Thursday, September 22, 2016
Autumn can be a crazy busy time of year for Bay Area cinephiles. While it's been that way for nearly a decade, 2016 could see the phenomenon reach dizzying new heights. As always, Mill Valley Film Festival is the pond's biggest fish, celebrating its 39th edition from October 6 to 16. I'll post a preview shortly before it opens. The San Francisco Film Society's Fall Season of mini-festivals has long been autumn's other major player, but it essentially no longer exists – or at least not under that aegis. I'll especially miss French Cinema Now, which had an impressive eight-year run bringing an awesome mix of new French-language movies to the Bay Area. In happier news, the Film Society has announced an exciting new year-round collaboration with the recently re-opened SFMOMA, details of which I'll share later in this overview.
In 40 years of living in San Francisco, I can't remember a weekend quite as full of quandary-filled film choices as this upcoming one. There are no less than six festivals and retrospectives to choose from. My top pick is SF Film Society's Hong Kong Cinema (Sept. 23 to 25), which returns as a welcome holdover from their Fall Season. This year's line-up features a tribute to renowned director Stanley Kwan, as well as seven popular new HK releases. Kwan will be in town for opening night's 25th anniversary screening of Center Stage (1991), starring the incomparable Maggie Cheung as tragic Chinese silent film star Ruan Ling-yu. I'm excited to revisit this film after experiencing several Ruan performances at recent SF Silent Film Festival editions. The filmmaker returns the following evening to present Rouge (1987), his classic, sensual ghost story starring Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung. Among the festival's new HK films, I'm betting on Johnnie To's Three. Set within the confines of a modern hospital, To's latest pits a female neurosurgeon and police captain against a criminal patient. Reviews say it contains a climactic hospital shoot-out that's on par with John Woo's Hardboiled. I also wouldn't mind having a look at Fruit Chan's Kill Time, a thriller that sounds even nuttier than Chan's excellent The Midnight After, which played the fest two years ago.
Certain to be clamoring for local filmgoers' attention this Saturday is Anna Magnani – A Film Series. Co-presented by Luce Cinecittà, the Italian Cultural Institute and Cinema Italian San Francisco, this all-day event builds on the success of those organizations' recent Vittorio De Sica and Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospectives. Three iconic Magnani films – Rome Open City (1945), Bellissima (1952) and The Rose Tattoo (1955) plus the relatively obscure The Passionate Thief (1960) – all play the Castro Theatre in 35mm prints. And if that's not enough Magnani for you, Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive begins presenting Anna Magnani: Eternal Soul of Italian Cinema this Sunday, continuing through October 29. The PFA series includes nine films that are not part of the one-day Castro event.
This weekend's other important retrospective is the Roxie Theater's Samuel Fuller: A Fuller Life, which kicks off Friday night with a documentary directed by the iconoclast filmmaker's daughter, Samantha. I caught A Fuller Life at the Castro two years ago and recommend it to Fuller aficionados and newbies alike. The Roxie will screen nine of his movies over the weekend, including stone classics Shock Corridor, Pick Up on South Street, The Naked Kiss, The Crimson Kimono and White Dog, plus rarities Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, Forty Guns, The Steel Helmet and Underworld USA (the latter being my favorite discovery at the 2012 Noir City festival). As an added bonus, Samantha Fuller and Fuller's "widow, muse and collaborator" Christa Lang-Fuller will appear at five screenings in conversation with film programmer and archivist Peter Conheim. (For North Bay residents, the San Rafael Film Center holds a slightly altered Fuller retrospective this weekend as well). It's worth mentioning here that the Roxie follows up the Fuller fest with Banned Movie Week (Sept. 25 to 28), featuring I Am Curious Yellow, The Tin Drum, In the Realm of the Senses and a Dusan Makavejev double bill of Sweet Movie and WR: Mysteries of the Organism. I must say the Roxie has really stepped up its game in 2016. Their adventurous programming choices continuously surprise me and I'm particularly grateful they've installed DCP in the Little Roxie.
If Anna Magnani, Hong Kong and Sam Fuller aren't your thing, there are three festivals of national-regional cinema this weekend as well. The 13th SF Irish Film Festival runs from September 22 to 24 at the Delancey Street Screening Room while across town, the SF Art Institute hosts the 9th Iranian Film Festival. The latter features a rare screening of Tickets, which serves as a remembrance to director Abbas Kiarostami who unexpectedly passed away in July. The 2005 film was co-directed by Ermanno Olmi and Ken Loach, and interweaves three narrative threads set on a train trip from Innsbruck to Rome. The fest is where you'll also find Finding Altamira, a historical drama from Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson starring Antonio Banderas as the man who discovered Spain's Altamira Paleolithic cave paintings. Its inclusion in the festival is due to the presence of celebrated Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Eden) who plays Banderas' wife "Conchita."
Finally, the 8th SF Latino Film Festival continues its 16-day run this weekend at venues throughout the Bay Area. The film I'm most anticipating is César Augusto Acevedo's Land and Shade, which screens one time only at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts next Saturday, October 1. Acevedo's film won the 2015 Cannes Film Festival's Camera d'Or prize (given to a first-time feature filmmaker) and centers on the struggles of Colombian sugar cane harvesters. I've seen and also heartily recommend Salvador del Solar's Magallanes, which has two more screenings during the fest. This intense Peruvian political drama stars favorite Mexican actor Damián Alcázar (Herod's Law, El Infierno) and unforgettable, indigenous Peruvian actress, Magaly Solier (the Oscar-nominated The Milk of Sorrow, Madeinusa).
Now let's peer into to October where the big news is Modern Cinema, the aforementioned collaboration between the SF Film Society and SFMOMA. Over the course of three weekends, viewers can experience 26 essentials of film history (11 of them in 35mm) all united around the seasonally apropos theme of "haunting." Eighteen programs are post-WWII titles (e.g. "Modern") from the vaults of Criterion Collection/Janus Films, the rightfully exulted company that received the Mel Novikoff Award at last spring's SF International Film Festival. The selections run the gamut from Kurosawa's Rashomon (to be introduced by Philip Kaufman) to Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls, and from Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant to Akerman's Jeanne Dielman (to be introduced by Wayne Wang). The remaining eight programs encapsulate a near-complete retrospective of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (with 2002's Blissfully Yours being oddly M.I.A.). The director, whose oeuvre fits snugly within the series' "haunting" motif, will appear in person at one of two scheduled shorts programs. His video installation piece, Phantoms of Nabua is already on exhibit in the museum.
I'm super excited to have SFMOMA back as a film venue following a two-year closure for expansion and renovation. While their film programming has always been intermittent, I fondly remember catching major Chantal Akerman and Derek Jarman retrospectives there. At the press conference for Modern Cinema, it was announced SFMOMA and SF Film Society are cooking up two additional three-weekend film events for February and July, 2017. As for the museum's Phyllis Wattis Theater, it was essentially gutted and rebuilt within the existing shell during renovation. The new auditorium looks snazzy, with a 12' X 24' screen, 270 boxy but comfortable new seats with cup holders (!) and a deepened stage with adjacent green room. On the tech side, they've installed a new 4K NEC digital projector, Kinoton 16mm and 35mm projectors and Meyer Sound Cinema Surround System. The new cinema even boasts its own dedicated entrance off of Minna Street.
The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts lies directly across the street from SFMOMA, which makes it easy to go catch some of Andy Warhol's Silver Screen: Rarities and Restorations. From October 13 to 30, YBCA has scheduled seven Warhol films spread across five programs, all exhibited in 16mm prints. The series' spotlight piece is 1968's ultra rare San Diego Surf, which Warhol was unable to complete following Valerie Solanas' assassination attempt on him. It has recently been edited together by associate/collaborator Paul Morrissey, as a commission for the Andy Warhol foundation. The irrepressible Taylor Mead and Viva star as a middle-class couple who live with their pregnant daughter (Ingrid Superstar) in La Jolla, where they rent out an extra beach house to a group of sexy surfers (including Joe Dallesandro). Legend has it that cast and crew were furiously harassed by police during the three-week shoot.
The second Warhol program is a double bill of Outer and Inner Space (1965) and Tiger Morse (1967), both featuring Edie Sedgewick talking an amphetamine-fueled blue streak. That's followed by a double bill of My Hustler (1965) and the infamous Blow Job (1964), the latter a 35-minute static shot on a man's face as he receives the titular sex act. The Velvet Underground Tarot Card (1966) comes next, featuring all V.U. band members having their cards read at a raucous party. The film was initially shown as background projection during Warhol's "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" events. The series concludes with The Life of Juanita Castro (1965), in which a group of actors improvise "a ridiculous yet politically meaningful meditation on Fidel Castro and his family." October's final weekend also finds YBCA hosting Silver Bullets: All-Day Werewolf Marathon, with back-to-back screenings of Teen Wolf (1985), the original The Wolf Man (1941), Ginger Snaps (2000) and Wolfcop (2015).
Another important October film event is the Arab Film Festival, whose 20th edition begins on Friday, October 7 at the Castro Theatre and continues for 10 days at various Bay Area venues. The complete line-up was supposed be announced a week ago, but there's still no word. The festival has revealed its opening night film, however, and it's one I definitely want to see. Clash is the second feature by Egyptian director Mohamed Diab that follows up his well received 2010 debut, the feminist-leaning Cairo 678. Premiering in Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar to solid reviews, Clash is set within the confines of a police paddy wagon full of both pro-military dictatorship and pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators in 2013. The audience only sees what the detainees see through the vehicle's windows. Variety's Jay Weissberg calls it "bravura filmmaking with a kick-in-the-gut message about chaos and cruelty." Somewhat surprisingly, Egypt has named Clash its 2016 Oscar submission. The Arab Film Festival screening in San Francisco will be the U.S. premiere, which is appropriate considering Diab developed the script during a SF Film Society residency program back in 2014.
Looking ahead to November and December, here are some important dates to keep in mind. The French Had a Name for It returns for a third edition on November 3 to 7 at the Roxie Theatre, with a 15-film foray into the world of French film noir. That same weekend will also see the return of the SF Film Society's Doc Stories, another welcome mini-fest that was formerly part of the SFFS Fall Season. The following week brings us the 14th annual 3rd i SF International South Asian Film Festival from November 10 to 13. New Italian Film Festival (aka N.I.C.E.) pops up at the Vogue Theatre from November 16 to 20, albeit without programming or other involvement from the SF Film Society. Finally, the SF Silent Film Festival recently announced the stellar line-up for its one-day, six-program A Day of Silents at the Castro Theatre on December 3. I'm already drooling over the prospect of hearing the Alloy Orchestra accompany Sergei Eisenstein's Strike!