Pride on Film: Movie Critic Jan Wahl’s Favorite Picks for Pride Month

From Jennie Livingston’s vibrant Paris is Burning to the amazing Brokeback Mountain, from the funny yet relevant But I’m a Cheerleader to the incandescent Tangerine, it is almost impossible these days to list all the LGBTQ+ movies that fill us with pride and identification. But since cinema is such a personal art and craft, here are a few films that really speak to me.

Big Eden

I originally saw Big Eden at the 2001 Frameline Film Festival. I left thrilled by its emotional power. It was a story that classic director Frank Capra would have told if he had a script about an ideal Montana town trying to play matchmaker to two men. Arye Gross portrays a successful gay Manhattan artist. When his grandfather has a stroke, he returns home to his tiny Montana town to care for him. He lusts for his hunky high school friend, but romance comes from a totally unexpected direction instead, with the help of the townsfolk. So charming and hopeful that it has stayed with me all these years. 

Saving Face

Alice Wu’s Saving Face tells the story of a widow (Joan Chen) very proud of her surgeon daughter (Michelle Krusiec) and attempts over and over to set her up with various young men. This doctor is deeply in love with a charismatic dancer, beautifully played by Lynn Chen — Mom has a lot to learn. This is actually a rom com, as well as a delicate and delightful romance. As much as I adore Brokeback Mountain and other poignant LGBTQ+ dramas, its good to have some laughs and a happy ending.

The Celluloid Closet

An almost perfect Pride film, The Celluloid Closet is a compelling, exciting documentary. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have compiled a comprehensive account of how gays and lesbians have been discriminated against and satirized by the very industry where they have been present since the days of silent film. We get excellent background and examples by Tony Curtis, Armistead Maupin, Susie Bright, Whoopi Goldberg and Gore Vidal, with strong narration by Lily Tomlin. This is such a fabulous film, one of my all-time favorites. A very important film that should be seen by everyone gay or straight. Time for a sequel, guys!


For a historical view of the Pride movement, seek out the British film Pride. This uplifting and spirited movie from 2014 is the true story of a group of London-based gays and lesbians who team up with Union organizers to fight the policies of Margaret Thatcher and battle for gay rights. This culture clash comedy drama stars Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton. Dominic West, Andrew Scott as the activists who fight for change and awareness.

San Francisco Double Feature

Photo courtesy: Ted Sahl

The Bay Area’s rich history of gay rights activism and culture is explored in 2008’s Milk and 2019’s Tales of the City. Harvey Milk’s story defines the fight for LGBTQ+ freedom that spread locally and nationally during and after his life. Most outdoor scenes were filmed at the historic locations and Sean Penn deserved his Oscar as Milk.

Netflix gave us ten episodes of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City.” We meet colorful characters in San Francisco seeking authenticity, friendship, and love. It is funny and dramatic, with Olympia Dukakis leading the way to buried treasure and scandalous events. 

I could go on and on, but instead let’s highlight this year’s amazing Frameline, the oldest Gay and Lesbian film festival ever. It is in its 48th year and thriving more than ever. Executive Director Allegra Madsen explains: “Frameline is representation for everyone, local as well as national and international. We are all over the City, from the Roxie to the Palace of Fine Arts to the Vogue and Parkway. We have a robust restoration project this year celebrating the 30th anniversary of Go Fish. Local activist Sally Gearhardt has a biopic screened at KQED studios. There is a brilliant French Italian drama Fragments of a Love to Life as well as a movie that turns the coming out tale on its head: Young Hearts.”  Discover much more with a visit to their website.

Happy Pride everyone!

Jan Wahl

Longtime Marin resident Jan Wahl is a double Emmy winner for documentary production and a member of the Directors Guild of America. She lectures, teaches, emcees community events and writes, as well as broadcasts weekly on KGO Radio and the international Armed Forces Radio Network.