Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Twenty Years South

Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive has a new calendar out, full of goodies. Oakland's Paramount has plans to show Wait Until Dark, The General and Captain Blood in March. San Rafael is getting a rare Jan Troell retrospective February 27-March 6. Even Sepastapol has its annual documentary festival March 5-7. And here in Frisco we've got a new SF Cinematheque season underway as well as festival after festival after festival: first Noise Pop, then German Gems, then the Disposable Film Festival, and then my own favorite festival of the season, the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, which has been amply previewed by Michael Hawley. Before you know it, the San Francisco International Film Festival will be around the corner; Frisco Bay's most prominent film festival has already begun announcing festival events, namely the 1916 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Stephen Merritt, Daniel Handler & David Hegarty providing musical accompaniment, the presentation of the Kanbar screenwriting award (by John Waters!) to James Schamus, best known for his collaborations with Ang Lee; their film Ride With the Devil, will screen May 1st.

Where does this leave the South Bay? Well, the SFIAAFF does run one weekend of films in San Jose, at the Camera 12. And the Stanford Theatre is still in the first week of a diverse Akira Kurosawa retrospective, including some of his most famous as well as some of his most obscure films, samurai-centered and otherwise. The Seven Samurai plays through Friday, so you haven't missed any of the series (which ends March 30 with Ran) yet.

But you probably live under a rock, or else north of the southernmost BART stops, not to realize that the South Bay's biggest film festival of the year, the Cinequest Film Festival, begins its 20th anniversary program tonight with a screening of international co-production the Good Heart starring Brian Cox. Dennis Harvey of sf360 has written an overview of potential festival highlights, but let me add my own voice to the conversation, even if there's a good deal of overlap between his picks and mine.

Though intriguing films like Bong Joon-ho's Mother and Ilisa Barbsh & Lucien Castaing-Taylor's documentary Sweetgrass are promised to screen in Landmark Theatres around Frisco Bay, the majority of Cinequest films are not guaranteed to play anywhere else locally. That includes what must be the must-see of the festival, French master Alain Resnais's latest Wild Grass scheduled for a single screening on March 4th; though it has a distributor, a local theatrical release date has not been set yet. Babnik, the third feature from Alejandro Adams to play Cinequest in as many years is another important draw for those of us who've been intrigued to see what the maker of Around The Bay and Canary has in store next.

I've seen three of the films playing already. The two silent films Dennis James is slated to accompany behind the California Theatre organ are both seen far too infrequently. Erich Von Stroheim's the Merry Widow does not match his masterpiece Greed in either ambition or impact, but any of Stroheim's films are of serious interest to cinephiles. Ernst Lubitsch's the Student Prince of Old Heidelberg, on the other hand, may just be his greatest (and most delightful) silent film, as anyone who saw it open the 2007 San Francisco Silent Film Festival might be inclined to agree.

I've also seen, on a screener DVD, one of the new films in the lineup, with a title inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. If you're sick and tired of the hip but nowheredly-mobile characters glorified by a certain movement of no-star, low-budget filmmaking that peaked in critical attention a couple ago (yes, that one that rhymes with 'Dumbledore') you may be in the target audience for Jarrod Whaley's Hell Is Other People (fully reviewed by Richard van Busack). There's no way around it: Whaley has created in underground psychotherapist Morty Burnett one of the most pathetic, non-glorified, unappealing characters I've seen on a screen in quite a while. He's likely to truly test an audience's sense of empathy. Though Hell Is Other People doesn't bear enough technical dissimilarity to prevent some observers from distinguishing it from the genre-that-must-not-be-named, those who've been paying close attention might just agree that Whaley has launched a counter-movement of his own, that now just needs a catchy name to spread like wildfire. So then, what rhymes with 'Voldemort'?


  1. Ah, here's the Brian Darr we all know and love....

  2. Waitaminit, are you trying to pigeonhole me?

    Congrats on the book chapter by the way.

  3. Moi? Nevair!! Be as deeeferent as you always are!