ARThound loves a great film, with a story that speaks right to my heart and if the setting is in some distant land, all the better. The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 37) kicks-off this Thursday evening with two promising opening night films—Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children— and a splendid opening night party and then gets down to serious full-day programming from Friday onward. This festival, continually rated among the top ten in the world, offers 11 days of the best new films from around the world. In addition, there are intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars. This year, over 150 guests and film luminaries will attend and a select few will be honored in spotlights, tributes, centerpieces, and special screenings and many will be participating in post-film Q&A’s. There are also numerous musical performances and parties. And for those who fear all that sitting will take a toll on their derrieres, there’s even an Active Cinema hike this Saturday hike from Tennessee Valley to the ocean where guests can get some light, take in fresh air and share their impressions with cinephiles and festival guests. Having poured over the program, watched numerous screeners, and gotten the scoop directly from festival programmers, ARThound is really excited to cover the festival.
If you’ve missed my previous coverage, here is the link explaining the ins and outs of this festival and the advantages of CFI (California Film Institute) membership for early access to tickets:
ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:
316 —Iran | 2014 | 72 min |World Premiere | Executive Producer Behrang Saar Klein in attendance—It’s a no-brainer almost anywhere you go in the world, shoes express personality like nothing else. From Iranian producer Payman Haghani in Rasht, Iran, (Mardi Ke Gilass Hayash Ra Khord (A Man Who Ate His Cherries), 2009) comes his endearing second feature, 316 (2104), which tells an elderly Persian woman’s life story through the shoes of people she remembers and events unfolding in Iran. Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers who are based in Iran to make personal appearances at film festivals but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling. Aptly put in a recent New Yorker article (6/10/2014), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Jam’eh, said “We have freedom of expression in Iran…We just don’t have freedom after expression.” And yet Iran’s next generation have managed to become central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse. Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition. 316 artfully melds archival “footage” with animation and dramatic sequences to create a life story that tells a larger truth. (Screens: Saturday, Oct 4, 1:30 PM, 142 Throckmorton, Tuesday, Oct 5, 5 PM, Sequoia 1)
The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi) —Japan | 2014, 136 min—This elegant period romance set in 1920’ Tokyo is the first romance film directed by Yoji Yamada in his 50 year career. The filmmaker is famous in Japan for his immensely popular Otoko wa Tsurai yo series (48 films made over 25 years) and Samurai Trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor). The Little House is based on Kyoko Nakajima’s novel “Chiisai ouchi,” 2010 winner of the Naoki Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards. The story revolves around Takeshi, a young Japanese man and his posthumous encounter with his late aunt, Taki Nunomiya (Haru Kuroki), who left several journals behind. Through the notebooks, he learns of her life and the film proceeds, in flashbacks, to tell her story.
Prior to World War II, in a little house with a red triangular roof in Tokyo, young Taki works as a housemaid for a Masaki, a Toy company executive who lives with his wife Tokiko (Takako Matsu) and their 5 year-old son. When Tokiko’s husband hires a young art school graduate, Shoji Itakura; a love affair blossoms between Tokiko and Shoji, whom Taki also has feelings for. Meanwhile, as the war situation heats up, so too do the relationships in the little house. This isn’t a conventional love triangle but an exploration of how this budding relationship impacts Taki’s relationship with Tokiko and her later life. Taki transitions from an unsophisticated young maiden, who initially stands in fear and awe of her beautiful employer, to a trusted confidante who speaks the truth when called upon to do so. Haru Kuroki won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale (Berlin International Berlin Film Festival). The remarkable political discussions that occur in passing are just one of the film’s many delights. (Screens: Friday, Oct 3, 6 PM, Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 4, 11AM, Lark Theatre)
Ice Poison (Bing Du)—Myanmar/Taiwan R.O.C. | 2014 | 95min—Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z (Return to Burma (2011), Poor Folk (2012)), continues his shrewd examination of social and economic disparities in Myanmar with Ice Poison. Shot on location in Myanmar by a seven-member crew in an impoverished ethnically Chinese community on the outskirts of Lashio, near the Chinese border, this is the story of two young Burmese who get caught up in the drug trade in order to escape their bleak circumstances. The feature opens with an old Chinese farmer and his nameless son (Wang Shin-hong) toiling on their parched field in Lashio. The desperate farmer sells his beloved cow to buy a dilapidated scooter so his son can drive a motorcycle taxi. He asks just one thing in return: his son mustn’t get involved in drugs. Among the son’s first fares is a Burmese-born Chinese woman named Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), who has come home from China for a funeral and is making a new start. She desperately needs money to bring her son to Lashio. Her scheme involves helping her drug-dealing cousin deliver crystal meth, known as “ice poison,” to local addicts. She convinces the son to go into business with her as a driver. Midi Z draws us into the hard and fractured lives of these two young adults, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer. Through its intimate portrayal of their circumstances, aspirations, anguish and choices, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is just not possible. Ice Poison won Best Film in Int’l Competition, 68th Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Director, Peace and Love Film Festival, Dalarna, Sweden (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 6 PM Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 11, 11:45 AM, Sequoia 1)
The Patent Wars—Germany | 2014 | 88 min | North American Premiere | Director Hannah Prinzler in attendance—In all but the most capable hands, a documentary about trends in patent litigation could be very dry. German filmmakers Hannah Leonie Prinzler and Volker Ullrich succeed in making the complex topic fascinating by showing us how, in the U.S. in particular, the patent holder has evolved from the classical innovator like Thomas Edison into yet another tool of corporate greed that puts profit above human life. The savvy doc takes us on a trip around the world to visit at least a dozen well-known figures who explain how the landscape has changed—how patents have proliferated and become global strategic weapons, how profits are made from the mere threat of patent infringement, and who bears the economic and social consequences. The film was in the works while the Myriad Genetics lawsuit over the patenting of human genes was still in litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court but a visit with breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani wonderfully summarizes the case’s impact on breast cancer victims and on the patenting human genes. It really does seem that almost everything can be patented in the US, sometimes with just a description (not an actual realization) by the patent holders. Once a patent is in hand, the holder can decide later how much to charge to test for a medication or to plant a seed, thereby controlling access only to the privileged.
Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury inflamed many when he patented sequences of yoga poses. A visit to Delhi to Vinod Kumar Gupta’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unique database developed to prevent foreign companies from patenting products based on ancient sub-continental know-how, shows how Indian is struggling to get savvy on the IP front. Unfortunately, for India and much of the developing world, patents are currently being used to deny the development of crucial generic medications and lives are being lost. A visit with Anil Gupta, India’s “Ghandi of Innovation” unveils what India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic (patent-free) medicines, is doing to proactively protect its genetic resources as well. The film concludes with a visit to car enthusiasts in Arizona who are collaborating to build the first open-source cars, showing us that patents are not the only way to inspire innovations. (Screens: Sat, Oct 4, 5:15 PM, Rafael 3 and Monday, Oct 6, 6:30 PM, Rafael 3)
Timbuktu— France/Mauritania | 2014 | 97 min | West Coast Premiere | Actor Ibrahim Ahmed in attendance—Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono) (2002), Bamako (2007)) is one of a handful of filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa who has the rapt attention of the film world. His latest feature, Timbuktu, is the world’s first look at the jihadist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012 by fundamentalists whose brutal Islamist law shattered the lives of innumerable families. As always, his understated style combines graceful storytelling with a remarkably rigorous exploration of exile and displacement. Sissako focuses on the break-up of a close-knit Tuareg cattle-herding family who live peacefully in the dunes with their beloved cow “GPS.” When the cow goes missing, the father, Kidane (first-time actor Ibrahim Ahmed in a mesmerizing performance) accidentally shoots a fisherman dead in a lake and becomes victim to the horrors of Timbuktu’s improvised court system. The peripheral story lines are every bit as riveting. The hardliners punish Timbuktu residents for playing music or even soccer with stonings, executions and lashings. Sissako’s handling of atrocities in an almost matter-of-fact way punctuates their shock value. (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 1:45 PM, Rafael 1 and Monday, Oct 6, 3 PM, Sequoia 1)
The Lamb (Kuzu)—Turkey | 2014 | 85 min | US Premiere—London-based Turkish filmmaker and artist Kutluğ Ataman made such a splash in the contemporary art world (Documenta, Venice Biennale, Carnegie Prize, Cream Art) with his videos that he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2004 and has since racked up an impressive list of exhibitions and commissions. Ataman brings his artistic flair to The Lamb, his fifth feature film, a family drama set in rural Anatolia which inhabits the delicate world of children. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan), his wily older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk), and their financially-strapped family’s struggle to throw Mert a proper circumcision feast. They cannot afford the traditional lamb which is central to the celebration. When Vicdan (affectionately called mommy’s “Little Lamb”) taunts Mert by telling him that they’ll roast him in the tandoor if they don’t come up with the money for the lamb, he freaks and sets out to find a solution on his own. The highlight of the film is the wonderful interaction of the children, who can be so sweet and so cruel. Vicdan’s descriptions of the pending procedure border on tortuous, while bumbling Mert grabs your heart. Subplots involve the father and his womanizing and the mother and her plot to take revenge on villagers who have been unsympathetic to her plight. In all, Ataman weaves a rich and humorous story highlighting the inequality and lack of options for women, particularly in rural areas, and the liberties accorded men. Feza Caldiran’s breathtaking cinematography of a wintery remote Anatolia makes elevates the film to art. The Lamb won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale. (Screens: Wednesday, Oct 8, 3 PM, Sequoia 1 and Sunday, Oct 12, 11:30 AM, Rafael 2)
Details: The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2 -12, 2014. The festival’s homepage is here. Advance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. Click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.
Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)
There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm
Not just art, Napa’s Hess Collection, also has film—the “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” screens new shorts from all over the world this Sunday, September 21, 2014
Napa Valley’s Hess Collection not only offers an unparalleled collection of contemporary art amassed by Swiss wine connoisseur, Donald Hess, it also has exceptional film programing in its on-site theatre organized by collection curator, Rob Ceballos. A visit to the striking two story stone museum and grounds on Mt. Veeder, is always a treat— the art works on display are frequently rotated and there’s a tasting room pouring Hess’ world class wines —but when combined with a special film event that includes a knowledgeable speaker, it’s even more rewarding. On Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 p.m., Ron Diamond founder of Acme Filmworks animation studio in Los Angeles and Animation Show of Shows curator will present the fantastic “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” film shorts program. The 100 minute program will screen nine award-winning animated short films selected from major worldwide animation film festivals, and includes a reception before the screenings, and a Q & A session with Diamond after the viewing.
Diamond created the annual Animation Show of Shows in 1998 as a way of bringing the year’s best shorts, both studio and independent films, from around the world, to industry professionals and audiences who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see them. The 16th Annual edition features both studio and independent films from the US, Canada, Norway, France, United Kingdom, Poland and Russia, some of which have not been officially released. A few of shorts screening Sunday include: Disney’s FEAST (2014) from director Patrick Osborne that accompanies their full-length animated feature Big Hero Six (November 2014) and Disney-Pixar’s musical short, LAVA (2014) directed by James Ford Murphy, (which will run in front of Pete Docter’s full-length animated feature, Inside Out, (out June 2015)). Also featured is Greg and Myles McLeod’s 365, composed of 365 one-second films chronicling a year in filmmaking, day-by-day. Other films include legendary Disney animator Glen Keane’s directorial debut with DUET (2014), produced at Google’s ATAP unit, along with Mikey Please’s stop motion tour-de-force MARILYN MYLLER (2014), fresh from its Grand Prix win at the 2014 Hiroshima International Animation Festival. The entire program runs approximately 100 minutes.
Details: “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” is Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 PM at the Hess Collection. The Hess Collection Winery is located at 4411 Redwood Road Napa. A $20 fee covers the food and wine reception as well as the film program. Patrons are invited to remain and enjoy selected tastings of interesting new release wines in the historic Hess Visitor’s Center. Seats are limited. Purchase tickets here. Online ticket availability ends Friday, September 19, 2014.
Now in its 37th year, the legendary Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 2-12, is hard to beat—11 days of the best new films from around the world, intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars, musical performances, and parties. It’s so good that five of the last six Academy Award winners for best picture (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave) made their Bay Area premieres there. What it really excels at, though, are locally-directed indies, gems of world cinema, wonderful storytelling and docs carefully selected to meet our exacting standards. It is an insider’s festival though and tickets are sold to California Film Institute (CFI), based on membership levels, long before they are made available to the public. This year’s festival is October 2-12 and tickets to the general public go on sale Sunday, September 14 at 11 a.m. If you want to attend any of the fabulous tributes, spotlight or centerpiece screenings, it is essential that you lock in your tickets ASAP.
Stay tuned to ARThound this coming week for top picks.
Screening venues include the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.
Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm
The Hess Collection is screening great art documentaries on select Sundays—Jeremey Ambers’ “Impossible Light” screens August 10
“The Bay Bridge was the first thing I saw the day I moved to San Francisco, driving down Route 80 in a U-haul Truck,” recalls filmmaker Jeremy Ambers who was awestruck when he met Ben Davis, the driving force behind the seemingly impossible idea to transform San Francisco’s Bay Bridge’s western span into a light sculpture and one of the world’s largest art installations. Ambers’ acclaimed documentary, Impossible Light (2014), follows Davis and renowned American artist Leo Villareal and their team of designers, along with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, art enthusiasts and Bay Area optimists, as they set out to install 25,000 LED lights on the side of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge for an abstract dancing sculpture known as The Bay Lights. This impressive feature length doc, which captures the heart, soul and intense drama behind this $8,000,000 installation—to date, not paid for—is screening this Sunday, August 10, at 3 PM at Napa Valley’s Hess Collection as part of their wonderful summer series of art film screenings, presented in partnership with the Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov 12-16, 2014). Hess Collection Chef, Chad Hendrickson, will provide wine and appetizers, one more reason to see this amazing contemporary collection and take in the film. Click here for tickets and for more information, contact Hess events manager Ashley Cox 707 255-1144 x226.
SFJFF hits the Smith Rafael Film Center for a long weekend, Friday-Sunday—14 films, great stories, from all over the world
The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 34) comes to Marin’s Smith Rafael Film Center this Friday-Sunday for a long weekend, presenting 14 of the festival’s top films. I’ve attended this Marin segment for the past five years and the savvy programmers understand what clicks with our Marin, Sonoma and Napa attendees—intellectually resonant stories, creatively told. Bonus points added for food, wine, art and causes we can get behind. Begun in 1980, SFJFF is the oldest and largest Jewish film festival in the world and it traditionally kicks off and runs at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre before opening at other Bay Area venues. This year, SFJFF 34 screened 67 films from 17 countries; 44 of those had some sort of premiere and over 30 visiting filmmakers and international guests attended. For those of us in Northern California, battling the recently horrendous traffic on 101, the weekend in Marin is the only thing that that makes this beloved festival doable at all. In our favor, the Smith Rafael Film Center’s offers an intimate setting and unbeatable acoustics and its wise liberal vibe contributes to sharp and sizzling audience exchanges. All the films in this mini-fest exemplify the humor, warmth, wisdom, angst, and diversity of Jewish experiences around the world and introduce a strong crop of independent filmmakers. Now, on to ARThound’s recommendations—
Friday, August 8, 8:45 p.m.—24 Days
24 Days U.S. Premiere (France, 2014) French director and actor, Alexandre Arcady (Day of Atonement (original French title: Le Grand Pardon II) 1992), takes us back to 2006 and astutely delves into l’affaire du gang des barbares (the Affair of the Gang of Barbarians)—the abduction and brutal torture in Paris of the first French Jew, since WWII, to have been viciously attacked for simply being Jewish. And what a story he weaves, meticulously researched and narrated with a surprising degree of suspense through the voice of a grieving mother. After Shabbat dinner on January 20, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23 year-old telephone vendor of Moroccan Jewish descent, decides to go out, against his mother’s wishes, and celebrate. On his way out, he kisses his mother, Ruth Halimi (Zabou Breitman), who will never see her son again. Arcady, himself an Algerian-born Jew who emigrated to France at age 15, adapted the story from the mother’s book and police records. She had a gut feeling that her hapless son was abducted because he was Jewish and the kidnappers assumed that all Jews have money, but the authorities stubbornly refused to acknowledge this as a factor in the abduction. During their three-week nightmare, relived on film, the mother and her ex-husband, Didier (Pascal Elbé), received over 650 insulting, anxiety-producing phone calls. It turns out that their son was being held in a public housing block in a Paris suburb by a multi-racial gang of French youngsters and at least 30 people knew about it but did nothing, afraid of what the gang’s leader, Fofana (Tony Harrison), would do to them if they snitched to the authorities. This is such an important story and so faithfully told that the French Ministry of Education had it shown in French schools. 111 min (Screens at 8:45 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. The Green Prince (Germany, Israel, UK, 2014) Nadav Schirman’s espionage documentary opened SFJFF 34 at the Castro to a full house on July 24 and won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award (World Cinema: Documentary). The film is based Mosab Hassan Yousef’s startling memoir, Son of Hamas, and relives how Yousef, the son of one of the leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas, became a spy for Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, while working for his father. The film’s title refers to the Israeli security agency’s nickname for Yousef, named for the color of the Hamas flag and his high-ranking affiliation with the Islamist organization. Given the recent violence in Gaza, which we’re all heartsick over, the film’s happy-ending— Palestinian-Israeli friendship—falls apart. ARThound recommends seeing it later, when it opens in the Bay Area. 99 min (Screens 6:30 p.m.)
Saturday, August 9, 3 p.m.—Little White Lie
Little White Lie World Premiere (USA, 2014) Harvard Law School graduate Lacey Schwartz turns the camera on herself as she explores how she was raised as white and Jewish and learned as an adult that was her biological father was black. This relatively short but engrossing doc is about as real as it gets when it comes to confronting one’s long held feelings about identity and race and how those solidify or change with new information. Schwartz grew up in the mostly white town of Woodstock, New York, and her tawny complexion was always attributed to her father’s deep olive-toned Sicilian Jewish grandfather. She learned by accident that she was biracial while she was an undergraduate at Georgetown University. Based on the photo accompanying her entrance application, her contact information was forwarded to its black student association. When Schwartz confronted her mother, Peggy, she confessed that she had hidden an extramarital fling with a black man from her and that Lacey was the result. A few years into living with the news, Lacey says this shocking news has not changed the way she sees herself but it has influenced the way she sees the world and, of course, her mother. 65 min (Screens at 3 p.m. with Little Horribles: Mini Bar, a darkly comedic web series that tracks the poor decisions of a self-indulgent lesbian, here trying to resist raiding her the mini bar in her family’s hotel room.)
Saturday, August 9, 4:45 p.m.—God’s Slave
God’s Slave (Ecsclavo de Dios) Bay Area Premiere (Argentina, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela) 90 min) The plot sounds familiar—as children both a Muslim and an Islaeli witnessed unspeakable atrocities which have come to define the men they became and the violence they will perpetuate in the name of religion. Ahmed Al Hassama (Mohammed Al-Khaldi) masquerades as a Venezuelan surgeon waiting until his assignment, a suicide bombing, is revealed to him. David Goldberg (Vando Villamil) is a cold-blooded Mossad intelligence agent stationed in Buenos Aires, with a relentless aptitude for terrorists’ careers and threats. Fernando Butazzoni’s screen play, which is set against the 1994 AMIA car-bombing in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead, becomes a living breathing portrait of crusaders about to implode in the hands of Venezuelan director Joel Novoa. A master storyteller, Novoa transforms a seemingly open-and-shut political thriller into a moving and nuanced portrayal of commitment and crusade. 90 min (Screens at 4:45 p.m.)
Saturday, August 9, 6:50 p.m.—El Critico
Sunday, August 10, noon—The Sturgeon Queens
The Sturgeon Queens Bay Area Premiere (USA, 2013) For New Yorkers noshing on smoked fish and fine appetizers wouldn’t be the same without the venerable Russ & Daughters which celebrates its centennial this year. . Julie Cohen, NY Emmy winner and founder of BetterThanFiction Productions, tells the story —100 years, 4 generations, 1.8 million pounds of pickled herring—delightfully. It’s really a love story of family bonding and fish. And of a noun called “appetizing”—a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American (especially New York) Jews and has its origins in the Eastern European Jewish tradition of starting meals with cold appetizers, known in Yiddish as “forshpayz”….modern day translation “the foods one eats with bagels.” One hundred years ago, workaholic founding father Joel Russ started hawking fine herring on the streets of New York with a push-cart and finally scrimped enough to get his own store on the lower East Side. This is literally the house that herring built. His three daughters, the Sturgeon Queens—Anne, Hattie and Ida—helped out their dad and worked behind the counter for decades, pulling their husbands and relatives right along. In the film we hear from two of the sisters, now grandmas—100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman who still banter delightfully while reflecting on lives richly lived and customers who passed through their doors. Their grandchildren, who run the store today, Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper, talk about carrying on the Russ tradition and bringing this institution into the age of computers and author Mark Russ Federman (Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from the House that Herring Built, 2013) adds more mouthwatering detail. Well-known enthusiasts of the store add spice—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, chef Mario Batali, New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, and 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer. 54 min (Screens at noon) Will screen on various PBS stations later this year.
Sunday, August 10, 1:45 p.m.—Touchdown Israel
Touchdown Israel World Premiere, filmmaker Paul Hirschberger in attendance with post-screening Q&A (USA, Israel, 2014) Israel is the last place you would expect the corn-fed, Friday Night Lights tradition of American football to catch on. But don’t tell that to the passionate players and coaches in the 11-team Israel Football League, who play for nothing but pride and have had to endure years of matches played on woefully short soccer fields, under bad lighting, with no locker rooms, in front of an indifferent public. Touchdown Israel is a surprising look at how the gridiron sport has found an unlikely toehold in the Holy Land. Initially imported in the 1990s by American-born Israelis who deeply missed the scrimmages of their youth, American football in Israel has had to counter not only the vastly more popular appeal of soccer and basketball, but legions of Jewish mothers worried about their grown sons’ injuries. As league macher Steve Leibowitz claims, “Jewish mothers somehow don’t get it, it’s nice to be bruised.” But the documentary has serious points to make as well, as it examines the Jewish-Arab camaraderie (and occasional tensions) within the multiethnic lineup of the Tel Aviv–Jaffa Sabres, as well as the controversial “bad boy” profile of the Judean Rebels, a team composed largely of West Bank settlers. Some rivalries go deeper than sports. (Synopsis by Peter Stein) 85 min (Screens at 1:45 p.m.)
Sunday, August 10, 4:15 p.m.—Watchers of the Sky
Watchers of the Sky CA Premiere The term “genocide” was created by the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, and first used in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. MacArthur Award-winning documentarian, Edit Belzberg, explores Lemkin’s legacy in creating an international framework for prosecuting acts aimed at the intentional destruction of a people. At Sundance, this smart doc picked up an Editing Award and Special Jury Award for Use of Animation US Documentary. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2013), Belzberg takes you on a very disturbing experiential journey over the past century of genocide intercutting Lemkin’s story with interviews from Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz; journalist-turned-UN ambassador Samantha Power, who covered Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing; Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, who is building the case against Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir over the deaths in Darfur; and Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide now aiding Darfur refugees in Chad. Belberg evokes Lemkin’s spirit through quotes from his memoirs and wonderful animation. This is a must-see primer in human rights awareness and action. Watchers of the Sky will open theatrically in the US in October 2014. 114 min (Screens 4:45 p.m.)
Details: The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 Fourth Street in San Rafael. Metered parking is available on the street or chose from several lots close by. The San Rafael portion of the festival starts Friday, August 8, 2014, and runs through Sunday, August 10, 2014. Tickets: $14; $13 seniors and students. Advance purchase is recommended—click on film links below or visit www.sfjff.org or call 415.621.0523. (Rafael passes, CFI Fast Passes or members’ discounts are not valid for these screenings.) The Rafael box office will not sell advance tickets; however, it will sell tickets remaining for various screenings on the day of their screening.
Full Schedule, SFJFF 34 at Smith Rafael Film Center, Friday (Aug 8)–Sunday (Aug 10)
2:10 p.m. Mamele (dir. Joseph Green, Konrad Tom, USA, 1938, 97 min)
4:20 p.m. Swim Little Fish Swim (dir. Ruben Amar, USA, France, 2013, 96 min)
6:30 p.m. The Green Prince West Coast Premiere (dir. Nadav Schirman, Germany, Israel, UK, 2014, 99 min,
8:45 p.m. 24 Days U.S. Premiere (dir. Alexandre Arcady, France, 2014, 111 min)
1 p.m. My Own Man CA Premiere (dir. David Sampliner, USA, 2014, 83 min)
3 p.m. Little White Lie World Premiere (dir. Lacey Schwartz, USA, 2014, 65 min)
4:45 p.m. God’s Slave (Ecsclavo de Dios) Bay Area Premiere (dir. Joel Novoa, Argentina, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela, 90 min)
6:50 p.m. El Critico CA Premiere (dir. Hernán Guerschuny, Argentina, 2013, 90 min)
8:55 p.m. Comedy Warriors Northern CA Premiere John Wagner (USA, 2014) 75 min
12 noon The Sturgeon Queens Bay Area Premiere (dir. Julie Cohen, USA, 2013, 54 min)
1:45 p.m. Touchdown Israel World Premiere (dir. Paul Hirschberger, USA, Israel, 2014, 85 min)
4:15 p.m. Watchers of the Sky CA Premiere (dir. Edit Belzberg, USA, 2013, 114 min)
6:45 p.m. Snails in the Rain CA Premiere (dir. Yariv Mozer, Israel, 2013, 82 min)
8:40 p.m. A Place in Heaven CA Premiere (dir. Yossi Madmoni, Israel, 2013, 117 min)
San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival kicks-off this Thursday, July 24, with a line-up highlighting the diversity of films and cultures and a long-weekend of programming in Marin, August 8-10
The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 34) opens Thursday evening at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with the West Coast premiere of Nadav Schirman’s “The Green Prince,” the opening night film at Sundance and the winner of the World Documentary Audience Award. The double-dealing doc follows a Palestinian in Ramallah, Mosab Hassan Yousef, who grows up angry and ready to fight Israel. When he is arrested for smuggling guns at the age of 17, he’s interrogated by the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, and sent to prison. Shocked by Hamas’ ruthless tactics in the prison and the organization’s escalating campaign of suicide bombings outside, Mosab agrees to spy for Israel. For him, there is no greater shame. For his Shin Bet handler, Gonen, there is no greater prize than “operating” the oldest son of a founding member of Hamas. Their forced relationship and its complex psychological dynamic fuels a well-told story. Director Nadav Schirman’s previous films include The Champagne Sky (2007) winner of the Israeli Academy Award for best documentary film and the John Schlesinger Award for Outstanding First Feature, and In the Dark Room (2013). Schirman will be in attendance on Opening Night and on Saturday, July 26th at the CinéArts@ Palo Alto screening. Additional screenings will take place on Sunday, August 3rd at the California Theater in Berkeley and on Friday, August 8th the Smith-Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. (Click here for additional information on screenings.)
A festive Opening Night Party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco follows Thursday evening’s opening night screening.
SFJFF 34 includes 67 films from 17 countries, including 44 premieres, a wide spectrum of stimulating discussions, 33 visiting filmmakers and international guests and several wonderful parties.
There are eight Bay Area venues—
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at Market), San Francisco, (July 24 – Aug. 3) Click here for screenings.
Rayko Photo Center, 428 Third Street, San Francisco (Aug. 1) Click here for screenings.
California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, (Aug. 1 – Aug 7) Click here for screenings.
Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison St, Berkeley (Aug 2) Click here for screenings.
Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Avenue, Oakland (Aug. 8 – 10) Click here for screenings.
New Parkway Theater, 474 24th Street, Oakland (Aug. 7) Click here for screenings.
CinéArts @ Palo Alto Square, 3000 El Camino Real Bldg #6, Palo Alto, (July 26 – July 31) Click here for screenings.
Smith-Rafael Film Center, 1118 4th Street, San Rafael (August 8-10) Click here for screenings.
Stay tuned to ARThound for detailed coverage of the festival’s 14 films which will be screened at the acoustically stellar Smith-Rafael Film Center on Friday, August 8 through Sunday, August 10, 2014.
Details: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 34 is July 24 to August 10, 2014. For general festival programming and to purchase tickets, visit www.sfjff.org or phone the Box Office at 415.621.0523. All-Festival passes, discount cards and special prices for students and seniors are available.
Old and treasured—The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 29-June 1 at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre
On Thursday, the always popular San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre and runs through Sunday with a program of 19 rare silent-era gems well worth coming into San Francisco for. From iconic silent film actors to fantastic restorations, this year’s lineup spans the far corners of the globe and delivers an outstanding mix from cinema’s golden age. Now in its 19th year, SFSFF this presents these gems in all their glory as they were meant to be seen—on the big screen, with live musical accompaniment, in the beautiful Castro theatre, a beloved San Francisco landmark built in 1992 during the silent era. The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling is what keeps me coming back again and again. This year’s festival includes early films from China, France, Germany (2), Japan, UK (2), Sweden and the USSR (2). The line-up includes such rarities as the first footage of Tibet and Everest; the first social realist film in Chinese cinema; an early feminist story from Sweden, and a 1924 tour of Moscow where an American learns that the Soviets are not the Barbarians he expected they were. The Castro seats 1400 but these films are immensely popular, so do buy your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get a seat.
Last week, I was able to speak with festival director Anita Monga about the festival and these early foreign gems—
For people who have just one day to devote to the festival, what do you recommend?
Anita Monga—Saturday, May 31. At noon, we’ve got something really special. French film preservationist and entertainer, Serge Bromberg, is coming in from Paris for “Treasure Trove”— a screening and conversation about some new discoveries. Film historian, Fernando Peña, is also coming from Argentina. The program will be focused on Peña’s discovery last year of a lost version of Buster Keaton’s short “The Blacksmith,” a huge discovery in the world of film. Peña is the same guy who discovered an original uncut version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” in Argentina’s Museo del Cine a few years back. In this version of “The Blacksmith,” there are several minutes of never-before-seen Keaton gags and film’s ending is different too. It’s rare, but there have been cases where different versions of a film have cropped up because, during the Silent Era, it was common that two cameras would be placed side by side, each shooting, producing two separate sets of negatives. It’s a real coup that we were able to get these two great film historians to San Francisco at the same time to make this presentation. So this is going to be great.
What can you tell us about John Noel’s “The Epic of Everest” (1924) which also screens Saturday? I understand that the explorer John Noel first made his first attempt to get to Everest through Tibet in 1913 but failed and that the British Film Institute is commemorating the centenary of that heroic effort with the restoration of the 1924 film, which was actually the third British expedition attempting Everest.
Anita Monga—This is an amazing documentary. It includes the earliest film footage of Tibetan culture and captures British explorers’ Mallory and Irvine’s tragic attempt to reach the summit of Everest. This was created back in the era where we had already reached the North and South Poles and the allure of the world’s highest summit had the entire world transfixed. It’s got everything—gorgeous shots that capture the thrill of this difficult journey and the amazing Stephen Horne will be on the piano accompanying.
I understand that film was made under extremely difficult conditions at high altitudes and in very low temperatures. The negatives were sent down the mountain and across the Tibetan plains by yak to Darjeeling where Noel had set up a special laboratory to process the films. (To read an article about the BFI’s restoration efforts, undertaken with Noel’s daughter, Sandra Noel, click here.)
Anita Monga— Yes. The circumstances under which this was filmed make it all the more special. We (the festival) are presenting the BFI National Archive with a special award on Saturday honoring their exceptional restoration work which has recreated the film’s original beauty. Another special event on Saturday evening will be Gerhard Lamprecht’s “Under the Lantern” (Unter der Laterne, 1928), a rarely screened German film which tells the story of a good girl’s fall into prostitution, a common theme of the silent era. We’re screening a newly restored 35 mm version. The Donald Sosin Ensemble, which will accompany the film, is one of the most extraordinary performances that you will ever experience, so prepare to be transported right into Weimar Germany.
You’ve got two early Russian films this year. The one that caught my eye was Lev Kuleshov’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks” (1924), a satire that explores stereotypes of Russians and Americans and includes spectacular footage of Moscow in the 1920’s. It’s also a prime example of early Soviet montage cinema, a new form of cinema that emerged in the 1920’ that was influential to subsequent generations of Russian filmmakers.
Anita Monga — The Landmark Theatres used to have a trailer that ran before every film with a globe and a narrator saying “The Language of Cinema is universal…” and this film fits right into that because it makes a very funny but important point about how the Americans are afraid of the Bolsheviks without really knowing much about them. This film appropriates American iconography and very cleverly tells a story of an American businessman who takes a business trip to Russia and comes away with an entirely different impression. Kuleshov also mimicked the American style of filmmaking and ended up with a new style of film—montage—which became very influential.
Who decides what films will be included in the festival and what criteria is used?
Anita Monga—I do. Sometimes things just happen in the film world. For example, Edwin Carewe’s “Ramona” (1928) (screening Friday at 7:30 p.m.) had the big world premiere of its restoration in March in Los Angeles and I knew we had to have it. It was done by a Native American director which makes it rare to start with. For decades, it was considered lost but actually it has a remarkable survival story behind it that includes a Czech print being confiscated by the Nazis and going to Berlin and Russia and back to Czechoslovakia and then to the U.S. where it was recently restored. So there are films surfacing for some topical reason that I include. This year, we’re giving a special award to the British Film Institute so we’re screening two British Films—“Epic of Everest” and Maurice Elvey’s “The Sign of Four” (1923), a Sherlock Holmes adventure that was adapted from Conan Doyle’s novel. And there are some films that have been on my radar for a long time like Leo Mittler’s “Harbor Drift” (1929), a masterpiece which is set in Hamburg, Germany, during the period of extreme unemployment and destitution and its characters are all desperate and brought together by a beautiful pearl necklace which could change their lives forever. We’re going for diversity and unique appeal.
On Sunday, you’re screening two films that feature take charge young women—Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl” (1933) which has Kinuyo Tanaka in an early role as a typist by day and gangster’s moll by night and Swedish director Karin Swanström’s “The Girl in Tails” (1926) which is the story of a young girl who isn’t able to have a dress for her graduation so she goes in her brother’s tuxedo instead.
Anita Monga—One of the big stars of “The Girl in Tails” is the director, Karin Swanström, who was extremely powerful and influential woman in Sweden in the 1920’s. This was the last film she directed and it’s fantastic. She plays a country matron. The girl’s story is something that was common: she fills in as a caretaker in the family to her recently widowed father and brother. She does the work but the boy gets all the perks. like great clothes. Things erupt when she is denied a new dress for a school dance and comes to the dance in one of her brother’s suits.
There are a lot of great musicians at the festival who seem to be regulars and they travel great distances to perform here. How would new talent break in to what seems to be a pretty close-knit group?
Anita Monga—It’s really difficult because music is expensive and it’s such an important part of the experience. I would love to have more musicians at the festival but there’s nobody that we’ve brought to the festival that we don’t want to have back again…they’re literally the best in the world at what they do. This year we’re bringing in a new German percussionist, Frank Bocklus, who will be sitting in with several musicians and playing in the Donald Sosin Ensemble, along with bass player Guenter Buchwald who is also new. Our primary consideration is ultimately they have to be really good and very tuned in to the film itself. Matti Bye, a festival favorite, also does scoring for contemporary films in Sweden and is in high demand for that.
Has the San Francisco Symphony’s film series, Film Night with the San Francisco Symphony, which includes a film and live orchestra experience, had any impact on your festival? I’ve been amazed at the series popularity—it’s brought a new and much younger audience out to the Davies Hall and it’s wonderful. I caught Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” there in April and loved every minute of it. They’re doing Disney’s “Fantasia” this weekend.
Anita Monga—We hope there’s some spillover. The Symphony does films that have full orchestral scores and the Chaplin films, for example, require presenting the full orchestral score by Chaplin. Many of the silent features have that stricture, that they cannot be performed live but they can be shown with the sound track that accompanies it and, of course, at this festival, we do live musical accompaniment but not full orchestration. We always promote their showings and we’re great fans.
What can you tell us about the festival audience?
Anita Monga—San Francisco is a very special place for film, period. The audience, which comes from all over the country, is also special and very adventurous. They are willing to try things they don’t already know and that’s a huge part of this festival—taking it on faith that it’s going to be good. Once they get through the door, they get how rare this live cinema experience is and how much logistical planning goes into preparing such an expansive program. The real pleasure is in discovering new names and making all sorts of connections. And in between films, they get to experience the wonderful Castro neighborhood.
Details: The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs Thursday, May 29, 2014 through Sunday, June 1, 2014 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $15 to $20; click here to purchase tickets. Festival Pass $190 for Silent Film Festival members and $225 general. Click here to purchase passes. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org
Parking Alert: If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available. Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.
The 57th annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) opened Thursday and runs for 15 days, featuring 168 films and live events from 56 countries in 40 languages—74 narrative features, 29 documentary features, 65 shorts, 14 juried awards, and over 100 participating filmmakers. So, how to choose? On Tuesday (click here to read), I covered the festival’s big nights and special programming. To further narrow the field, here’s my list of must-see films. If a film sounds interesting, don’t dally in pre-purchasing tickets, as most of the films will go to rush. (Click here to see which films are at rush now; the list is updated constantly.)
ARThound’s Top Picks—
All About the Feathers (Neto Vittalobos, 2013, 85 min) First-time Costa Rican director Neto Vittalobos has knocked it out of the park with this delightfully absurdist comedy about a security guard Chalo (Allan Cascante) in a small Costa Rican town who becomes almost co-dependent with “Rocky,” his fighting cock who happens to have gorgeous feathers. Chalo sees dollar signs as he dreams of Rocky pecking out the eyes of other roosters in a cockfighting event, the town’s main form of entertainment. But, just as you soon as you can figure out how to say “You can’t count your chickens before they hatch,” in Spanish, complications ensue and Chalo is out on the street trying to survive with a large noisy rooster. (Screens: Fri, April 25, 6:30 p.m., BAM/PFA, Sun, April 27, 8:45 p.m. and Tues, April 29, 6:15 p.m., both at Sundance Kabuki)
The Last Season (Sara Dosa, USA, 78 min) World Premiere The lives of some 200 seasonal Asian workers—allies and enemies from Southeast Asian wars— unfold as they set up a temporary camp each fall in the tiny town of Chemult, Oregon, to forage for a rare mushroom that is prized in Japan for its distinctive spicy aroma. From this unexpected forest world and its temporary tent city, filmmaker Sara Dosa explores the legacy of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge, poetically tells the story of a migrant community at the whims of the global economy. (Screens: Fri, April 25, 6:45 p.m., Sundance Kabuki, Sun, April 27, 12:30 p.m., BAM/PFA, Sun, May 5, 3:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki)
Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Dast-Neveshtehaa Nemisoosand) (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran, 2013, 127 min) Based on a true story, this gripping thriller tells the story of a failed effort by the Iranian government to murder almost two dozen journalists in 1995. The story is told through the journey of two hired killers who, years later, are intimidating and interrogating witnesses of the failed mass murder on behalf of the repressive regime. Shot on location in Iran, the film blatantly defies Rasoulof’s 20-year ban from filmmaking and serves as a chilling indictment of contemporary Iran. This is Rasoulof’s third film to screen at SFIFF ( The White Meadows (2010) SFIFF 53; Goodbye (2011) SFIFF 55) but he has yet to make an appearance. One the great masters of Iranian film, Rasoulof is a great storyteller and his films are loaded with images that are both picturesque and eerily disturbing. (Screens: Fri, April 25, 8:40 p.m., BAM/PFA, Sun, April 27, 4 p.m. and Tues, April 29, 9 p.m. both at Sundance Kabuki)
The Great Museum (Das große museum) US Premiere (Johannes Holzhausen, 2014, 95 min) —An elegant tribute to the curators, conservators, administrators and marketers who keep Vienna’s venerable Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM), in delicate balance so that the world’s cultural heritage is preserved and modern audiences find the exhibits relevant and engaging. Home to the vast collection put together by the Hapsburg dynasty, the stately KHM is one the world’s most important museums. Last year, SFIFF 56 offered Jem Cohen’s delicate Museum Hours (2012), which captured a random encounter between a middle-aged KHM guard and a museum visitor, giving us a glimpse of the institution’s glorious Dutch and Flemish paintings and inserting KHM into the film as enigmatic character.
Documentary filmmaker Holzhausen, who studied art history for six years before entering film school, offers more of a window into the museum’s day-to-day routine. He focuses on its employees’ micro-dramas—from the managing director to the cleaning services team. For example, a conservator who discovers that a Rubens painting has been painted over several times; an art historian who experiences the thrill and frustration of an auction, and the chief financial officer who thinks the “3” on the new promotional material looks “aggressive”. The film also tackles some profound issues: Is it possible to reconcile the conservation with timely presentation? What is art’s role in the representation of national identity in politics and tourism? The film’s precise camera work (Joerg Burger, Attila Boa) and poignant editing (Dieter Pichler) serve to create an atmosphere of patient observation and reflection. Holzhausen’s working rule—“only show the pieces of art in the context of work being done and never on their own.” (extracted from interview in press kit) (Screens: Sat, April 26, 6:30 p.m., New People)
Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze, Georgia/Estonia, 2013, 84 min) An old man caught in the brutal 1992 conflict over Georgia’s Abkhazia region finds himself nursing two wounded soldiers from opposing sides in his small house and struggling to navigate any form of truce between these blood rivals. Gorgeously filmed in Georgia’s mountainous coastal region, this slow-paced and perceptive antiwar tale observes the growing conflict from a tangerine orchard on a remote mountain. Recent events in the Ukraine make Tangerines especially relevant. (Screens: Sat, April 26, 2014, 9 p.m. and Sun, April 27, 6:15 p.m., both at Sundance Kabuki, and Tues, May 6, 8:30 p.m., BAM/PFA)
Soul Food Stories (Istoria za hranata i dushata) (Tonislav Hristov, Bulgaria/Finland, 2013, 69 min) U.S. Premiere “Everything bad comes from TV. It taught our women to argue with us.” That’s the opening line of Tonislav Hristov’s Bulgarian documentary Soul Food Stories, which serves as warm clever exploration of gender, tradition and community in the tiny Southwestern Bulgarian village of Satovcha. The elderly inhabitants are Muslim, Christian, Roma and atheist Communists and there’s also a Finnish family, the first tourists to stay longer than 10 days in Satovchka. Theyare all united by a love of food, a respect for the land and by the friendly clubs they have set up. The films zeros in seven members of one of these clubs—all men—who meet regularly and say they can solve all the world’s problems over a good meal. They cherish their space and are trying to decide whether or not to allow the women of Satovcha more acess to the clubhouse. Beautifully shot, the film unfolds like a simple but sumptuous 10-course meal, with observations on food preparation and religious diversity generously laced into the recipes. (Screens: Wed, April 30, 2014, 6 p.m., Sundance Kabuki, Sat, May 3, 3:30 p.m., New People Cinema, Tuesday, May 6, Sundance Kabuki
Of Horses and Men (Hross í oss) (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2013, 81 min) Laced with explicit equine sex, gaited trotting ponies and chock full of gorgeously shot vistas of the Icelandic landscape, actor Benedikt Erlingsson’s directorial debut is a delightfully comedic exploration of the base animal instincts in all of us. Set in a rural highlands community where horses (and drinking) are a crucial part of the social interaction, the director shows us the world of his human characters through their horses’ expressive eyes. The old proverb “pride cometh before a great fall” seems particularly well-suited to the stubborn and irrational Nordic characters in these interlacing vignettes. Erlingsson was brought up in downtown Reykjavík, but as a teen, he worked several summers on a horse farm in the highlands of northern Iceland. Iceland’s Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. (Screens: Fri, May 2, 4:30 p.m. and Sat, May 3, 8:45 p.m. and Sun, May 5, 6 p.m.—all at Sundance Kabuki)
SFIFF 57 Details:
When: SFIFF 57 runs April 24-May 8, 2014.
Where: Four Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Salon and Event Venues (all San Francisco): Filmhouse, 1426 Fillmore Street, Suite 300 (near Ellis), Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery Street (near Lincoln), The Chapel, 777 Valencia Street (at 18th Street) , The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, 1290 Sutter Street (at Van Ness), Roe Restaurant, 651 Howard Street; Public Works, 161 Erie Street (at Mission)
Tickets: $15 for most films. Special events generally start at $20 or $35. Two screening passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1200 Film Society members and $1500 general public). How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival at Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema. Purchase day of show, cash only tickets at Pacific Film Archive and Castro Theatre.
Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush. Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).
Arrive Early! Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.
Rush tickets: Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time. If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time.
More info: For full schedule, info, tickets visit www.festival.sffs.org. or call (415) 561-5000.
San Francisco Symphony’s Film Series—Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights” with live music at Davies Symphony Hall this Saturday, April 12, 2014
Slapstick, pathos, pantomime, melodrama, physical prowess, and, of course, the Little Tramp—all of these led renowned film critic Robert Ebert to proclaim that Charley Chaplin’s masterpiece of the Silent Era, City Lights, “comes closest to representing all the different notes of his genius.” Written by, directed by, and starring Chaplin, the enchanting romantic comedy from 1931 features Chaplin in his greatest role ever, the Little Tramp. A fellow to whom who everyman could relate, the Tramp was tossed about by life but not so battered that he couldn’t pick himself up and, with dignity, carry on. This Saturday, April 14, 2104, guest conductor Richard Kaufman, who has devoted much of his career to the music of film, conducts the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in City Lights with Orchestra. The program is part of the new SFS film series which delivers edge-of-your seat thrillers, epic dramas, and animated classics on a huge screen in gorgeous Davies Symphony Hall with live music, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. ARThound has attended several of these film nights and Davies Hall gets delightfully and refreshingly giddy as octogenarians and 8-year-olds connect over the magic of film and music.
The story: City Lights was released three years into the talkies era but Chaplin decided it should be a silent film with sound effects but no speech. His beloved Tramp had communicated very effectively with a worldwide audience exclusively through mime—Chaplin’s Little Tramp appeared in over 80 movies from 1914 to 1967—and Chaplin was not going to change the formula. In City Lights, the Tramp fixes his romantic gaze on someone who can’t return it—a spunky blind flower girl played by the luminous Virginia Cherrill. He also befriends an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers) who forgets who Chaplin is when he’s sober, providing some of the funniest scenes in any of Chaplin’s films. As the Tramp attempts to get money for an operation that will restore the blind girl’s sight, Chaplin exquisitely interweaves pathos and comedy to wrench maximum emotion from each scene. When the lonely millionaire contemplates suicide, it’s tragic. When the benevolent Tramp tries to save him from drowning, and accidentally ends up with a weight pinned to his own neck, Chaplin creates an ideal framework for sentiment and laughs. But that’s just one example in dozens of the seamless and brilliant storytelling that occurs in this film. The movie’s last scene, justly famous as one the great emotional moments in films is bound to bring tears to your eyes. When Chaplin’s friend, Albert Einstein, attended the Los Angeles premiere of City Lights, he was reported to be have been seen wiping his eyes. ARThound especially loves the scene where the Tramp swallows a whistle and starts whistling every time he breathes, gathering a large following of dogs and hailing taxi’s.
The delicate onscreen chemistry between Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill is a delight to behold. Cherrill had the distinction of being the only leading lady of Chaplin’s silent features whom he neither married nor was linked romantically to. He cast her solely for her photogenic beauty—without a screen test—and their strong personalities clashed and he fired her halfway through the two-year shoot, only to have to woo her back.
The music: If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of watching a silent film accompanied by live music, City Lights is the film to initiate yourself with and SFS is your orchestra. The exaggerated dynamics and exquisite timing, so integral to the visual experience of City Lights, are enlivened by a musical score which beautifully punctuates the film’s epic tragic-comic moments. This was Chaplin’s first attempt at composing the music to one of his films and he wrote many of its stirring melodies while acclaimed composers Arthur Johnston (“Pennies from Heaven”) and Alfred Newman assisted with arrangement and orchestration. The process took six weeks. And, as was customary in the scoring for silent pictures, the Wagnerian leitmotiv system was employed with Chaplin creating a distinctive musical theme identified with each character and idea.
According to Theodore Huff’s analysis of the City Lights score (“Chaplin as a Composer” in his biography Charlie Chaplin, New York, Henry Schuman, 1951, pp. 234-41), Chaplin composed twenty discrete themes and ninety-five cues, not including instrumental bits that animate the action. Not all the melodies are by Chaplin. The score generously samples other well-known tunes, either undisguised or in variational form, from “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Old Folks at Home,” and “Scheherazade” to “I Hear You Calling,” “How Dry I Am,” and “St. Louis Blues.” These mesh with Chaplin’s more generic renditions of jazz, opera, the waltz, the rhumba, the tango, the apache dance, and his blues fanfare for trumpet, a refrain throughout the film. On the whole though, the score hardly seems a generic mish-mash–it’s tailored to each scene, it amplifies emotions, comments on the action, and even creates jokes.
The legacy: When City Lights debuted in New York in 1931, it was so popular that the theater had continual showings from 9 a.m. to midnight, every day except Sunday. According to film historian Charles Maland, “by the end of 1931, the [United Artists’] ledgers reveal, City Lights had already accumulated more domestic rentals than The Circus and over 90 percent of the domestic rentals that The Gold Rush had garnered since 1925.” Critics showered it with praise as well. The Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1931, however, went to another silent film, F.W. Murnau’s Tabu. Many expected City Lights to win, but it wasn’t even nominated. As film historian William M. Drew speculated, “Perhaps Chaplin’s perceived audacity in persisting in making a silent film in Hollywood after sound had arrived … seemed too great an act of insubordination for the industry to honor.” (quotes extracted from Mental Floss Magazine, February 24, 2012)
Run-time: Approximately 80 minutes, no intermission.
Pre- and post-show Events: Arrive early and visit the lobby bars for a cocktail created especially for this concert!
- Casablanca (sparkling wine, Grand Marnier, Remy VSOP, lemon twist)
- French Connection (Grey Goose, Chambord, pineapple juice, sparkling wine, lemon twist)
Details: “City Lights with Orchestra” is Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 8PM at 8 PM at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. LIMITED AVAILABILITY Tickets: $41 to $156; purchase online here, or, call (415) 864-6000. For more information, visit www.sfsymphony.org.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue, at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently congestion en route to Davies Hall. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice as these also fill up early on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)