & Jagger: The most tender connections can form during war, and this story of two Israeli soldiers in love brims with intimacy and heavy-duty eroticism. Butch commander Yossi and whimsical Jagger, alone on assignment, make the most of the shimmering winterland of Israeli’s northern border. And we’re not talking snow angels. Filmmaker Eytan Fox shows great affection for his supporting characters as well, from the bullish lead officer shtupping a radio woman to a tough-guy soldier frustrated by his love for a female colleague hooked on Jagger.
8:15 p.m. Saturday, Castro. Israel. 71 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles.