Friday, October 22, 2010


If quantity is a measure of riches we live in a Golden Age of film festivals. According to Mark Cousins, writing in last year's Film Festival Yearbook 1: the Festival Circuit, "the film festival regulation body FIAPF (Federation Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Film) reckons there are 700 of them in total, the New York Times reckons there are over 1,000. The numbers have rocketed in the last decade." Knowing how many film festivals occur here over the course of a year, and how many other places in the world are increasing their own film festival counts, both the FIAPF and NYT numbers seem grossly outdated or otherwise underrepresentative. It seems I learn about a new festival somewhere in the world at least once or twice a month, and I'm not necessarily pricking my ears for such news (most recently I learned of new festivals in Luang Prabang, Laos and Oaxaca, Mexico), unless it concerns festivals sprouting here on Frisco Bay.

And sprout they do, in defiance of advice from protectors of cinema like Simon Field and James Quandt, who in an interview in another recent publication in the new field of film festival studies, dekalog 3: On Film Festivals, agree that "generally...festivals should be in anonymous cities with few distractions," something that San Francisco has never been accused of being. The many local film festivals (I count at least eighteen occurring here right now, or in the next six weeks, alone!) often interact with these "distractions" by involving them- integrating cinema screenings with live music performances, museum exhibits, book readings, etc. Perhaps most of the festivals that occur here don't qualify under the criteria Field and Quandt had in mind during that moment of their interview, as unlike a Cannes or a Sundance, they generally don't compete for red carpet world premieres of the most critically and/or commercially anticipated films on the calendar, functioning as glittery news events with the entire world of cinephilia eagerly observing from afar. Instead, they exist as one form or another of "audience festival", that is, the kind of festival that exists in order to provide paying audiences with opportunities to see films and meet filmmakers they otherwise would not be able to see or meet. As long as there are audiences looking for films they wouldn't ordinarily run across at the multiplex or elsewhere, these audience festivals will remain an important matching service.

Currently running are the 14th Annual Arab Film Festival, the 9th San Francisco Documentary Festival, the 17th Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, the 34th(!!) Marin County Italian Film Festival, and the Artists' Television Access Film and Video Festival, which ends tonight with Kerry Laitala's dazzling Afterimage: the Flicker of Life. Opening tonight are the Petaluma International Film Festival, the United Nations Association Film Festival in Palo Alto, and here in Frisco proper, the Berlin & Beyond festival of German-language films, previewed extensively at the Evening Class this year as it moves to October from its traditional slot in January, and the first of four geographically-centered showcases being put on by the San Francisco Film Society, Taiwan Film Days.

After shining its key light on Taiwan, the SFFS brings French Cinema Now to the Embarcadero Cinema October 28-November 3, closing with two screenings of the eagerly-awaited new film from Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy. Then they turn attention to locally-produced filmmaking at Cinema By The Bay at the Roxie November 5-8; this event marks the first time any motion picture by the South Bay's Alejandro Adams, in this case his recent Babnik, will be publicly screened here in San Francisco. New Italian Cinema is the Film Society's longest-standing autumn companion to its San Francisco International Film Festival in April, and it runs at the Embarcadero on November 14-21, right on the heels of a methodologically-, rather than geographically-organized event, the SF International Animation Festival.

The 3rd i South Asian International Film Festival runs November 3-7 and includes a Castro Theatre 35mm screening of the Bimal Roy classic Madhumati (pictured in the topmost image in this post), featuring a screenplay by Ritwik Ghatak. Then on November 5-13 there's the American Indian Film Festival, the longest-running such showcase of its kind and one that is frequently overlooked by local cinephiles (including myself- I regretfully have never been). Frank Lee brings his Chinese American Film Festival back to the 4-Star Theatre November 17-23. That does it for festivals within the San Francisco city limits, for now. More are certain to be announced in the coming weeks, so check my sidebar or my twitter feed, both of which I update more frequently than I actually post.

Upcoming festivals I'm aware of coming to other Frisco Bay counties include the Poppy Jaspar Short Film Festival November 12-14, and the return of the prodigal International Buddhist Film Festival to the region after a five-year absence. It lands at the Rafael Film Center in Marin (which incidentally just played host to the 33rd Mill Valley Film Festival), and it includes the Frisco Bay premiere of one of the most talked-about films of the current year, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, which won the top prize at the last Cannes Film Festival. I was lucky to be able to see the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, but as a confirmed Apichatpong fan, there's no question whether or not I want to see it again as soon as I can. The Rafael's website is promoting this screening as the "US West Coast premiere", though it's placement in Los Angeles's AFI Fest contradicts that claim. Nonetheless, I'm excited that the Buddhist Film Festival is likely to bring attention to the film from outside the usual cinephile quarters. The festival will also have a stint at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts here in Frisco December 9-19, but there's no word yet on which titles will be available at that venue as well.


That's a lot of festivals, but of course festivals make up only a part of what makes Frisco Bay such a special place for cinema-going. There's also theatrical releases of films that don't always get a fair shake in other markets, and a strong repertory film scene. Some highlights from the latter:

The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto has revealed its programming plans for the rest of 2010; it's a typically strong set of Hollywood classics of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, featuring a diverse set of actors and directors. This season they're holding a special focus on films noir; the most popular of revived genres blackens the Stanford screen with double-bills every Thursday and Friday until December 10th. There's also a few noirs scattered into the Saturday through Monday programs, including a December 4-6 stand of Eddie Muller's favorite noir In A Lonely Place. Outside the noir line-up I'd heartily recommend the November 6-8 pairing of two of my favorite, sometime overlooked Preston Sturges comedies the Great McGinty and Hail the Conquering Hero, and the December 16-17 placement of two films (Charulata and Mahanagar) from one of the few foreign-language filmmakers the Stanford favors, India's Satyajit Ray.

The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley also has a brand new calendar to show off; it includes continuations of its recent big series on Italian Neorealism and Bay Area Alternative Film & Video. These are joined by: a Burt Lancaster series that provides big-screen opportunities to see the hunky star as directed by Carol Reed, Jules Dassin, John Cassavetes, Frank Perry, and others. By a weekend with Kelly Reichardt in conversation with critic B. Ruby Rich, which allows us to catch up with her entire filmography in preparation for the eventual (who knows quite when, as of yet) Frisco Bay release of her stellar Meek's Cutoff, another film I was able to catch in Toronto. And by rare screenings of the legendary Flaming Creatures, of Every Man For Himself (for my money Jean-Luc Godard's best film from the last 35 years), and more. But for many cinephiles the pièce de résistance of the PFA's November-December calendar will be the all-but-complete Carl Theodor Dreyer retrospective including a PFA-presented screening of the Passion of Joan of Arc in Frisco Bay's grandest movie palace, the Paramount. All of Dreyer's other silent films will be shown at the PFA with Judith Rosenberg accompanying on piano. Six of his sound films with screen there too, joined by two films he did not direct but which he certainly affected in a major way; Lars Von Trier's 1987 television work Medea, made from a previously unrealized Dreyer script, and the Passion Of Joan of Arc-inspired Vivre Sa Vie (for my money Jean-Luc Godard's best film, period.)

Between the PFA's Dreyer series, its December 5 screening of Rossellini's Voyage in Italy, and the Ozu films recently brought to the VIZ Cinema (as i mentioned in my previous post), nearly all of the film titles mentioned in Nathaniel Dorsky's slender but splendid book Devotional Cinema will have screened in a Frisco Bay cinema this year. Just in time for an SFMOMA showing of Dorsky's four most recent films (the same four that played last month in Toronto to great acclaim) on December 16th. The rest of 2010 at the musuem provides only a few other opportunities for film viewing there, but each of these few seems worth taking. Next Thursday's double-bill of witch films by George Romero and Dario Argento is the ideal way to cinematically ring in Hallowe'en, especially for only $3 per ticket. Christmas holidays get more obliquely celebrated with a pair of Red & White-themed screenings of French films directed by Albert Lamorisse and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. I'm not sure what holiday the November 18 SFMOMA program Bay Area Ecstatic might be observing, if any, but it promises to be one of the most compelling of the season. I say this not because the films were selected by my friend Brecht Andersch, with whom I've been collaborating on an investigation of Christoper Maclaine's seminal The End (have you seen the latest installment of our project yet?), but because he's selected some great and/or rarely seen films. Perhaps my favorite Kenneth Anger film Invocation of My Demon Brother and perhaps my favorite Bruce Conner film Looking For Mushrooms (contrary to prior expectations, the superior short version which prompted a correspondence between Conner and John Lennon will be screened) will be joined by Larry Jordan's mysterious Triptych In Four Parts and Timoleon Wilkins's The Crossing, which I've only seen once apiece, and four other films I've never seen at all. Mark your calendars and tell your friends!

A number of first-run theatres have realized that an occasional repertory film on their program adds visibility to their venue, and may even be able to turn a profit on its own merit. The Cerrito, the Alameda Theatre and the UA Berkeley have evening screenings; I recently attended Luc Besson's the Professional at the latter, and though I didn't much like the film, I was impressed with the size of the audience for a 35mm print of a 1994 action movie on a Thursday night. Other theatres opt for the midnight movie route; Camera Cinemas in the South Bay has a midnight series I was just recently made aware of, and of course the Rocky Horror Picture Show couldn't celebrate its 35th Halloween without screenings in local Landmark Theatres this weekend and next. And the Piedmont Theatre in Oakland has just jumped on board the modern midnight movie phenomenon the Room, now showing there every third Saturday of the month.

Of course the first Frisco Bay venue to host regular screenings of the Room was the Red Vic, which still plays the bizarre cult object on the last Saturday of every month, including October 30th. Come in costume (you can do better than Patton Oswalt can't you?) The Red Vic has a new calendar out too. Zombie action movie Planet Terror plays Halloween and the day after. This is the first time I've noticed a theatrical booking for the Robert Rodriguez half of Grindhouse on its own- his latest film Machete, which germinated in that 2007 extravaganza, plays Dec. 10-11. Werner Herzog's Aguirre: Wrath of God seems an ideal way to end Thanksgiving weekend. And the second half of December becomes almost pure repertory, with screenings of Breathless, Triplets of Belleville, the Seven Samurai, and more.

The Roxie celebrates Halloween with three events: a double bill of 1950s horror/sci-fi October 29, another double-bill the next day featuring archive prints of David Cronenberg's the Brood and the Hammer studio's Corruption, and a third on Halloween night consisting of two films by director Alex Cox -- who will be present at the screenings! (and at the Rafael Film Center the following night). November 19 at the Roxie brings a "punk rock double bill" of the extremely rare Surf II and Times Square. There's also an intriguing animation showcase November 19-25, and on November 20th, a trio of After-School Specials presented by Jesse Ficks of MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS.

Ficks also has events upcoming at his usual venue, the Castro Theatre, again on Halloween where he brings an afternoon matinee of Creepy Disney films. He's also engineered a five-film marathon of robot movies November 20th. The Castro's in-house programming staff have scheduled a Ray Bradbury adaptation double-bill October 29th. They've also brought back Club Foot Orchestra to play live scores to silent movies on November 14th- when I attended their performance of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu a couple years ago, the inventiveness of their music almost made up for the fact that they sourced their images from truly lousy digital prints. Here's hoping for a better presentation this time around. I'm more (cautiously) optimistic about the San Francisco Film Society's December 14 pairing of a silent film I've never seen before (Mauritz Stiller's Sir Arne's Treasure) with a musical act I first saw perform in a quiet coffeehouse in 1996, the Mountain Goats. It's hard to imagine how such a lyric-focused musician as Mountain Goats frontman John Darnelle will translate his musical skills which work so well in an intimate venue (whether a coffeehouse or a small nightclub like the Independent) to the grand Castro stage, working in concert with a reputed masterpiece like Sir Arne's Treasure. Which is why I just have to see and hear it for myself!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Setsuko Hara

The VIZ Cinema at Post & Webster is, this week only, screening four of the six films directed by Yasujiro Ozu that feature one of the greatest living movie stars of all time, Setsuko Hara. Beginning her career in the 1930s at the dawn of the Japanese talking picture, in 1953 she played the faithful "Noriko" in Tokyo Story, and she retired ten years later after a career of more than 100 films. (Her reclusiveness in the 47 years since was an inspiration for the late Satoshi Kon's visually stunning animated film Millenium Actress).

The four Setsuko Hara films VIZ is bringing include one of Ozu's greatest masterpieces Late Spring from 1949, his 1951 Early Summer (parts 1 & 2 in the so-called "Noriko trilogy"), his atypcially noir-ish Tokyo Twilight from 1957, and my own favorite of his color films, Late Autumn, from which the above screen capture was taken. It plays this afternoon at 12:30, tomorrow at 6:00 PM, and Monday at 4:30.

An almost-equally tantalizing program of films by Kenji Mizoguchi, featuring his frequent leading lady Kinuyo Tanaka, happens at the VIZ later this month.