Friday, May 30, 2014

SFSFF: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I was happy to be at opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Thursday. We saw a 35mm print of Rex Ingram’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, restored by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. The version has a wide range of tints & even one shot in full color. The glamorous Hollywood lighting of the actors’ faces stood out.

This opulent WWI epic has its feet firmly planted in the 19th century, & it was slightly eerie seeing it exactly a century after the start of the war that the script explicitly associates with the Biblical apocalypse. Rudolph Valentino’s epicene beauty is still alluring, & my movie companion & I were both struck by how appealing he looked sporting a bit of uncharacteristic facial stubble.

The 5-member Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra played their original score to the movie, which consisted of pleasing salon music & tango-inflected dances. An additional percussionist was employed judiciously. A snare drum solo accompanied the Germans marching into France & was particularly effective. Though the music did not always match the on-screen action, it provided a continuous background layer, & the musicians’ playing was impressively consistent for over 2-hours.

Robert Byrne, the president of the board of directors, introduced the evening & acknowledged the festival’s sponsors. He also pointed out Rudolf Valentino’s great-grand niece in the audience. The enthusiastic festival audience applauded the film’s opening credits, Valentino’s 1st appearance & the famous tango sequence. They gave the musicians a standing ovation. A handful of younger attendees came in period dress. A tango lesson was given at the opening night party afterward.

§ The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Rex Ingram, USA, 1921 • 132 minutes
Accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014
Thursday, May 29, 7:00 pm
Castro Theatre

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mozart's Hoffmeister Quartet at Old St. Mary's

This Tuesday's Noontime Concert at Old St. Mary's featured 4 musicians from the Midsummer Mozart Festival performing Mozart's String Quartet No. 20 in D Major. Their playing was consistently polite & unrushed, & all 4 movements had similarly even tempos & smoothed-out phrasing. The 1st movement had a gentle, weightless ending. These concerts are well-attended, & the respectful Old St. Mary's audience was silent between movements. We were spared the sound of the street musician who sometimes plays the erhu outside the church during concerts. He must have been on his lunch break.

§ Noontime Concert at Old St. Mary's

Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra Ensemble
Robin Hansen, violin
Dan Flanagan, violin
Elizabeth Prior, viola
Vanessa Ruotolo, cello

String Quartet in D major, K. 499, "Hoffmeister"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 12:30 p.m.
Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Saturday, May 24, 2014

HBO: The Normal Heart

Thursday night I was a friend's plus-one at a preview of HBO's TV movie version of The Normal Heart, presented at the Castro Theatre. The event was scheduled to start at 7p, but my friend was eager to get in line by 6p, & we joined another friend who had been in line since 5:40p. We were all there to be shills for HBO & create advance buzz for the film, which will be broadcast Sunday evening. The screening was introduced by Frances Wallace, Frameline's Acting Executive Director, & then Tara Grace, Vice President of HBO Films, & Dante Di Loreto, the film's producer, who both got emotional when they told the audience how much the film meant to them personally.

I've never seen the original Larry Kramer play, which is now 30 years old & depicts the early days of the AIDS crisis & the internal battles of the newly-formed Gay Men's Health Crisis. Every situation is a confrontation for Ned, the play's protagonist & Mr. Kramer's stand-in. Many scenes end with him shouting, & the character is exhausting.

The production is luxurious. The ensemble cast boasts many well-known faces who all communicate a fierce sense of commitment. Jim Parsons gives a strikingly precise physical performance as an early activist. The film does not avoid graphic depictions of full-blown AIDS, & we see the progression of the disease on actor Matt Bomer's body in horrendous detail. The Castro audience was of the same generation as the movie's characters, & people sobbed openly during the screening.

§ The Normal Heart
Director: Ryan Murphy
USA, 2014, 133 mins.

Lion. Pig. Wolf. Snake.

Monday night I attended a reading of an unproduced play by Michael Mitnick called Lion. Pig. Wolf. Snake. It's a comedy/thriller about an amoral teenager who sets in motion a murder-for-hire in order to impress a girl. A psychopathic hit man gets put on the job & then starts improvising, causing the plan to take a nasty u-turn. Except for the final scene, the play is a series of 2-character scenes taking place at a park bench. The 5 actors read from scripts in binders & either sat or stood as the scene required. An additional reader spoke the stage directions. The play is very talky, & I failed to follow the thread of some of the speeches. I also completely missed some of the stage directions, so afterwards my theater companion had to fill in an important plot point for me.

The audience at this free play reading series at the SF Playhouse is encouraged to come early & bring wine & snacks to share beforehand, so the atmosphere is very informal. We were allowed to take our drinks into the theater. The reading ran for 90 minutes, & the somewhat elderly audience had an enjoyable time. I did not stay for the talk-back afterwards, though my theater companion did & reported that the audience was asked who they thought was killed by the off-stage gunshot at the end.

§ Lion. Pig. Wolf. Snake.
By Michael Mitnick
A Staged Reading
Directed by Jeffrey Lo 

Cliff: Jeremy Kahn
N: Monica Ammerman
Big Jack: Carl Holvick-Thomas
Alvin: Michael Torres
Ira: Marvin Greene

SF Playhouse
19 May 2014, 7p

Friday, May 23, 2014

Frameline38 Press Conference

Earlier this week, Frameline held a press conference for the 38th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the oldest & largest such film festival in the world. Acting Executive Director Frances Wallace, Director of Exhibition & Programming Des Buford & Senior Programmer Peter L. Stein, all looking quite happy, announced the schedule. Over 200 features, documentaries & shorts from 31 countries will be presented at the Castro, Roxie & Victoria Theatres in San Francisco & the Elmwood in Berkeley, June 19 - 29. Opening night is The Case Against 8, a documentary about the legal challenge to Prop 8. The 4 plaintiffs will be in attendance, & it should be a crowd-pleaser. George Takei is profiled in the centerpiece documentary To Be Takei & will receive the festival's Frameline Award. The centerpiece narrative feature is Lilting, an intimate drama in English & Mandarin starring Ben Whishaw & Cheng Pei-Pei of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Closing night is Ich Fühl Mich Disco, a laboriously odd coming-of-age comedy from Germany.

Showcase features include Der Kreis, a docudrama about the post-war gay scene in Zürich, & The Way He Looks, a teenage love story from Brazil revolving around a blind student. The documentary selections include profiles of Greg Louganis, Susan Sontag, Barney Frank & Kristin Beck, a transgender former Navy Seal. Mr. Frank & Ms. Beck are expected to attend. There will be a spotlight on contemporary Russia, including a documentary with the best title in the festival: Pussy vs. Putin. There are many shorts programs, including one devoted to queer horror. Three free panels at the Roxie explore New Storytelling. The life of author Violette Leduc receives both narrative & documentary treatments. The programmers also mentioned Helicopter Mom & Appropriate Behavior as laugh-out-loud funny.

 The press conference included screenings of the opening & closing night films. The Case Against 8 was made over a period of 4 years, with the filmmakers embedded in the swank San Francisco offices of the American Foundation of Equal Rights, as the lawyers pursue their case against the ban on gay marriage all the way to the Supreme Court. The legal team was famously led by the unlikely pair of David Boies & Ted Olson, a former Solicitor General under George W. Bush. Mr. Olson states categorically that "Marriage is a conservative value." The committed & well-resourced lawyers never look like the underdogs. We also get a peek into the lives of the 2 couples who were plaintiffs in the case & were probably vetted more carefully than any political candidate. The plaintiffs occasionally get teary-eyed, & SF audiences will enjoy seeing California Attorney General Kamala Harris cheerfully ordering a flummoxed clerk at the Los Angeles city hall to issue a marriage license for Messrs. Katami & Zarrillo.

I Feel Like Disco is a coming-of-age story about an awkward, overweight adolescent & his equally frowsy father, both taking stumbling steps forward after the sudden loss of the family's warm & protective mother. Several cringe-worthy scenes involve the boy's crush on a spotty-faced Romanian teenager. The film's earnestly kitschy style is affectionately low-brow & incorporates fantasy sequences & a soundtrack that puts Rachmaninoff next to the German disco songs of Christian Steiffen. Filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim makes an amusing cameo appearance as a calmly sympathetic sex counselor.

§ Frameline38
San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival
June 19 - 29, 2014
Castro Theatre, Roxie Theatre, Victoria Theatre in San Francisco
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley

§ The Case Against 8
Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White
USA, 2013, 112 Minutes

§ I Feel Like Disco (Ich Fühl Mich Disco)
Director: Axel Ranisch
Germany, 2013, 95 Minutes

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bay Area Maker Faire 2014

I spent the weekend as a booth babe at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, assisting Chris Jefferies, who was exhibiting a wireless sensor network he built from open source hardware & software. In addition to a diverse range of sophisticated hobbyists like Mr. Jefferies, ...

... the fair hosts affinity groups ...

... & artists utilizing technology in novel ways.

There was discussion among the makers about how commercial the fair has become, & in fact most of the exhibits are products.

Big corporations have taken note of the huge audience & duly set up camp.

I didn't come close to getting around to everything, but I did see a lot of custom fabrication & 3D printers.

In the Dark Room, I caught feeding time at this jellyfish aquarium.

The fair has exhibits with flame throwers, but I had to sign a safety waiver just to stand next to some beehives.

This transparent beehive totally made me want to learn beekeeping.

The fair does a terrific job of being family-friendly, & I saw lots of kids.

Every little girl wore an outfit that was coordinated in some way, & even the boys dressed better than me on a good day.

§ Bay Area Maker Faire 2014
May 17 & 18
Sat. 10 AM - 8 PM | Sun. 10 AM - 6 PM
San Mateo Event Center

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Setup Day at Maker Faire

This weekend I'll be at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, helping out at the table of my friend Chris Jefferies, who is demoing how to create a home wireless sensor network from open source hardware & software. If you ever wondered how to make XBee, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Python, Node-RED & Graphite work together, check him out.

Friday was a setup day, & I got a chance to peek at some of the exhibits, such as this ethereal, illuminated forest.

I'm always awed by the huge mobile sculptures. This is as close to Burning Man as I'll ever come.

On closer inspection, this dragon turns out to be made of hardware more commonly used in kitchens.

This whimsical submarine looks convincing both inside & out.

An aisle over from where we were setting up, several people were busy putting finishing touches on this detailed landscape, ...

... composed  of intricate objects made entirely from masking tape.

At the end of the afternoon, massive mounds of paella were served to the makers, courtesy of Gerard's Paella. Mr. Jefferies & I dallied too long during setup, though, & were disappointed to discover that the beer ran out before we got there.

§ Bay Area Maker Faire 2014
May 17 + 80, 2014
San Mateo Event Center

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Play Lab: Better

Tuesday evening I attended a reading of Better, a new work by playwright & SF State professor Michelle Carter. The loose plot concerns Emily, a smart & overly well-mannered 19-year-old student who is forced to leave her university & find a new path. It soon becomes apparent that Emily is the daughter of Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama biology professor who pulled out a gun at a departmental meeting & killed 3 of her colleagues. Though this crime shapes the action from offstage, the play is often lightly comic. Its dozen or so scenes, running under 90 minutes, go in several directions & include a spiritualist with a weakness for bad jokes, a job interview that pauses for yoga, awkward first time sex, & lessons in the history of fondue. Situations are usually left unresolved.

Five actors read the play standing at music stands & sometimes mimed their characters' stage business. An additional reader spoke the stage directions. The event was small, & the audience barely outnumbered the actors. My theater companions had already attended a previous reading of this play & were so impressed that they were coming back to hear it a second time. We chatted briefly with the playwright & some of the actors afterwards & learned that Ms. Carter has also written a play about Ted Kaczynski. There are currently no plans for a staged production of Better.

§ New Play Lab presents
By Michelle Carter
a developmental reading
Directed by Michael French

EMILY: Megan Trout
BEN: Soren Oliver
MICHAEL: Jeremy Kahn
LUISA: Catherine Castellanos
Stage Directions: Sarah Moser

May 13, 2014, 7p
Stage Werx Theatre

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Up-coming: SF DocFest 2014

Last week SF DocFest held a press conference at the Roxie Theater to announce their up-coming documentary film festival, which runs June 5 - 19 at the Roxie in San Francisco & the Black Box Theater in Oakland, at 19th & Telegraph. Festival founder Jeff Ross & programmers Jennifer Morris and Chris Metzler gave an overview of the festival, keeping it short & sweet. The schedule includes 43 programs, 89 screenings & 5 world premieres. Opening night features Robert Greene's Actress, about Brandy Burre, cast member of HBO's The Wire, who gave up acting to become a stay-at-home mom. Mr. Greene will attend & also receive the festival's Non-Fiction Vanguard Award, which recognizes not-yet-famous filmmakers to keep an eye on. Closing night is Rich Hill, a documentary about poverty in the US, focusing on a small town in Missouri.

The programmers pointed out a few of the festival's amusing & quirky corners. Jingle Bell Rocks! shows us the people who collect Christmas music. Unsurprisingly, John Waters is among the interviewees. Wicker Kittens explores the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling. Vannin' introduces us to a particular subculture of automotive enthusiasts. A single mom aspires to a career in professional cage fighting in Glena. An Honest Liar profiles magician & debunker The Amazing Randi. A 14-year-old filmmaker finds out who drives BART in the shorts program.

Parties include swing music on opening night, a 90s sing-a-long, a game night pub quiz, a roller disco party, & a zombie-themed party following Doc of the Dead. Advance tickets are available online. The festival's DocPass includes priority entry to all screenings & parties.

The press conference included a screening of the festival's centerpiece film, The Internet's Own Boy, about computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last year right before his Federal trial for cybercrimes. We get very familiar with the face of Mr. Swartz, who is seen in archival footage from a toddler onwards. The film contains interviews with his family, friends & colleagues & is both a biography & a look at issues of hacking, copyright & access to information. It's also a bit weepy. Director Brian Knappenberger will be in attendance at the festival screening.

§ 13th Annual San Francisco Documentary Film Festival
June 5-19, 2014
Roxie Theatre, San Francisco
Brava Theatre, San Francisco
Marion E. Greene Black Box Theater, Oakland School of the Arts

§ The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Director: Brian Knappenberger
USA, 2014, 104 mins.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Up-coming: SF Silent Film Festival 2014

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is one of my favorite events in the City. It's a great case where the right films have found the right audience. The festival runs at the Castro Theatre for 4 days, starting May 29th with the Rudolph Valentino classic The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. It will be shown in a restored version by Kevin Brownlow & David Gill that is over 2 hours long. Closing night stars Buster Keaton in The Navigator.

The varied program includes science fiction from the Soviet Union, a Mount Everest documentary from the UK, a comedy by Max Linder, a social drama from China & a gangster film by Ozu. The delightful Serge Bromberg will present a program of rare films from his collection.

Amazing Tales from the Archives is the festival's free, informational event. This year Bryony Dixon will present early nature films from the BFI National Archive, Daniel Streible will discuss Edison's 1894 film of a sneeze, & Craig Barron & Ben Burtt will talk about the technical effects in Charlie Chaplin movies.

All the films will have live musical accompaniment, provided by either solo piano or a small ensemble. For some reason the Castro's Might Wurlitzer is not being played for any of the shows.

Tickets can be purchased online. Festival passes can be purchased without a fee at the McRoskey Mattress Company, 1687 Market Street at Gough.

§ The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival
May 29 – June 1, 2014
Castro Theatre

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014 Schedule 

Thursday, May 29

7:00 pm
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Rex Ingram, USA, 1921 • 132 minutes
Accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Friday, May 30

10:00 am
Amazing Tales from the Archives

1:00 pm
The Song of the Fishermen (Yu Guang Qu)
Cai Chusheng, China, 1934 • 60 minutes
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano

3:00 pm
Midnight Madness
F. Harmon Weight, USA, 1928 • 61 minutes
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano

5:00 pm
The Parson’s Widow (Prästänkan)
Carl Th. Dreyer, Sweden, 1920 • 88 minutes
Accompanied by Matti Bye on piano

7:30 pm
Edwin Carewe, USA, 1928 • 80 minutes
Accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

10:00 pm
Cosmic Voyage (Kosmicheskiy Reys)
Vasili Zhuravlyov, USSR, 1936 • 70 minutes
Accompanied by the Silent Movie Music Company

Saturday, May 31

10:00 am
The Good Bad Man
Allan Dwan, USA, 1916 • 80 minutes
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano

12:00 Noon
Serge Bromberg’s Treasure Trove

2:00 pm
The Epic of Everest
John Noel, UK, 1924 • 87 minutes
Accompanied by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius

4:30 pm
Anthony Asquith, UK, 1928 • 77 minutes
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano

7:00 pm
Under the Lantern (Unter der Laterne)
Gerhard Lamprecht, Germany, 1928 • 129 minutes
Accompanied by the Donald Sosin Ensemble

10:00 pm
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (Neobychaynyye Priklyucheniya Mistera Vesta v Strane Bol’shevikov)
Lev Kuleshov, USSR. 1924 • 74 minutes
Accompanied by Matti Bye Ensemble

Sunday, June 1

10:00 am
Seven Years Bad Luck
Max Linder, USA, 1921 • 62 minutes
Accompanied by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius

12:00 Noon
Dragnet Girl (Hijosen no onna)
Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1933 • 100 minutes
Accompanied by Guenter Buchwald

2:30 pm
The Girl In Tails (Flickan i frack)
Karin Swanström, Sweden, 1926 • 110 minutes
Accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

5:00 pm
The Sign of Four
Maurice Elvey, UK, 1923 • 83 minutes
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano with Guenter Buchwald on violin

7:00 pm
Harbor Drift (Jenseits der Straße)
Leo Mittler, Germany, 1929 • 93 minutes
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano with Frank Bockius on percussion

9:00 pm
The Navigator
Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp, USA, 1924 • 60 minutes
Accompanied by Matti Bye Ensemble

Friday, May 09, 2014


SF International Film FestivalEven though I didn't get to the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival until day 6, I managed to see a fair number of films & had a great time.

Films: 11
Live events: 1
Q&As: 1
Times I had an empty seat next to me: 2
Parties: 1
Happy hour lounge visits: 7
Tweets: 27

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Apr 24 - May 8, 2014

SFIFF: Art and Craft

At one of the last screenings of the San Francisco International Film Festival, I saw Art and Craft, a fascinating documentary about the curious case of art forger Mark Landis, whose donations of faked art works to museums across the country constitute a con on multiple levels, even though he's technically doing nothing illegal. It's great fun getting to know the charming & eccentric Mr. Landis, who talks candidly about his family, his deceits & his history of mental illness. He creates a fake Picasso for the camera, using embarrassingly simple means. The film amusingly pits him against Matthew Leininger, a former museum registrar who is obsessed with tracking down his forgeries. When an exhibition of Mr. Landis's work opens at the University of Cincinnati, there's an entertaining showdown between the two, & the delighted festival audience applauded Mr. Landis's parting shot. The Noir-ish score by Stephen Ulrich is wonderful at establishing the film's atmosphere of intrigue.

Director Jennifer Grausman attended the screening & did a Q&A. The film was shot over a 3 year period, starting in 2011. We learned that Mr. Landis goes to bed at 5p & gets up at midnight. He often wanted to film at 4 in the morning. Ms. Grausman suspects that there are way more Landis forgeries in museum collections than Mr. Leininger has found (& yes, San Francisco is on the list). She also informed us that the film will be released theatrically in the fall.

SF International Film Festival photo IMG_20140508_200357_871_zps3063cb9a.jpgThis was the only festival screening I attended that did not start on time. A technical snafu prevented the staff from letting us into the theater until 20 minutes past the scheduled time, & the festival audience waited patiently in the hallway. There was appreciative applause once the film got rolling, half an hour late.

§ Art and Craft
Directors: Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, Mark Becker
USA, 2013, 89 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
May 4, 2014, 6:00 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 5, 2014, 8:40 p.m.  BAM/PFA
May 8, 2014, 8:15 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema

Thursday, May 08, 2014

SFIFF: Return to Homs

Wednesday evening I was at the San Francisco International Film Festival to see the Syrian documentary Return to Homs. It was filmed in the sieged city of Homs over the period 2011 to 2013 & puts the viewer directly in the middle of the fighting, alongside a group of hardscrabble rebels. The footage is intense & unflinching. Homs looks like a city that's had an atomic bomb dropped on it. We're taken through bombed-out buildings & inside grizzly surgery rooms & allowed to witness battles & deaths in the streets. I felt the confusion & claustrophobia of being in a war zone.

The film sticks to reportage of the immediate plight of the rebel fighters. Focus eventually settles on a young man named Basset, first seen rousing mobs of men during exuberant street protests, then as the leader of armed rebels. He's handsome, athletic, impassioned & a show-off. His tenacity & increasing dedication to the war, even after he is repeatedly wounded, made me more & more fearful of him, & I took a long walk in the cold air after the movie was over.

§ Return to Homs
Director: Talal Derki
Syria, Germany, 2013, 87 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
May 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 6, 2014, 6:30 p.m.  BAM/PFA
May 7, 2014, 6:15 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema

SFIFF: Golden Gate Awards

Last night the San Francisco International Film Festival announced the winners of the Golden Gate Awards, given to filmmakers exhibiting at the festival. The juried awards come with cash prizes from $500 to $10,000. Not all the winners were present, but those that were got to deliver an Oscars-style thank you speech to the crowd & have an official picture taken with their award certificate. Filmmaker Sara Dosa was clearly thrilled to win in the Bay Area Documentary Feature. Three local high school students accepted awards in the Youth Works category with poise. The event was held at Rouge | Nick's Crispy Tacos, & I did my best Quentin Crisping by going through the taco line twice.

Golden Gate Awards Winners
New Directors Prize: History of Fear, Benjamín Naishtat
Special Jury Recognition: White Shadow, Noaz Deshe; The Amazing Catfish, Claudia Sainte-Luce
Jury: Filmmaker Magazine Editor-in-Chief Scott Macaulay, Fandor cofounder Jonathan Marlow and writer Ella Taylor.

Golden Gate Award Documentary Feature Winners
Documentary Feature: The Overnighters, Jesse Moss
Bay Area Documentary Feature: The Last Season, Sara Dosa
Special jury recognition: Return to Homs, Talal Derki
Jury: filmmaker Rob Epstein, journalist Nathan Heller, and Film Society of Lincoln Center Co-Executive Director Lesli Klainberg.

Golden Gate Award Short Film Winners
Narrative Short (tie): The Birds' Blessing, Serge Mirzabekiantz; So You've Grown Attached, Kate Tsang
Documentary Short: The High Five, Michael Jacobs
Animated Short: The Missing Scarf, Eion Duffy
Bay Area Short (tie): Santa Cruz del Islote, Luke Lorentzen; No One but Lydia, Rob Richert
New Visions Short: Numbers & Friends, Alexander Carson
Jury: journalist Jonathan Kiefer, author Vendela Vida and filmmaker Diana Williams.

Family Film Winners
Family Film: The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi
Family Film Honorable Mention: The Numberlys, William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg
Jury: teacher Donna Lee, writer Nicki Richesin and artist Jeena Wolfe.

Youth Works Winners
Youth Work: Epitaph, Charles Blecker
Youth Work Honorable Mention: Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, Lily Yu, Judy Lee, Jeremiah Mellor
Jury: Davis Avila, Sophie Edelhart and Julia Pollak, all local high school students.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Golden Gate Awards Ceremony
Wednesday, May 7, 9p, 2014
Rouge | Nick's Crispy Tacos

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

SFIFF: Stephin Merritt with The Unknown

Tuesday night I saw the silent film The Unknown, starring Lon Chaney & Joan Crawford, with live musical accompaniment by Stephin Merritt & Daniel Handler. This was one of the live events presented at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It was good to see The Unknown, which I'd never seen before. The creepy love story features Chaney as a supposedly armless circus performer & Crawford as the love interest. The festival projected a clean 35mm print.

Stephin Merritt, sitting at the corner of the stage, accompanied the movie with a continuous ukulele solo, which seemed an odd choice. The ukulele does not have much dynamic range, & his tuneless vamping sounded more or less the same for every scene. I thought it a weak response to the movie, which is lurid & gratifyingly sadistic. Local author Daniel Handler sat on the opposite side of the stage watching the movie, though he did contribute some notes on the accordion to punctuate the movie's climactic final scene. Mr. Merritt came on and off stage without acknowledging the audience, which I found rude.

The Unknown was preceded by Guy Maddin's Sissy-Boy Slap-Party, a very silly black & white short which has been perfectly described elsewhere as "Jean Genet meets the Three Stooges." Mr. Merritt played the bongos to accompany it, & I liked the distinctively gruff voice he used to supply the film's dialogue. He instructed us, "When you see a slap, clap!" The festival audience was impressively good at doing so.

SF International Film FestivalThere was a good turnout at the Castro Theatre, & the audience was in a good mood for both films. I wish I'd arrived earlier to hear more of David Hegarty on the Castro's organ before the show.

§ The Unknown
Director: Tod Browning
USA, 1927, 63 mins.
Accompanied by Stephin Merritt & Daniel Handler

§ Sissy-Boy Slap-Party
Director: Guy Maddin
Canada, 2004, 6 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Stephin Merritt With The Unknown
Tuesday, May 6, 8:00pm
Castro Theatre

SFIFF: Burt's Buzz

On Tuesday I caught the San Francisco International Film Festival screening of Burt's Buzz, a documentary profiling Burt Shavitz, the founder of Burt's Bees personal care products & the iconic bearded face on their packaging. Now in his 70s, he lives the same spare, backwoods existence in Maine that he adopted 50 years ago, after abruptly leaving a job as a photojournalist in New York. We see him puttering around his modest property & being interviewed about the peculiar shape of his life. Though emotionally inaccessible, he has a folksy charisma. I could completely identify when he said, "A good day is when no one shows up & you don't have to go anywhere." The film's most amusing sequences show him on an inane but jolly promotional tour for Burt's Bees in Taiwan. It's heart-rending to see him Skype his beloved dog while on the road.

Mr. Shavitz long ago sold his stake in the company, & Burt's Bees is now a subsidiary of Clorox. I was baffled & frustrated that Mr. Shavitz seems not to understand the significance of his being a corporate brand icon. The film includes interviews with several associates, none of whom quite know what's going on in his head either. Roxanne Quimby, Mr. Shavitz's former partner, who may have cheated him out of 200 million dollars, is conspicuously not among the interviewees. The use of the Tom Waits song "All the World is Green" at the end of the film is almost too perfect.

§ Burt's Buzz
Director: Jody Shapiro
Canada, 2013, 88 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
May 3, 2014, 4:30 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 6, 2014, 1:15 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Bloggers at SFIFF

San Francisco International Film Festival photo IMG_20140503_194429_220_zpsec44af49-1.jpgWe're in the home stretch of the San Francisco International Film Festival, which ends May 8th with a screening of Alex of Venice, at which actor Don Johnson will be present. There are over 160 films, plus live events, so it's impossible to get a grasp of it all, but here are a few independent voices providing on-going coverage: The embarrassingly well-informed Brian Darr is selective yet thorough. I run into Art Hound just about every time I'm in the festival lounge, & I'm sure she's seen even more films than she lets on. Jason Wiener's enthusiasm is intimidating, but he describes well the experience of attending the festival with a press badge.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Apr 24 - May 8, 2014

SFIFF: Three Letters from China

Monday evening I was at the sold out SF International Film Festival screening of Three Letters from China, Swiss filmmaker Luc Schaedler's documentary overview of contemporary China. This succinct film is in 3 parts, each profiling individuals in a different part of the country. We see them go about daily tasks as they talk about their lives & concerns. In arid northern China an uncertain future weighs heavily on the family of a struggling farmer & his married son, who has left home for a dirty industrial mining job. In a picturesque village in southern China, the Cultural Revolution still casts a long shadow on the inhabitants. The filmmakers have a great find in 19-year-old Chen Chaomei, who parties & works as a waitress in the huge metropolis of Chongqing on the Yangtze River. Her father's family have always been fishermen, & her parents even live on a rickety fishing boat, but she sees no place for herself in their world. She's a free-spirit, living on her own & unashamed of her independence & her androgenous presentation. I really want to know what she'll be up to in 5 years.

New People Cinema photo IMG_20140505_181820_144_zps445a90a5.jpgThe screening was introduced by festival programmer Audrey Chang, who told us that this is the final installment of the director's trilogy of films about Asia. Ms. Chang also read us the director's statement.

§ Three Letters from China
Director: Luc Schaedler
Switzerland, 2013, 80 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International film Festival
April 29, 2014, 1:30 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 3, 2014, 6:30 p.m.  BAM/PFA
May 5, 2014, 6:30 p.m.  New People Cinema

Monday, May 05, 2014

SFIFF: Eastern Boys

Late Sunday night I saw the contemporary French drama Eastern Boys at the SF International Film Festival. Festival programmer Sean Uyehara introduced the film as a homoerotic thriller. A complacent middle-aged business man pickups up a young hustler in Paris's Gard du Nord station, then finds himself pitted against a gang of thuggish Eastern European youths. The plot-driven film is divided into 4 enigmatically titled chapters & culminates in a complicated show-down in a suburban hotel, overcrowded with immigrant families. Weapons are never wielded, but the movie's acts of violence have impact because they seem plausible. The acting is direct. Danil Vorobyev is vivid & scary as the psychopathic gang leader, & Edéa Darcque is a striking presence as a hotel manager who takes her job very seriously.

The screening was at rush, & festival staff did crowd control by admitting the audience into the New People Cinema in cohorts of 10. There were occasional titters, so the audience may not have found the movie entirely convincing. It runs well over 2 hours, so the theater got quite warm by the end.

§ Eastern Boys
Director: Robin Campillo
France, 2013, 128 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
April 30, 2014, 9:10 p.m.  BAM/PFA
May 2, 2014, 6:00 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 4, 2014, 8:45 p.m.  New People Cinema

Sunday, May 04, 2014

SFIFF: Of Horses and Men

Saturday night at the SF International Film Festival, I saw Of Horses and Men, an Icelandic film by Benedikt Erlingsson. It's a collection of interlocking vignettes taking place in a small rural community in Iceland, where horses mediate social standing, survival, death & even sex for the inhabitants. The miniature stories are harsh but grimly funny & reflect a proudly tough-minded view of life. An especially visceral episode in which a man saves his own life in a snowstorm could have come from an Icelandic saga.

The film's captivating opening sequence records the Icelandic horses' beautiful manes & almost comically fastidious, high-stepping gait. The animals look pony-sized but are clearly sturdy. They witness all the events in the film, & everything happens in accord with the countryside's stark but majestic landscape.

There is not much dialogue, though we get to hear 7 different languages over the course of things. I liked the movie's score, which includes solemn choirs as well as rustic, Celtic-sounding dance music. The screening I attended was full, & there was laughter as well as gasps of surprise & apprehension. Some audience members were a bit traumatized by what happens, & the people on both sides of me covered their faces with their hands at some point.

§ Hross í oss (Of Horses and Men)
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Iceland/Germany, 2013, 81 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
May 2, 2014, 4:30 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 3, 2014, 8:45 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 5, 2014, 6:00 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema

Saturday, May 03, 2014

SFIFF: Salvation Army

Late Friday night at the SF International Film Festival, I saw Salvation Army, a film by first-time director Abdellah Taïa, based on his own autobiographical novel of the same name. The main character is first seen as a teenage boy, growing up in Morocco in a poor family. He seems to have 7 siblings, though I'm not sure I counted them all. He is so expressionless that I was not able to read his character, other than his obvious estrangement. We see that he fetishizes his adult brother & engages in sex with older men.

The movie mystified me. Though attractively photographed, it is a lot of long, slow takes without dialogue or music. I felt sure that everything on screen was meaningful to the director, but for me most scenes provided little information, & I was unable to fill in the gaps. The story makes an abrupt jump of 10 years before its seemingly arbitrary ending, which left the festival audience silent & nonplussed. The theater was nearly full. So far my festival experience has run smoothly. Audiences are let into theaters a half-hour before showtime, everyone receives a ballot to rate the movie, & the shows start on time.

§ Salvation Army (L'armee du salut)
Director: Abdellah Taïa
France/Morocco/Switzerland, 2013, 82 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
May 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema
May 4, 2014, 8:30 p.m.  BAM/PFA