The 18th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) starts Wednesday and will screen over 90 films from more than two dozen countries over 5 nights and 4 days. The big nights have been well-covered in the media. Among the treasures that you might not have yet discovered are several films, each an artwork in itself, on artists and designers, some virtually unknown, whose gift for creative expression will inspire and delight. $15 tickets are available for pre-purchase online for all of the films mentioned below. Victor Mancilla’s documentary, ART and Revolutions, about Mexico’s famed artist-engraver, José Guasalupe Posada, will screens Saturday at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, will have an accompanying art exhibition and a lively post-screening Q& A with the director and Jim Nikas, the collector. The opening night film, Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos, which has Kate Winslet playing an unorthodox thinking widow hired to design part of the gardens at Versailles, has also peaked my interest. I love how Winslet embodies strength on scene and I’m intrigued with garden design, which poses interesting questions, artistic and otherwise. What is nature, how do we fit into it and how should we shape it when we can both physically and visually? Some of these fascinating issues are practical and others philosophical but we can only hope that Winslet’s Sabine de Barra tackles them substantively as she (predictably) snuggles up with the court’s renowned landscape architect artist André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to design one of the most exquisite gardens ever conceived.
Now, on to the art line up—
Searching for Posada: ART and Revolutions (Mexico/USA, 2014, 41 minutes) Called a “revolutionary artist of the people” and hailed as “the Goya of Mexico” and yet virtually unknown, Mexican artist and printmaker José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) created a vast portfolio of important work. Mexican director Victor Mancilla (201 Squadron: The Forgotten Eagles (2009) Best Historical Documentary award, Smithsonian Institution) tells Posada’s story through Jim Nikas (of Marin), an obsessed American collector of Posada’s works. Nikas, who has the largest collection of Posada’s in the U.S., embarks on a passionate search for the truth about the artist. Traveling to the Posada’s hometown of Aguascalientes, to Leon and then Mexico City, Nikas meets art historians and encounters things that would have amazed even the artist Posada himself, including Fidel Castro’s pajamas and Che Guevera’s backpack. Three-and-a-half years in the making, ART and Revolutions© was shot on location in Mexico and features music by pianist Natasha Marin, wife of actor and avid Chicano Art collector Cheech Marin. (Screens: Saturday, March 28, 5 PM, Sonoma Valley of Art, $15 tickets) There is a post-screening Q & A with the director and Jim Nikas and an Exhibition of Posada’s original artwork from the collection of the Posada Art Foundation.
Art House—(USA, 90 min) Photographer Don Freeman’s masterful documentary Art House explores the handmade homes crafted by and lived in by eleven American—Frederic Church, Russel Wright, George Nakashima, Raoul Hague, Costantino Nivola, Paolo Soleri, Henry Chapman Mercer, Wharton Esherick, Henry Varnum Poor, Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, and Eliphante. Embracing the synergy of curves, natural materials and muted light, each glorious home reflects its creator’s distinctive voice and practice as it merges with architecture. An anthem to creative souls who follow their hearts, this inspirational and gorgeously shot doc makes the sleek pages of Architectural Digest and Dwell seem passé. (Screens: Thursday, March 26, 5:30 PM, Women’s Club; Sunday, March 29, 7:30 PM Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. $15 tickets)
Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery (Beltracchi: Die Kunst der Falschung)—(Germany, 2014, 93 min) It’s ironic that 58-year-old German Wolfgang Beltracchi looks like Alfred Durer. Beltracchi masterminded one of the most lucrative art scams in postwar European history. For decades, this self-taught painter, and self-proclaimed hippie, passed off his own paintings as newly-discovered masterpieces by Max Ernst, André Derain, Max Pechstein, Georges Braque, and other Expressionists and Surrealists from the early 20th century. His wife, Helene Beltracchi, along with two accomplices, created convincing backstories and sold the paintings for six and seven figures through auction houses in Germany and France, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s. One fake Max Ernst hung for months in a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2004, Steve Martin purchased a fake Heinrich Campendonk for $860,000 through a Parisian gallery. Arne Birkenstock’s Lola award winning documentary Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery (“Beltracchi: Die Kunst der Falschung,” 2014), features the larger than life Beltracchi sharing his secrets; those he duped sharing their dismay; and those who caught him talking about the painting that blew it all up. (Screens: Thursday, March 26, 8 PM, Woman’s Club and Sunday, March 29, 5 PM, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, $15 tickets)
Generosity of Eye—(USA, 63 min) Octogenarian William Louis-Dreyfus, the father of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld) and now “Veep” ) started collecting art in the early 1960s, things that caught his eye, not investment pieces. While there are no Warhols, Freuds, or Picassos in his 3,500 piece collection, he conservatively estimates it to be worth at least $10 million and possible as much as $50 to $60 million. (from 5.26.14 Wall Street Journal article) There are pieces by Paul Gaugin, Vassily Kandinsky, Leonardo Cremonini, George Boorujy, Helen Frankenthaler, and self-taught African-American artist and former slave Bill Traylor. Louis-Dreyfus served as chairman of Louis Dreyfus Group, a global conglomerate started by his great-grandfather in 1851. Forbes estimated his net worth at $3.4 billion in 2006. Director Brad Hill, who is Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ husband, has captured the very personal story of her discovering how her father’s passion for art and justice led him to donate most of this collection over the next several decades to the New York-based non-profit, the Harlem Children’s Zone, HCZ. This touching story of a major art collection transforming into educational opportunity that will help kids in Harlem escape the vicious cycle of poverty has the intimacy of a home movie. (Click here to view the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection web site which includes the entire collection) (Screens: Thursday, March 26, 9:30 AM Sebastiani Theatre and Sunday, March 29, 5:30 PM Burlingame Hall. $15 tickets)
Dior and I —(France, 90 min) There are just a handful of fashion greats who have had French designer Christian Dior’s enduring impact on 20th century style. Filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng (co-director Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, 2012 and Valentino: The Last Emperor, 2008) delivers another insightful exploration of this style pioneer’s enduring influence through the storied world of the House of Christian Dior. Dior passed in 1957 but his name has lived on through this contemporary fashion house, now owned by Groupe Arnault. This thoughtful doc delivers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look at the new Artistic Director, Raf Simons’ very first Haute Couture collection. From conception through its ultimate exhibition, the process is shown to be a nerve-racking labor of love. Stoic Simons must coax the very best from his dedicated collaborators who literally make it all happen. Tcheng’s revealing homage to pressure cooker couture is fascinating. (Screens: Thursday, March 26, 2 PM Sonoma Community Center and Saturday, March 28, 8:30 PM Sonoma Valley Art Museum $15 tickets)
Art & Design Shorts Program—Fine cinematography comes in various packages. SIFF has a soft place for shorts, recognizing that, outside of the festival circuit, there is little chance to experience the synergy of a well-executed short. The festival offers three curated shorts programs and will screen dozens of individual shorts in advance of its feature-length programming. British artist David Hockney, Italian architect and interior designer Paola Navone, , 5th generation farmer and vintner Jim Bundschu, multifaceted designer Michael Vanderbyl and various Native American architects, builders and tribal members are the subjects of five Art & Design shorts that are guaranteed to stimulate your senses and fire up your imagination. Total run time is approximately one hour (Screens: Friday, March 27 12:30 PM and Sunday, March 29, 9:30 AM both at Woman’s Club. $15 tickets)
ARThound’s previous festival coverage:
SIFF 18 details:
Full festival schedule by film type is available online here.
Full schedule in calendar form is available online here.
Official Full SIFF Film Guide is available online here.
Information about passes and tickets is here.
Sebastiani Theatre – 476 First St. East (seats 325)
Sonoma Community Center-Andrews Hall – 276 East Napa Street (seats 150)
Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House – 126 First Street West (seats 150)
Sonoma Woman’s Club – 574 First Street. East (seats 100)
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art – 551 Broadway (seats 70)
Vintage House- 264 First Street East
La Luz Center – 17560 Gregor Street, Boyes Hot Springs (3.5 miles from town square)
The Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday—$15 tickets online now for many of the films
On Wednesday, the curtain rises on the 18th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), pairing 5 nights and 4 days of film with the wine country’s exquisite food, wine and artisan beer. Over 90 films from more than two dozen countries will play in seven intimate venues, all within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic town square which transforms into “Sonomawood” for the festivities. Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet, has its North American premiere and opens the festival on Wednesday evening at the historic Sebastiani Theater and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Search, starring Annette Bening and Berenice Bejo, also at the Sebastiani, closes the festival on Sunday evening.
You can’t beat Sonoma in spring—the atmosphere is quaint and relaxed; the weather is warm; the streets are popping with roses and lilacs; and the real estate descriptions on the square’s windows will fuel your dreams. This festival is geared towards pass-holders who pay a premium ($250 to $2,500) for access to all the screenings and the famous “back-lot” tent (an all-you-can-eat-and-drink orgy) and special parties. Tickets are also available, on a limited basis, for individual film screenings for $15 each. Many of these include lively post-screening Q&A’s with the directors or cast and generous free samples of locally prepared gourmet treats. This year, instead of having to go to the festival box office on the town square in person to purchase these tickets, they can be conveniently purchased online, with a small service charge, and are available for many of the films. If individual tickets are available, there will be a “tickets” hyperlink included in the film description. Understandably, opening and closing night films (as of this positing) are for pass-holders only.
Full festival schedule by film type is available online here.
Full schedule in calendar form is available online here.
Official Full SIFF Film Guide is available online here.
Stay-tuned to ARThound for an overview of this year’s exceptional art-related line-up.
The festival programmers know exactly what their audience wants and, along with thought-provoking documentaries, drama, art and music, SIFF always offers a number of endearing “rom-drams,” romantic dramas, from all over the world. This year SIFF screens its first film ever from South Africa, Etienne Fourie’s The Windmill (Die Windpomp) (2014) which originally started out as a 48 minute student film that swept the prestigious South African AFDA awards and was then developed into a full-length film. This is one of the few films that I have seen (a screener was provided) and I recommend it highly. The story revolves around introverted 20 year-old Henri (Armand Greyling) who comes to live with his elderly grandfather in a sleepy retirement village somewhere in South Africa. As soon as he arrives, Henri begins to have a series of strange interactions with the quirky and affable seniors in the small community who all share one big secret. When Henri catches the eye of exquisite and fun-loving Margot (Leandie Du Randt), he slowly opens his heart and magical things begin to happen, literally. Opulently shot and choreographed, the film’s drama builds from an initially light and entertaining story into a complex mystery that is a passionate lament for aging. Is it better to live forever, or for a finite time subject to all the physical and mental frailties of the human condition? The delicate love story between Henri and Margot is heightened by Armand Greyling’s remote and introspective performance. Hearing a film in Afrikaans is a rare treat itself. (114 min, in Afrikaans)
(Screens: Thursday 3/26 8:30 PM Sebastiani and Saturday 3/28 9 AM Vintage House. Individual tickets available for both screenings.)
Petaluma’s big weekend of cheese and gourmet delights—California’s Artisan Cheese Festival is underway at the Sheraton Sonoma County
California’s Artisan Cheese Festival is back for its ninth year at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma and ARThound is just back from my first event of the day, a morning Cheese and Chocolate paring seminar with James Beard award-winning author and educator, Laura Werlin, and TCHO Chocolate’s E-Commerce guru, Heather Haskell. Cheese and chocolate are two food favorites that may not sound like a match made in heaven, but together, with the right pairings, we explored how they can be transcendent. We had the chance to mix and match 6 cheeses with 6 chocolates and sips of Lagunitas Brewing Company beers and “Cask 3,” a special new reserve port from Petaluma’s Sonoma Portworks. I was particularly enchanted with Willapa Hills’ “Lily Pad” cow’s milk cheese—a brand new hard cheese inspired by Gruyere—when paired with TCHO’s “66%” blended semi-sweet couverture chocolate from their baking line. I was even more wowed when the duo met the with the smoky depths of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s “Imperial Stout,” a roasted malt barley with 9.9% alcohol. The day is still young and there’s a round of afternoon seminars to go and this evenings’ Chefs vs. Chefs — The Best Bite, a popular roaming feast that will showcase top local Bay Area chefs using artisan cheeses in a variety of applications with more than 20 top restaurants, caterers, wineries and breweries in competition for our affection.
And did I mention samples galore? Participants sample new, limited-production, and rare artisan cheeses paired with exquisite gourmet delights that accentuate and learn all about the art of making cheese. The festival has non-profit status and its proceeds support California farmers and cheesemakers in their ongoing effort to advance sustainability. Tickets are available for individual events, including Sunday’s popular Grand Tasting Tent (tasting and marketplace) at www.artisancheesefestival.com.
Love great conversation, food, farming, family and film? Another screening of the sold-out “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm” has been added to CAAMFest for Saturday, March 21 in Oakland—SO worth the drive
CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s annual film festival, has added another screening of Jim Choi’s documentary Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, which has its (sold-out) world premiere on Friday, March 20, 7 PM, at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California). The OMCA event, which features a pre-film get together, the film screening and the entire Masumoto family on stage in story-telling and conversation is at “Rush.” This means it is sold out BUT there may be a few tickets released at the last moment. The new added screening is Saturday, March 21, at Oakland’s New Parkway Theatre at 7PM and there are ample tickets now but this screening too will most likely sell out. Mas, Nikiko and Marcy will also be in attendance and a lively Q&A will follow the screening.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nikiko and David “Mas” Masumoto on Monday evening at UC Berkeley (we’re all alums) and this dynamic father daughter duo touched my heart with their loving connection, positive energy and years of farming wisdom. I brought along my dear friend, long-time SRJC librarian Karen Petersen, who first introduced me to Mas via Epitaph for Peach, his 1995 lament over the loss of heirlooms. The public response to Mas’ writing was so encouraging that it essentially led him to re-evaluate the decision to bulldoze his precious heirloom trees. Our meeting couldn’t have come at a better moment because I’d spent the day, and the previous week, out in the garden paving the way for the plantings to come. If you’re the type of person who believes as I do that your garden or orchard is a reflection of who you are, then this is a film and a family that you won’t want to miss. These famous fourth generation Japanese American farmers are best known for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches as well as their tenacious adherence to sustainable practices. Over years, they’ve reaped a harvest of not only delicious fruits but also dreams, reflections and abiding kinship. We discussed what it was like to be filmed and the new directions their lives are taking now that Nikiko has returned to home to step into her father’s work boots on their certified organic 80 acre farm in Del Ray (south of Fresno). That’s 80 acres of organic peaches, nectarines, grapes and a fig tree that all need nurturing, often in grueling heat which it turns out is also the perfect incubator for storytelling. They’re all highly creative but Mas’ writing on farming and food includes numerous best-selling books which have been lovingly treasured and dog-eared by foodies, farmers and imagined gardeners.
This beautifully shot film, which was funded by CAAM, chronicles the transitions undergone by Mas and his daughter as they lovingly enact the rituals of passing the reins from one generation to the next and reflect back on the family’s WWII internment in a camp near their farm. Stay tuned to ARThound for the interview. For more information on CAAMFest 2015, click here.
CAAMFest—Asian American film, food, music and comradery kicks off Thursday, March 12, and runs for 11 days in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland
The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMfest turns 33 this year and continues its morph from a pure film festival into a series of festive happenings that fuse cutting edge independent film with music and food—all with an Asian American twist. CAAMFest takes place over the next 11 days in venues all around the Bay Area including the Asian Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, which add their enticing exhibits to the mix. Formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest 2015 offers more than 100 movies and videos focused on the discovery of new talents, voices and visions. It’s by far the largest festival of Asian American movies in North America. Under the leadership of Masashi Niwano, now in his fifth year as festival & exhibitions director, the event has become one of the country’s major platforms for conveying the richness and diversity of the Asian American multicultural experience. ARThound loves this festival because it’s so excellently curated, delivering rich and unusual stories from around the globe that stay with you for years.
This year, you’ll see Asian American broadly defined too. Iranian director Rakshan Banietemad’s new film, Tales, which picked up the award for Best Screenplay at Venice, caught the CAAMFest programmers’ eyes, not just because it’s a great film but because the director, working under dior conditions in Iran, creatively stitched together a series of shorts, stories from her previous films, to create a full length film. In so doing, she managed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Iranian cultural ministry which requires a license for a feature but not for shorts. Bravo! There are also stories involving the Asian diaspora. Juan Martín Hsu’s La Salada is set in Argentina’s bustling discount market, La Salada, just outside of Buenos Aires, and involves an ensemble cast of Korean, Taiwanese, and Bolivian immigrants whose experiences all converge at the market. It’s thus no surprise that “travel” is this year’s theme. Opportunities for armchair travel abound and over 200 guests will be flying in CAAMFest.
Opening Night: The festival kicks off at the historic Castro Theatre on Thursday evening (March 12), with Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching (2015), his new feature film which garnered quite a buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January. A tribute to the 1980’s teen movies of John Hughes, but infused with a Korean sensibility and Lee’s own experiences, this dramedy is set in a state run summer camp in Korea that brings together Korean teens from all over the globe for the purpose of teaching them about their culture. Lee uses the teen’s stories, and their unexpected twists, to explore the Korean diaspora. Lee’s Planet B-Boy, about break-dancers in an international competition, won best documentary and the audience award at CAAMfest in 2008. Lee and several cast members will attend.
Opening Gala: After the screening, there’s an opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum, with a 1980’s dance party with cocktails and fine food amidst the Seduction exhibit of Edo-period Japan. The exhibition has over 60 works of art and features Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu’s (1618-1694) spectacular 58 foot long painted silk handscroll, A Visit to the Yoshiwara, which is shown completely unfurled for the first time. The masterpiece, on loan from the John C. Weber, depicts daily life in the entertainment district in the 17th century.
CAAMfest’s Centerpiece movie: Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) screens at Castro on Sunday, March 15th and represents the powerful storytelling and moments of palpable intimacy that CAAMFest is famous for. Kalki Koechlin plays Laila, a young woman from Delhi who is determined not to let her cerebral palsy interfere with her life —she writes lyrics for a rock band, flirts wildly with her classmates and dreams of going to New York to participate in NYU’s prestigious creative writing program to which she’s been admitted. Set in Delhi and New York, the film is a brave and glorious homage to that old adage—“follow your heart.”
Closing Night: The festival’s closes with Bruce Seidel’s Lucky Chow, a six-part PBS series which will be showcased over the course of two days—Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22—at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater. The series features Danielle Chang (LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder) as she travel across America, taking in the Asian food landscape. Accompanying the film will be an Asian-inspired curated menu from the New Parkway kitchen. Other food-related films are Grace Lee’s Off the Menu: Asian America and Edmond Wong’s Supper Club exploring Bay Area restaurants.
Honoring the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge: Lest we not forget the tragic moments that also define cultures, CAAMfest is presenting a collection of powerful stories of survival and resiliency from Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. As part of the Spotlight feature on acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong, his new documentary, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, chronicles the years encapsulating the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experience in the film The Killing Fields, for which he won an Academy Award in 1984. Dong will be in conversation with film critic and author B. Ruby Rich on Friday, March 20 at New People Cinema.
Perfectly Peachy: The festival is also honoring the Masumoto Family, fourth generation peach California peach farmers, with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening of storytelling at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) on Friday, March 20, where the CAAM-produced documentary, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, will have its world premiere. The entire family— Mas, Marcy, Nikiko and Korio Masumoto—will be in attendance. The Masumotos, who have an 80 acre farm south of Fresno, are famous for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches and tenacious adherence to sustainable practices as well as their lyrical writing on farming and food. When was the last time you visited the Oakland Museum? CAAMFest provides a perfect opportunity to combine film with art. Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (ends April 12) is an exciting collaboration between SFMOMA and OMCA that explores California artists, many of them Bay Area artists. Marion Gray: Within the Light (ends June 21) is a riveting exploration of San Francisco-based photographer Marion Gray’s work over the past 40 years documenting Bay Area artists and art happenings. Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact (ends September 20) will educate and entertain the entire family.
Music: In addition to the movies, Korean musicians have a strong presence at CAAMFest with performances from Awkwafina (Chinese Korean American rapper Nora Lum from Queens) and Suboi, the Vietnamese “Queen of Hip Hop” and a host of other party rockers who will keep things lively before and after the movies.
Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Masumotos about all things peachy.
When/Where: CAAMfest 2015 runs March 12-22, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, bars and music halls.
Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events. Regular screenings are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members. Special screenings, programs and social events are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general. Click here for ticket purchases online. Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day. Rush Tickets: If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue around 45 minutes before the screening is set to begin. Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.
“She Built This City”— the founding women behind Cowgirl Creamery, Thistle Meats & Bert’s Desserts share their entrepreneurship stories at SRJC’s Mahoney Library on Tuesday, March 10th, 2015, at noon: FREE EVENT
Passes for the 18th Sonoma International Film Festival are on sale now and prices will increase on March 1, 2015
World class cinema, fabulous food and wine from local artisans, and the breathtaking beauty of the wine country in spring all combine to make the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) one of the Bay Area’s most enjoyable events. For those of us who live in the North Bay, it unfolds pretty much in our backyard. This year’s festival, the 18th annual SIFF, is March 25-29, 2015, and is a week earlier than last year’s festival. Discounted passes are now on sale. Lock in your passes now, as the prices rise considerably on Sunday, March 1, 2015.
This year, SIFF features over 90 hand-selected films from two dozen countries—features, documentaries, world cinema, Vamos Al Cine (showcasing Spanish-language film), and shorts. Two hundred filmmakers and celebrities are expected to attend and participate in premieres, Q&A’s and panel discussions. Guests, celebs and attendees all mingle on the historic town square and in Backlot, SIFF’s decadent den of epicurean delights. Film luminaries who have walked SIFF’s red carpet include: Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis, Michael Keaton, Blythe Danner, Danny Glover, Lauren Hutton, Demian Bichir, Ray Liotta and Mary-Louise Parker. This year’s special guests and programming have yet to be announced.
All films are screened in seven intimate venues, all within walking distance of Sonoma’s lovely plaza. Many screenings include delectable gourmet samplings. The SIFF ambiance is laid-back and the experience is unforgettable…that’s why most guests return year after year. And it’s for a great cause— since 2002, SIFF and its members have continually supported Sonoma Valley High School’s Media Arts Program. This student program opens doorways to creativity in the digital arts through filmmaking classes, animation, scriptwriting, film theory, and – most of all – storytelling. Over the past 12 years, SIFF has donated over $450,000 to Peter Hansen’s media arts program at SVHS.
Cinema Pass—$200* – All Films & entry to Backlot Tent (*Price increases to $250 on March 17, 2014)
Cinema Soiree Pass —$575* First Entry to all films, regular events and parties and VIP hospitality area and Backlot Tent.” (*Price increases to $650 on March 1, 2015)
Patron Pass/All Access—single $2,500; couple $4,000—includes all benefits of a Soiree Pass, plus all events, parties and special dinners during the festival. There are only 8 remaining passes at this level.
Click here to purchase all SIFF passes.
Click here for more information, or call 707 933-2600
Review: Cinnabar Theater’s “I am My Own Wife”—a crafty and true survival tale featuring Steven Abbott as 36 characters, through February 22, 2015
You do what you have to do to survive—that’s the underlying theme of Doug Wright’s stunning one man play, I Am My Own Wife, at Cinnabar Theater through February 22. Dressed in a baggy black dress and pearls, transgender Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was born a man, survived both the Nazi and East German Communist regimes with her unique identity intact. She also ran a thriving Weimar cabaret in her basement, managed to amass an important collection of late 19th century antiques and became a decorated national hero. On the down side, she murdered her abusive father and may have betrayed her friends and colleagues by informing on them to the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police. Director Jennifer King and actor Steven Abbott team up for the third time to present this remarkable solo show, which burst onto Broadway in 2004 and won every major honor, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
The reason to go—the entrancing Steven Abbott, well-known to Cinnabar audiences for A Couple of Blaguards and No Regrets: The Songs of Edith Paif. Abott plays transgender Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and 35 other distinct characters who were in her life with seamless fluidity, transitioning from one to the other with just the slightest inflection of voice or movements of his sparkling eyes. It’s a study in perfect alchemy.
Transgender refers to a person who identifies with the male/female role opposite their birth gender. Charlotte von Mahldorf was born Lothar Berfelde in Germany in 1928. Both the Nazi and Communist regimes would have labeled her a sexual deviant and sought to kill her, had they known. The performance begins as Charlotte looks at the audience, smiles and shows us a delightful antique cylinder phonograph, She then proceeds to lead us on a tour of her home, a private museum in Mahlsdorf, a suburb of East Berlin. Soon we are aware that the sparsely appointed Cinnabar stage, with its elegant European double doors, blue patterned wall paper, two tables, two antique chairs, phonograph and vast black fabric wings on each side, represents a vast floor-to-ceiling collection of von Mahldorf’s fine late 19th century antiques—sideboards, gramophones, clocks, etc. And in this collection of artifacts, which is now the celebrated Gründerzeit Museum, is her precious life story. We also learn that, before her home became a museum, it was a safe haven for people the State denied the right to exist because of their sexual orientation.
It was just after the fall of the Berlin Wall that American playwright Doug Wright learned about Charlotte from his journalist friend, Texan John Marks, the Berlin bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report. Marks had discovered her in 1992 when she was giving guided tours of her extensive collection of antiques. Wright traveled to the former East Germany to interview Charlotte on several occasions. Around that time too, noted German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim made a documentary about von Mahlsdorf, I Am My Own Woman (1992) (Ich bin meine eigene Frau) and her autobiography I Am My Own Woman: The Outlaw Life of Charlotte von Mahldorf came out in 1995. Wright was so overwhelmed with the breadth of Charlotte’s story that it took him several years to develop the material into the play and he actually inserted himself into it.
It was his discovery of Charlotte’s extensive Stasi file which claimed that she, like many other East German citizens, had not only been a subject of surveillance but also been an informant for that oppressive regime that left him conflicted. How could the subject of his respect and admiration have carried out such a betrayal?
According to director Jennifer King, “the tension resulting from the ethical implications about von Mahlsdorf’s alleged complicity with this monstrous regime is just one of many factors that make this an extraordinary subject for theatre.”
Tackling dozens of characters is a herculean task that Abbott handles in masterful stints of split second shifts. Some of those fascinating roles are frustratingly underdeveloped. As a journalist, I was hungry for more of Wright’s story and for more detail about Charlotte’s father who drove her to commit murder. What does come through in this 100 minute performance is the sheer complexity of von Mahlsdorf’s personality and the scars exacted by life under fascism. Abbott’s close to the chest depiction of Charlotte, who speaks matter of factly in an emotionally detached manner, is most engrossing. He plays her as an artifact that is tightly, brilliantly curated never admitting or denying Stasi complicity. Of course, we all know that, when presented correctly, moral quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all and Cinnabar’s I am My Own Wife is indeed a gem of many facets.
Creative Team: written by Doug Wright; directed by Jennifer King; staring Mike Abbott; staging by Ross Tiffany-Brown; Lighting by Wayne Hovey; sound by Joe Winkler; costume consultant Lisa Eldredge; set construction by Mike Acorn, Joe Elwick, Aloysha Klebe & Ross Tiffany-Brown
Details: There are 6 remaining performances of “I Am My Own Wife” but several of these are sold out. Limited tickets are still available for Friday, Feb 20 (8 PM); Sat, Feb 21(8 PM) and Sunday, Feb 22 (2 PM). *Please note: Cinnabar advises that this show is best appreciated by ages 15 and up due to adult content. Youth ages 12-18 who are interested in seeing the show are encouraged to attend Friday Night Live on 2/6, when a speaker from Positive Images, Santa Rosa, will help provide context on the story. Tickets for this event are only $9.
Tom Stoppard’s “Indian Ink” at San Francisco’s ACT—a multi-layered love story—through February 8, 2015
Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink had its U.S. premiere at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 1999 and is back at ACT through February 8, with director Carey Perloff again at the helm. Having been introduced to Stoppard through ACT’s finely-honed Arcadia in 2013, I couldn’t wait to see Indian Ink (1995), which also shares Stoppard’s penchant for twisting time periods, in this case the 1930’s and 1980’s—and examining important ideas with dialogue that is witty, sexy and deeply entertaining. On the chopping block were British colonialism and art, specifically mogul painting. The play also features another great passion of mine: British women writers who traveled the globe and had fabulous adventures. Here, we have the fictional free-spirit and poet Flora Crewe (the delightful Brenda Meaney) who has ties to the Bloomsbury group and is in India in 1930 lecturing at the local Theosophical Society about literary life in London while trying to keep her terminal illness under wraps.
“Indian Ink” is structured around Flora’s letters from India to her younger sister, Eleanor, a political magazine editor in London. Flora’s exciting past in 1930’s Jummapur (now Jamalpur in Bangladesh) is enacted with the Indian painter Nirad Das and the action then switches to 1980’s London, where Eleanor, now the widowed Mrs. Swan and in her 70’s, is going over their correspondence at the request of a Eldon Pike, an American scholar who is keen to write Flora’s biography. Eleanor is also visited by Anish Das, the grown son of the painter. All are intent to unravel the mystery of Flora’s time in India and the nature of her relationship with Nirad Das and there are three paintings which provide clues. An evening with Stoppard is always jammed packed and Indian Ink rewards the viewer with a multi-layered love story.
Stoppard, who was knighted in 1997 and is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest living playwrights, has collaborated with Perloff to rework the play’s ending. This revised version had its first run in Manhattan last fall at the Roundabout Theatre Company, where Perloff co-produced it. Wednesday’s opening in San Francisco revealed a highly-polished and very enjoyable performance, steeped in art, history and cross-cultural connections. So much has been packed into this play, however, that it dances elegantly on the surface, enticing us with the brilliant alchemy that is Stoppard’s calling card but never taking the plunge into those murky intellectual depths that will produce it. This is not “Arcadia,” a peak theatrical experience that stays with you for your lifetime, which isn’t to say that “Indian Ink” isn’t stirring or thought-provoking.
Stoppard uses character dialogue in a brilliant back and forth, almost debate, style to explore what he wants to know about and in this case it’s the mutability of the past, the concept of rasa played out between a poet and painter in fascinating conversation about their passions and, on a larger level, the morality of empire. Perloff’s wonderful staging, excellent acting, Neil Patel’s elegantly textured sandstone wall which is a backdrop to his fine sets, Candice Donnelly’s spot on period costumes and Dan Moses Schreier’s evocative musical backdrop of tabla and violin all work in synchrony to bring out the very best in this play.
Brenda Meaney (who reminds me of Keira Knightley at her best) delivers a wonderfully complex Flora Crewe, a bold and intellectually, as well as sexually, adventurous young woman who is intent on living her life to the fullest in India while keeping it a secret that she is dying. She is particularly delightful where she is flirting it up with Englishman David Durance (Philip Mills), one of many romantic dalliances, and blurts out one of the play’s funniest and most memorable lines—“Wangle the Daimler!”—urging Durance to secure the Residency’s fancy car and escort her to a dance. Funny double entendre lines like this are Stoppard’s forte.
The play’s title “Indian Ink” actually refers to a poem that Flora is writing while sitting for Nirad Das (the wondrous Firdous Bamji) and it is their meandering dialogue during those sittings that illustrates one of the play’s most interesting themes—rasa—an aesthetic concept and the central theory of Indian art appreciation that was developed by Hindu sages and artists in the third century CE that describes an artwork’s overall essence as well as the heightened state of delight that arises from the relationships among creator, audience and artwork.
When he first meets Flora, Nirad Das puts out an edgy vibe. He seems a bit uncomfortable in his own skin and seems compelled to impress Flora with his bookish knowledge of England and British culture. Flora really wants him to just be himself and to paint her from “his own point of view.” Her idea of real Indian art is images of women with “breasts like melons, and baby-bearing hips.” As Nirad explains rasa to Flora, his graceful spirit shines through and you can almost feel her heating up when he explains the elements of shringara, the rasa of erotic love—”a lover and his beloved one, the moon, the scent of sandalwood, and being in an empty house.” When he presents her with a nude portrait he has created of her in the style of a Rajput miniature, Flora is deeply moved and acknowledges that he has completed something in his own tradition rather than in the European style—“This one is for yourself… I’m pleased. It has rasa.”
Meanwhile, in 1980’s London, through the conversations of Eleanor Swan (the elegant Roberta Maxwell) and Anish Das (Pej Vahdat) Stoppard conveys vital lessons about the reinterpretation of history, avoiding sides about whether being part of Empire was a positive or negative for India. Mrs. Swan refers to the events of 1857 as “the Mutiny,” while Anish refers to it as “our first war of Independence.” Mrs. Swan claims “We made you into a proper country” and Anish points out that long before the British came to India they had a culture that was older and more splendid than that imposed on them.
When the bothersome American academic Eldon Pike (Anthony Fusco) comes calling at Eleanor’s door to dig up material for his biography, we see her prickly side emerge as she delivers another great Stoppardism, “Biography is the worst possible excuse for getting people wrong.”
Even as it verges on three hours, the play’s beautifully intercut narratives between sisters, lovers, father and son and academic and his subject, are captivating and reveal the myriad of ways in which the past is mutable and can be interpreted by bystanders or direct participants. I can’t wait for another Stoppard production.
Director Carey Perloff on the re-worked ending: “I feel happy about where it (the ending) is. It makes an enormous difference in actually finishing the relationship between Flora and Das, which is so complicated. I also think time has caught up with this play in a good way. Today, the notion of cross-cultural love affairs, and the complexity with which colonized peoples inevitably end up taking on the characteristics of their colonizers, are things we actually know about. … In the 15 years since it was done, the relationship between Flora and Das has become much more interesting and complex, because these ideas are more in the world than they were.
Stoppard is Czech!—Sir Tom Stoppard, now 77, was born Tomáš Straüssler in Zlín, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) in 1937. His family left just as the Nazi’s invaded and went briefly to Singapore. His father was killed in the war. Tomáš and his mother arrived in India as refugees when he was four years old and lived there from 1942 to 1946. Tomáš learned English while attending a school in Darjeeling run by American Methodists. While in India, his mother met Kenneth Stoppard, a major in the British Army, who brought the family back to his home in Derbyshire, England, married the mother and Tomáš became Tom Stoppard. Stoppard’s career spans 50 years. His works include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), Arcadia (1993), The Coast of Utopia (2002), Rock-n-Roll (2006) and Shakespeare in Love (1998). He has received one Academy Award and four Tony Awards. It has been nearly a decade since a new work of his has appeared on stage. “The Hard Problem” (2014) is now having its world premiere at London’s National Theatre and will be broadcast to thousands of people in cinemas across the world as part of the popular NT live series in April, 2015. Stoppard has also just become engaged to heiress Sabrina Guinness, of the famed brewery dynasty, also catapulting him in the headlines.
Run-time: 3 hours with a 15 minute intermission
Creative team: by Tom Stoppard; Directed by Carey Perloff, Neil Patel (set designer), Candice Donnelly (costume designer), Robert Wierzel (lighting designer), Dan Moses Schreier (sound designer)
Cast: Josie Alvarez, Firdous Bamji, Joel Bernard, Vandit Bhatt, Danielle Frimer, Anthony Fusco, Dan Hiatt, Roberta Maxwell, Brenda Meany, Philip Mils, Ajay Naidu, Mike Ryan, Glenn Scott, Pej Vahdat, and Rajeev Varma
Details: Indian Ink runs through February 8, 2015 at 2013 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. Performances are 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Wednesdays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. most Sundays. Tickets: $20 to $120, phone 415.749.2228, or visit www.act-sf.org.