Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday Weeklies


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David Hudson of GreenCine Daily has handily collected extracts from and links to each of the articles in the Guardian's consummate coverage of the 51st SF International Film Festival. But what of the other local free weekly papers? The South Bay's Metroactive doesn't appear to be covering the festival, which is understandable now that the festival has retreated from its Palo Alto screening venue. Over in Alameda County, now freed from the shackles/pursestrings (depending upon your perspective) of Village Voice Media, the East Bay Express has published a fine festival preview by Kelly Vance. And here in Frisco, the VVM-owned SF Weekly has, like the Guardian, made the SFIFF its cover story.

The SF Weekly's coverage of the festival this year is more extensive than it has been in recent years. After an intro by Meredith Brody, there's a nice q-and-a between two Frisco denizens, Michael Fox and Barry Jenkins, the director of Medicine For Melancholy. Jenkins' film is a must-see for fans of films in which our city's locations and indie-rock scene play lead character status (not to take anything away from the excellent performances by the actor leads Tracey Heggins and Wyatt Cenac). There's a piece on the festival's music-oriented offerings by local musician and writer Ezra Gale. And there's a good set of capsule reviews by Fox, Gale, and other local writers like Frako Loden and Gregg Rickman.

But it was a little weird to open the paper to see my local film festival also being covered by out-of-towners. Certainly, J. Hoberman's critical perspective is welcome on films like Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra and Jia Zhang-Ke's Still Life, even if the SF Weekly capsules are edited down from longer reviews published at the Village Voice. And Nathan Lee is another of my favorite critics, whom I feel strangely honored to share the same age bracket with (don't really know why I feel that way about him, but it's true.) But he was controversially sacked by VVM a few weeks ago. I guess that, since he'd written an article on Asia Argento before clearing out his desk, someone at the SF Weekly thought it would be great to let it serve double duty as the paper's coverage of her "two featured movies" at the SFIFF this year.

Except, it makes Lee look a little foolish to Frisco cinephiles who by now are aware that Argento has three movies in the festival, not two. This is not Lee's fault but his editor's, of course; the original piece on Argento was published in the Village Voice to coincide with the New York release of Boarding Gate, which has already come and gone from my local theatres (I missed it.) But the piece has been customized for Frisco newsracks to focus almost entirely on SFIFF opening night film the Last Mistress, though it also mentions the festival's midnight selection Go Go Tales as well. But strangely, all mention of another festival "Late Show" starring Asia Argento (and directed by her father Dario) the Mother of Tears, has been excised from the original article. I can only surmise that the costs of printing an extra paragraph or two are simply too high for the SF Weekly to justify given that paper's current situation (a situation I can't resist speculating might have had something to do with Lee's pink-slip in the first place - the timing seems too precise.)

I don't have a clue how VVM contracts work, so I can only presume that Lee will be getting a paycheck to have his chopped-up Argento piece republished even though he's no longer on staff. I'd be happy to have the opportunity to get my thumbs stained by the ink from his criticism every week. But nonetheless, it felt a little eerie to see his byline in a paper owned by his former employer, for a piece I'd encountered on the internet a month ago. Though, to be honest, I didn't read it back then- the convenience of free newspapers and my backlogged web reading list draw me to read the printed words of those writers whose work is available to me in both formats. I may rethink this policy when it comes to the SF Weekly from now on, though. I want to get the full version of a piece of Hoberman or Scott Foundas criticism, not an item abridged to leave room for Sucka Free City or Red Meat (to name but two of that paper's features I've long since become bored with) or to conform to press restrictions on word counts (which I generally don't mind as a writer, but once in the mode of reader will subvert any chance I get.)

Back to the SFIFF, one of the ticket stubs I'm most excited about having torn off by a smiley volunteer is the one for this Sunday's screening of In the City of Sylvia, alongside an on-stage conversation between Kent Jones and Hoberman. The latter critic is quite deservedly following in the footsteps of Manny Farber, Judy Stone, Naum Kleiman, Andrew Sarris, Jonas Mekas, Pauline Kael and Donald Richie as a recipient of the Mel Novikoff Award, which annually honors a critic (or a programmer, distributor, archivist, or institution) that has "enhanced the filmgoing public's knowledge and appreciation of world cinema." Hoberman is one of the remaining greats of a great era of newspaper film criticism, and I'm dying to hear what he's going to say about the state of criticism today.

But looking at this morning's SF Weekly was just another reminder of how much I value the internet in getting information and perspective about both the cinema scene worldwide, and about local film events and how they might connect to issues of particular concern to my friends and neighbors. Which is why I'm so grateful to my blogroll. Robert Davis has a terrific festival preview newly up on his site. Lincoln Specter and Tony An have been busy as well, and passholder Jason Weiner has revealed his tentative schedule. Michael Guillén has linked to sf360's rich coverage in a post at Twitch, though as of now, not yet to Dennis Harvey's piece on Asia Argento more tailored to Frisco readers. And on Guillén's own site, the Evening Class, he and Michael Hawley have provided a near-comprehensive view of the festival between them. Try here and here, just for starters.