ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 45th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 6-16: Big Nights Galore!

Following the West Coast premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s drama, “The Whale,” star Brendan Fraser, will appear in conversation and receive a MVFF acting award on Thursday, October 13 at Mill Valley’s Sequoia Theater. Frasier, the subject of Oscar buzz,  recently received a six-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival for his acting as a 600 pound gay literature teacher who is confined to a wheelchair, trying to reconnect with his 17 year-old daughter and binge-eating himself to death.  Photo: courtesy A24

The 45th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 6-16, has its pre-pandemic groove back, offering 145 films from 34 countries—49 premieres, hot tickets from Cannes, Berlin, Venice, an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a special Bay Area stamp. The festival is live, with theaters at full seating capacity, and several films and programs can be streamed from home. Tickets for non-CFI (California Film Institute ) members are on sale now and going fast.  Most in-theater screenings, save a few big nights, are available now. This won’t last for long, so browse the program and don’t dally in pre-purchasing tickets.  Several of these films will figure in the looming Oscar race and it’s very gratifying to say “I already saw that,” and even more meaningful if you’ve experienced an on-stage conversation.  Below, ARThound covers this year’s eight big nights and a follow-up article will cover recommendations from the standard program.

BIG NIGHTS:

Thursday, October 6, 6 pm: Opening Night—Glass Onion: A Knives out Mystery, CinéArts Sequoia and Smith Rafael Film Center:

A scene from “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” Image: Netflix

Humor, a whodunit mystery and wonderful acting from a star-studded cast—opening night is Academy Award® and Golden Globe®-nominated filmmaker Rian Johnson’sGlass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” with talent in attendance. A follow-up to “Knives Out” (MVFF42) starring Daniel Craig as amazing sleuth Benoit Blanc, this smart Netflix mystery begins when a group of old friends all receive an unexpected invitation in the form of an intricate puzzle box.  What begins as a game however soon turns into something more nefarious as the guests arrive at their mega-rich host, Mile’s (Edward Norton) private island.  Wherever Benoit goes, murder is likely to follow.   With quick wits and aplomb, the guests are soon entangled in solving a puzzle that will reveal Benoit’s murderer.  

Enjoy an on-stage chat with the celebs in attendance—writer-director Rian Johnson, actors Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., and Kate Hudson, producer Ram Bergman. Don’t forget the optional MVFF Opening Night Gala at Marin Country Mart Larkspur celebrating the glamor of cinema with delicious local cuisine, great music and flowing spirits shared with attending special guests, filmmakers, film fans.

Saturday, October 8, 6:30 pm: Armageddon Time—Tribute to James Gray, Smith Rafael Film Center

Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in a scene from “Armageddon Time.” Image: Focus Features

In “Armageddon Time,” his eighth feature film, acclaimed American director James Gray returns again to New York, this time to his childhood stomping grounds, the area between Brooklyn and Queens. He has orchestrated another brilliant character study, as well as a powerful exploration of racism, white privilege, and parenting.  The film rests on two exceptional young actors: Banks Repeta, 14, and Jaylin Webb 16.  Banks Repeta stars as Paul, a white kid living in Queens in the early 1980s, hoping to escape his parents’ working-class suburban life and become an artist.  When he befriends Johnny (Jaylin Webb), his Black public school classmate, his education in life begins; it then ratchets into high gear when he transfers to an elite private school where racism is du jour. Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong play Paul’s weary parents, with Anthony Hopkins as his astute grandfather, the one person who gets him and talks openly with him about racism, civil rights, mistreating Blacks and his own experience as a Jew.  Paul wises up, awakening to the difference between what his parents and other adults preach and what they actually do.  It’s all set against the backdrop of the soon to be Reagan-era with the appearance of some Trumps as well.

Sunday, October 9, 5 pm—Women Talking: Spotlight & Mind the Gap Ensemble Award, Smith Rafael Film Center

A still from Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking.”  L to R: Michelle McLeod stars as Mejal, Sheila McCarthy as Greta, Liv McNeil as Neitje, Jessie Buckley as Mariche, Claire Foy as Salome, Kate Hallett as Autje, Rooney Mara as Ona and Judith Ivey as Agata. Michael Gibson © 2022 Orion Releasing LLC.

With a cast that includes Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand (in a tiny but crucial role), Canadian director Sarah Polley has found her own version of a horrific true story from 2011, which inspired Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel of the same name. The events took place in an ultra-conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia and involve a group of men who were convicted of drugging and serially raping over 100 women from their community. In “Women Talking,” the women hold a secret meeting to decide how to respond to being drugged and raped by the men in their sect. Their poignant daylong deliberations in the barn’s hayloft reveal the various ways that women respond to violence and the choices they can make.

Representing the ensemble, inimitable Frances McDormand will appear on stage in conversation. She has received four Academy Awards, two Primetime Emmy Awards and one Tony Award, making her one of the few to achieve acting’s Triple Crown.  Thoughtful and feisty, with over four decades of acting experience, McDormand is sure to wow us.

Tuesday, October 11, 7pm—Till: Mind the Gap Centerpiece Award: Creativity and Truth, CinéArts Sequoia

 
(L to R) Jayln Hall as Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till-Mobley in a scene from “Till,” directed by Chinonye Chukwu. Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon/Orion Pictures.

“Till” is the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler) and her dogged pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmette Louis Till (Jalyn Hall) who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency MVFF42) focuses the horrific story on the grief-stricken mother, a teacher, who boldly decides to seek justice for her son and whose action changes the course of history.  The cast includes Whoopi Goldberg.  Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu will appear in conversation.

Thursday, October 13, 7pm—The Whale: Tribute to Bredan Fraser, CinéArts Sequoia

To play the lead character in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” Brendan Fraser wore a prosthetic suit that added anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds depending on the scene. He spent up to six hours in the makeup chair each day to fully transform into his character, a 600 pound morbidly obese man.  Image: Getty

Friday, October 14, 6 pm—Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths: Spotlight on DANIEL GIMÉNEZ CACHO + Presentation of the MVFF award for Acting, Smith Rafael Film Center

Daniel Giménez Cacho in a still from Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.”  Image: MVFF

Five time-Oscar®-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Biutiful,” MVFF33; “The Revenant”) delivers what has been called an “immersive and visually-intoxicating modern day epic” centered on Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles who returns to Mexico after being named the recipient of an prestigious award.  Silverio is unaware of the impact this trip will have on his psyche and each of his days in his homeland brings profound hallucinogenic revelations about his identity and what it means to be human.  My first experience of Spanish born Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho was in Argentine director Lucretia Martel’s period drama, “Zama” (2017), where he gave a captivating performance as a magistrate in a remote outpost in 18th century Argentina.  This multiple Ariel award winner is best known in the US for portraying Tito the coroner in “Cronos” (1993).

Saturday, October 15, 6pm—Nanny: Spotlight on Nikyatu Jusu, CinéArts Sequoia

Ana Diop is Senaglaise nanny Aisha in Nikyatu’s drama “The Nanny,” an intense immigrant story inflicted with supernatural horror elements. Image: MVFF

Sierra Leonean-American filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature drama, “The Nanny,” premiered at Sundance and is the first horror film to win the grand jury prize. Ana Diop plays Senaglaise immigrant nanny, Aisha, who is living in New York and lands a job as a nanny caring for Rose (Rose Decker) the young daughter of affluent Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector). Aisha is working to provide a better life for her six-year-old son, Lamine, who she left in Senegal and hopes to bring to the US. Just as she gains confidence that things will work out, she experiences a discomforting haunting presence in the couple’s home—the West African water deity Mami Wata and Anansi the Spider. Increasingly distressed, she struggles to distinguish dreams from reality and to find balance between her two worlds. DP Rina Yang’s dynamic cinematography brings these eerie visions to life. Both Director Nikyatu Jusu and actor Ana Diop will appear on stage in conversation.

Saturday, October 15, 7 pm—Spotlight on Noah Baumbach: White Noise + Presentation of the MVFF Award for Screenwriting

Adam Driver in a scene from Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise.” Image: MVFF

Writer director producer Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise,” the film version of Don DeLillo’s 1985 National Book Award-winning novel of the same name, was the opening night film at Venice Film Festival. MVFF is honoring Baumbach with a special screenwriting award. This is his first film since his acclaimed “Marriage Story” (MVFF42 Ensemble Award) and he’s been a MVFF regular over the years—“The Squid and the Whale” (MVFF28) and “Margot at the Wedding” (MVFF30).  The film follows DeLillo’s plot closely with brilliantly punctuated scenes from its star cast. Jack (Adam Driver) is a star professor at a Midwestern college, who pioneered the field of Hitler studies. He and his fourth wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) share four ultra-modern children from their various marriages in a happy household. Don Cheadle adds a striking supporting twist as Murray, a professor starting a new field of Elvis studies with whom Jack shares kinship and friendly rivalry. Things begin to unravel as a toxic cloud drifts into their environs, prompting mass evacuation and giving voice to existential fears.

Details:

MVFF45 is October 6-16, 2021.  Tickets: purchase online and in advance as most films will sell out. Most films are $16.50 general admission, $14 CFI members.  Special events, parties, and receptions are more.  Streaming pass (for CA residents only) allows access to all online films, programs, conversations. $145 general, $105 for CFI members.  Single streaming of film or event $8 general; $6 CFI members. Complete schedule and ticket purchase: https://www.mvff.com/.

Sold out? Don’t Despair: Check the film/program’s specific page on the MVFF website at noon on the day of the program you want to see. Tickets may be released and available for immediate purchase online. Also, there are always rush tickets available 15 minutes before showtime at the screening venue. It’s first come, first serve, so join the line to wait about an hour before the screening.

Venues: Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael; CinéArts Sequoia, Mill Valley; Lark Theater, Larkspur; BAMPFA. Berkeley; The Roxie, San Francisco; Sweetwater Music Hall, Mill Valley; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, San Francisco

September 25, 2022 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zahi Hawass, the famed face of Egyptian archaeology, will speak at the de Young this Saturday, revealing new discoveries

Dr. Zahi Hawass, archaeologist, celebrity, and Egypt’s former minister of Antiquities. Photo: Egypt Today

Widely known as Egypt’s Indiana Jones, the renowned archaeologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, is speaking this Saturday, 2-3:30 pm, at the de Young’s Koret Auditorium, coinciding with the opening of the traveling Egyptian blockbuster, “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” (August 20, 2022 – February 12, 2023). Sponsored by FAMSF’s Ancient Art Council, this is the first of four guest lectures associated with the Ramses exhibition.  Anyone who has ever encountered the charismatic Hawass on the National Geographic or Discovery channels or caught his reality show, “Chasing Mummies: The Amazing Adventures of Zahi Hawass,” on the History Channel knows they’re in for a treat.  His thrilling in-the-trenches stories have revitalized interest in Egyptian archaeology around the world.  

Dr. Hawass will regale the audience with the discoveries at Saqqara, which has proven to be treasure trove that keeps on giving. Saqqara is where the oldest complete stone building complex in history was erected and where as many as 16 different Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs are thought to have planned and built their pyramids. Hawass will tell of a new pyramid in Saqqara; the name of a previously unknown queen; and the discovery of 57 shafts of coffins and mummies.  He will also discuss the ongoing excavation at Gisr el Mudir, in Saqqara, and the uncovering of major statues dating back 4,300 years ago found while searching for the missing pyramid of the Third-Dynasty King Huni.  He will touch upon recent excavations in the Valley of the Kings and the search for Nefertiti and Ankhesenamun (King Tut’s wife) and the use of  DNA analysis to complete the family tree of Tutankhamun.  The presentation will conclude with the amazing find of the Lost Golden City, near Luxor—considered the most important discovery of 2021

The ruins of a “lost golden city” in the southern province of Luxor, discovered in 2021. The city dates to the 1300s B.C.E., when it was founded by 18th dynasty king Amenhotep III, who ruled ancient Egypt from 1391 to 1353 B.C.  One of the most important finds since the unearthing of King Tutankhamun’s tomb 100 years ago in 1922, the city is believed to have been used by Tutankhamun and his successor Ay during a period widely believed to be the golden era of ancient Egypt. Image: AP

After earning a degree in Egyptology in Cairo, at age 33, Hawass earned a Fulbright fellowship, came to America, and completed his Ph.D. in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. In 2002, during Mubarak’s rule, he was appointed as Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which in 2011 became the Ministry of State for Antiquities. During his tenure, Hawass revolutionized archaeological site management in Egypt and revitalized its museum system, opening 15 museums to the public and initiating the construction of 20 more, including The Grand Egyptian Museum, slated to open in fall 2022 as the largest archaeological museum in the world with an extensive archaeological collection of some 50,000 artifacts and the full tomb collection of King Tutankhamun.

Hawass is a bold advocate for Egyptians reclaiming Egyptology and has successfully repatriated more than 5,000 artifacts. In 2020, he formed a committee that has been focusing efforts on the return of five priceless Egyptian artifacts: the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum; an exquisite bust of Nefertiti (1345 BCE) at Berlin’s Neues Museum; the Dendera zodiac sculpture (ca. 50 BCE) in the Louvre Museum; a statue of Hemiunu (Old Kingdom) at the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany; and a bust of Prince Ankhhaf (ca. 2520-2494 BCE) located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. So far, those institutions have refused.

ARThound’s Ramses coverage: “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” opens August 20 at the de Young—rare lion cub mummy and stunning virtual reality experience add to the buzz

Details: Lecture is 2-3:30 pm at the de Young’s Koret auditorium. Free but requires a ticket which will be distributed on a first-come first-served basis at 1 pm, just outside the Koret auditorium.  Seating is limited and unassigned.

Admission to  “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” is separate. Different prices for weekdays vs. weekends. FAMSF members free for one visit only; additional visits require $23 member tickets.  Non-member Adult prices: weekdays: $35; weekend $40.

Saturday, August 20, is free Saturday, which includes general museum entrance and all exhibits that do not have a surcharge, including  Faith Ringgold: American People, covering 50 years of the trailblazing Harlem-born African American artist’s work, the first retrospective celebrating her in almost 40 years (through November 27).

August 17, 2022 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” opens August 20 at the de Young—rare lion cub mummy and stunning virtual reality experience add to the buzz

Installation view of “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” at the de Young Museum August 20, 2022 -February 12, 2023. Image: World Heritage Exhibitions.

Closing summer with a bang, we’re off to ancient Egypt.  “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” opens Saturday, August 20, at the de Young Museum.  The first exhibition about Ramses the Great in over 30 years and the first ever in San Francisco, this multimedia extravaganza has the de Young as the second stop on its global tour. Fresh from its world premiere at HMNS (Houston Museum of Natural Sciences) where it received rave reviews, it includes 180 objects, the most important trove of treasures related to Ramses the Great ever to leave Egypt.

Many of these items are newly discovered and have never toured before. Among the rarest finds are recently excavated mummies of lion cubs from the Saqqara necropolis—a vast ancient burial ground, some 30 miles south of Cairo, that once served the Ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis—as well as treasures discovered in the royal tombs of Dahshur and Tanis.  

The de Young promises gallery after gallery of royal statues, sarcophagi, spectacular masks, magnificent jewelry, and ornate golden tomb treasures all revealing the fabulous wealth of the pharaohs, the astonishing skill of ancient Egyptian tomb builders, and the superb workmanship of Egyptian artists. Drone photography, immersive video and multimedia productions, and life-size photo-murals will re-create pivotal moments from Ramses’ life, including his monumental building projects and his triumph in May 1274 BC over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh (near the modern Lebanon–Syria border), considered the largest chariot battle ever fought. This exciting blending of art, history, and technology that will expand our understanding of Ramses’ as the most celebrated pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Egypt’s golden age.

Mummified lion cub, Egyptian late period, Ptolemaic Period, Linen, 5 1/8 x 13 ¾ x 7 1/16 inches, Sharm al-Sheik Museum.  In late 2019, five lion cub mummies were discovered in a catacomb of cat mummies underneath the ruins of the Bubasteion temple in Saqqara, some 20 miles south of Cairo, on the Nile’s West Bank.  Pior to that, only one other lion mummy had been discovered in Egypt.  The lion played a tremendous role in the iconography of ancient Egypt symbolizing royal authority and lions have been found on Egyptian royal beds and chairs.  Image: courtesy Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

“This is a once in a lifetime experience,” said curator Dr. Renée Dryfus, recently named FAMSF’s George and Judy Marcus Distinguished Curator in Charge, Ancient Art, who organized the exhibit’s presentation for the de Young. “These objects are coming from Egypt’s major museums and when they go back to Egypt, I doubt you will be seeing them again for many generations.”

Jewelry held a significant place in the lives of the ancient Egyptians, anchoring social status and helping them transcend into the afterlife. You’ll want to take your time with the exhibit’s stunning jewelry, noting its generous use of gold and semi-precious stones, intricate craftsmanship, and a built-in language of protection to ward off evil. If you’re like me, you’ll probably also be asking yourself why there is no tech gimmick that lets viewers try these on these exquisite pieces and imagine themselves as Egyptian royalty.

Ramses and his many wives and children wore elaborate gold earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces, examples of which are on display. They considered gold to be “the skin of the gods.” An ornate single gold earring bears the name of Ramses the Eleventh. Ramses II was so revered that, after his death, nine more Pharaohs bore his name. The three rows of decorations are tiny cobras snakes wearing sun disks and Atef crowns rearing up to strike anyone who dares to harm the King.

Eternally fashionable: Falcon-headed collar and counterweight of Princess Neferuptah. Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12 Gold, carnelian, and feldspar, 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm) Egyptian Museum, Cairo.  Photo: Sandro Vannini, FAMSF

A gorgeous collar, made of six rows of carnelian, feldspar, and glass paste beads with the bottom row droplets representing flower buds is one of the treasures discovered in the Hawara tomb of 12th dynasty Princess Neferuptah, daughter of Amenemhat III (who ruled around 1860-1814BC). Neferuptah lived roughly 500 years before Ramses II. The solid gold ends are shaped as large falcon heads—symbolizing protection in the afterlife by the falcon god, Horus.  At 36 cm wide, roughly 14 inches, it has considerable weight and employs an opulent counterweight at the back to help prevent the collar slipping down the chest while being worn.  This necklace bears a striking resemblance to a collar found within the innermost coffin of Tutankhamun, who lived roughly 200 years before Neferuptah and was buried with six collars, each with exquisite gold falcon head ends.  One of these collars, which was discovered draped over Tut’s thighs, employs a very similar design scheme to Neferuptah’s collar and has the same droplet beads, representing flower buds, as its final row. The exhibit also includes the breathtaking 22nd dynasty cuff bracelet of Sheshonq II, a masterpiece in gold inlaid with lapis lazuli, carnelian and faience and a huge inlaid eye of Horus.

VR component: “Ramses & Nefertari: Journey to Osiris.”  Visitors sit in Positron Voyager Chairs, state-of-the-art VR pod chairs, and travel to ancient Egypt in an experience overwhelmingly described as “exciting” by visitors to its reveal at Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.  Image: World Heritage Exhibitions

Visitors can also enjoy the optional Ramses & Nefertari: Journey to Osiris, a thrilling 10 minute and 30 second VR (virtual reality) experience featuring the Positron Voyager Chair, a VR platform that moves and vibrates so that you can actually sense what ancient Egypt was like as you tour of two of Ramses’ most impressive monuments—Abu Simbel and Nefertari’s tomb—led by the spirit of Nefertari, the pharaoh’s beloved queen.  While we’ve all had our share of dubious new media experiences in museums, this seems the perfect blending of immersive entertainment and teaching experience, bound to bring out the kid in all of us and mesmerize the kids we bring along with us.

Upper part of a colossal of Ramses II. Egyptian, Ashmunein, New Kingdom, Dynasty 19 Limestone, 76 3/4 x 27 1/2 x 33 1/2 in. (195 x 70 x 85 cm)
Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Photo: Sandro Vannini, courtesy FAMSF

Ramses II, believed to be a god on Earth, ruled for 67 years as part of the 19th Dynasty, in the 13th century before Christ.  He fought the Hittites, signed the world’s first official peace treaty and fathered over 50 sons and 50 daughters, the most children of any pharaoh.  His reign corresponded with a great flourishing of the arts and he undertook an unparalleled building program, creating the great temples at Karnak and Luxor, erecting enormous temples, obelisks, and statues and expanding Egypt’s empire. 

His tomb is located in the Valley of the Kings, the final resting place of New Kingdom pharaohs for over 500 years. Because his tomb was plundered in ancient times, “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” doesn’t actually include any objects from Ramses’ tomb but, instead, includes objects from royal tombs found elsewhere in Egypt, providing an idea of the extraordinary objects that Ramses’s tomb must have included.

“Kings before and after Ramses erected colossal statues of themselves, but none are larger or greater in number than those commissioned by Ramses the Great,” said Renée Dreyfus. “The temples he erected, statues he commissioned, monuments he inscribed throughout Egypt and Nubia, and funerary temple and royal tomb he built were reminders of his earthly power and closeness to the gods. The proliferation of his name led to it becoming almost a synonym for kingship.”

After closing in February, 2023, the exhibit heads to Europe, where its first stop is the Parc de la Villette cultural complex in Paris (April – September 2023).

Details: Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” is August 20, 2022 through November 12, 2023.  Advanced ticket purchase is essential; a great number of timed tickets have already been sold.  Different prices for weekdays vs. weekends. FAMSF members free for one visit only; additional member tickets $23.  Non-member Adult prices: weekdays: $35; weekend $40.

Additional VR experience: Ramses & Nefertari: Journey to Osiris,  FAMSF members free. Non-member Adult price: $18 both weekdays and weekends.  

August 13, 2022 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Obama Portraits at the de Young—so much better in person, fascinating symbolism—through August 14

Installation view of “The Obama Portraits Tour,” de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2022. Photo: Gary Sexton, courtesy FAMSF.  Left, “Barack Obama” by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 2018. Right, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama” by Amy Sherald, oil on linen, 2018.  Both: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

There’s just no substitute for seeing art in person and letting the experience hit you full force.  The official portraits of President Barak Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald at the de Young Museum are stopping people in their tracks—it’s not the usual quick selfie and move on type of viewing.  Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and unveiled in February 2018, these presidential likenesses are strong and stunning, each in their own way.  They speak to what each of us holds in our hearts and memories of the Obama’s and their era and challenge us to dig deeper.  As presidential portraits go, they are highly unorthodox and have broadened discussion on portraiture, challenging staid conventions of representing political leaders, and influencing how Black American identity is shaped in the public realm. Wiley and Sherald were chosen by the Obamas and are the first African-American artists to paint portraits of the president and first lady, our first African American first family, for the National Portrait Gallery.  The Obama Portraits Tour  has been traveling since June 2021 and the two paintings leave the de Young on August 14 for their seventh and final stop, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and then return to their permanent home at the National Portrait Gallery. It’s estimated that 4 million people have already seen them on this tour.

“I am struck by their magnificence,” said an impassioned Timothy Anglin Burgard, Distinguished Senior Curator and Curator-in-Charge of American Art at FAMSF.  “They really have been become secular pilgrimage objects.   I’m inclined to remove the word secular;  they’ve got a spiritual aspect…The Obamas represent the realization of the American dream and that’s entangled in our perception of these artworks.”

Three years after their unveiling, nearly every stylistic detail in these portraits has been researched and and there’s a hook for almost everyone.  They are displayed side by side and several feet apart within the gallery. Your first take is how dramatically different the two portraits are from each other stylistically, speaking completely different languages, and then you notice the differences in their size and scale.  At 7 feet tall, Barack Obama’s portrait is a foot taller than Michelle Obama’s and he is painted roughly 10 percent larger than life-size; whereas she is slightly smaller than life-size.  This is highly unconventional for husband and wife portraits, but attests that each portrait was created independently.   

Kehinde Wiley’s Barack Obama

“Barack Obama” by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 84.1 in x 58 in x 1.3 in, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. On the back of the canvas, Wiley signed his name and handwrote “The greatest president in history.”

The vibrant flower power struck a strong chord with me: the entire painting is teaming with vegetation.  Obama sits surrounded by a mass of verdant foliage which threatens to engulf his chair and him, wrapping around his feet, creeping over his shoulder.  A respectable power-affirming setting has long been the norm for presidential portraits, setting a tone of honor and remembrance.  A garden portrait like this is beyond rebellious but well within Kehinde Wiley’s oeuvre.  Wiley, 42, attended San Francisco Art Institute. He grabbed the attention of the art world and media almost immediately after earning his MFA from Yale in 2001. He employs the power of images to address the historic invisibility of blacks in art and has created series of works that inject black people, usually men, into old-master European royal portraits. He tends to foreground his subjects in colorful and highly intricate all-encompassing patterning.  His iconic 2005 portrait of rapper LL Cool J, also at the National Portrait Gallery, employs an almost florescent intricately repeating ornamental backdrop.  As Wiley remarked at the unveiling, “There is a fight going on between he (Obama) in the foreground, and the plants that are trying to announce themselves at his feet. Who gets to be the star of the show?”

The flowers each symbolize an aspect of Obama’s personal history. The purple African lily symbolizes Obama’s Kenyan heritage (Wiley’s father is Nigerian); the white jasmine represents his Hawaiian birthplace and time spent in Indonesia; the multicolored chrysanthemum signifies Chicago, the city where Obama grew up and eventually became a state senator.  The three red rosebuds, the official flower of Washington D.C., represent new beginnings.  The overall message is the flowering or dawning of a new era in a nation that finally has its first Black President.  But these exquisite flowers are also all struggling to emerge, a metaphor for Obama’s own struggle to emerge from obstacle after obstacle.  

There’s also the idea of camouflage. Obama had to be very careful about both concealing and revealing himself. Often, he was often seen as black man before he was seen as president.  Certain moments in his presidency— in 2012, when he spoke at the interfaith prayer vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre; in 2013, when Trayvon Martin was shot, when he said that could have been his own son; in 2015, when he sang “Amazing Grace” during the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in a shooting at a Charleston church—the walls came down and he spoke as a  father, as a man mourning and we had an inkling of the great difficulty he had navigating race relations which were so central to his presidency.

Obama himself is depicted in a serious pose, seated with arms crossed, looking straight ahead, wearing a dark suit with an open-collar shirt and no tie.  He wears his gold wedding band and a Rolex Cellini reference 50509, with a white gold case.

 “Abraham Lincoln,” by George P.A. Healy, 1869. (National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Institution)

In part, the portrait seems inspired by George P.A. Healy’s 1869 portrait of Abraham Lincoln—the carved wooden antique chair, the alert forward pose, and thoughtful expression.  But instead of the austere darkness that threatens to engulf Lincoln, Wiley substituted plants infused with light and energy.  Lincoln is one of Obama’s heroes, a role model, so much so that Obama launched his first presidential campaign in Lincoln’s hometown, Springfield, Illinois, and cited the 16th president numerous times during his two terms in office. Obama even requested that Wiley’s portrait of him be unveiled on February 12, Lincoln’s birthday.  Paul Stati, the Washington Post art critic, wrote in his February 13, 2018 review, “(Wiley) is not just channeling Healy, he’s linking the Obama presidency to Lincoln’s — painting Obama as the rich fulfillment of the promise of Lincoln’s abolition of slavery.” 

When you look at the armchair Wiley painted, the assumption is made that it is resting on an unseen bed of soil but the bottoms of Obama’s shoes are not touching solid ground, his left foot which tilts slightly upwards.  “He seems to be weightless and defying gravity, possibly levitating,” suggested Timothy Burgard.  “It’s fascinating that both artists arrived independently at visual solutions that suggest or create an aurora of spirituality or even religiosity.”  

Amy Sherald’s Michelle Obama

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama” by Amy Sherald, oil on linen, 72.1 in x 60.1 in x 2.8 in, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

The former First Lady’s striking portrait also defies convention.  Executed in flat neutral grayed-out tones, a bare-armed Mrs Obama is set against a solid light blue background and gazes directly at, or right through the viewer, giving the impression her thoughts directed inwards. Her hair falls in loose curls just beyond her shoulders, framing her angular face with its strong jawline.  It’s abstracted, more impression than detail. Her seated posture is relaxed, with legs crossed. She’s resting her chin on her hand, elegantly depicted with long slender fingers.  She’s wearing a black and white maxi dress with a billowing skirt that spreads to the bottom of the portrait.

New Jersey-based Amy Sherald, 49, stayed true to her distinctive style of portraiture: paintings of self-assured, black people in stylish clothes against colored backdrops that contrast with their faces, which are uniformly grisaille.  When Sherald got the Obama commission, she was just beginning to move into the national spotlight after putting her career on hold for four years as she navigated family health issues and her own heart transplant. She’d had a few solo shows and was known within the contemporary art world but needed national exposure to boost her name recognition.  The Obama portrait did just that. She got her first first full-fledged New York solo show, “The Heart of the Matter” at Hauser & Wirth, in September 2019 which New York Times art critic Roberta Smith called “magnificent, stirring” (9.16.2019 review). She has since gone to several museum shows and made the news in December 2020 when her portrait, “The Bathers” (2015), sold for $4.2 million at Phillips, over 20 times its estimated sale price.  The portrait offered a counter-representation to the genre of European paintings whose white subjects, relaxing near bodies of water and wearing bathing suits or in the nude, are described as bathers.

Sherald has said many times that she uses gray-toned skin to take race out of her portraits and force viewers to look deeper. Those neutral gray tones also give her subjects, especially Mrs, Obama, a timelessness. The de-emphasis of precise facial features invites the viewer to question who the subject really is, an issue Mrs. Obama must have grappled with continually as she navigated all of her roles, playing a slightly different version of herself to suit the occasion. There’s a strong physicality to the portrait which is unusual in a first lady’s portrait. While many people have commented on Obama’s strong arms in this portrait, I didn’t see the prominent muscular definition in her biceps and forearms which I and so many admire: she works out and it shows but not so much here. 

The dress is the most discussed aspect of the portrait: a bold arm-bearing white halter-style maxi dress with a geometric pattern in pink, red, and chartreuse, designed by Michelle Smith of the label Milly and was based on a look from her Spring 2017 collection.  At the portrait’s unveiling in 2018, artist Amy Sherald said it reminded her of a Gee’s Bend quilt and the colors reminded her of Mondrian.  This dress, so distinctive from the conservatively-styled, solid-colored choices selected for most National Gallery’s presidential portraits, has garnered so much attention and commentary that in 2021 it was displayed along with the portrait at the National Gallery in 2021. It was immortalized further in the Showtime series The First Lady, with Viola Davis as Obama.  It is emblematic of Obama’s fashion-forward style which became bolder the longer she occupied the East Wing.  She championed upstart American designers, was fond of bold colors, and metallics, and wasn’t afraid to show some skin.  At 5’11”, with her body and confidence, she could pull off almost any look.

Michelle Smith remarked in Vogue (February 12, 2018) that, more than being a high-fashion statement, the simple cut cotton dress is “a people’s fabric.  The dress has pockets.  It is easy and comfortable…The halter neck exemplifies Michelle Obama’s confidence to show her arms and shoulders. It is forward thinking and she is comfortable. The dress speaks to her in that she is modern, clean, and forward thinking.”

I’m missing Obama’s infectious empowering smile, wishing that more of her were revealed in this portrait but evoking my individual memories of her is not what this portrait is about. These are the first presidential portraits by African American artists ever to be commissioned for the National Gallery. They are intended to solidify the legacy of our first African President and First Lady who defied all expectations. The portraits are perfect in their unwavering unconventional beauty, a strong public statement of who we are as Americans.

Details:

The Obama Portraits Tour closes August 14, 2022. Requires additional timed ticket and a General Admission de Young ticket. The de Young also has a fitting companion experience— Faith Ringgold: American People, covering 50 years of the trailblazing Harlem-born African American artist’s work, the first retrospective celebrating her in almost 40 years (free with General Admission museum ticket through November 27). Pre-purchase tickets online in advance. ars (free with General Admission museum ticket through November 27). Pre-purchase tickets online in advance.

August 2, 2022 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stream the 42nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival August 1-7

Israeli director Chanoch Ze’evi’s documentary “Bad Nazi, Good Nazi,” in its North American premiere, explores a fascinating dilemma unfolding in Thalau, Germany where the community is split over building a public monument to honor one of its own citizens, German army officer Wilm Hosenfeld (1895-1952), a “good” Nazi.  Hosenfeld, the subject of Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” intervened to save Polish pianist Władysław Szpilman during the Holocaust, as well as some 60 other Poles and Jews during the latter part of WWII.  Originally a school teacher in Thalau, Hosenfeld joined the German army by choice and witnessed the Hitler regime’s increasingly heinous acts first hand. Sickened by what he was a part of, he risked his and his family’s lives to do the right thing and help save Jews and to chronicle the genocide he observed in diaries which he smuggled out in laundry.  Some citizens feel his acts should be memorialized while others question the message a public monument commemorating a Nazi sends. At the heart of the film is the burning discomfort Germany still has with reconciling its history and how that discomfort can be harnessed for educating and healing.

SFJFF42, presented live in Bay Area theaters July 21-31, has come to a close but 17 films and programs are available to stream at home through August 7.  In addition to new and returning feature films, there is a new documentary shorts program, Jews in Shorts, and a free panel discussion with filmmakers, Intimate Partners , on the ethics, challenges, and joys of centering family in non-fiction storytelling.  Films and programs are $11 each, $10 for seniors and students; all access streaming pass is $95.  There is a 72 hour watch window from the time the film is first accessed and all content is geo-blocked to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Another wonderful and free streaming option for this week only is the Goethe-Institut’s online series, “New Directions: 20 Years of Young German Cinema” which features 20 German gems. All that is required for streaming is creating a Goethe-Institut account.

 

August 1, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Silent Film Festival is back at the Castro May 5-11: Sunday offers two rare films


The stunning Seeta Devi as Gopa, Gautama’s wife, in a scene from Franz Osten and Himanshu Rai’s 1925 Indo-European co-production,“Prem Sanyas” (“The Light of Asia”). Adapted from Edwin Arnold’s 1879 narrative poem, The Light of Asia, the film tells the story of Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Himansu Rai), who became the Buddha or Enlightened one, tracing his journey from privilege and seclusion to awareness of the inevitability of life’s suffering, finally renouncing his kingdom to seek enlightenment. Seeta Devi and Himanshu Rai made their last on screen appearance at SFSFF23 in 2018 in “A Throw of Dice” (1929) which was inspired by one of India’s masterworks, the Sanskrit poem The Mahabarata, “Prem Sanyas” was made with the cooperation of the Maharajah of Jaipur and contained a cast of thousands. Shooting took place in Lahore, now Pakistan, where the set decoration was created by Devika Rani, Himanshu Rai’s wife. Heady mythological subject matter is balanced with realistic glimpses of contemporary (1925) Indian landscape and people. The opening shots accompany a group of European tourists as they wind their way through the bazaars and other exotica of the streets of Bombay City until they encounter a bearded old man who begins to recount a tale, told in flashback, of the young Prince Gautama, and how he came to be called Lord Buddha. Osten, the company that was formed to make this film, eventually evolved into Bombay Talkies, one of the largest colonial era film studios in India. Live music by Club Foot Hindustani featuring Pandit Krishna Bhatt. 97 min, screens Sunday, May 8, 1:30 p.m.

After a two-year pandemic pause, the 25th edition of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) has just launched, and runs May 5-11 at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with 29 programs featuring silent films from 14 countries, all accompanied by live music. The largest silent film in the Americas, SFSFF has also garnered a reputation for some of the finest musical accompaniment to be found. If you’ve never experienced a silent film the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen, with the correct speed and formatting and with riveting live music—it’s high time! Silent film might just be the experience you’ve been waiting for. In addition to screening silent films, SFSFF is part of a global network dedicated to finding, saving, and restoring silent film heritage and restoration stories themselves are front and center at the festival. This year’s festival includes 19 recent film restorations, nine of which will have their North American premiere. Seven restorations have been undertaken by the SFSFF. ARThound especially recommends the Sunday afternoon program for its content and for those planing to drive into San Francisco and park. Early Sunday afternoon traffic coming into San Francisco is light and parking is free on Sundays in the Castro district. Allow yourself ample time to get to the theater; once you’re there, settle in for a wonderful experience.


A scene from Ukrainian director Heorhii Tasin’s “Arrest Warrant” (1926) This briskly-paced gem tells the story of Nadia (Vira Vareckaja), whose husband, Sergei, Chairman of the revolutionary committee, flees the city in the midst of civil war, leaving her behind as a communications agent with a cache of secret documents. Expressionist effects, at times riveting and then distressing, highlight Nadia’s psychological torture at the hands of the White Army. Live music: Sascha Jacobsen Quintet, which will include Ukrainian melodies in the score. This program is a benefit screening. Proceeds will be donated to World Central Kitchen which is feeding wqr refugees and Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre in Kyiv, Ukraine, an archive which preserves and promotes national film heritage in Ukraine. 81 min, Screens: Sunday, May 8, 4:30 p.m.

Details: The 25th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 5 -11 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. GA Tickets $18; $16 for SFSFF members. Tickets, schedule, information about performing musicians: https://silentfilm.org/

May 6, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Say cheese!—the CA Artisan Cheese Festival is Saturday at Grace Pavilion with cheese and accompaniments

Tomales Farmstead Creamery’s Atika is just one of the cheesy delicacies at Saturday’s California Artisan Cheese Festival. Atika, a blend of sheep and goat milk in roughly equal parts, smells like warm melted butter and crème fraiche.  This a farmstead cheese: the goats and sheep are raised and milked on the same farm that the cheese is made and the milk is as fresh as it can possibly be. Aged at least 5 months, Atika has a buttery and tart flavor. ARThound loves Farmstead Creamery because it reached out to Marin’s beloved artist, Tom Killion, who created the woodcut that ultimately became their beautiful label. Photo: Kelly J. Owen

After a two-year pandemic pause, the California Artisan Cheese Festival returns live to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds’ Grace Pavilion and Shade Park with a single event, an Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace, this Saturday, May 7 from 11 to 4 p.m.  Traditionally, this popular cheese tasting extravaganza and marketplace has concluded the weekend long festival, providing a chance for cheese enthusiasts to buy all the fabulous cheeses they’re tasted along with new, limited-production, and rare artisan cheeses as well as other amazing products. This year, over 60 award-winning cheeses will be offered for tasting and sold at this event, along with all sorts of accompaniments including wines, ciders, beers, chocolate, crackers, salts, spices and other artisan products.  The Festival will be expanded to include the adjoining outdoor Shade Park area so guests will have more room to relax and enjoy the experience, including live entertainment by local Sonoma County-based Jazz band, King Street Giants. “We are excited to be back in-person this year and featuring so many local favorites and over a dozen new purveyors,” said Judy Groverman Walker, the Event Producer of the California Artisan Cheese Festival.   Here are this year’s participants.   Tickets: $30-75; purchase directly at venue.  

May 5, 2022 Posted by | Food, Wine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 65th SFFILM Festival is April 21-May 1: the program is online now and non-member tickets go on sale April 1

In celebration of the centennial anniversaries of SF Opera and the Castro Theatre, the 65th SFFILM Festival will offer a free community screening of John Else’s new documentary, “Land of Gold” (2021), that brings to life John Adams’ opera, “Girls of the Golden West,” which premiered at SFOpera in 2017, with libretto by Peter Sellars.  The revisionist opera is set in the days of the California Gold Rush, reworking poetic fantasies of striking it rich in the land of gold.  The documentary features the mesmerizing soprano Julia Bullock, along with John Adams, Paul Appleby, and the Kai brothers.  The free screening will be preceded by a performance by SFO’s Adler Fellows, an elite multi-year residency for opera’s most promising young artists.  Director John Else in attendance. Adler performance is Thursday, April 28, at 7:30 pm at the Castro; film screens at 7:45p.m.  Reserve free tickets now for SFFILM members and April 1 for general public.  Image: SFFILM

The legendary actress, Michelle Yeoh—star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” “Supercop,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The Lady,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and many other films—will receive a special SFFILM tribute, hosted by Sandra Oh on Friday, April 29th, 6:00 pm CastroIn conjunction with the tribute, SFFILM is screening Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), Monday April 25, 7pm, at the Castro.   Who can forget the thrilling martial arts battles between nimble warriors Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat as they battled Ziyi Zhang to recover a powerful 400 year old sword, literally flying across the red-tiled roofs of their ancestral Chinese village.  Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, it won four Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Score. Those who purchase a ticket to the film will receive a discount on the tribute.  Image: Thomas Laisne/Getty Images, Courtesy SFFILM)
 

The 65th SFFILM festival: 130 films (58 features, 5 mid-length films and 67 shorts), 56 countries, 16 world premieres. Fifty-six percent of the films are directed by female or non-binary filmmakers and 52 percent directed by BIPOC filmmakers.  Screenings will take place at venues across the Bay Area, including the Castro Theatre, Roxie Cinema, Victoria Theatre, Vogue Theatre, and UC Berkeley’s BAMPFA.

Full schedule, tickets for the 65th SFFILM Festival: https://sffilm.org/

SFFILM member tickets on sale now; non-member tickets on sale, Friday, April 1, 10 a.m.

March 30, 2022 Posted by | Film, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 19th San Francisco Greek Film Festival is April 8-16 at Delancey Street Cinema and online

A scene from Katiana Zachariou’s short film, “Betrayal” (2019), a coming of age story filmed in Cyprus,  about a daughter coming to terms with her father’s fall from grace.  Short-listed for the Cannes Lions Young Director Award in 2020. Image: SFGFF

Showcasing a selection of films from the Greek and Cypriot worlds, the 19th San Francisco Greek Film Festival (SFGFF) is April 8-16, offering nine days of in-person screenings at Delancey Screening Room in San Francisco and continuing its very popular virtual screenings.  From a pool of 350 submissions, the festival team selected 9 features and 17 shorts for this year’s in person festival and 14 shorts, 11 documentaries, and 3 feature narrative films for the virtual program.  Festival program information and tickets will be available shortly at grfilm.com.  This festival is very popular with the Bay Area’s Greek community and it’s essential to purchase tickets or passes as soon as the program is announced.

A still from the acclaimed Greek documentary series, “Alphabet – Common Code,” which traces the course of the Greek alphabet over centuries. Photo: SFGFF
 

San Francisco Greek Film Festival

WHAT: 2022 San Francisco Greek Film Festival – 19th annual

WHEN: April 8-16, 2022

WHERE: Delancey Screening Room, 600 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, and online

COST: $15 general in person screenings / $40 for April 8 & 16 (opening & closing nights) including reception / $170 for festival pass for all in person screenings / $40 virtual pass for all online programs

LANGUAGE: Films in Greek or other non-English languages are subtitled in English

MORE INFO: grfilm.com and facebook.com/SFGreekFilmFest

March 26, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , | Leave a comment

DocLands is around the corner: early bird passes on sale through April 7

Firouzeh Khosrovani’s prize-winning documentary, ‘Radiograph of a Family” (2020), screened at DocLands 2021.  Khosrovani imaginatively captured the tensions in her parents’ unusual marriage over 50 years as a mirror for Iran’s turbulent history.  Her father, Hossein, a radiologist, is secular and sophisticated, while his young bride Tayi is a devout Muslim who is shocked by her new husband’s Western tastes.  Image: Antipode

Each spring, CFI (California Film Institute) brings awe-inspiring true-life stories to the Bay Area with its Doclands Documentary Film Festival held at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Last year’s festival presented 42 illuminating films, including award-winning feature-length docs and shorts. This year’s festival is May 5-11, at the Smith Rafael Film Center and the full program will be announced shortly.  Early bird passes are on sale now at a substantial discount through April 7.  On sale: In-theater 6-Packs (6 films–$59 CFI members; $89 General Public) and Online Festival Passes (CA residents only), which allow full access to the festival’s online program of 20+ films and additional viewer content including interviews and Q&A’s. Some films have restricted streaming capacity and may sell-out.  

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , , | Leave a comment