Thursday, September 22, 2011

You Wish To Go To The Festival(s)?

Fall festivals are flying fast and furious, as Frisco Bay film organizations jockey for the attention of eager movie lovers. Two local film festivals are already winding down as I type this (Michael Hawley has details), and undoubtedly at least one or two more will send an announcement into my inbox before I finish writing this post. Tonight marks the beginning of a pair of weekend-long festivals I've never attended, the SF Irish Film Festival at the Roxie, and the Oakland Underground Film Festival at various venues in that city. The former screens new work from the Emerald Isle along with some retrospective entries like Once, In The Name of the Father (both, according to Film On Film, on 35mm prints), and artist-turned-film director Steve McQueen's Hunger. As for the OUFF, if their Friday night selection Marimbas From Hell is any indication of the festival's spirit, expect a weekend of wonderfully weird films unlikely to find commercial distribution. Marimbas From Hell is Guatemalan filmmaker Julio Hernández Cordón's first film since his low-budget scorcher of a debut Gasoline, and it bursts with humanity and eccentricity as it follows an unemployed xylophone player who joins forces with an aging heavy metal god to create a musical fusion that blurs documentary and fiction as much as Julio Cordón's style seems to.

Tonight is also the Sf Film Society's kickoff party for its 2011 Fall Season, a nearly nonstop parade of themed collections of international film selections at its new home New People Cinema (and a few other venues as well). Festivals announced so far include: Hong Kong Cinema (September 23-25) with recent films by directors Ann Hui, Johnnie To and others; read Adam Hartzell's write-up for more. Taiwan Film Days (October 14-16) including the goofy cross-cultural comedy Pinoy Sunday. The NY/SF International Children's Film Festival (October 21-23) features at least one 3-D animation with serious potential to impress, French silhouette master Michel Ocelot's Tales Of The Night, to be screened at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio rather than at New People as most of the rest of the Children's Fest will be. This is a rare opportunity to experience perhaps what's probably the most technically perfect screening venue in town.

Though Cinema By The Bay (Nov. 3-6), the San Francisco International Animation Festival (Nov. 10-13) and New Italian Cinema (Nov. 13-20) have yet to be unveiled on the SFFS website, they'll have to be pretty impressive to displace French Cinema Now (October 27-November 2) as my most anticipated of these Fall Season series. Three of the most talked-about films from this year's international festival circuit (Cannes, Toronto, etc.) get their Frisco Bay debuts during this series, and I can't wait to see all three of them: Goodbye, First Love, young director Mia Hansen-Løve's follow-up to her stunning second feature Father Of My Children, The Dardennes Brothers' The Kid With A Bike, which won the Grand Prix (essentially second prize to Terence Malick's Tree of Life) at Cannes back in May, and Le Havre, the new feature by Finland's most famous director, Aki Kaurismäki, his first in more than five years. The original mission of French Cinema Now is stretched by the inclusion of films from Finland and Belgium along with France, but if we interpret the "French" in the series title as a reference to the language of the dialogue and not the nationality of the crew, all three films are equally at home here. As are the other French-language films in the program, none of which I've heard much about as of yet. Mathieu Amalric's The Screen Illusion is the only one of these directed by a filmmaker I've seen other work by: his On Tour closed the the last SF International Film Festival. That screening was the final public appearance of Graham Leggat, who ran the Film Society brilliantly for more than five years until stepping down shortly before he succumbed to cancer late last month.

Leggat's recent passing was solemnly mentioned, along with local legendary filmmaker George Kuchar's, at a press conference announcing the line-up of the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival last week. Kuchar was subject of a MVFF tribute in its second year of operation, back in 1979. (He'll be subject of a pair of posthumous tributes by SF Cinematheque this December. Jordan Belson, another recently departed Frisco filmmaking giant, will be posthumously honored at the Pacific Film Archive in October). These days MVFF tributees are less likely to be dedicated underground filmmakers like Kuchar and more likely to be individuals in the early stages of an Oscar campaign. This year the festival tributes Glenn Close with a screening of Albert Nobbs, and spotlights Michelle Yeoh, Ezra Miller and Jennifer Olson, all year-end-awards possibilities for their new films, The Lady, We Need To Talk About Kevin and Martha Marcy May Marlene, respectively. One 2011 MVFF tributee is most definitely not stumping in hopes of hearing his name mentioned by Eddie Murphy next February. Gaston Kaboré is one of the top film directors from Burkina Faso, the country that hosts Sub-Saharan Africa's most prestigious film festival, the biannual FESPACO. Though his films are known to some cinephiles, they are rarely revived and, apart from his brief contribution to the international omnibus Lumiere And Company (all I've seen of his work), not easily found on DVD. So it's wonderful that two of his most acclaimed films Wend Kuuni and its sequel Buud Yam are being brought to Marin along with their maker next month. Unfortunately tickets to Buud Yam are already at "Rush Status" so make sure to buy tickets in advance for Wend Kuuni if you don't want to have to wait in line on a Tuesday night for a sample of Burkinabé cinema.

Also gone to "Rush Status" at MVFF are opening night Sequoia Theatre screening-only tickets to Jeff, Who Lives At Home, the latest from the Duplass Brothers, who made The Puffy Chair, Baghead and Cyrus. This was screened at the festival press conference, and from the moment early in the film when they start to make reference to M. Night Shyamalan's Signs I knew the film was going to be a lot smarter than the average contemporary comedy about unlikable man-children. I'm not supposed to say too much about the film until its general release next Spring, but I found it a very satisfying exercise in enjoyable audience manipulation. It's still possible to buy tickets to the film+party package, though they're quite expensive. The closing night film is another one I'm hotly anticipating: Michel Hazanavicius's neo-silent The Artist. More MVFF titles are commented on in Jackson Scarlett's SF360 article.

Since I mentioned silent cinema, let me step away from film festivals for a moment to note the Niles Silent Film Museum's current calendar. October brings, along with many other films, a pair of classics I've seen and can comment on: A Fool There Was is not a very good film, but it's a very important one as it's among the only features still surviving of superstar sex symbol Theda Bara's prodigious output. The Man Who Laughs, meanwhile, is a really wonderful film to see with an audience; it stars Conrad Veidt as a disfigured nobleman striving against a lifelong conspiracy against him. His make-up famously inspired Batman creator Bob Kane's vision of The Joker. The final Niles show of September 2011 reunites Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille, who had acted together on the New York stage, but who came to Boulder Creek, CA to make Romance of the Redwoods with Pickford in front of the camera and DeMille behind it. Also on this Saturday's program are a Max Linder short and my favorite of all of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's films, the two-reel Fatty and Mabel Adrift. Earlier this month, I wrote an Indiewire article on Arbuckle, informed by my last trip to Niles, to see a film he made just before the scandal that destroyed his career ninety years ago: Leap Year. I hope you take a look at the piece and let me know what you think.

I could go on, but I really ought to wrap this post up. So I'll just mention the other Frisco Bay festivals coming up in the next month or so, and hope that you can tell me whether there are films screening at them that you're interested in, or think I might be. There's the brand-new Palo Alto International Film Festival (which includes what may be your last chances to see Werner Herzog's Cave Of Forgotten Dreams in "Real D" 3-D before the inevitable stereoscopic retrospectives come along), the Arab Film Festival, the 10th SF DocFest, the 14th United Nations Association Film Festival, and the ATA Film & Video Festival.