Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jolly Holidays

As 2008 winds down, a number of the local screening venues on Frisco Bay are entering a quiet period. But there are still a number of unique film screenings over the holiday season. Bring your visitors and show them that Frisco's got a filmgoing scene unlike most anywhere else in the country. If they insist on It's a Wonderful Life, it's playing tonight in two South Bay venues: the Stanford and the California. But there's a lot more going on if you dig a bit deeper...

Gus Van Sant's biographical narrative Milk is no longer at the Castro Theatre, which is sure to disappoint a lot of people who didn't get around to seeing it on the most poignant screen in the nation on which to view it. It's still playing at other theatres around the city of course, but it's also worth noting that the terrific documentary on Frisco's first openly-gay supervisor the Times of Harvey Milk is showing at the Little Roxie for the foreseeable future. As for the Castro, it's Sing-a-Long (emphasis on Long) Sound of Music from December 26-30 (by the way, more Julie Andrews song-and-dance in the form of Mary Poppins is at the Paramount in Oakland this Friday and at San Jose's California on Saturday and Sunday), then Singin' in the Rain, a Henry Mancini collection, and a chance to see all four Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall collaborations January 10-11. Be sure to think of Bogie on his 109th birthday tomorrow- more of his films appear at Noir City 7 later in January.

SFMoMA is continuing their Saturday afternoon screening series: this Saturday continues their Las Vegas film & video series mentioned here before. Caveh Zadehi's I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore plays at 1PM on the 27th, followed by a set of short works by Scott Stark, Catherine Borg and others. Then on January 3rd, early shorts by Chantal Akerman and her feature Je, tu, il, elle launch a two-month focus on the director -- who, I'm embarrassed to admit, I have never seen a single film by -- culminating in two screenings of her most widely heralded film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles on February 26 and 28.

The 4-Star Theatre has booked Johnnie To's Sparrow for a week starting Christmas Day- it just placed at #8 on indiewire's critics poll of undistributed films, so take advantage of this extended run while (and where) you can.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont is showing John Ford's Three Bad Men at 7:30 PM on Saturday December 27th. I have not yet seen this film, apparently a favorite of Akira Kurosawa's, but it was remade by Ford in 1948 as Three Godfathers and (loosely) by Japanese animator Satoshi Kon in 2003 as Tokyo Godfathers. Both remakes are Christmas-themed, and I understand the 1926 version showing in Niles is as well, in case that's a draw. [Oops! I had this film confused with an earlier Ford silent Marked Men. 3 Bad Men is not directly connected to 3 Godfathers. It's a splendid entertainment and full of Ford touches though. -Brian, 12-28-2008] It plays with short films the Great Train Robbery and Hal Roach's Shoot Straight. Sunday afternoon December 28th will follow Roach into the talkie era with Laurel & Hardy in Babes in Toyland along with a couple shorts.

Two more silent screenings are Grace Cathedral's New Year's presentations of the original Universal Pictures gothic horror clasic the Hunchback of Notre Dame with organ accompaniment by Dorothy Papadakos echoing through the cathedral's huge chamber. It's being billed more as a concert than a film screening, in fact, which seems appropriate. Considering that the film is not known to exist in 35mm prints, I'm sure that the image will be sourced from a DVD, as it was last year when Grace brought Papadakos to play for another Lon Chaney picture the Phantom of the Opera. For a more authentic 1920s-style pairing of silent film print to organ accompaniment, Frisco Bay enthusiasts will have to wait until February 14th, when the Silent Film Festival brings F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise and Paul Leni's "old dark house" film the Cat and the Canary to the Castro Theatre with the incomparable Dennis James behind the Wurlitzer, as well as two piano-accompanied comedies Our Hospitality and a Kiss From Mary Pickford, each preluded by an Alice Guy Blache short. More on that festival in a later post.

More goodies to expect in 2009: the Berlin and Beyond festival of German-language films, amply previewed by Michael Hawley at his new must-feed blog film-415. I'm, as might be predicted, most jazzed up by the revival selections in the festival. Wim Wenders perhaps-greatest film Kings of the Road plays as part of a tribute to the "German New Wave" pioneer; on January 20th he will be on hand to answer questions following a screening of his newest film Palermo Shooting, which I must admit I found too faux-mystical for my liking. But I feel Kings of the Road is a masterpiece, even if one I've still only seen on a crappy PAL transfer videotape. A chance to see it on the giant Castro screen January 18th is extremely tantalizing. Another exciting archival screening is the film that gave Marlene Dietrich her start and director Josef Von Sternberg his place in all film history books, the Blue Angel. As Lincoln Specter notes, the 1930 film will ironically be screened at Berlin and Beyond in its rarely-projected English-language version, while the more familiar German-language version plays as part of a nearly-comprehensive Sternberg retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive February 1st. I'm so excited by this retro that I must admit I'm unable to concentrate much on the other fine offerings on the next PFA calendar. But there's a lot of choice programming happening there in the second half of January and February, that's for sure. More on that later, too.

Finally, on the subject of my favorite East Bay destination, the PFA is usually thought of as a venue for public screenings, but last week I took advantage of the PFA Library's small screening facility. All it takes is a small fee and a legitimate research purpose, and it's possible to view certain 16mm prints and videos from the archive's collection, as long as one arranges it with the helpful staff with plenty of lead time. A week ago I watched a set of canonized American avant-garde films (by Anger, Brakhage, Baillie, Benning/Gordon, and Conner) with fellow filmblogger Ryland Walker Knight, and we discussed the experience shortly after. You can listen to a podcast recording of our conversation here. It was something of a send-off for Ryland as he departs Frisco Bay for the East Coast. I'm glad we got to try it out before he left, and I hope people who listen can forgive my awkwardness with the microphone and my misstatements (listen for one in particular regarding Stan Brakhage's Anticipation of the Night. Clue: I did not remember it had been made before Window Water Baby Moving.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Québec Film Week -Adam Hartzell

Hi, Brian here. Just a quick introduction this time, without stopping to recommend another unrelated film or series...well, maybe just one, the Alain Robbe-Grillet series currently at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and recently discussed by Carl Martin and Matt Sussman. 'Tis the season for films spoken in French, with English subtitles here on Frisco Bay. The reliably Canada-attuned Adam Hartzell has more to say on another series just around the corner:

* * * * *

While we weren’t paying attention, our neighbors to the north were having their own election. And according to the CBC's wonderful culture program Q, hosted by former Moxy Früvous member Jian Ghomeshi, one of the issues concerning this year's election was culture and arts funding. Although actual funding had increased under Stephen Harper’s minority government, as Gemini-winning actress Wendy Crewson said on the September 24th edition of Q, "They have increased funding in bricks and mortar. That is where the money has gone. It has not gone to the artists." Although how much this was an issue of concern for the "Tim Horton’s Crowd" (the Canadian voter equivalent of Joe-Six-Pack and his estranged wife the Soccer Mom), people were out in the streets of Montreal and Québec City even before the election was called to put arts funding on the table.

And it makes sense that these two cities in the province of Québec would rally for arts funding, since Québec's French-language films thrive in Québec whereas English-language films can't seem to pull the same percentages in the English-speaking provinces. So those who talk about how Canadian films mostly don't perform will really need to addend themselves. It’s the Anglophonic films that don't perform well. The Francophonic films are doing just fine, merci beau coup.

We in the States rarely get the opportunity to see examples from the Québec film industry, which is why San Franciscans can be so grateful to the San Francisco Film Society, with the assistance of the Québec Government Office in Los Angeles, for putting together the Québec Film Week from December 10-14th (yes, it's not technically a 'week') at the Opera Plaza Cinemas.

SFFS has programmed an ocular octagon of films from Québec. From the child-like gazes of Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalatte's The Fight (2007) and Léa Pool's Mommy Is at the Hairdresser's (2008) to the dystopian adult skews of Stéphane Lafleur's Continental, a Film Without Guns (2007) and Director Denys Arcand's The Age of Ignorance (2006). Adding to the mix of fiction films is the documentary (narrated for us Anglophones by Canadian Donald Sutherland) The Last Continent (2007), Jean Lemire's adventurous nine-month stint witnessing the slow death of the dead of winter in Antarctica brought about by global warming. Rounding out the contemporary films is the personal demons-facing Borderline, directed by Lyne Chalabois (2007) and the devious documentation of doubt, Missing Victor Pellerin, directed by Sophie Deraspe (2006).

Thankfully, SFFS has seen to it that a classic is featured as well, director Claude Jutra's 1971 feature Mon Oncle Antoine. The opening sequence involves the slow development of a snowball fight that appears to involve the entire town. It sits in my mind as one of the most smile-inducing, simple pleasure moments in all of cinema. Lensed by a cinematographer featured at the PFA in 2006, Michel Brault, Mon Oncle Antoine is one of many films from the archives of the National Film Board of Canada that demonstrate what great cinema can result from public support of the arts.

As for the films I have yet to see, I am most anticipating Denys Arcand's The Age of Ignorance. I have seen four of Arcand's films, including the 2003 Academy Award winning The Barbarian Invasions, the "demonstrably operatic" (Peter Harcourt's words in his contribution to The Cinema of Canada) 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, the less famous treatise on fame that is 2000's Stardom, and my favorite of Arcand's endeavors, Jesus of Montreal from 1989. (Is it just me, or does the downtown side of the Castro Street MUNI underground station remind you of the Montreal Metro scene near the end of Jesus of Montreal?) With a track record like those four films, I anxiously await The Age of Ignorance with studied reverence for a consistently demanding and intellectually fulfilling filmmaker.

In my impatience for San Francisco's Québec film 'week', I might try to distract myself by eating some poutine from Salt House, listening to the Karkwa CD I picked up in Montréal this summer, walking through San Francisco listening to CBC's C’est Le Vie or YouTube-ing Radio Radio video video. (Yes, the latter are not from Québec but Moncton, New Brunswick, but it's still Francophonic even if in their Chiac dialect.) All the more to prepare for what should be a satisfying five days in the intimate venue of Opera Plaza Cinemas.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

575 Castro St.

Perhaps you saw Milk in the Castro Theatre this weekend. Or perhaps you live in another city where it's playing, and saw the Castro Theatre in Milk.

Perhaps, like me, you were moved by the film and impressed by Sean Penn's performance. But perhaps you also wonder what it would have been like if a trace of Gus Van Sant's more experimental approach to real-life events (i.e. the Last Days, Elephant) had been evident in the film. Or perhaps you're curious to know if reciting history into a tape recorder to be played in the event of his assassination was a recreation of something Harvey Milk actually did, and not just a conventional biopic conceit. Or perhaps you simply want to spend more time looking at the recreation of the Castro Camera Store seen only relatively fleetingly in Van Sant's film.

If any of that is so, you'll probably want to watch a new short film called 575 Castro St.. In an introductory title card, director Jenni Olson explains that it looks back to the "light and motion studies" that were a key part of the early history of the Frameline film festival. You may be familiar with Olson as the director of the Joy of Life, one of my favorite films of 2005, and the subject of one of my first and favorite posts here at Hell on Frisco Bay.

I was able to watch 575 Castro St. on my computer by clicking here. If you watch it and like it, I highly recommend checking out the DVD of the Joy of Life as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yes We Canyon

This weekend, I attended two out of three Frisco programs put together by experimental film writer/teacher/interviewer/programmer extraordinaire Scott MacDonald, in town for the first time since the publication of his book Canyon Cinema: the Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor. He proved to be, not unexpectedly, a very affable, approachable, and of course knowledgeable guest host at the 9th Street Independent Film Center where the legendary film distributor's Canyon Cinema's offices are currently located, and where the first two screenings were held.

The first screening was dedicated to the work of Canyon's two most instrumental filmmaker-founders, Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand. It's always a treat to see Baillie's Castro Street in a great 16mm print, and the other films were all new to me. In fact I'd never seen any Chick Strand film before now. MacDonald pointed out after the screening that though the two never collaborated on making a film together as they had collaborated so heavily on creating Canyon, some of their films seem as though they're speaking to each each other. For my part I noticed that Strand's Kristallnacht seemed to be connected in some ways to Baillie's To Parsifal- most obviously through the way each filmmaker photographs water. It was also interesting to see these homemade films speaking with the commercial cinema of their day as well; what does it mean that To Parsifal's images of seagulls are as crisp and full of movement as those found in Hitchcock's the Birds from the same year (1963)? Or that the man in the middle of a Mexican desert in Strand's 1967 Anselmo seems to beckon to Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West from a year later?

MacDonald said he divided the second and third programs along gender lines in order to show how the women Canyon filmmakers were in some ways responding to the mens' films. This made me particularly regret that prior commitments prevented me from attending the third set, which other than Gunvor Nelson's amazing Kirsa Nicholina and an encore screening of Kristallnacht was a completely unfamiliar slate: films by Abigail Child, Diane Kitchen, Anne Severson and Shelby Kennedy as well as others by Strand and Nelson that I have not seen. But I did get to watch the Y-Chromosome informed set, including more films by Baillie, rarely-seen works by Larry Jordan, Will Hindle, and Dominic Angerame, a pair of gut-busting films by Robert Nelson (my first exposure to his work), and two favorites by the man who initially sparked my interest in avant-garde film, Bruce Conner.

This was my first time seeing any of Conner's films at a public screenings since his death four and a half months ago. It was my fifth or sixth time seeing Cosmic Ray but it always feels like a new experience. This time I hung a bit on a lyric from the Ray Charles song used as the film's soundtrack, "See the girl with the red dress on." The fact that the singer cannot literally "see" a girl with a red dress on, or without one (like the go-go dancers in Cosmic Ray and Breakaway, the other Conner film on the evening's program) doesn't prevent him from singing about her with passion and enthusiasm. Neither can the origin of the disembodied voice be seen on the screen. The filmmaker controls the sensory experience of the audience, even from beyond the grave. This is basic stuff, I suppose, but it's rare to be reminded of it while watching such an exuberant, upbeat film.

Conner's films have become difficult to see of late. They're no longer part of the Canyon distribution catalog- he withdrew them some time before his death, for reasons that MacDonald writes about in the Canyon Cinema book. The highly-pixelated video shrink-downs of certain of his films that were easily accessed streaming in cyberspace not so many months back have also scurried into their hidey-holes-- more information on that in these fascinating posts. So, though it's probably too late in the day for anyone reading this to act on it, it's worth noting that Cosmic Ray will play in 16mm again tonight, at a fourth Scott MacDonald-hosted event this time across Frisco Bay at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Most of the films on the program are repeated from one of the three Canyon screenings; for instance Kristallnacht, Castro Street and Robert Nelson's Oh Dem Watermelons.

And the PFA will also be tributing Conner with an evening solely dedicated to his films two weeks from tonight (December 9th). This is one worth purchasing advance tickets for as it spans a very diverse cross-section of his work: his debut a Movie, his longest film Crossroads, two rather rarely revived films Valse Triste and America is Waiting, and his last completed film Easter Morning.

Finally, Saturday, December 20th at Artists' Television Access, Other Cinema will remember Conner by including a clip from George Kuchar's Tempest in a Teapot, in which both filmmakers appear, as part of its program.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

List By Invitation

Thom Ryan has tagged me with the current "alphabet meme" (or as the Siren calls it, "list by invitation".) Unlike last time I'm not interested in following all of its rules, precisely (for example, I'm not going to pass on this one for various reasons). But I appreciate being tagged, and I thought it would be fun to list 26 favorite films, one from each letter of the alphabet.

In an attempt to avoid agonizing about balancing long-cherished favorites with new discoveries, I've limited myself only to films I've seen in theatres so far in 2008. Each title provoked a strong reaction (even if it was not one I took time to record in written form) and made me rethink cinema, or at least an important corner of cinema in one or many ways. Most of them are great, classics or perhaps someday-to-be classics. One of the titles is actually probably the worst film I saw all year, but I saw it under (for me) unique and memorable circumstances. I'd seen a few before on home viewing technology, but most I'd never seen before at all. I will list the venues and any special circumstances of the screening in question after the film title, director and year of the film's release. All are 35mm prints shown in local venues unless noted.

Abraham's Valley (Manoel de Oliveira, 1993) Pacific Film Archive, Oliveira centennial tribute, September 28.

Baghead (Jay & Mark Duplass, 2008) Park City, Utah: Yarrow Hotel, Sundance Film Festival press screening, January 24.

Carriage Trade (Warren Sonbert, 1971) SF Camerawork 16mm screening presented by kino21, May 15.

Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988) Pacific Film Archive, Terence Davies in person, February 21.

Eat, For This Is My Body (Michelange Quay, 2007) Park City, Utah: Holiday Village Cinema, Sundance Film Festival public screening with Quay in person, January 18.

the Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2007) Kabuki Cinema, San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, March 16.

the Girl Can't Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956) Pacific Film Archive, Tashlin retrospective, April 11.

Human Remains (Jay Rosenblatt, 1998) Roxie Cinema, digitally projected short presented at SF IndieFest, February 13.

I Was Born, But... (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) California Theatre, San Jose, Cinequest festival with Jim Riggs at the organ, February 29. (had seen before on VHS)

Jujiro (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1928) Castro Theatre, San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation with Stephen Horne at the piano and flute, July 13.

Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats (Segundo de Chomon, 1907) Balboa Theatre 82nd birthday celebration, digitally projected short with Frederick Hodges at the keyboard, February 27.

Lola Montès (Max Ophuls, 1955) Castro Theatre press screening, November 3. (had seen before on VHS)

My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument (Arnaud Desplichin, 1996) Clay Theatre, French Cinema Now, October 11.

the Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955) Castro Theatre, tribute to United Artists, April 19. (had seen before on VHS)

Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007) Castro Theatre, 3rd i South Asian Film Festival screening, November 15.

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (Jerry Schaztburg, 1970) Pacific Film Archive presentation by Film on Film Foundation, September 28.

Quiet as Kept (Charles Burnett, 2007), Pacific Film Archive, digitally projected short, March 5.

the Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Eric Rohmer, 2007) Clay Theatre, San Francisco International Film Festival, May 7.

Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007) Letterman Digital Arts Theatre, presented by San Francisco Film Society, Lee in person, January 9.

They All Laughed (Peter Bogdanovich, 1981) Castro Theatre, Bogdanovich in-person tribute, March 9.

the Unknown (Tod Browning, 1927) Castro Theatre, San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation with Stephen Horne at the piano and Guy Maddin reciting intertitles, July 12. (had seen before on DVD)

Velvet Hustler (Toshio Masuda, 1967) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, co-presentation with Outcast Cinema, April 13.

Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (Pedro Costa, 2001) Pacific Film Archive, Costa in person, March 6.

X-Files: I Want to Believe (Chris Carter, 2008) Alajuela, Costa Rica: CCM International cinema, August 5.

Yours Truly (Osbert Parker, 2007) Salt Lake City, Utah: Broadway Centre Cinema, Sundance Film Festival public screening, digitally projected short with Parker in person, January 19.

04_066 (dextro, 2003) Kabuki Cinema, San Francisco International Film Festival, digitally projected short, May 1.

Though I'm not officially passing the meme invitation to anyone in particular, please feel free to respond with a list or a quip as a comment if you are so moved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Adam Hartzell: Secret Sunshine

Still buried underneath projects, I don't have time to write much; just a reminder that Max Ophuls' Lola Montès opens at the Castro and elsewhere for a week- make sure to catch it at least once before it has to make room for the eagerly-anticipated Milk. Since the film deals so sharply with the way human memory (and collective memory a.k.a. history) colors and exaggerates the truth, it's crucial not to let this spectacle just roll through to the next town; an eventual DVD release is not likely to truly bring out the contrast between the pageantry and fakery on display, and the real emotions felt by the lead character, a contrast so often expressed visually by Ophuls.

Starting with tonight's screenings, there are eighteen more showings of Lola Montès at the Castro and more in other parts of Frisco Bay. But if I could point a cinephile to one single screening that I'd recommend most highly for the coming week, it would be last year's Korean drama Secret Sunshine, possibly the best new film I've seen all year. It has screened only here in Frisco early in the year, and it gets its encore appearance this Sunday courtesy of the San Francisco Korean American Film Festival. Adam Hartzell has more to say:

* * * * *

Traveling around the world while sneaking in film festivals taking place in South Korea between my work stints in Manila, I knew I was riding a wave that couldn’t last for very long, just like South Korean cinema was riding its own time-limited wave of popularity. Financial concerns along with family obligations and work commitments would eventually ground my cinematic globe-trotting. As a result, this South Korean film aficionado has been more incommunicado on the South Korean film scene. I went from assisting the folks at KIMA (Korean in Media Arts) in putting together their San Francisco Korean Film Festival in 2007 to having to fully relinquish responsibilities I had with the festival. Thankfully, the hard-working students and volunteers have done more than fine without me and have put together a lovely weekend of contemporary South Korean films for the cinephiles of San Francisco.

The festival opens and closes at The Richmond district’s 4 Star Theatre, whereas other screenings take place at the Coppola Theatre on the San Francisco State University campus or at the Academy of Art. Opening the festival this Friday is Director Lee Hae-young and Lee Hae-jun’s debut Like a Virgin, a film Darcy Paquet of says transcends coming of age sports movie constraints through its "detailed characterizations and intricate humor". But I’m here at Brian’s blog to add to the innumerable words of praise written about the closing film, Lee Chang-dong’s masterful Secret Sunshine.

Simply put, Secret Sunshine is about loss and suffering without the anchors of a religion/philosophy to impose a narration upon that loss. This is one of the rare South Korean films to explicitly show Korean Evangelical Christian traditions.
At the screening I attended presented by the San Francisco Film Society in early January of this year, Director Lee said he wasn’t intending to critique those traditions in this film. He is honest to that claim, staying away from
ridiculing, a la Bill Maher, the personal relationships with Jesus Christ that Evangelical traditions espouse. We merely watch a young mother attempt to deal with her loss without a sustained belief in supernatural interventions. We the godly audience are as helpless to offer succor as is the local gentleman who attempts to woo this un-woo-able soul at one of the most untouchable times of her life. Both Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho are excellent in their roles, and one can see easily why Jeon was selected as best actress by the 2007 Cannes jury for this role.

The film came to me at the right time in my life, since I was preparing for my own loss, my father’s death from cancer. Unrestrained by religion myself, I was working through accepting the loss of someone important to me without narratives frames already worked out for me ahead of time by a religious tradition. In this way, Secret Sunshine’s unrelenting turn face forward into the burning tragedy and unfairness of it all was much appreciated. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this film for people who aren’t in a space where they can fathom the loss of a family member. But for those of you who approach cinema as your church alternative, experiencing the tactility of light from a knowable source, laying its hands upon your eyes as you sort through your own suffering, Secret Sunshine is the homily you come to the movies for. It is a film that will leave you raw, while still enabling you enough strength to reclaim the tough skin that helps you carry on with every new day outside the theater walls.

Friday, October 31, 2008

So Many Festivals It's Almost Scary

Read of the week: Michael Guillén's piece inspired by the latest issue of the Film International journal, guest-edited by Dina Iordanova. I can't wait to get my hands on this issue myself. Michael cherry-picks quotes from its articles that help crystalize questions modern-day film festivals must tackle in the face of audiences who are finding other ways to see the stock-and-trade of certain kinds of fests; he believes "new strategies must be devised if these festivals are to survive." I half-wish Michael hadn't quoted me -- a big surprise midway into the article -- because it would have kept this paragraph from seeming a bit like an appeal to join a mutual admiration society.

But I'm ultimately glad he pointed to my piece on October's film festival glut here on Frisco Bay, for one because it provides an opportunity to point out that most of November is looking hardly less glutted with appealing festgoing options. DocFest and the SFJFF continue into the month, and I've also already mentioned that third i and the San Francisco Film Society are both bringing festivals the weekend of November 13-16. In addition, the SFFS's Animation Festival leads right into their New Italian Cinema presentation November 16-23, ending with the festival-lauded Gomorrah. After a chance to catch a Thanksgiving breath, it's followed by Quebec Film Week (titles as yet unannounced) December 10-14. 2008 has been the first year that I've sampled the SFFS's fall offerings, at the successfully-inaugurated French Cinema Now where a rare opportunity to see two early films by Arnaud Desplechin has sparked a re-evaluation of the filmmaker on my part. More on that on another day...

Two more November festivals begin on the same date: the Latino Film Festival and the American Indian Film Festival both start on the 7th day of the month. The AIFF has at least one program I really don't want to miss: Kent MacKenzie's the Exiles, a highly-praised 1962 film set in the Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles, that played for a week at the Castro Theatre this summer while I was out of town. The LFF brings the reputedly Guy Maddin-esque La Antena from Argentina and is tributing Gregory Nava's extremely significant El Norte (hopefully in a new 35mm print). More suggestions of titles from either of these festivals would be welcome.

Frank Lee is bringing back his Chinese American Film Festival to the Four Star on November 14-20 with titles including Johnny To's Sparrow, and an additional November 8th Marina Theatre screening of Ganglamedo, a Tibet-themed musical which also plays on the last day of the festival at the main venue.

Looking further into the festival crystal ball, the Berlin and Beyond film festival will run January 15-21, 2009 at the Castro and include an in-person tribute to Wim Wenders along with a presentation of his newest film Palermo Shooting. And it's already time to anticipate Noir City 7 (January 23-February 1st), a "newspaper noir"-themed special edition promising some of the most cynical print-stained newshounds ever to have collected a kill fee. Like Chuck Tatum from Ace in the Hole, or JJ Hunsecker from the Sweet Smell of Success. Lesser-known films from Fritz Lang and Anthony Mann (two apiece) and a repeat Noir City presentation of the 1946 B-picture Night Editor (did Joe Eszterhas see this before he wrote Basic Instinct?) are additional cursory highlights, but this is one festival in which its worth looking beyond the filmmaker pedigrees, so easy is it for all but the most committed noir-heads to feel like they've unearthed a forgotten gem (Night Editor was one such gem from Noir City 4, and I'm glad it's being brought back, this time on the Castro screen.)

In the meantime, other notable screenings and events not connected with film festivals keep popping up on the calendar. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has announced some more screenings through mid-December, including brand-new 35mm prints of five Alain Robbe-Grillet films (Last Year in Marienbad, which he wrote, and four he also directed) December 4-18. The new Pacific Film Archive calendar starts this weekend with the first films in a tremendous Japanese cinema series, beginning with post-war films from Kon Ichikawa, who died earlier this year, and Akira Kurosawa. Then it continues with screenings of career highlights from most of the major figures of the Japanese New Wave (Shindo, Oshima, Suzuki, Imamura) and beyond. I hope to say more on the November-December PFA calendar soon.

But I'll just wrap up this post with a shout-out to the Balboa Theatre, which is bringing some special-events to the Richmond District just in time for me- I've moved back to this corner of Frisco myself. This Sunday there will be two appearances by animation wizard Richard Williams. He's best known for his Oscar-winning work as animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but has an extensive filmography in both theatrical and television, feature-length and short-form animation. He also created title designs for films such as Murder on the Orient Express, Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, and the 1967 Casino Royale -- and when Friz Freleng's outfit passed the torch after putting together the beloved title sequences for the first three Peter Sellers Pink Panther features, it was Williams who picked it up. Williams will be on hand for a noon show and another at 7PM, though the latter is already listed as sold out. Future special events at the Balboa also include an opportunity to watch Tuesday's election results on the big screen with an enthusiastic crowd (free admission to this one), and on December 10th, the horror host documentary Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong will have its Frisco premiere (it's shown in Oakland, Sacramento and elsewhere but not in this county yet) with a set of as-yet-unannounced guests in attendance.

Speaking of witch, Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Silent Movies In Big (and not-quite-so big) Spaces

The Paramount Theatre in Oakland, by far the grandest movie palace in which I've ever seen a film projected (sorry, Ziegfeld), hasn't shown a film since January 2007, when they played Double Indemnity to an appreciative audience including yours truly. But they're having a go of it again. A brief series of Friday night films began last night with a screening of the dearly departed Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. I learned about it mere hours before, which was not enough time to change my evening plans or to blog about it before hand. So I'm telling you now. The art deco temple to luxury and entertainment, has booked Lon Chaney in the Phantom of the Opera with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment by Jim Riggs on October 31st, Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest November 7th, and Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain November 21st. With a promise of more to come (though I've learned not to place too much stock in these kinds of promises...I'll keep you posted). The tradition of the old-time movie night, complete with newsreel, cartoon, and "Dec-o-win" prize giveaway, will remain intact. And the price has been lowered back down to $5, perfect for folks with concern that the nation's economy may be coming closer to resembling that of 1931 (the year the Paramount was built) than is comfortable. What great news about a film venue I'd pretty much written off last year after reading this piece.

The Paramount is not the only Frisco Bay venue screening Phantom of the Opera on Halloween. Dennis James will take the controls of the 9,000-pipe Ruffatti organ to accompany the Rupert Julian-directed film at Davies Symphony Hall that evening. The tickets are more expensive but the unique nature of the event (the first organ-accompanied silent I've seen booked at Davies since I've been paying attention) may be worth it. Hopefully both venues will be showing the film on 35mm prints, unlike Grace Cathedral which projected from a DVD on a disappointingly modest screen when this horror warhorse was shown last New Year's Eve.

There are more silent films with live musical accompaniment to anticipate over the coming months. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has its own Halloween screening next Saturday, October 25th: F.W. Murnau's loose Dracula adaptation Nosferatu with an original score by Molly Axtman, performing with her Invisible Ensemble. The museum's Edison Theatre is nowhere near the size of the Paramount or Davies, and when they program a film as well-known as Nosferatu there it tends to sell out- let that be a warning. There are lesser-known, piano-accompanied silents every Saturday night in Niles (reachable by a short bus ride from the Union City BART stop) planned through the end of 2008, with a few extra days thrown in for good measure. Tonight is the monthly Comedy Shorts Night, with more shorts programmed November 15 and December 13. November 1st brings the Goose Woman, directed by Clarence Brown. November 8th and 9th is a weekend-long celebration of the 90th birthday of Diana Serra Cary, a.k.a. child star Baby Peggy. Carey will be in attendance. Douglas Fairbanks, who would be 125 if he were still alive, also gets a two-day celebration in Niles December 6th and 7th, including screenings of When the Clouds Roll By and National Film Registry selection Wild and Wooly. Other features set to grace the Edison Theatre include the Lost Express November 22, Young Romance (a 1915 Lasky film written by William C. de Mille) November 29, the fun-for-all-ages 1924 Peter Pan December 20 and 21, and John Ford's 3 Bad Men, a reportedly major influence on Akira Kurosawa, on December 27.

Pianist Judith Rosenberg will accompany three Soviet silent films at the Pacific Film Archive this Sunday and on the next two Wednesdays as part of the wonderful Envisioning Russia series running there. The November-December calendar at the PFA has not been announced in full yet, but I do know this: three Saturday afternoons in November will bring Buster Keaton films as part of the theatre's Movie Matinees For All Ages program. It's Go West on November 8, Sherlock, Jr., the Scarecrow and Cops November 15, and Our Hospitality and the Haunted House November 29.

The next Castro Theatre calendar can be downloaded as a pdf, and though it's dominated by a month-long booking of Milk, a highlight looks to be a November 17 screening of one of the greatest silent films of all time, Carl Dreyer's the Passion of Joan of Arc, accompanied by the UC Alumni Chorus performing Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light oratorio. There will be a repeat performance November 23 at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, and both programs are co-sponsored by the PFA, which makes me feel confident that it will be screened in 35mm and not video. Sadly the same will not be true for the screening of Indian silent film a Throw of Dice, showing from HD with no live musical accompaniment November 15 as part of the Third i South Asian Film Festival. If you're wondering why the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's annual winter event doesn't occupy a Castro date on the coming calendar, rest assured it will happen on February 14th, 2009. Last I heard, the program line-up had not been firmed up yet but it promises to be a lovely time.

Finally, for those of you in the South Bay who feel like you may be missing out, Stanford Lively Arts is bringing the Santa Rosa Symphony to Palo Alto December 6th to perform Martin Matalon's score to Fritz Lang's enduring science fiction spectacle Metropolis. I doubt the version being shown will include the film's recently rediscovered footage- it's too soon to expect it to appear in circulating prints, I suspect. But this description of Matalon's score: "conventional instruments combine with computerized sound modeling and electronics in a vivid, jazz-infused soundtrack" has me very curious nonetheless.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Adam Hartzell: Melody Gilbert at DocFest

More festivals keep coming to Frisco Bay. Latest to be announced is 3rd i's San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, expanded to four days (November 13-16) with Indian Subcontinental-related films of just about every imaginable type: including silent classic (1929's a Throw of Dice), Bollywood crowd-pleaser (Om Shanti Om), Shakespeare adaptation (Maqbool), sleeper Oscar contender (Slumdog Millionaire), and Pakistani zombie movie (Hell's Ground). The only thing that seems to be missing is, oh, maybe an animated feature based on the Ramayana- and another festival the same weekend's got that. The San Francisco Film Society's third annual Animation Festival opens November 13th with Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues, which has previously played locally only in an unfinished version. The weekend at the Embarcadero includes dozens of animated shorts and features from around the world.

Well, with that jam-packed paragraph out of the way, what I'm really here to do is introduce a piece by my good friend Adam Hartzell on the films of Melody Gilbert, whose documentaries are being featured at IndieFest's annual documentary showcase, opening tonight at the Roxie cinema. Her films will be shown there October 24-26, and will be accompanied by an in-person chat on the afternoon of October 25th. Here's Adam:

The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, which begins this weekend, is featuring the director of two films that had a tremendous effect on me when I saw them at previous SF DocFests. The director is Melody Gilbert and the two films are Whole and A Life Without Pain, part of a retrospective of Gilbert’s work at this year’s festival. Whole is a film about a tiny demographic – people who strongly desire the loss of a limb, a condition I was first introduced to through a captivating essay in The Atlantic Monthly. Gilbert documents the dreams and fears and humanity of people, disparagingly called 'amputee wannabes', who struggle with an obsession truly bizarre to the majority of us. Their obsession to have a leg or arm removed is so intense, some go to such extreme efforts as placing their leg in dry ice or laying a leg along railroad tracks in order to bring their desires to fruition. The title's obvious irony is that these individuals will not feel 'whole' until part of their body has been removed. The topic is striking on its own, but considering the idiosyncratic and disconcerting desires of her subjects, the fact that Gilbert is able to craft empathic connections between the audience and her subjects more than justifies Gilbert receiving the SF DocFest’s inaugural Someone To Watch award. Rather than take the easy comedic route with this topic that a lesser documentary would, Gilbert challenges our weathered cynicism, provincial worldviews, and hardened morals to connect with populations difficult to engage, while reserving judgment as the responsibility of the viewer and those viewed.

Gilbert’s A Life Without Pain takes us into another irony, the agony of being someone who cannot experience physical pain, and how the trials of such lives touch those who love them. Gilbert follows three children with congenital anesthesia, a condition where the body does not feel physical pain, and explores how these children and their families cope with such a unique condition. Gilbert quickly introduces us to the severe adjustments these kids and families need to make. One child must wear goggles to avoid further damaging her retinas from having no pain cues to stop her from scratching. A Norwegian girl’s adventurous nature requires bi-weekly check-ups with the doctor since her body won’t announce a broken bone through pain. And a German girl shares how school bullies have literally taken her on as a personal punching bag. Even if she feels no physical pain, emotional pain persists. Much could be metaphor-ed about the painful pain-free existence of these children, but Gilbert always keeps us grounded in the actual real lives of the children, refusing to let the metaphors replace the human beings. (The Elephant Man could have just as likely screamed "I am not a metaphor!") And since these are documentaries made with television in mind, Gilbert also refuses the pity or 'supercrip' narratives that the TV medium too often demands, by instead having the children and families in A Life Without Pain well anchored in their agency. (I don’t know if Gilbert is influenced by Martin F. Norden’s excellent critique of disabled characters in film, The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies, but you can tell that I sure am.)

Based on my positive receptions of Whole and A Life Without Pain, the film I am most anxious to see at this year’s SF DocFest is Gilbert’s Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness. Similar to my motivation to check out Whole, I am excited to see Urban Explorers after reading about 'Urban Archaeology' in an issue of my favorite magazine, Spacing, a Canadian publication focusing on public space issues. I anticipate that we will witness city spelunkers diving into sewer tunnels or Urbana Joneses venturing into factory buildings vacated by dead-beat corporations to see what abandoned artifacts and forgotten histories might be found in such modern day pyramids. These urban archaeologists are part of a larger movement of collectives, e.g., Guerilla Gardeners, Critical Mass, and Parkour Traceurs, embracing public space while also challenging the boundaries of what is public or private as a form of resistance in a time when so much of our public space is being usurped by economically-restrictive private institutions. I am curious if Gilbert will explore these public space issues, bringing up how these urban excursions allow for a more intimate connection with our cities and by extension our fellow citizens. I don’t know if Gilbert will address those topics, but considering how much her previous documentaries have stayed with me when I first watched them at past SF DocFests, I’m sure I will have a repeat performance of experience at this year’s SF DocFest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marin and Beyond

If you're not reading the GreenCine Daily website with the frequency prescribed by its title, you may not have noticed that the site published my interview with Lance Hammer, the director behind one of 2008's most assured and affecting debuts, Ballast. It was published a little more than a week ago, and already the pointer post has dropped off the main page (a tribute to the Daily editor David Hudson's unflagging prolificacy). I would have mentioned it here at Hell on Frisco Bay earlier, but I wanted to be able to name the Frisco Bay venues where the film will be showing starting the Friday. I've now learned that Ballast will open here in Frisco proper at the Sundance Kabuki, where a filmmaker q-and-a is expected to take place opening weekend. In the East Bay, the venue is Berkeley's Elmwood, and in the North Bay, it's the Rafael Film Center. Hammer is self-distributing his film, so a ticket purchase to Ballast at any of these venues might be seen as a vote for greater filmmaker (as opposed to distribution company) autonomy when it comes to controlling the release of their films.

Speaking of the Rafael Film Center, it recently released its calendar of film programs for the next few months. Just coming off its stint as a venue for the 31st Mill Valley Film Festival, the restored San Rafael theatre is the North Bay location to see a lot of the season's most exciting commercially-released films, new and old. There are a number of exclusive screenings that should tempt potential bridge-crossers to come to Marin county for a night at the movies as well.

First, let me talk about the latter category. If you missed last Friday's in-person tribute to Harriet Andersson hosted at the Rafael by the MVFF, you might want to note that she's still in town, and will be on hand for a screening of Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel tonight. The screening is part of an eclectic set of Bergman's theatrical and television works, some of which are making their Frisco Bay premieres at the Rafael this week. There are a few selections repeated from recent Bergman retros around Frisco Bay, such as Cries and Whispers, perhaps Andersson's most powerful performance, which plays October 16-17. But there are also genuine rarities such as the Blessed Ones and the Best Intentions. The full five-and-a-half hour television version of Bergman's crowning achievement Fanny and Alexander will make its West Coast theatrical premiere in a HD presentation on October 19-23.

From October 29-November 2 the Rafael will host a series entitled Irving Thalberg's MGM, showing three films the mogul made at the most "star-studded" studio in the early 1930s. On the 29th, Red Dust pairs Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in the steaming jungles of colonial-era Vietnam. On the 30th it's Ernst Lubitsch's slice of perfection the Merry Widow. And Private Lives, a vehicle for Thalberg's wife Norma Shearer that I have not seen, rounds out the trio on November 2. Another short series is a four-film, seven-day (Dec. 5-11) stint of Janus Films' touring Essential Art House collection of landmark foreign classics that stopped by the Castro last year and the Pacific Film Archive the year before. (Which reminds me to mention that, according to the Janus website, the PFA has booked Masaki Kobayashi's trilogy, the Human Condition for February 15th.)

The Rafael will have three November one-off events with guest speakers: a November 15 screening of Wall-E accompanied by a presentation from sound designer Ben Burtt. Burtt, visual effects whiz Craig Barron and silent film historian John Bengstom will take a look at Charlie Chaplin's silent-sound hybrid Modern Times November 20th, and Christopher Plummer will be on hand for a showing of Man in the Chair November 29th. Perhaps even more eye-catching, at least to my baby blues, is the December 4th return of the now-traditional "the Films of..." series highlighting films made exactly 100 years ago, in this case the Films of 1908. It will include early efforts from Max Linder and D.W. Griffith, as well as J. Stuart Blackton's famous "trick" film the Thieving Hand, all accompanied by Michael Mortilla at the piano. Back then they were just films, but today motion pictures of the Thieving Hand's length are considered shorts, and the Rafael will also be presenting an exclusive selection of some of Sundance 2008's better efforts. I've seen three of them, which range from good (Dennis) to excellent (Yours Truly and my olympic summer, which both also show up on the new SF Cinematheque calendar on November 6th.)

There's three more Rafael bookings I'd like to highlight, but these are not Marin-exclusive screenings. Each is booked to play for at least a week at the Rafael, but also at other Frisco Bay theatres on the same dates. In reverse chronological order, I'll start with Lola Montès, opening November 19 at the Rafael, the Elmwood, and the glorious Castro Theatre. This is a picture that I've only seen on video, where one barely gets the sense of its grandeur and scope. I can't wait to see it on a screen big enough to do justice to director Max Ophuls' vision and to the larger-than-life life of its subject played by Martine Carol, Lola Montez (who counted Frisco Bay as one of her realms of conquest).

Momma's Man opens October 24 at the Rafael, the Camera 12 in San Jose, and the Clay. One of the very best new films I've seen all year, this is the third feature directed by Azazel Jacobs, son of avant-garde film legend Ken Jacobs. He cast his father and his real-life mother Flo Jacobs as the parents of the lead character Mikey, a new parent who cocoons in his childhood loft rather than face his responsibilities as husband and father. As strange and alienating as his behavior may seem, the relationship between Mikey and his parents feels so natural that I really felt I started to understand what might lead a grown man to act in such a way, and what might or might not be able to lead him back out of the vicious circle he's drawn around himself. At one point he asks, "is this an intervention?" as if he hopes the answer will be yes, but knowing deep down that his parents' personalities preclude them from giving him that kind of a wake-up call. For me, the final shot packed a powerful dose of emotion that was unexpected given the detached, almost casual style that the rest of the film uses to present, but not underline in a heavy-handed way, the heartache of the situation.

Finally, Ashes of Time Redux opens October 17 at the Rafael, the Camera 12, the Shattuck in Berkeley and the Lumiere. I've considered the original arthouse wuxia to be among director Wong Kar-Wai's most interesting films since watching a scratchy print at the 4-Star several years ago, but I've never gotten around to revisiting it. I had no idea that the screening would be the last chance I'd get to see the intact film. According to articles like this one, this Redux version is not a new "director's cut" like so many reissues these days, but rather an attempt to preserve film elements that were not only at risk but in fact already becoming unwatchable due to poor archival practices in the Hong Kong film industry. It's great to see Ashes of Time's images (shot by Christopher Doyle, of course) back up on cinema screens, in such vivid colors. But I must confess that some of the attempts to patch over preservation problems are very distracting, particularly the new musical score with its too-prominent cello parts. (Yo-Yo Ma is great, but is not the solution to every musical problem.) The cast is packed with the greats of what many consider to be the peak period of Hong Kong cinema, but there's something bittersweet about seeing them (especially the late Leslie Cheung) digitally-spruced-up for a release like this: one can't help but wonder how many other films from the years before the handover are left to decompose because nobody who cares enough has the clout to save them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October Fests

This month is absolutely crammed with film festivals here on Frisco Bay. At least eleven, too many for one cinephile to attend. Or to write about with much care and detail. So I'm just going to make a list with pertinent facts and a few highlighted titles. To minimize hyperlink fatigue, I'm only directly linking venues not already found linked to on my sidebar.

2nd Dead Channels Film Festival of the Fantastic
When? Currently showing films through October 9th with a wrap-up party on the 10th.
Where? Mostly at the Roxie here in Frisco, but Thursday night there's a screening at Oakland's Parkway Theatre too.
Have I been before? I just got back from my first Dead Channels screening. A 35mm print of the 1972 Western Cutthroats Nine, shot in the Spanish Pyrenees by director Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent, it features a gruesomely dwindling cast, highly entertaining dub jobs, and a poor grasp of metallurgy. In other words, a fun time for all. Like most films in the festival, this was a one-show-only screening.
I have seen and can recommend: None, other than the above-mentioned film that won't be screening again.
I'm curious to see: Well, there's unfortunately not much of the festival left to anticipate, but I'm certainly curious about Nicolas Roeg's new Fay Weldon adaptation Puffball which plays Thursday night in Oakland. Also tomorrow night but here in Frisco, Surveillance, Jennifer Lynch's long-awaited (or is that long-dreaded) follow-up to Boxing Helena, plays the Roxie.
More coverage by: Michael Guillén of the Evening Class, Dennis Harvey at sf360, Jason Watches Movies, and Carl Martin at the new(-ish) Film on Film Foundation blog.

31st Mill Valley Film Festival
When? Running right now, through October 12th.
Where? All venues in Marin County: the Rafael Film Center, the Sequoia and others.
Have I been before? I try to cross the bridge and at least a program or two every year. It's a homey, relaxed festival considering all the big names it annually attracts.
I have seen and can recommend: The Betrayal, a tour-de-force documentary about a Laotian immigrant family's Poetic, personal, and beautifully shot, it was co-directed by Ellen Kuras (cinematographer for Spike Lee, Michel Gondry and many others) and one of the film's subjects, Thavisouk Phrasavath. I wrote more on it here. Happy-Go-Lucky is probably director Mike Leigh's cheeriest film and a good companion (or antidote?) to his 1994 film Naked. I Just Wanted To Be Somebody is a Jay Rosenblatt short that plays in front of a new feature documentary (that I have not seen) on the making of and social impact of the musical Hair. The Rosenblatt video focuses on Anita Bryant, and seeing it now might be a good warm-up to the highly-anticipated upcoming release of Gus Van Sant's Milk.
I'm curious to see: Well, I've never seen Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly before, and seeing it screened with its star Harriet Andersson in attendance for a tribute has got to be considered one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I'm also excited about Kelly Reichardt's latest Wendy and Lucy but its final screening is at RUSH status- no more tickets to buy unless you want to wait in line. Luckily the film has been picked up for distribution, and probably will screen here early next year. The previously-mentioned Surveillance plays this festival as well.
More coverage by: Michael Hawley and Michael Guillén at the Evening Class, Keaton Kail from indieWIRE, Dennis Harvey in the SF Bay Guardian and at sf360, Tony An, and Lincoln Spector of Bayflicks.

French Cinema Now
When? Technically October 8-12, but there will also be San Francisco Film Society-presented screenings of 1960s French classics Belle Du Jour and the Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the same venue from October 13-16.
Where? The Clay Theatre in Frisco.
Have I been before? No, this is the first year I'm aware of the SFFS presenting a French series. Hopefully it will be a rousing success and lay the groundwork for future editions!
I have seen and can recommend: Only Belle Du Jour, which I can't recommend highly enough if you've never seen it.
I'm curious to see: Where to start? Pretty much the entire program looks appealing. I'm most drawn to the opportunity to catch up with hot auteur Arnaud Desplechin's lesser-known films Life of the Dead and My Sex Life...Or How I Got Into an Argument. His latest, a Christmas Tale opens the festival tonight well in advance of an upcoming commercial release, and he is expected to appear in person. Two screenings of the French New Wave omnibus Six in Paris look to be another highlight.
More coverage by: Max Goldberg at sf360, Jonathan Kiefer at KQED's Arts blog, and though I've linked it already it's worth a second look, Michael Hawley at the Evening Class.

7th Oakland International Film Festival
When? October 9-16
Where? The venerable Grand Lake Theatre.
Have I been before? No.
I have seen and can recommend: None.
I'm curious to see: It looks like a good, diverse line-up, and maybe this is finally when I'll get to Passion and the Power: the Technology of Orgasm.
More coverage by: Angela Woodall of the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times.

3rd CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival
When? October 15-17
Where? Brava Theatre in Frisco
Have I been before? No.
I have seen and can recommend: None.
I'm curious to see: The shorts program entitled The True Cost of Oil intrigues.
More coverage by: Not seeing much yet. Uh, wikipedia?

2008 Taiwan Film Festival
When? October 16-18
Where? At USF in Frisco and Cubberly Auditorium down in Palo Alto.
Have I been before? Yes, last year at the PFA was a fun time. Perhaps the best thing about this touring festival is the price: free!
I have seen and can recommend: None this year.
I'm curious to see: Secret, since I missed it at the SFIFF this year.
More coverage by:

4th Annual Classic Horror Film Festival: Shock It to Me!
When? October 17-18
Where? Castro Theatre
Have I been before? Embarrassingly, no. I've always found myself too busied by my own Halloween preparations to make it, but I hope to find a way to squeeze it in this time.
I have seen and can recommend: Of course, Night of the Living Dead. Also the great Hammer horror Curse of Frankenstein, which I've never seen before on the big screen.
I'm curious to see: Spider Baby with Sid Haig in attendance, and the Horror of Dracula- major gaps to be filled in my classic horror resume!
More coverage by: Nate Yapp at

11th United Nations Association Film Festival
When? October 19-26
Where? The Aquarius, the Eastside Theatre and Stanford University's Annenberg Auditorium down the peninsula, and the Roxie here in Frisco.
Have I been before? No, but with Roxie screenings co-presented with DocFest (see below) I hope to rectify that.
I have seen and can recommend: Les Blank's documentary All In This Tea is a terrific selection, as is the cine-centric short film Salim Baba. I wrote a bit on each here and here.
I'm curious to see: San Francisco: Still Wild at Heart appeals to my nature-loving, city-dwelling duality. Megalopolis sounds fascinating as well. Freeheld comes with an impressive award-winning pedigree (considering it beat the lovely Salim Baba to the Best Documentary Short Oscar.)
More coverage by: Agnes Varnum, who will be appearing on a panel at the festival. added 10/8: Leah Edwards of Ecolocalizer.

12th Annual Arab Film Festival
When? October 16-28
Where? the Castro, Clay, Delancey Screening Room, Alliance Française and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Frisco, Camera 12 in San Jose, Shattuck and Parkway in the East Bay, and even screenings in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles
Have I been before? Yes- I found it a well-run, well-attended festival when I sampled it in 2006.
I have seen and can recommend: With reservations, Recycle, an artistic but perhaps overly-ambiguous documentary about a recycler in Zarqa, Jordan. I wrote a bit more on it here.
I'm curious to see: Opening night film Waiting For Pasolini, Sundance favorite Captain Abu Raed, which also plays this weekend at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
More coverage by: Lincoln Spector of Bayflicks. Added 10/13: Michael Fox at sf360.

7th San Francisco International Documentary Festival
When? October 17 through November 6th
Where? Roxie Cinema in Frisco, Shattuck in Berkeley
Have I been before? No, though I've been to other IndieFest-produced events like Another Hole in the Head and the annual generalist festival in February.
I have seen and can recommend: Officially, none. Although IndieFest is also presenting a set of Japanese midnight movies at the Roxie this month entitled Midnight Circus. I can cautiously recommend Takashi Miike's punishing Ichi the Killer and the exuberantly gory 2008 digital feature the Machine Girl if you're into that sort of thing. More here.
I'm curious to see: Along with the aforementioned UNAFF co-presentations, there's the Melody Gilbert retrospective and the Slamdance hit I Think We're Alone Now.
More coverage by: Susan Gerhard at sf360. added 10/9: Michael Hawley at the Evening Class.

17th Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival
When? October 26 through November 19
Where? Camera 12 in San Jose and Cubberly Community Theatre in Palo Alto
Have I been before? Honestly, this is the first year I've been aware of it.
I have seen and can recommend: None.
I'm curious to see: Refusenik sounds fascinating.
More coverage by: Jason Watches Movies.