ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Emperors’ Treasures”─quiet masterpieces─ at the Asian Art Museum through September 18, 2016

Copper vessel in the shape of a xizun, an ox-like mythical beast, by the Imperial Workshop, Beijing, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Based on a classical Bronze Age ritual wine-serving vessel. Qianlong court documents reveal that it was set on an altar in the main hall of the Imperial Ancestral Temple. The stylized floral patterns, filled with multicolored enamel cloisonné, represent the fine level of enamel inlay during the mid and late Qing dynasty. The beast displays design elements commonly found in Persian objects. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photograph © National Palace Museum

Copper vessel in the shape of a xizun, an ox-like mythical beast, by the Imperial Workshop, Beijing, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Modeled after a classical Bronze Age ritual wine-serving vessel. Qianlong court documents reveal that it was set on an altar in the main hall of the Imperial Ancestral Temple. The stylized floral patterns, filled with multicolored enamel cloisonné, represent the fine level of enamel inlay during the mid and late Qing dynasty. The beast displays design elements commonly found in Persian objects. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photograph © National Palace Museum

A palm-sized white ceramic cup with two fine blue lines encircling its rim depicts colorful chickens tending their chicks and proud roosters amidst groups of rocks and flowers.  At first glance, the cup appears to be a run-of-the-mill item that someone who liked chickens might pick up at a charity thrift shop and place in their kitchen window.  But this is the renowned “chicken cup,” the most extraordinary type of early Ming multicolor porcelain in existence, which for centuries has been coveted by emperors, literati collectors and connoisseurs of Chinese art.  It bears an imperial seal in a cobalt blue underglaze on its bottom indicating it was created during the reign of Ming Emperor Chenghua.  Of course, it’s impossible to put a price on the priceless, but the 500 year-old Meiyantang Chenghua chicken cup, very similar, sold at auction in 2014 for $36.3 million. For the untrained eye, such are the surprises that await in the 150 objects on display at the Asian Art Museum (AAM) in their summer show, Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum (June 17-Sept 18). Those more grounded in Chinese art will revel in the nuances of the crème de le crème of Chinese Imperial art selected by Jay Xu (AAM director) and Li He (AAM associate curator), co-curators of this show.

Considered the world’s top collection of Chinese art, the National Palace Museum was founded in 1965 and contains hundreds of thousands of the Imperial family’s extensive collections of artworks, artifacts and palatial treasures.  In order to protect them from the ravages of war, these treasures were relocated to Taiwan from the National Palace Museum, in the Forbidden City, Beijing, in 1947 and from other hiding places in China at other dates.  The collection rarely travels outside Asia and roughly 100 of the paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, jades, bronzes and textiles have never before been seen in the United States.  The other 50 were shown at the Metropolitan Museum in the spring of 1996 when Jay Xu was a young curator there.

AAM Emperors' Treasures Cup with chicken design EX2016.3.91_01

Ming dynasty “chicken cup,” from Ming imperial shop, Jingdezhen, China, created during Chenghua reign (1465-87). Its subtle “doucai” color scheme (contrasting, interlocking, joined or dovetailed colors) was achieved by double firing. An outline of the composition was made in cobalt on raw clay and the cup was glazed and fired (underglazing). The resulting blue outlines were filled in with numerous colors on top of the glaze and then the object was fired again (overglazing). Nobility, wealth and fortune are suggested by two chicken families gathering near alternating rock and orchid and rock and peony compositions. The Imperial seal of Emperor Chenghua (1465-87) is on the underside. So beloved was this cup that it was copied by Manchu emperors in the Qing Imperial Workshop in the eighteenth century. National Palace Museum Taipei. Photograph © National Palace Museum

 

 

The exhibit spans 800 years of Chinese history, covering Han Chinese, Mongol and Manchu periods from the early 12th century Song dynasty though the Yuan, Ming and early 20th century Qing dynasties.  The structure is chronological, following the reigns of nine monarchs, eight male and one female, each of whom heavily influenced the artworks of their respective eras.  The team at the Asian, in close collaboration with Taipei, has done a wonderful job presenting the many aesthetic currents that ran through Chinese imperial art as Chinese emperors expressed their personal tastes and embraced various foreign innovations and influences.  Wall placards provide rich context and full Chinese translations, while the audio-guide and catalog provide even more information.

“This is not a typical blockbuster art show in its scale,” says Dr. Richard Vinograd, Christensen Professor in Asian Art, Stanford, “but it’s very rich in terms of objects and art forms that are included over a very broad span of time.  The value of these objects can be distinguished between their pure artistic value and connoisseurs’ or collectors’ values, which are attached to Imperial patronage, transmission, and technical innovations embodied in the works.”  Indeed, some of these artworks are like people you meet who, initially, may not seem very interesting but once you get to know them, become thoroughly engrossing.

Exhibition Highlights:

Innovative Calligraphy

Grotesque Stones, by Emperor Huizong (Zhao Ji, Chinese, 1082–1135). Northern Song dynasty. Album leaf, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

Grotesque Stones, by Emperor Huizong (Zhao Ji, Chinese, 1082–1135). Northern Song dynasty. Album leaf, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

Emperors’ Treasures opens with an exploration of Emperor Huizong (r.1101-1125 AD), who sought escape from the affairs of state through the arts and letters.  His connoisseurship had a formidable impact on the study of antiquities in China and he collected over 6,000 paintings, thousands of antiquities and bronzes, many of which were lost when the Jin army, which he was once in alliance with, invaded in 1127.  A brilliant and dedicated calligrapher, Huizong invented the “Slender Gold” style of calligraphy, unlike anything that preceded it, which had such unique energetic brushstrokes that they are often described as the legs of dancing cranes.  Huizong was enamored by anthropomorphic rocks and stocked his imperial garden with them, giving them names which were engraved on them.  A Daoist poem he composed, which is in the show, praises the form of a particularly unique rock. Equally fascinating is Huizong’s back story: he sired over 65 children.

 

Ma Yuan, “Walking on a path in spring,” Southern Song dynasty reign of Emperor Ningzong (1195-1224), album leaf, ink and color on silk, calligraphy attributed to Ningzong. The relationship between poem in the upper right corner and the ink drawing is one of ongoing scholarship. Both the drawing and poem are lyrical, addressing the intersection of stillness and activity. The poem alludes to the sleeves of the individual’s garment brushing against the flowers and making them move. The second line refers to the birds; disturbed, they flee and cut short their songs.

Ma Yuan, “Walking on a path in spring,” Southern Song dynasty reign of Emperor Ningzong (1195-1224), album leaf, ink and color on silk, calligraphy attributed to Ningzong. The relationship between poem in the upper right corner and the ink drawing is one of ongoing scholarship. Both the drawing and poem are lyrical, addressing the intersection of stillness and activity. The poem alludes to the sleeves of the individual’s garment brushing against the flowers and making them move. The second line refers to the birds; disturbed, they flee and cut short their songs.

The well-known but quiet Southern Song dynasty painting “Walking on a Path in Spring,” illustrates important unresolved issues that apply to many paintings of the Song period and beyond.  This ink drawing on silk is by Ma Yuan, one of the more famous court-affiliated artists of  the fourth Southern Song dynasty emperor, Ningzong (r. 1195-1224).  It depicts someone strolling and twisting his beard, his view extending into a misty void.  A smaller figure (lower left) seems to be following him and carrying something.  A bird sits on a branch and another is in flight, directing the viewer’s eye to the imperial couplet in the upper right, for which there are a variety of translations.

“The most interesting question is: what is the relationship between the poem and the painting and which came first?,” says Richard Vinograd.  Even for the painter Ma Yuan, whose work is well known, very little is known about his life or about the status of court-affiliated artists during this period, explains Vinograd.  “We do know that Ma Yuan had a big impact with his own work and was part of a multi-generational family of artists that were active in the Song Dynasty.  Their stylistic mode was important for centuries thereafter as a model for later artists to refer to or imitate.”  Vinograd will speak about the exhibit at the Asian Art Museum on Saturday, August 25, and will further explore the relationship between painting and calligraphy appearing in early paintings.

Imperial Portraits

Portrait of Kublai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty. Album leaf, ink and color on silk, H 59.4 cm x W 47 cm. National Palace Museum. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Portrait of Kublai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty. Album leaf, ink and color on silk, H 59.4 cm x W 47 cm. National Palace Museum. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Emperors’ Treasures gives ample evidence of the great diversity of Chinese culture, highlighting non-Chinese rulers who were exceptional leaders and introduced new practices.  The Mongol, Kublai Khan, grandson of Gengis Khan, become China’s first non-Chinese emperor in the late 13th century and founded the Yuan dynasty.  The history is fascinating: the Mongols came in from the northwestern steppes around 1237 and finally overtook China in 1276, toppling the Song dynasty in the South.  They also invaded what was then Iran, so the world’s two oldest cultures were under one rule.  This expansion and unification of China led to a massive influx of artisans and craftsmen from all over the vast Mongol empire and great cross-pollination which had reverberations even in Italian art of the fourteenth century.    Unlike other emperors in the exhibit who created art, Kublai expressed his taste through administrative acts that supported the arts.  His unsigned bust portrait, likely produced by a court painter, is executed in the style of most all Imperial portraits:  it depicts a flat two-dimensional, forward facing, remote leader.  In plain Mongol dress and headdress, with a hairstyle of three braided loops hanging from behind the ear, Kublai is presented unambiguously as the emperor of China but as something foreign at the same time.

Porcelain

 

Yuan dynasty porcelain cup and saucer with cobalt blue glaze and gilt decoration. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

Yuan dynasty porcelain cup and saucer with cobalt blue glaze and gilt decoration. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

 

Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) porcelain reflected the craze for fine cobalt blue pigment which came from Iran and was used prevalently in Islamic art.  Another quite ordinary looking treasure, important not for its style but for its exquisite deep blue color,  this rare wine cup and saucer set came from the porcelain center in Jingdezhen.  There, artisans mastered the use of cobalt for monochrome glaze and underglaze decoration and developed a new decorative element which involved applying gold over the vivid blue. Originally, the cup and saucer were decorated with gold motifs which have long since fallen away.  Residue reveals that plum branches surrounded the exterior of the cup; these were a symbol of faith and self-esteem and were an important motif in Yuan art.

The use of cobalt would reach new heights during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as would the fineness of porcelain explaining the enduring craze for Ming. Innovation in clay recipes allowed for vessels to become thinner and thus lighter.  New body and glaze recipes produced a purer, more translucent white and a glossier finish which were even softer to the touch.  The variation of shapes expanded too and Islamic influences crept into bottles, flasks, jugs, candleholders and boxes.  Aside from the palm-sized chicken cup, several exquisite examples are in the exhibit, including a very large celestial globe vase with an imposing three-clawed, heavily-scaled flying dragon encircling the vase’s body. The vase’s neck and background are of delightful array of lotus flowers and leaves.

The richest art collection in Chinese history

Of the nine Imperial rulers covered in the exhibition, a stand-out is the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty, Qianlong (r.1736-1795), a contemporary of George Washington.  He reined for 60 years and together with his grandfather, Emperor Kangxi, and his father, Emperor Yongzheng, created the last and most prosperous of Chinese feudal dynasties.  Even though Emperor Qianlong was thoroughly versed in Chinese and composed some 40,000 poems and enjoyed calligraphy, he was not Chinese but was a Manchu, like his father and grandfather.  All were masters at deploying culture through patronage but Qianlong became the greatest art collector in Chinese history, amassing a collection of art and jewels that had been acquired by China’s leaders since the first century BC.  There is no agreement by scholars about the exact size of his collection but the catalog (p.16) gives one estimate of 490,000 by Tsai Mei-Fen, the chief curator of the Object Division of the National Palace Museum.

AAM Emperors' Treasures Vase with revolving core EX2016.3.106

Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design, approx. 1744. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Porcelain with golden glaze, multicolor decoration, and appliquéd sculpture. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

“If you look over the broad span of this exhibit,” says Richard Vinograd, “the later examples of porcelains or objects from the 18th century Qing dynasty are often tour de force examples of structure or interesting enamel decoration.  Their innovative shapes begin to reference other kinds of objects and are quite interesting historically.”

During Qianlong’s reign, revolving vases appear to have been introduced under the supervision of Tang Ying, the gifted director of the imperial factory.  The yellow reticulated vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design in Emperors’ Treasures is one of the most complicated pieces of porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, a feat of artisanship and technical virtuosity.  Each component was fired individually to create an inner vase of exquisite design which rotates when the neck of the exterior vase is turned.

AAM Emperors' Treasures Vase with Emperor Qianlong’s poem EX20

A poem by Emperor Qianlong from midsummer 1778 is carved on the base. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Interestingly, Quianlong’s seals and poetry appear on a number of objects from different eras in the exhibition.  A short poem dated fall 1776 and his Imperial seals “be virtuous” and “eloquent and fluid” are carved on the base of a deep blue Song dynasty ceramic pillow, called a “ruyi,” (wish-granting wand) referencing its graceful mushroom-shape and the magical powers of mushrooms. There’s no easy re-write when it comes to composing on a ceramic pillow but Qianlong made an error that has become permanent─he misidentified the pillow as coming from the Ru kiln and it did not, proving that he was misinformed.  He also carved an eight-line poem on the base of a particularly gorgeous celadon glazed ru-ware vase from the Northern Song dynasty praising its “fresh blue” glaze, its tiny “nail like” spur marks, its “radiating fragrance even with no flowers present,” and its ceremonial function of the Hall of Ancestral Worship. One of his beloved personal objects, a stacking, multi-storied red-lacquered box of treasures, with special compartments for 44 of his prized objects, is a design feat.  It is small enough to be carried and yet contains an ingenious series of compartments and drawers, nineteen of which housed special pieces of jade dating from ancient times as well as a compartment for its own small catalogue recording the contents and their location within.

After closing in San Francisco, the exhibition will travel to Houston Fine Arts Museum, with a slightly different set of treasures.

Richard Vinograd lecture, August 27, 10:30 – noon:  Emperors as Patrons, Participants, and Producers of Paintings”  Richard Vinograd, Christensen Fund Professor of Asian Art, Dept. of Art and Art History, Stanford University and an advisor to the AAM’s Society for Asian Art will explore Emperor’s Treasures by examining the relationship between painting and calligraphy in early paintings, examining ways that painting can be said to have poetic qualities or to be illustrating poetry, an unresolved issue which has led scholars to propose many answers.  Through case studies of several of the rulers and works represented in the exhibition, he will explore the sponsorship, design and fashioning of paintings from the 11th through 18th centuries.  Dr. Vinograd completed his dissertation at U.C. Berkeley in 1979 on the Yuan dynasty artist Wang Meng (1308-85) whose scroll “Thatched House on the East Mountain” (1343), is part of the exhibition. He spent two years in Taipei (1972-74) studying Chinese and combing the archives of the National Palace Museum.    $20 general public; $15 Society members (after Museum admission).  Register online here to be guaranteed a place, or pay when you arrive.

Exhibition catalogue:  A 272 page catalog, edited by Jay Hu and He Li accompanies the exhibition.  Each of the essays by leading scholars in Chinese art and history stands on its own. Extensive object descriptions by AAM associate curator He Li constitute an easily understood and enjoyable journey into Chinese dynastic and visual culture.

Details:   Emperors Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Tapei closes September 18, 2016.  The AAM is located at 200 Larkin Street near Civic Center.  Parking is easy at Civic Center Plaza garage which offers a discount with your validated AAM ticket. (Get it stamped upon entry to the museum.) Hours: Tues-Sun: 10-5; Thursdays until 9 (end Oct 8); closed Mondays. Admission: General admission $20 weekday, $25weekend; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $15 weekday, $20 weekend; 12 & under are free. 1st Sundays are free thanks to Target.  You can pre-purchase your tickets, with no processing fee, online here.

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

interview: curator Karin Breuer─“Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” at the de Young through October 9, 2016

The de Young Museum’s “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” through October 9, 2016, is chock-full of Ruscha’s visual poetry. Sure to put smiles on Bay Area faces is “Honey….I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic To Get Here.” 1984, 76 x 76 inches, oil on canvas, on loan from private collection, © Ed Ruscha.

The de Young Museum’s newest exhibit, “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” through October 9, 2016, is chock-full of Ruscha’s visual poetry. Sure to put smiles on Bay Area faces is “Honey….I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic To Get Here.” 1984, 76 x 76 inches, oil on canvas, on loan from private collection, © Ed Ruscha.

Sixty years ago, Ed Ruscha, moved across country from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to study art at what would become Cal Arts.  Ever since, the celebrated artist, now 78, has been exploring the West’s expansive cultural and physical landscape. “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” at the de Young Museum through October 9, 2016, examines Ruscha’s fascination with the Western United States, shifting emblems of American life, and the effects of time on this restless landscape.  Ninety-nine of the artist’s prints, photos, paintings, and drawings fill the de Young’s Herbst exhibition galleries on the bottom floor, giving us an opportunity to see the originals of artworks we all know from prints and posters, including his mythic Hollywood signs and Standard gasoline stations.

“Ed Ruscha defies easy categorization,” says Karin Breuer, who curated the show and is curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, where she has worked for over 25 years, succeeding Robert Flynn Johnson. “He’s known as a pop artist, conceptual artist, surrealist and, early on, was identified with the West Coast pop movement, the so-called “cool school” of art.  He’s adept at painting, photography, printmaking and has created wonderful artist’s books.  He’s well known for using words as subjects in his imagery and letter forms.”

At the show’s press conference, I spoke with Breuer about Ed Ruscha and her framing of this expansive exhibit and our interview is below.  I also spoke with Max Hollein, FAMSF’s new director, who headed Frankfurt’s Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection (2006-16) and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2001-16).  After 15 years in Deutschland, this German headed West to helm FAMSF, the largest public arts institution in Northern California, and officially began work on June 1.  His impressive skill packet includes overseeing the Städel Museum’s expansion and its digital initiatives platform which entailed collaborating with the tech industry to make the museum’s collections fully and pleasantly accessible online.  Naturally, he’s quite interested in working with the Bay Area’s tech industry as well.  I asked him what attracted him to the Bay Area─

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, right now, it’s filled with so much energy.  There’s a real transformation occurring as it moves to an even higher level and our two museums will be a part of this rising tide.  Basically, museums are not places that you visit; they are gathering places.  I want to make our museums even more welcoming and relevant and part of that is making our education efforts even stronger and more connected to the contemporary culture.

There’s no better welcome to the Bay Area for Hollein, who says he has loved Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood signs “for ages”, than a huge show exploring Ruscha’s wry and poetic take American contemporary culture.

Karin Breuer, curator of “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” and curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, pictured with Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote,” a 1989 lithograph in the FAMSF collection. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Karin Breuer, curator of “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” and curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, pictured with Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote,” a 1989 lithograph in the FAMSF collection. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Here is my conversation with the savvy Karin Breur whose long-standing dialogue with Ruscha and hard work have produced a show with depth that is a delight to behold─

Why frame this show around the “Great American West”?

Karin Breuer:   It was an easy and purposeful decision.  I wanted to reverse a trend I’ve observed in exhibits with artists of Ed’s caliber─staying away from their ‘regionalism’ for fear that leads to a provincial look at an artist’s work.  Instead, I thought, why not examine this.  He’s been an artist who by choice went to school in Los Angeles and has lived there for 60 years and has depicted aspects of the West often in his work.  As I kept looking more and more at the work, I realized there’s a story there from the very beginning, when he came out to art school at the age of 18 and traveled West from Oklahoma, all the way up to today where he’s looking at his Western environment and observing change.  The show contains works from 1961 to 2014, a huge expanse of time, but it’s not a catch-all retrospective.

Has he drawn on the Bay Area at all?

Karin Breuer:   No, not at all; it’s mostly the Southwest that has been his focus and stomping ground.  Last night, however, I heard him say that it’s only recently that he’s come to appreciate San Francisco and the Bay Area.  He’s decided that it’s the most beautiful city in the world but, he said, it may be ‘too beautiful’ for him to handle as subject in his art.  There was kind a stay-tuned aspect to that though.  He’s created a very interesting portfolio of prints called “Los Francisco San Angeles” where he combines street grids from both cities into one image and I think that’s the one effort that he’s made so far to connect the two cities.  These are not in the exhibit.

Ed Ruscha, “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas,” 1963. Oil on canvas, 64 7/8 x 121 3/4 inches, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College.

Ed Ruscha, “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas,” 1963. Oil on canvas, 64 7/8 x 121 3/4 inches, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College.

 

Do you have a personal favorite?

Karin Breuer:   I always thought I did but, every time I walk into the galleries, I seem to change my choice.  I’m still very much in love with “Pyscho Spaghetti Western” and it’s because it depicts a roadway with a lot of garbage, trash, and debris that he has treated as beautifully as a still life.  I find that so evocative of not only his quirky subject matter but also of the West and how it’s changed since he first took to the open roads in 1956.

 

Ed Ruscha, “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” 1983. Oil on canvas, 90 x 136 1/2 inches. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha.

Ed Ruscha, “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” 1983. Oil on canvas, 90 x 136 1/2 inches. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha.

What is the FAMSF’s collecting relationship with Ruscha?  When did you really start building the collection?

Karin Breuer:   Our relationship goes back to 2000, when we acquired Ruscha’s print archive and we came into a collection of over 350 prints at that time.  He continues to contribute to this: each time he makes a print and it’s published, we get an impression of that print.  He’s very prolific and we love that. We now have about 450 prints, one drawing, and one beautiful painting.  For the new de Young building, we commissioned Ed to create a tripych─two panels that would be added to his 1983 painting “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” which we already had in our possession.  You will see a lot of these works in the galleries.

What was his reaction to the show’s concept?

Karin Breuer:   I pitched it to him early on and he liked it and he lent us works from his personal collection and helped facilitate loans from private collectors.  Now that the show is up, he’s been very positive.  This is a very appropriate time for this show as its Ed’s 60th anniversary in California.

“Rodeo,” 1969. Color lithograph, 17 x 24 in. Published by Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

“Rodeo,” 1969. Color lithograph, 17 x 24 in. Published by Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

 

Do you know if he has a favorite word?

Karin Breuer:   No, and I think if you ask him, you won’t get a straight answer either.  There are some words that appear in different forms.  The word “adiós,” for example, also “rancho” and “rodeo”…those are three words that appear in different forms in my show, that he took on the in the 1960’s.  I wouldn’t say that he continues to use them but they percolate in his vocabulary.

When did his fascination with words begin? 

Karin Breuer:   I know that in college, he had a job in a topography workshop and later he worked as a graphic designer, so words have been a part of his thinking for a very long time.  He keeps lists of words that have captured his attention in notebooks and has said that words have temperatures and when those words become really hot that’s when he uses them in his art.

Ed Ruscha, “Hollywood,” 1968, color screenprint, 171/2 x 44 7/16 inches, published by the artist, FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha, “Hollywood,” 1968, color screenprint, 171/2 x 44 7/16 inches, published by the artist, FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

 

Now that you’ve spent a lot of time with his work, what makes it so powerful for you?

Karin Breuer:   I think it’s the sense of humor that is in almost every single image; it’s wonderful─very dry, very laconic.  He’s that kind of a personality too.  I never cease to be amazed when I see something new coming from him─he’s got such a fertile mind, always thinking, always looking and discovering, and then reacting.  Some of his latest paintings feature exploded tire treads that are called ‘gators’ by truckers.  He treats these as beautiful objects and they almost look like angels’ wings.  I just think to myself, that’s really unexpected, brilliant.

What sparked your interest in becoming a curator?  

Karin Breuer:   I’m the curator of prints and drawings and the inspiration came in college.  I was a college as an art history student during the Vietnam War and there was a lot of social protest on campus.  I was scratching my head thinking what does art history have to do with this? The world is changing, am I doing the right thing?   A beloved professor of mine showed slides of Goya’s “Los Caprichos” and “The Disasters of War” and the light bulb went off.  I said to myself ‘prints!’…they can have a political impact and everyone can afford prints…this is a very democratic medium.  So, I went to graduate school to focus on prints and drawings, a realm of socially relevant art history.

“The End, 1991,” Lithograph, 26 3/16 x 36 13/16 in. Published by the artist. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

“The End, 1991,” Lithograph, 26 3/16 x 36 13/16 in. Published by the artist. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

What about your career at the de Young?

Karin Breuer:   I’ve been here 31 years.  When I joined in 1985 as an assistant curator, it was a pretty sleepy institution, as many museums were back in the day. I stayed on and worked my way up, which is kind of unheard of in the younger generations now days, but the Achenbach has only had three professional curators (E. Gunter Troche (1956-71); Robert Flynn Johnson (1975-2007), including myself.  We’ve changed dramatically and dynamically and I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled about Max Hollein’s arrival here.  Already, his energy and enthusiasm are having an impact on us.

Details: “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” closes October 9, 2016.   Hours:  The de Young is open Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and on Fridays (through November 25) until 8:45 p.m.  Admission $22; with discounts for seniors, college students.  Audio guides: $8.  The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.  Street parking is available for 4 hours and there is a paid parking lot with direct access to the museum.

August 17, 2016 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20─eat your way through town!

Elly Lichenstein Supreme Sweets 7.20

Elly Lichenstein, Cinnabar Theater’s artistic director, savors a chocolate cream bite at Supreme Sweets in downtown Petaluma, one of the new participants in Taste of Petaluma. In addition to creating one-off custom desserts that “wow” with imagination and artisanship, Supreme Sweets stocks oodles of homemade sweets at their bakery.  Supreme Sweets offers so many delectable flavor combinations of cupcakes that their webpage instructs visitors to call if they can’t find exactly what they want. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The 11th annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20, 2016, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s all about connecting with Petaluma’s small-town charm and wonderful cuisine—bite by glorious bite.  Taste is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved professional theater, which opens its 44th season in September with The Most Happy Fella, a heartwarming musical romance set in the Wine Country.  If you’ve ever attended one of Cinnabar’s remarkable performances on the old schoolhouse atop the hill, you know what a treasure Cinnabar is.   This year’s Taste features over 80 Petaluma restaurants and food, wine and beverage purveyors at 42 locales scattered across Petaluma’s historic downtown.  Over 60 musicians and dancers will be performing too, offering just as promising an entertainment menu (full performance schedule here). This culinary walking tour draws people from all over the Bay Area and $40 gets you 10 generously portioned tastes of your choosing.

Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder/organizer, in the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma. The baby is her arms is a plate of espresso ganache brownies by Out to Lunch Fine Catering. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder/organizer, in the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma. The baby is her arms is a plate of espresso ganache brownies by Out to Lunch Fine Catering. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“We have more new restaurants here than some towns have restaurants,” says Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder.  “Taste will guide you through the dozens of eateries that call Petaluma their home.  It’s a great day to wander around eating, sipping and hearing music with friends or family.  There’s something delicious at every turn.”

Recently, I was invited to attend two “mini Tastes” along with a number of the North Bay food writers.  Together, we visited eight downtown gems that represent Petaluma’s ever-changing food landscape─ Quinua Cocina Peruana, Out to Lunch Fine Catering, The Shuckery, Supreme Sweets, Thai River, Speakeasy and The Big Easy, Sonoma Spice Queen and Corkscrew Café and Wine Bar.

Two of our tastings took place within the newly restored Hotel Petaluma, which I recommend you get take a peek at during Taste.  The restoration isn’t quite complete but the lobby is finished and is so harmoniously appointed you’ll find yourself wanting to plop down and have a drink.  The spacious formal dining hall, with its tall ceilings and pastel blue plaster walls, fired my imagination, taking me back to times spent in Europe.  Its places like this and our beloved Petaluma Seed Bank and historic Cinnabar Theater that coax me to invite friends to Petaluma.  And then there’s the food!

The newcomers to Taste of Petaluma are previewed first; then the tried and true─

 

Quinua Cocina Peruana

Juan Guiterrez, owner of Quinua Cocina Peruana with his father/chef, Mauro Guiterrez, putting the finishing touches on their signature Ceviche de Pescado─fresh raw red snapper marinated in lime juice mixed with thinly sliced red onions and the traditional Peruvian hot Rocoto pepper. Quinua opened six months ago and is located at 500 Petaluma Blvd. South. For Taste, it will be hosted by Urban Elements Salon, 140 2nd Street, near Theatre Square. The salon will also host Kearsten Leder Photography which will take your complimentary photo for “People of Petaluma in Pictures.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Juan Guiterrez, owner of Quinua Cocina Peruana with his father/chef, Mauro Guiterrez, putting the finishing touches on their signature Ceviche de Pescado─fresh raw red snapper marinated in lime juice mixed with thinly sliced red onions and the traditional Peruvian hot Rocoto pepper. Quinua opened six months ago and is located at 500 Petaluma Blvd. South. For Taste, it will be hosted by Urban Elements Salon, 140 2nd Street, near Theatre Square. The salon will also host Kearsten Leder Photography which will take your complimentary photo for “People of Petaluma in Pictures.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Quinua’s Ceviche de Pescado is served garnished with camote (sweet potato), Peruvian white corn and crispy darker corn kernels from the Andes so that diners can experience that synthesis of flavors and textures distinct to Peruvian cuisine. Key to the flavor is a tiny amount of Rocoto pepper, an heirloom native to the Andes, which Guiterrez sources frozen from Peru. The pepper has relatively thick flesh, like a bell pepper, velvety leaves and resembles a small apple or pear. Before the heat kicks in, it has a sweet, citrus taste. In parts of South America they are referred to "el mas picante de los picantes." Quinua uses it sparingly and effectively. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Quinua’s Ceviche de Pescado is served garnished with camote (sweet potato), Peruvian white corn and crispy darker corn kernels from the Andes so that diners can experience that synthesis of flavors and textures distinct to Peruvian cuisine. Key to the flavor is a tiny amount of Rocoto pepper, an heirloom native to the Andes, which Guiterrez sources frozen from Peru. The pepper has relatively thick flesh, like a bell pepper, velvety leaves and resembles a small apple or pear. Before the heat kicks in, it has a sweet, citrus taste. In parts of South America they are referred to “el mas picante de los picantes.” Quinua uses it sparingly and effectively. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Out to Lunch Fine Catering

Bethany Barsman, owner of Out to Lunch Fine Catering, puts finishing touches on tasting plates of Coconut Prawn with Mango Aoli; Sausage-stuffed Mushroom with Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses; Vegetarian Samoza with Mango Chutney, garnished with thyme, rosemary and sage; and Vietnamese Rice Roll with chili sauce. Out to Lunch catering is the preferred caterer of The Petaluma Hotel, 205 Kentucky Street, which is hosting Out to Lunch for Taste of Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Bethany Barsman, owner of Out to Lunch Fine Catering, puts finishing touches on tasting plates of Coconut Prawn with Mango Aoli; Sausage-stuffed Mushroom with Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses; Vegetarian Samoza with Mango Chutney, garnished with thyme, rosemary and sage; and Vietnamese Rice Roll with chili sauce. Out to Lunch catering is the preferred caterer of The Petaluma Hotel, 205 Kentucky Street, which is hosting Out to Lunch for Taste of Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Out to Lunch Fine Catering will offer a Sausage-stuffed Mushroom w/ Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses (second up from bottom) and a Vegetarian Curried Potato & Pea Samosa with Mango Chutney (third up from bottom). Hosted by Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Out to Lunch Fine Catering will offer a Sausage-stuffed Mushroom w/ Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses (second up from bottom) and a Vegetarian Curried Potato & Pea Samosa with Mango Chutney (third up from bottom). Hosted by Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The Shuckery

Jazmine Lalicker, co-owner of The Shuckery, the newly-opened 54-seat oyster bar and restaurant, housed in the Petaluma Hotel. The Shuckery features exquisite fresh oysters and seafood from pristine waters all across North America, local wines, and Chef Seth Harvey’s cuisine, inspired by our local bounty. Jazmine is in partnership with her sister Aluxa Lalicker. The duo has been enormously successful as The Oyster Girls, the Tamales Bay-based traveling oyster bar that has been delighting the Bay Area since 2007 with oysters and pizzazz. The Petaluma Hotel’s atmosphere is an added boon. The Shuckery is at 100 Washington Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Jazmine Lalicker, co-owner of The Shuckery, the newly-opened 54-seat oyster bar and restaurant, housed in the Petaluma Hotel. The Shuckery features exquisite fresh oysters and seafood from pristine waters all across North America, local wines, and Chef Seth Harvey’s cuisine, inspired by our local bounty. Jazmine is in partnership with her sister Aluxa Lalicker. The duo has been enormously successful as The Oyster Girls, the Tamales Bay-based traveling oyster bar that has been delighting the Bay Area since 2007 with oysters and pizzazz. The Petaluma Hotel’s atmosphere is an added boon. The Shuckery is at 100 Washington Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste of Petaluma, The Shuckery will offer Ceviche Misto─ rockfish, shrimp, bay scallop, piquillo pepper coulis, citrus, and cilantro on a white corn tortilla. The Shuckery is at 100 Washnigton Street

For Taste of Petaluma, The Shuckery will offer Ceviche Misto─ rockfish, shrimp, bay scallop, piquillo pepper coulis, citrus, and cilantro on a white corn tortilla. The Shuckery is at 100 Washington Street

Supreme Sweets

Christina Danner, owner and confectionery artist behind Supreme Sweets, is a temptress. Her mouthwatering cupcakes and cookies, all baked from scratch, urge customers to break all their resolutions. That’s just the top of the iceberg. This Sonoma-born mother of three and former admin assistant, used to bake special cakes for fun. She so wowed people with her artisanship that she was convinced to open her own business. Taste offerings will include a variety of freshly-baked sweets to choose from and a cup of coffee or tea. Gluten free options will also be available. Danner is holding her salted caramel cupcakes, her most popular item right now. Supreme Sweets is at 228 Petaluma Blvd. North. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Christina Danner, owner and confectionery artist behind Supreme Sweets, is a temptress. Her mouthwatering cupcakes and cookies, all baked from scratch, urge customers to break all their resolutions. This Sonoma-born mother of three and former admin assistant, used to bake special cakes for fun. She so wowed people with her artisanship that she was convinced to open her own business. Taste offerings will include a variety of freshly-baked sweets to choose from and a cup of coffee or tea. Gluten free options will also be available. Danner is holding her salted caramel cupcakes, her most popular item right now. Supreme Sweets is at 228 Petaluma Blvd. North. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Hay Bales─moist cake coated with white chocolate and rolled in crispy toasted coconut, a delectable homage to our county’s farming traditions. Supreme Sweets also does a mean Buckeye─ round peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Hay Bales─moist cake coated with white chocolate and rolled in crispy toasted coconut, a delectable homage to our county’s farming traditions. Supreme Sweets also does a mean Buckeye─ round peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Thai River

Langlet Sawaluck (“Louise”), manager of Thai River, with Mango Prawn Panang. Langlet opened Petaluma’s beloved Thai Ginger restaurant in 2003 which she left after 7 years to open Novato’s Thai Bistro in 2011. She so missed Petaluma that she jumped at the chance to open Thai River with her husband Frederic Langlet, owner, and sister, Chef Jantra Tokratok. Langlet is especially proud of her curries; the curry pastes are blended on the premises and she takes advantage of seasonal offerings, like mangos, to create authentic Thai delicacies. Every dish is bursting with color and often topped with orchids. Thai River is at 35 East Washington Street, just across the street from the Golden Eagle Shopping Center and offers an extensive take-out menu. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Langlet Sawaluck (“Louise”), manager of Thai River, with Mango Prawn Panang. Langlet opened Petaluma’s beloved Thai Ginger restaurant in 2003 which she left after 7 years to open Novato’s Thai Bistro in 2011. She so missed Petaluma that she jumped at the chance to open Thai River with her husband Frederic Langlet (owner), and sister, Chef Jantra Tokratok. Langlet is especially proud of her curries; the curry pastes are blended on the premises and she takes advantage of seasonal offerings, like mangos, to create authentic Thai delicacies. Every dish is bursting with color and often topped with orchids. Thai River is at 35 East Washington Street, just across the street from the Golden Eagle Shopping Center and offers an extensive take-out menu. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Thai River’s Red Curry Chicken. For Taste, Thai River will offer an Imperial roll (deep fried egg roll stuffed with shrimp, pork and silver noodles and homemade sauce) and a choice of Red Curry Chicken or Tom Kha (coconut milk soup w/ vegetables). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Thai River’s Red Curry Chicken. For Taste, Thai River will offer an Imperial roll (deep fried egg roll stuffed with shrimp, pork and silver noodles and homemade sauce) and a choice of Red Curry Chicken or Tom Kha (coconut milk soup w/ vegetables). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Speakeasy and The Big Easy

Amber Driscoll and Roger Tschann, have built their reputations on serving elegant tapas-style delicacies sourced from fresh local ingredients. Speakeasy has been so successful as Petaluma’s only late night gourmet restaurant that, recently, the couple expanded across American alley with The Big Easy. This underground restaurant and jazz club delivers live music six nights per week, a palette-rocking dinner menu (from Speakeasy) and an extended list of wine by the bottle─all until 2 a.m. every day. At The Big Easy, the sound is clear and the ambiance is enhanced by vintage wooden booths and a long elegant bar. For Taste, the Big Easy will host Sonoma Cider and Best Damn Rootbeer serving a variety of Sonoma Cider Stillwater Spirits in delicious cocktails. Petaluma’s Morris Distributing will serve non-alcoholic drinks including Guayaki Yerba Mate, Hint waters, Cock n'Bull Ginger Beer, Sprecher’s Root Beers and Marley's Mellow Mood teas. Located 128 American Alley. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Amber Driscoll and Roger Tschann, have built their reputations on serving elegant tapas-style delicacies sourced from fresh local ingredients. Speakeasy has been so successful as Petaluma’s only late night gourmet restaurant that, recently, the couple expanded across American alley with The Big Easy. This underground restaurant and jazz club delivers live music six nights per week, a palette-rocking dinner menu (from Speakeasy) and an extended list of wine by the bottle─all until 2 a.m. every day. At The Big Easy, the sound is clear and the ambiance is enhanced by vintage wooden booths and a long elegant bar. For Taste, the Big Easy will host Sonoma Cider and Best Damn Rootbeer serving a variety of Sonoma Cider Stillwater Spirits in delicious cocktails. Petaluma’s Morris Distributing will serve non-alcoholic drinks including Guayaki Yerba Mate, Hint waters, Cock n’Bull Ginger Beer, Sprecher’s Root Beers and Marley’s Mellow Mood teas. Located 128 American Alley. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, Speakeasy will serve Crab, Mango & Green Papaya Salad with curry mayonnaise dressing and fresh herbs (top). Also shown is their refreshing Rock Cod and Mango Ceviche over homemade tortilla chips. Speakeasy offers a scrumptious brunch on Saturday and Sunday and their Creamy Lobster Mac and Cheese with Bacon has become a classic. Located at 139 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite B, at Putnam Plaza. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, Speakeasy will serve Crab, Mango & Green Papaya Salad with curry mayonnaise dressing and fresh herbs (top). Also shown is their refreshing Rock Cod and Mango Ceviche over homemade tortilla chips. Speakeasy offers a scrumptious brunch on Saturday and Sunday and their Creamy Lobster Mac and Cheese with Bacon has become a classic. Located at 139 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite B, at Putnam Plaza. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sonoma Spice Queen

Petaluma’s Wind McAlister turned her life-long enthusiasm for spices and different cultures and cuisines into a booming business, Sonoma Spice Queen, the only 100% organic spice shop in the county. Her spice boutique offers a dazzling array of small-batch organic spices, all selected, prepared and handsomely packaged by McAlister herself, who is always adding new mixes and rubs to her offerings. When you enter her shop, be prepared for intoxicating aromas and the impulse to grab one of everything. McAlister recently obtained a commercial kitchen license for her C Street store front and will be offering cooking classes in the near future. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Petaluma’s Wind McAlister turned her life-long enthusiasm for spices and different cultures and cuisines into a booming business, Sonoma Spice Queen, the only 100% organic spice shop in the county. Her spice boutique offers a dazzling array of small-batch organic spices, all selected, prepared and handsomely packaged by McAlister herself, who is always adding new mixes and rubs to her offerings. When you enter her shop, be prepared for intoxicating aromas and the impulse to grab one of everything. McAlister recently obtained a commercial kitchen license for her C Street store front and will be offering cooking classes in the near future. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sonoma Spice Queen will offer a Caribbean-themed taste─Jamaican Jerk Chicken or Spiced Farm Greens (vegan) topped with a spiced Mango relish, over Cuban-style black beans in a bed of Haitian-style sweet savory rice with coconut cream and lime. A Caribbean-inspired chai is also included─black tea, organic vanilla sugar, coconut, caramelized cut pineapple, McAlister’s organic Chai mix and milk. Traditionally, Jamaican jerk is extremely hot but McAlister will offer a toned-down version. The Jamaican jerk mix sold at her shop, however, is culturally appropriate and packs a lot of spicy heat. Located at 407 C Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sonoma Spice Queen will offer a Caribbean-themed taste─Jamaican Jerk Chicken or Spiced Farm Greens (vegan) topped with a spiced Mango relish, over Cuban-style black beans in a bed of Haitian-style sweet savory rice with coconut cream and lime. A Caribbean-inspired chai is also included─black tea, organic vanilla sugar, coconut, caramelized cut pineapple, McAlister’s organic Chai mix and milk. Traditionally, Jamaican jerk is extremely hot but McAlister will offer a toned-down version. The Jamaican jerk mix sold at her shop, however, is culturally appropriate and packs a lot of spicy heat. Located at 407 C Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

CorkScrew Wine Bar

CorkScrew Wine Bar Owner Basha Quilici long dreamed of opening a wine bar, especially after designing them for clients. Petaluma’s welcoming atmosphere inspired her to create a bar of her own with a European vibe. CorkScrew is nestled in the charming cobblestoned pedestrian walkway where one end of Western Avenue meets the bustling boulevard and the river, and it offers both indoor and open air seating. Quilici takes pride in the variety of fine wines and beers offered and in food prepared from locally sourced ingredients and vendors such as Full Circle Bakery, Sonoma Brinery and our area’s treasured artisan cheesemakers. There is live music on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every fourth Thursday of the month, Corkscrew offers its Sunset Winemaker Series with thematic wine tastings or featured winemakers. Photo: Geneva Anderson

CorkScrew Wine Bar Owner Basha Quilici long dreamed of opening a wine bar, especially after designing them for clients. Petaluma’s welcoming atmosphere inspired her to create a bar of her own with a European vibe. CorkScrew is nestled in the charming cobblestoned pedestrian walkway where one end of Western Avenue meets the bustling boulevard and the river, and it offers both indoor and open air seating. Quilici takes pride in the variety of fine wines and beers offered and in food prepared from locally sourced ingredients and vendors such as Full Circle Bakery, Sonoma Brinery and our area’s treasured artisan cheesemakers. There is live music on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every fourth Thursday of the month, Corkscrew offers its Sunset Winemaker Series with thematic wine tastings or featured winemakers. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, CorkScrew will serve Vegan Avocado Coconut Toasts ─avocado & toasted unsweetened coconut with red pepper flakes on Full Circle Bakery baguette. The avocado toast pairs very nicely with their white tap wine, an unfiltered and unfined Sauvignon blanc. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, CorkScrew will serve Vegan Avocado Coconut Toasts ─avocado & toasted unsweetened coconut with red pepper flakes on Full Circle Bakery baguette. The avocado toast pairs very nicely with their white tap wine, an unfiltered and unfined Sauvignon blanc. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Taste of Petaluma Details:

The 11th Annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20, 2016 from 11:30 AM to 4 PM.  Ticket packages are $40 and consist of 10 tasting tickets, good for 1 taste each.  Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the event from 10:30 AM onwards at Helen Putnam Plaza.  Only 1500 tickets will be sold.  Advance Tickets can be purchased online here (with surcharge) and must be picked up on the day of the event.  Advance tickets can be purchased in person until Friday, August 19, 3 p.m. at the following venues in Petaluma—Blush Collections (117 Kentucky Street), Cinnabar Theater (333 Petaluma Blvd. North), Gallery One (209 Western Ave.), and Velvet Ice Collections (140 2nd Street, Theater Square).  All Advance tickets need to be picked up at WILL CALL at Helen Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. North) after 10:30 AM on the day of the event.

All participants receive a plastic wine glass.  You can purchase more tickets throughout the day for $4 each.

Parking Alert: Parking downtown is 2 hours.   Just a couple blocks out of downtown there are no restrictions.   The Theater Square garage has unlimited, free parking.   The Keller St. garage is 4 hours, except for the top floor which is 10 hours.  Parking tickets are $50. Be forewarned and read the signs.  

August 14, 2016 Posted by | Food, Theater, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview: Israeli director Gilad Baram talks about “Koudelka Shooting Holy Land,” his debut doc on Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka, screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this week

 

Baram Koudelka 08

Czech-born French Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka in Israel/Palestine. Koudelka is the focus of Israeli filmmaker Gilad Baram’s documentary “Koudelka Shooting Holy Land” (2015), screening twice at the at 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival which runs through August 7 at venues throughout the Bay Area, including Smith Rafael Film Center. Still from “Koudelka Shooting Holy Land” @ Gilad Baram.

 

Czech-born French Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka’s images from Gypsies (1975) and Exiles (1988) documented the Roma and displaced populations across Europe in a way that grabbed people and pulled them right into the images. Koudelka shed light on previously unknown worlds of mysticism, delight, sadness and ways of being which pierced our souls and upon which we too could pin our own dreams.   Koudelka’s commitment to his subjects was hard earned; he lived and traveled with his subjects for decades, and the trust they gave in return is evident in these intimate images.  His arresting images from the streets of his native Prague during the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 are what catapulted him initially into the elite Magnum circle.

Recently, Koudleka, now 79, has focused on panoramic landscapes and turned his lens on the Holy Land to explore how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has left its mark on the landscape itself.  Accompanying Koudelka on this assignment was young Israeli photographer Gilad Baram, a student at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, who gradually turned his own lens on Koudelka to produce a fascinating documentary portrait of a man whose images are world famous but about whom very little is known.   Baram worked as Koudelka’s assistant for four years, accompanying him on seven separate visits throughout Palestine and Israel.  His duties were to provide Koudelka’s travel arrangements, logistical support and translation.  Every day, they would worked from about 7 am until the light faded, an experience that changed Baram’s life.  His film, Koudleka Shooting Holy Land (German/Czech Republic 2015) screens twice at 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 36), which kicked off Thursday at the Castro Theater and runs through August 7 in venues throughout the Bay Area, including San Rafael.

I spoke with Baram on Wednesday and he opened up about all aspects of his remarkable experience with Koudelka.   One of the challenges that any filmmaker faces in making a film about an artist of this caliber is to find a way to channel that individual’s gift without pandering to the iconization of the artist or his work.   Baram pulls this off through a series of artistic choices, producing a riveting portrait that reveals Koudelka’s way of working, his soft-spoken personality and his accumulated wisdom as well as the stunning images that result.   For those of us who are photography buffs, the chance to see the divided landscape up close, with Koudelka maneuvering, crawling, waiting and offering the rare comment as well as the goods─those precious contact sheets and the resulting prints─is a revelation.

Koudelka Shooting Holy Land screens Monday July 25th at 4 pm at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, and at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley, on Sunday, July 31, at 1:55 pm.  Filmmaker Gilad Baram in attendance at both screenings for post-screening Q&A.

What brought Koudelka to the Holy Land and how did you come to be his assistant?

Gilad Baram:  It began in 2008, when Frédéric Brenner, a French Jewish photographer, who was famous for documenting Jewish communities world-wide, was gathering this group of 12 big names in the world of photography to come to Israel to explore different aspects of the country.  They would be given this extended and very generous period of time and resources to create their own body of work that was, afterwards, intended to become a group exhibition, a kind of huge fragmented portrait, and a book, that would travel around the world.  It came to be “This Place,” which premiered in Prague, continued to Tel Aviv and was recently exhibited in Brooklyn.

Director Gilad Baram and photographer Josef Koudelka, Qalandia Checkpoint, the main checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem. © Frédéric Brenner

Director Gilad Baram and photographer Josef Koudelka, Qalandia Checkpoint, the main checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem. © Frédéric Brenner

In the beginning, Koudelka declined Brenner’s offer to participate in this group project but was ultimately persuaded to come on this exploratory visit to Israel.  He accidentally bumped into the Wall in East Jerusalem and something quite profound happened in him.  Once he realized that this arouses this deep personal experience in him, he came to the conclusion that there was something he could do there.

I do know that this was his first time in Israel and Palestine and that, like he is usually, he was very suspicious of any project that was fully funded and this large in scope.  Frédéric had made a deal with my photography department to choose students who would assist these photographers.  I was the first student picked out and Josef was the first to arrive and we were put together completely by chance.  It was in February 2009.  We shook hands and had a short conversation and agreed to meet at 7 a.m. the next morning.  I had no idea what I was getting into.

Do you recall your first encounter with Koudelka’s work and your impressions?

Gilad Baram:  Yes, clearly.  It was 2005, in the library of my art school.  It was my first year there and, by accident, I opened the book Gypsies (1975) and was blown away.   I immediately connected with his photographs and his way of photographing, which I later learned is inseparable from his way of living.  Back then, I was fascinated with this and thought I too will become this nomad photographer who goes around and discovers the world, and who tends more towards the underdog.  Four years later, suddenly I’m in the lobby of a hotel in Jerusalem shaking hands with the guy who made these great photos and we set off on this incredible adventure, which neither of us anticipated.  I never imagined this would become a film.

How did your first day of work go?

Gilad Baram:  I discovered that Josef Koudleka does not need an assistant but what he does need is someone to drive him around who can communicate in the local language and a little company now and then.  He was very reserved at the beginning.  He is and has always been a lone wolf and a very wise one.  In the past 30 years or so, as his way of photographing has evolved, he uses these locals in the various places he visits to enable him with maneuvering the terrain.   In each place he goes now days, Magnum has arranged someone for this purpose who meets him.  It became quite apparent to me that we would not become friends.  He was on a mission and that was his priority.  He was, most definitely, not interested in talking too much.

Gilad Baram and Josef Koudelka in Israel/Palestine, © Gilad Baram.

Gilad Baram and Josef Koudelka in Israel/Palestine, © Gilad Baram.

How did the idea for the film come about?

Gilad Baram:  As I said, I had no intention to make a film.  At the very beginning of our journey, on the second day, when we were traveling up the West Bank, we stopped the car and he went out.  I too got out and took my camera with me.  He started photographing and then turned to me and said ‘you’re not going to hang around with this camera while I’m photographing, so please leave it in the car’.  I obeyed but I was upset.  I didn’t understand how a photographer could say that to another photographer, let alone a student.   When we arrived at the second place, I took my camera out of the car and just did it again.  This time, he turned me to and didn’t say anything but just walked away.  That’s when it started.  It was this combo of me realizing that Josef Koudelka doesn’t need an assistant and if I wished to survive this adventure, I’d have to do something for myself and by myself.  As he was walking away, I interpreted it as ‘you have a certain permission’.

Later, in the car, he made a kind of agreement with me–I would be allowed to photograph but I would not be allowed to show them to anyone, not even my colleagues at school and, if I wanted to do anything with these photos, I needed to have his permission.  He also mentioned that he should have full access to my material in case he was interested in it.  I had no option but to say OK.  It happened that my camera was the Canon 5D Mark II, which had full video mode, and, very soon, I began using that.  I’m not sure he even noticed because I wasn’t directing the camera to him at first. But it soon became very clear that he was the most interesting thing around.  I think he thought that I would not be quiet in the car, so he’d ‘let the children play’ so he could get on with his work and I would have something to do.  That was the dynamic in the beginning.  Clearly, it changed throughout time.

How did this video you were taking on the sly evolve into a film?  

Gilad Baram:   The dynamics changed.  Between each of his visits, there was more or less half a year that passed.  Between his first and second trip, I started to look at the material and after the third and fourth trips, I realized that this massive accumulation might be of interest to other people too.  That’s when I began thinking to myself that perhaps there’s a statue that is hidden in this huge chunk of marble and I need to start carving it out.  It was a very frustrating process.  In the beginning, when filming, I was restless and was running around like crazy with my camera.  I couldn’t really position myself because he was moving constantly.  Watching that footage, I knew immediately it was bullshit and that, if I’d like to attempt depicting him and his work, I would need to change my approach. It hit me that I should try adopting the way that he looks at the world.  I started slowing down and developing a visual language that was more connected to still photography and less to the moving image, establishing my camera on a tripod and allowing Koudelka to move in the compositions, which was key.  I was bridging the moving image with the still image in a way.  Once I started down that path, it was a long process of trials and errors, watching him and learning. This film is a result of this process.

Josef Koudelka, A crusader map mural, Kalya Junction, Near the Dead Sea, 2009 © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka, A crusader map mural, Kalya Junction, Near the Dead Sea, 2009 © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

 

He’s a visual storyteller who has always stood on his own and I’m curious about how he reacted to you embellishing this with a film which he probably perceived of as unnecessary.

Gilad Baram:   The first thing I showed Josef was this timeline I had made with a mass of material.  He was not impressed.  Yet, he said I should go on.   I don’t think he realized how serious I was; that only came at a later stage.  Our initial verbal contract was still binding but things evolved from him letting me distract myself by filming to keep out from under his legs, to him becoming a part of it.  We reached an extreme when, during his last visit, he actually asked me when he should be entering the frame.  That went too far and I knew something was starting to go wrong.  I realized that when he was not taking me that seriously, he was actually genuine.  Also, there was something quite crucial about me filming with the 5D Mark II that was in fact a still camera but also had a full frame video mode.  Josef didn’t feel there was an estranged object around him, which enabled him to feel more at ease as the apparatus was familiar to him.  Koudelka does not give interviews, he does not attend openings frequently and doesn’t want any distraction from his work; he is all about the photography.  He probably perceived of this film as a major disturbance while I was following him in Israel and Palestine.  His way of dealing was to put it off and to say ‘just show me the result in the end.’  It became very evident that I was going through with this film during his last visit and that was when he changed his behavior in the way I described and, subsequently, those segments do not appear in the film.

I poured over some 140 hours, with Elisa Purfürst, the dedicated editor and co-writer of the film, and there was a point when I came to Paris with a short edited version to show to him and to those close to him and that was a crucial moment.  He realized that I was going through with this.  The reaction of those around him was crucial as well.  They expressed their appreciation of what they had watched and said they never imagined that he and his work could come across so honestly.  That was a very moving and important moment.   Josef just asked me one question─ what I had learned throughout our time together and in making this film.  The first thing that came to mind was that I learned how to look, I mean on many different levels.  In the photography sense, there was looking at composition, light, locations, and so forth but also how to look at something I was taught not to turn my gaze on.  This time with Josef opened a window for me and allowed me to really take time to look and for what I saw to resonate.  That was my answer to him.  After that, it was carte blanche.   He later on was very generous and gave me access to his contact sheets and I basically went through all of them, from his early days until now.  That was incredible.

 

Josef Koudelka in Israel/Palestine. Still from “Koudelka: Shooting Holy Land” (2015) © Gilad Baram.

Josef Koudelka in Israel/Palestine. Still from “Koudelka Shooting Holy Land” (2015) © Gilad Baram.

 

You made a number of shrewd choices regarding how to weave this all together.  It was very satisfying to wait with him for all the elements to fall into place, to suffer through the various distractions, to experience him maneuvering in for the shot.  Also, hearing his voice and how and what he communicated gave me the feeling that I knew him a bit.  You also honored the time it takes to really look at a photo.  After taking us along on a shoot, you gave us a further sense of his artistry by showing his contact sheets and the images he ultimately selected.  He has this keen internal radar for the line of sight which becomes so evident when we can see the various stills that resulted from his shifting his lens just a few fractions of an inch. 

Gilad Baram:  The challenge of sculpting this mass of material was to have someone wise and observant dig into it with me, Elisa Purfürst.  Our mission was to depict his work and way of working without falling into the traps that come with the territory and to really give the photos the space and life that they need.   Also to manage with the few words that he did say to convey his way of thinking, something that you cannot decipher from just watching him. We also wanted to reveal parts of his biography where it was extremely important to understand why he does what he does and why he reacts to things in the way he does.  We went through many versions of the film and it was never right until it was right.

In the film, we see him returning to places he’s already photographed and he brings his old photos with him.  What is he striving for?

Gilad Baram:  This was a complete surprise and a certain revelation, something that when looking at his photos, before I knew him, I never thought that was part of his process.  He studies deeply his own photographs and when doing so, he also studies changes in the landscape.  He takes what he feels are his best images with him back to a location and tries to perfect them.  When he reaches the point, where he feels he can’t do it any better, or things have physically changed to prevent that, he calls it quits and goes on to the next. The kind of sensitivity you need for that, for knowing when to draw the line requires complete commitment and intuition.

Over the course of his life and career, his photos have also evolved.  The photos that he made when he was younger are, of course, different than those he makes today.  Those projects up to and including the 80’s have to do mainly with people or depicting people, while his work since has to do with landscape.  However people are still present as these landscapes he photographs are affected by man.  In a way, this is even more of a profound statement as it is a very subtle way to learn about human beings.  I think this shift has two aspects.  One is the need in an artist’s life for change, not to repeat oneself.  This, I believe, played quite a major role in his picking up this panoramic format after years of photographing in 35mm and in turning his gaze towards landscape rather than the human figure.  The other is what happens to all of us, which is aging.  Josef described the work created in the first part of his career as endlessly chasing a moment, spending all his time running after something which is all the time disappearing and will not exist anymore.  What happened in the second part, and is still happening, is waiting; he is now waiting for the moment.  These are is two sides of the same coin you know.   That’s a lovely thing to realize about him and about photography in general.

Josef Koudelka, Rachel’s Tomb, 2009 © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka, Rachel’s Tomb, 2009 © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Having studied his images from this series so intently, is there one single image that speaks to you, or even haunts you?

Gilad Baram:  Josef came as foreigner, as so many photographers before him and many have fallen into the traps that are present in this extremely complex and crazy place.  Somehow he managed not to.  I admired his wisdom to manage to look so widely at this place and I try to adopt this way of looking.  There is no one single image but the entire body of his work made in Israel and Palestine that I find incredible.  I believe it will have importance in the history of photography of the Holy Land because it shows this extremely well-known theme in a completely different light and from a completely different angle. When people see his work, they respond to it because it is different.

Shu’fat refugee camp © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Shu’fat refugee camp © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

 

Koudelka’s brief quips in the film about the Wall as a cage and prison are profound.  Do you too share these deep feelings? 

Gilad Baram:  I could identify with what he was saying and found that he expressed himself simply but wisely.  Yet, there’s a big difference between us, I mean beyond the age gap.  There’s this historical personal background that Josef carries with him from growing up behind the Iron Curtain.  When someone carries something like that with him for 70 years, they carry a scar and there’s also a lot of anger and frustration and that definitely manifested itself.

It was an extremely intensive time.  Each of his visits was about a month long. Every day we worked all day and we’d finish knackered physically and emotionally.  It was rather depressing walking these areas for an entire month.  Through traveling with him, I learned that I too did grow up with a wall about me.  While it’s not intended for me, it’s there and, even if people choose not to see it, it is still present in their minds.  Being Israeli, I also felt a certain sense of responsibility and I got extremely upset.  I often had this incredible urge to defend as well as to give explanations and counter arguments but, as we met more and more people and saw more, these counter arguments of mine became weaker and weaker.

I understand you saw more of the Wall than most Israeli’s see.  Had you visited before?  What did it mean for you?

Gilad Baram:  Previously, I had been to some protest demonstrations in the village of Bil’in, a few kilometers east of the Green Line, which was the first time I had really entered the West Bank.  I was participating as well as photographing but very soon realized that I don’t connect too much with this form of protest.  These demonstrations didn’t seem the best way of expressing oneself.  That was my basic knowledge of the West Bank.  It was during the long journey with Josef that I really discovered what the West Bank is, not mediated by TV or any other media.  This was something that not too many Israelis get the opportunity, or chose, to do.  It changed my life and changed my perception of what Israel is and what it is doing and what the other side looks like and is doing and how this huge monstrous wall, which is invisible to many, affects peoples’ lives on a daily basis.  We had this incredible opportunity to explore this wall-fence-de-facto border which now stretches over 800 kilometers and we really did explore all of it.

In “Koudelka Shooting the Holy Land,” filmmaker Gilad Baram captures Josef Koudelka as he composes photos related to the changing landscape of the Holy Land. © Josef Koudelka, Magnum Photographers

In “Koudelka Shooting Holy Land,” filmmaker Gilad Baram tracks Josef Koudelka as he composes photos related to the changing landscape of the Holy Land. © Josef Koudelka, Magnum Photographers

 

He was shooting with a film camera; did he ever ask you about your camera, or if he could try it.

Gilad Baram:  No, not at all.  Josef finds it very hard to relate to anything but his own creation.  It’s not ego; it’s that his world is so full of his photography and his concentration on his own work that there is just no space for much else. This applies to me, my camera and also to the work of others and it seems to have always been this way.  There is this story that Josef tells about Henri Cartier-Bresson and the very early stages of their friendship, soon after Josef arrived to Paris. Bresson helped him a lot, took him under his wings.  Bresson asked him for his help going through contact sheets and helping him select some photos.  Josef said he did it once but then went to Bresson and declined to do it again.  He said that he realized that it did not interest him so much and that, mainly, he did not want to be influenced in any way, so he just had to say no.  Back then, of course, you would not imagine anyone saying no to Henri Cartier-Bresson.  This is something I believe made Bresson appreciate Koudelka all the more.

What I experienced is that Koudelka knows very well what fits him and what doesn’t and when to draw the line.  He is not super interested in what others do either.  With regard to equipment, he is curious but he has the sense of what he should pick up.  He shoots in black and white and will not change that.  This is the way in which he sees the world through the view-finder.   He is trying out the formats that interest him but he doesn’t yet feel that he has completely gotten down to the very bone of the panoramic format and he is probably the foremost photographer in the world who has studied this format so deeply.  He feels he has some things yet to explore.  The minute he doesn’t feel this, he will stop and move on.  I think his biggest concern is to feel that he repeats himself.

I have to ask about his energy level…for a man approaching 80, he seems so engaged, alert and vital.

Gilad Baram:  When a person has a mission in life, a passion, and a kind of clear destiny, it seems to come with a motor.  Josef’s motor is to get up in the morning and to go photograph.  We started when he was 72.  Now he’s 79 and still he’s the most restless and alive person I know.  He does not stay in one place for more than a month.  This is in him and how he is.  We talk on the phone every few weeks and he’s this waterfall of activity.  On the other hand, he stands in sun or rain for hours, waiting for a photograph.  This is one of the beautiful contradictions that make this man who he is.  He’s restless yet so committed and dedicated.  It’s all about the next image and what it takes to get it.

 

Josef Koudelka photographing a mural of the late poet, Mahmoud Darwish, considered Palestine's national poet, East Jerusalem. © Gilad Baram

Josef Koudelka photographing a mural of the late poet Mahmoud Darwish, considered Palestine’s national poet, East Jerusalem. @Gilad Baram.

 

What is next for you?

Gilad Baram:  Film just grabbed me and I’m working on two films right now while continuing with my photographic practice, which is very different from Koudelka’s.  My photography started out as purely documentary.  It evolved into an exploration of digital environments with and through photography in an attempt to comprehend the impact of the Internet and big data on the photographic image.

As for the films, both relate somehow to my life at present.  The first continues to explore the theme of the creative process.  This time, together with the artist Adam Kaplan, I’m looking at the failure of this process through the fascinating and dramatic story of a feature-length fiction film made by the Israeli army in the late 90’s and censored just a few weeks before its release. The second project deals with my current place of residence, Germany, and with German teenagers and youth.   It is an attempt to look into the profound change of perception among the upcoming German generation in relation to the sense of guilt and remorse which dominated and shaped German society for decades after WWII.  Two very different projects yet both are very relevant for me at this point in my life.

Details:

Koudelka Shooting Holy Land screens Monday July 25th at 4 pm at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, and at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley, on Sunday, July 31, at 1:55 pm.  Filmmaker Gilad Baram in attendance at both screenings for post-screening Q&A. General Admission tickets $13; click here to purchase.  Advance purchase is recommended.

Several other films about the arts are part of the 36th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 36), which kicked off Thursday evening at the Castro Theater and runs through August 7 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Oakland and San Rafael.  This year’s festival offers 67 films from 15 countries and 52 premieres.  Six films come to the festival fresh from Sundance and six films have won awards at other film festivals.

For those North of the Golden Gate, the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center will offer 14 screenings beginning on Friday, August 5 through Sunday, August 7.  Click here for information and to purchase tickets for the San Rafael segment.  Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended.

 

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Film, Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

At San Francisco’s 21st Silent Film Festival, Something for Everyone─through Sunday

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

With the proliferation of film festivals in the Bay Area, each offering an overwhelming selection, it’s hard to feel that any one of them is really that special.  Here’s one that truly is.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), now in its 21st year, which kicked off Thursday at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Sunday.  This long weekend of silents is the country’s top silent festival and people come from all over the world to experience its magic.  This is silent film as it was meant to be seen─on the big screen with live musical accompaniment and informative introductions by experts and with an enthusiastic audience.  This year’s festival offers a treasure trove of discoveries, rediscoveries and restorations─18 full-length feature films from all over the world.  And on Sunday, there’s a dazzling Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema program, curated by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, that will present exquisite clips of hand painting, dyeing and stencil coloring from another 15 early short color films. 

This year, there is an emphasis on film restoration.   “We’ve gradually been dipping our toe into film restoration,” said festival director Anita Monga.  “Now, we’re actually participating in restoration efforts.  Our board president, Rob Byrne graduated from the EYE Film Institute’s preservation program and now he’s an itinerant restoration guy.  This year, we have five films that we have been directly involved in restoring─René Clair’s (The Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie)(1928) and his Les Deux Timides (1928) both in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française; Irvin Willat’s Behind the Door (1919) in collaboration with the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond of Russia; the hilarious 1926 Richard Wallace short film, What’s the World Coming To? in collaboration with Carleton University and New York University.  This film is part of our Sunday program on early cross-dressing Girls Will be Boys.  Finally, there’s Willis Robards’ 1917 suffrage film, Mothers of Men, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, the British Film Institute, and film archivist James Mockoski.”

The Festival’s wonderful historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling keeps me coming back year after year.  When you see these films, you actually forget they’re silent and become engrossed in the wonderful stories. And the enthusiastic and well informed audience is an added bonus.  Do plan ahead: battling the traffic to get into the City and then to find parking is a huge a factor in the decision to attend an event or not.  I recommend choosing one day on the weekend and coming in for two or three films.  On Sunday, you can park on most streets in the Castro in one spot for the entire day without having to reload your meter or move your car.  On Saturday, you’re off the clock after 6PM. 

Highlights of this year’s festival include:

Saturday, June 4, 12:00 PM  The Strongest (Den starkaste)

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season's seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship "Viking." Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season’s seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship “Viking.” Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Saturday, June 4, 5:15 PM  Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates

A scene from Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920), the earliest surviving film made by an African American director. The film explores racism and stereotypes as it follows an African American woman who goes North to raise money for a school in the rural South . Her romance with a black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family’s past and her own European, mixed-race ancestry. The film is a direct refutation of DW Griffith’s 1915 racist epic, “The Birth of a Nation.” Oakland Symphony conductor Michael Morgan will conduct Adolphus Hailstork’s special musical score that was commissioned for last September’s “Birth of an Answer” (BOAA) event in Virginia which celebrated African American responses to Griffith’s film. Seven string players and 22 members of the chorus from the Oakland Symphony will perform. Image: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society.

 

Sunday, June 5, 10:00 AM Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

 

Full 2016 Festival Schedule

Details: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs Thursday, June 2, 2016 through Sunday, June 5, 2016 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $16 to $20; click here to purchase tickets.  Festival Pass $190 for Silent Film Festival members and $225 general.  Click here to purchase passes. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org

Parking Alert: If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available near the Castro Theatre.  Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.

 

June 2, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italian Maestro, Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera’s Music Director, will step down in 2018

Maestro Nicola Luisotti during a SFO performance. Photo: Terrence McCarthy, SFO

Maestro Nicola Luisotti during a SFO performance. Photo: Terrence McCarthy, SFO

Nicola Luisotti will end his term as music director of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season. He delivered the news Wednesday at War Memorial Opera House before the full company of staff, musicians, chorus, dancers and crew.

Announced by SFO General Director David Gockley as the Company’s third music director in 2007, Mr. Luisotti took the position in September 2009, replacing Donald Runnicles 17 year run. Since his Company debut in 2005 leading Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, the Tuscan-born maestro has led over 30 SFO productions and concerts to date.  He is beloved by audiences world wide.

“I believe that close to a decade is about the right time to be leading a company,” said Luisotti in a press statement. “I want the company’s general director designate, Matthew Shilvock, to be able to move freely into the future with his ideas, his artistic interests and to take San Francisco Opera into a new direction”

In an interview that appeared on the popular opera blog, Operachic, on January 14, 2010, Luisotti, who had just taken the SFO position, explained his feelings at the time

I’ve nurtured a great love for San Francisco, an almost visceral appreciation.  The first time I arrived here in San Francisco, I had come from Los Angeles where I had just conducted a production of Pagliacci.  After staying a month in Los Angeles, I needed to spend two months in San Francisco for (Verdi’s) la Forza del Destino.  I was tired, and really, I just wanted to go home to my house in Tuscany.  But I think it was totally love at first sight when I saw the city of San Francisco. I was living in an apartment in Pacific Heights, practically with a bay view and one also of the Golden Gate Bridge, and thankfully because of the perfect weather, I was able to enjoy a gorgeous view from one of my very first days there. San Francisco’s Opera House revealed itself as a pure environment for music. The enthusiasm, the unity of the professionals in the house, and the love of the art form can generate extraordinary things. Therefore, I fell in love with the city, with the opera house, with the people, and everything that this place – for me, quite magical – offered.  I asked myself if one day I’d ever be lucky enough to become the Musical Director of an opera house that was so special like this one.  So when David Gockley [SFO’s General Director] proposed the position to me, I didn’t hesitate for a single second. My response was immediate without a doubt whatsoever.  That was the place where with Rita, my wife, I was to spend the next part of my life.

Luisotti will lead this summer’s Don Carlo followed by opening SFO’s 94th season in September 2016 with a new Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts co-production of Andrea Chénier. Photo: Terry McCarthy, SFO

Luisotti will lead this summer’s “Don Carlo” followed by opening SFO’s 94th season in September 2016 with “Andrea Chènier,” a new co-production of Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Terry McCarthy, SFO

Shilvock, who succeeds David Gockley as general director on Aug. 1, says he was “deeply saddened” by Luisotti’s decision.

David Gockley said: “I can think of no other person who embodies the love and passion of opera as much as Nicola Luisotti. I’m particularly heartened to know that Nicola will be returning to guest conduct and will continue to maintain his association with the Company. I wish him great success in his future endeavors and know that he will continue to affirm his status as one of the great conductors of his generation.”

Acknowledging the unique artistry of the SFO Orchestra and Chorus, Maestro Luisotti thanked them for their role in the realizing memorable productions of Luisa Miller, the world premiere of Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara (Two Women), Mefistofele, Lohengrin, Salome, Norma, the trio of Mozart-DaPonte operas, and the Verdi Requiem in a historic combined performance with the Teatro San Carlo of Naples.

Luisotti will lead this summer’s Don Carlo followed by opening San Francisco Opera’s 94th season in September 2016 with a new Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts co-production of Andrea Chénier and the annual Opera in the Park concert at Golden Gate Park.  Later in the season, Luisotti will lead a new production of Aida and a revival of Rigoletto.  Throughout his tenure at SFO, the maestro has always had a full plate of international appearances too.  This past season, he scored great acclaim for his conducting engagements at Madrid’s Teatro Real, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, London’s Royal Opera House and most recently in Paris for a new production of Rigoletto.

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival is off and running─here are the best films for armchair travel

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero,” that paints an extraordinary and rare portrait of one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast and otherworldly Slara de Uyuni plateau. Screening three times at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, with filmmaker Mike Plunkett in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero,” which paints an extraordinary portrait of one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast and otherworldly Salar de Uyuni plateau, one of the most secluded places on the planet. This remote region faces the future head-on when Bolivia’s leaders embark on a plan to extract lithium from beneath the salt crust and to build an infrastructure connecting the Salar to the outside world.  Screening three times at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, with filmmaker Mike Plunkett in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Armchair Traveler?   The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 59) (April 23- May 5, 2016) is known for its wonderfully-curated and inspiring world cinema and for championing the work of young, talented directors.  The festival’s been on since last Thursday but most films screen three times over 15 days, so there’s ample opportunity to find a fit for your schedule.  With 173 films and live events from 46 countries, the choice can be overwhelming.  In a way that ordinary tourism rarely allows, here are seven films, with contemporary stories and characters, that will transport you right into the heart of a remote culture─Bolivia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, the Faro Islands, rural India, Iran, North Korea.  Each film below delivers exquisitely filmed authentic sights and is joyful, sad or complex on its own special terms.

One of the joys of attending is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen with digital projection—and participating in stimulating Q&A’s with their directors and actors.  This year, a director or team member from four of these films will be present for post-screening Q&A’s which always shed light on the grueling work and special observational radar it takes to conceive of and pull off a feature-length film.

For full schedule, info, and tickets visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59 .

To read ARThound’s previous SFIFF59 coverage, click here.

Click on the titles of the films below to be directed to the festival webpage for that film and to purchase tickets.

 

Sonita

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami's "Sonita, playing at SFIFF59

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s “Sonita,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

 

(Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, (Germany/Switzerland/Iran, 2015, 91 min)  Robksareh Ghaem Maghami’s documentary (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for world cinema documentary at Sundance) takes us to a homeless shelter in Tehran as it tracks Sonita, a teen-aged Afghan refugee who fled the violence in her homeland to Iran. Sonita loves hip-hop, idolizes Rihanna and has a real knack for rap─ her sassy lyrics pack a defiant punch. In Iran, she is geographically removed from the tradition of child brides, but her Afghan family’s patriarchal practices are still in place. Her older brother wants to sell her so that he can buy his own bride and Sonita’s mother is in full agreement.  Sonita won’t go down without a fight and believes that her dream of becoming a rapper can set her free, despite the fact that in Iran it is illegal for women to perform in public without a permit or to record in a studio. She raps straight to the camera about her fears of being a child bride and the insanity of marrying her off.  What’s different about this doc is that the filmmaker, Maghami, gets directly involved in Sonita’s plight and it’s all captured on film. In the vein of Mustang, the film eloquently captures a young woman standing up for the innate human right to navigate the course of one’s own life. An important film that features immersive shots of  Tehran and Kabul. (Farsi w/subtitles) Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami in attendance/Q&A. Wed, April 27, 6:15 p.m., Alamo; Fri, April 29, 8:45 p.m., BAMPFA

 

Home Care

Alena Mihulová in a scene from Slávek Horák's "Home Care," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

Alena Mihulová in a scene from Slávek Horák’s “Home Care,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Slávek Horák, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2015, 92 min) Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize  Over-dedicated to the point of being nearly co-dependent, home-care nurse, Vlasta (Alena Mihulová) schleps around the bucolic south Moravian countryside on bus and foot tending to patients too sick or elderly to travel to a clinic. Back at home, she cooks and cleans for her growly, self-absorbed husband whose concern for her well-being extends mainly to pouring her shots of brandy and then taking pot shots at her drinking and suggesting ways to finagle gas money from her state-run employer. When she herself is diagnosed with a serious illness, she rejects morphine and finds support from a group of women healers who embrace alternative therapies and self-love which shakes up her relationship at home. Showcasing the amazing Alena Mihulová, who won the Crystal Globe for best actress at Karlovy Vary, this film of self-awakening also showcases life in a small Czech town, taking a dip into spoon-bending, dance, and saving rare frogs in the countryside. The Czech Republic’s Foreign Language Film Oscar submission. (Czech w/subtitles)  Director Slávek Horák in attendance/Q&A. Wed, April 27, 6:45 p.m., Alamo; Thurs, April 28, 8:50 p.m., BAM/PFA; Mon, May 2, 3 p.m., Roxie

 

Salero

A scene from Mike Plunkett's "Salero," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s “Salero,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Mike Plunkett, USA/Bolivia, 2015, 76 min) West Coast Premiere  Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian in his thirties, is one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast Salar de Uyuni plateau.  Underneath this expanse lies the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia based on the sale of this scarce mineral that is vital for batteries and other industrial uses. Moises lives with his wife and two young sons in the tiny Bolivian village of Colchani. His livelihood is dependent on demand for the home-grown table salt he peddles to vendors in Uyuni, a small city that has become the hub of the burgeoning lithium mining industry. Daily, he rises at dawn and labors to gather salt from the flats and load it onto his truck and drive it to be ground. Demand for table salt has been falling steadily and he can barely support his family. The shots of the Bolivian salt flats are other worldly.  Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance/Q&A.   Sat, April 30, 3:15 p.m., Alamo; Sun, May 1, 1 p.m., BAMPFA; Tues, May 3, 3:30 p.m., Roxie 159

 

Thithi    

A scene from Raam Reddy's "Thithi," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Raam Reddy’s “Thithi,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Raam Reddy, India/USA, 2016, 123 min)  Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize    Twenty-five year old Director Raam Reddy’s debut feature, Thithi, set in rural India, is a realistic comedy exploring how three generations of sons in a family, each with different perspectives on life, react to the death of the family patriarch, the grandfather, 101-year-old Century Gowda. As village elders plan his funeral with the final celebration on the 11th day (the “thithi”), the motivations of the two younger generations (his grown grandson and his young adult great grandson) emerge. The greedy grandson wants a piece of land for himself that should pass directly to his father from Century Gowda. The hapless great grandson is driven so crazy by frustration and desire for a girl that he slacks off on responsibilities just when he is most needed. Century Gowda’s son, elderly Gadappa, on the other hand, roams the fields and is so free of the material world and its trappings that he joins the group of nomadic shepherds. Driving the plot forward is the growing chain of graft and ill-conceived machinations involving snatching the plot of land and pulling off the grand thithi feast for the entire community. Set in a small village in Karnataka India’s rural Mandya district, a place where time seems to have stood still, this is no ordinary film set─Reddy used non-professional actors; the whole community essentially became the cast and the entire village the set. The viewer is thrust into the thrall of 2,000 year old customs in this slow moving portrait of the human condition. (Kannada language w/ subtitles)  Sat, April 30, 2016, Roxie, 3:30 p.m.; Sun, May 1, 3:15 p.m., BAMPFA; Wed, May 4, 2016, Alamo, 9 p.m.

 

Under the Sun

A scene from Vitaly Mansky's "Under the Sun," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Vitaly Mansky’s “Under the Sun,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Vitaly Mansky, Russia/Latvia/Germany/Czech Republic/North Korea, 2015, 106 min)Never underestimate a motivated Russian. The standard M.O. for docs providing windows into repressive regimes is that the filmmaker somehow gets deep inside, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous reporting, shows us how ordinary people live their lives and respond to authoritarian rule.   Russian documentary maker Vitaly Mansky (Bliss, SFIFF 1997) pulls off a real coup in Under the Sun, his documentary about life inside North Korea because it was shot with the full permission and supervision of Pyongyang authorities—a collaboration they would come to regret. Mansky was provided with preapproved locations in Pyongyang and suitable subjects: young Lee Zin-mi, a student at the city’s best school, and her parents, workers at two exemplary factories (or so officials claimed). This state managed propaganda effort morphs into a deep-cover documentary about life inside Pyongyang. When the joint project breaks down midway through, Mansky captures all the off-script machinations of the handlers on film and turns out a highly revealing portrait of life inside Kim Jong-Un’s totalitarian world. (Korean w/subtitles)   Sat, April 30, 6 p.m., Alamo; Wed, Mat 4, 3:15 p.m., Alamo; Thurs, May 5, 6:30 p.m., BAMPFA

 

Thirst

A scene from Svetla Tsotsorkova's "Thirst," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Svetla Tsotsorkova’s “Thirst,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Svetla Tsotsorkova, Bulgaria, 2015, 90 min) Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize  When drought threatens her ability to wash, a laundress, who lives on a parched hilltop in southwest Bulgaria with her teenage son and husband, invites a dowser onto their property to search for hidden springs. The father drills the wells, guided by his spirited daughter’s eerie ability to locate water beneath the ground. Told with minimal dialogue, this story is masterfully attentive in capturing the growing attraction between two very different teens that hesitantly get together. Director Tsotsorkova immediately establishes a bewitching sense of place that immerses the viewer in the hothouse of high Bulgarian summer—a dusty road, row upon row of bed sheets pinned on a line and caught in a hot breeze, the wonderfully functional huge mangle that wrings and flattens those sheets, a sudden torrential rainstorm, and a piercing drill. (Bulgarian w/subtitles)  Sun, May 1, 3:45 p.m. and Thurs, May, 5, 3 p.m.─both at Roxie.

 

The Island and the Whales

A scene from Mike Day's "The Islands and the Whales," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Mike Day’s “The Islands and the Whales,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Mike Day, Scotland/Denmark, 2015, 81 min) Both seabirds and whales are still hunted for food and eaten in the Faro Islands, an island country situated roughly halfway between Norway and Iceland that consists of an archipelago of eighteen small volcanic islands spanning some 541 square miles. Connected by a network of tunnels, bridges and ferry routes, the small and remote archipelago is very rugged, windy, wet, cloudy, and cool year round.  Director Mike May spent four years documenting the controversial fishing culture of the Faro Islands and its unique way of life, telling the story of the hunters’ daily lives and the opposition they face from outside animal rights groups.  And just like the seas that surround them, this community is also suffering from increasing levels of mercury poisoning.  A local toxicologist, wielding 30 years’ worth of data on the neurological effects—particularly on children—of ingesting a traditional diet of pilot whale and seabirds, struggles to deliver the bad news to his neighbors, among them a young father of three who’s reluctant to abandon the customs he’s inherited and his livelihood.  Day presents an unprecedented window into a community reliant on tradition and folk practices colliding with urgent contemporary concerns.  Amidst a landscape of monumental beauty, scenes of local men herding pilot whales into the shallows for the kill or rappelling down a cliff to raid a gannet nesting area are graphic and arresting. (In Faroese, Danish and English)  Director Mike Day in attendance/Q&A.  Wed, May 4, 8:45 p.m., Victoria; Thurs, May 5, 12:15 p.m., Alamo

 

Details:

When:  SFIFF 59 runs 14 days─ Thursday, April 21 – Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where:  Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission Street (Between 21st and 22nd Streets, San Francisco (main venue)

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street., San Francisco (mostly big events, weekends)

Gray Area, 2665 Mission Street., San Francisco

Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street., San Francisco

Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco

BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), 2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Tickets: $15 most films, more for Special Events and Parties which  generally start at $20 or $35.   Passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1350 Film Society members and $1700 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival.   Alamo Drafthouse is open daily from 11:30 a.m. onwards; all other venues are open for SFIFF purchases one hour before the first screening of the day.

Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush.  Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).

Arrive Early!  Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.

Day-of Noon Release Tickets: Each day of the Festival, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings. Pending availability, tickets may be purchased online or in person at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission starting at noon. Not all shows will have tickets released, and purchasing is first-come, first-served.

Rush tickets:  Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time.  If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time.  No rush tickets for screenings at BAMPFA

More info: For full schedule and tickets, visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59

April 25, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, the first and largest Bay Area film festival, starts Thursday and runs for the next two weeks

Kate Bekinsdale and Chloe Sevigny in Whit Stillman's first period film, the romantic comedy, “Love & Friendship,” opens the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21st - May 5th, 2016. Both Stillman and Bekinsdale will be in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Kate Bekinsale (R) and  Chloe Sevigny in Whit Stillman’s first period film, the romantic comedy, “Love & Friendship,” opens the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21st – May 5th, 2016. Both Stillman and Bekinsale will be in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) turns 59 this year and kicks off this Thursday (April 21) at the historic Castro Theatre and runs for the next 14 days. This mammoth festival just keeps getting better and better. With 173 films and live events from 46 countries in 39 languages, and 200 filmmakers and industry guests attending, there is something for everyone.  This year’s opener is Whit Stillman’s new romantic comedy,  Love and Friendship, an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella, featuring actress Kate Beckinsale.  Both Stillman [Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998), Damsels in Distress (2011)] and Beckinsale will be in attendance and conversation.

The big news is that, after nearly 30 years at Japantown’s Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the festival is now headquartered at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theatre, on Mission Street, between 21st and 22nd Streets, in San Francisco, and the energy of the neighborhood and the venue itself feels great. This wonderfully rejuvenated movie palace features state-of-the-art media delivery systems and a hopping standalone bar with superb cocktails, 27 beers on tap, gourmet snacks and will deliver both food and drink to you in your screening room.  The theatres are all outfitted with luxurious seats and snack tables. On the down side, parking is hell, so plan accordingly.  The festival takes place at several other local historic venues as well–the Roxie Theater, the Victoria and the Castro.

And, for those who have not yet visited Berkeley’s new BAMPFA, by all means go!  Everything’s under one stunning brushed stainless steel Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed roof.  The state-of-the-art Barbo Osher Theater has new technology enabling top-level clarity and sound for screening of a variety of film formats. Your film ticket will also get you into the museum where director Larry Rinder’s engaging inaugural exhibition,  Architecture of Life, through May 29, 2016, explores the various ways that architecture illuminates our life experience. Babette Cafe, situated inside the museum and on the second floor, is open until 9 p.m. and offers a range of coffees, teas, delicious meals and pastries, all crafted from fresh local ingredients.  AT BAMPAFA, there’s no food or drink allowed inside any of the galleries or the theater, so you’ll have to enjoy everything at Babette.

Following Thursday’s opening film is an always rocking Opening Night Party, with live entertainment, dancing, food and drink at Public Works on Erie Street.

One of the joys of attending is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen with digital projection—and participating in stimulating Q&A’s with their directors and actors.  With even more new onstage events and awards ceremonies that feature film luminaries in more lengthy moderated discussions, SFIFF delivers one of the highest ratios of face time with creative talent.

Joel and Ethan Cohen, the lauded and seemingly inseparable creators of films like “Raising Arizona,” “The Big Lebowsky,”, “Barton Fink,”and “Fargo” will attend SFIFF59 on Saturday, April 30 and screen their 1984 debut film, the neo-noir blood-soaked thriller, “Blood Simple.”  This was the first film directed by Joel Cohen, produced by Ethan and co-written by the two.  They will appear on stage in conversation with Peter Becker and Jonathan Turell of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, who will be awarded the Mel Novikoff Award.  Honoring the legendary San Francisco film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922–87), the Novikoff Award is given annually to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced film lovers’ knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. Image: Stefano Paltera, courtesy SFFS.

Joel and Ethan Cohen, the lauded and seemingly inseparable creators of films like “Raising Arizona,” “The Big Lebowsky,”“Barton Fink,” and “Fargo” will attend SFIFF59 on Saturday, April 30 and screen their 1984 debut film, the blood-soaked thriller, “Blood Simple.” This was the first film directed by Joel Cohen, produced by Ethan Cohen and co-written by the two. They will appear on stage in conversation with Peter Becker and Jonathan Turell of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, who will be awarded the Mel Novikoff Award. Honoring the legendary San Francisco film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922–87), the Novikoff Award is given annually to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced film lovers’ knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. Image: Stefano Paltera, courtesy SFFS.

This Saturday (April 23), at the Victoria Theatre, Ellen Burstyn will receive the Peter J. Owens Award and spend the afternoon discussing her career and present Requiem for a Dream (2000).  On Sunday (April 24), at the Castro, Mira Nair receives the Irving M. Levin Directing Award and spends an afternoon discussing her life and work, followed by a screening of Monsoon Wedding (2001).  On Thursday (April 26), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight (2015)) receives the Kanbar Storytelling Award and is in conversation at BAMPFA, followed by a screening of his directorial debut film, The Station Agent (2003).  On Saturday (April 30), at the Castro, Blood Simple directorial duo, Joel And Ethan Cohen, will be present for an afternoon screening of this wonderful 1984 debut feature while Peter Becker and Jonathan Turell of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection are awarded the Mel Novikoff Award.

Stay-tuned, shortly ARThound will overview the festival’s top films for armchair travelers, films that take us to remote villages in far flung places where age-old traditions are still practiced and the landscapes and cinematography will take your breath away.

A scene from Mike Plunkett's documentary “Salero” which has its West Coast premiere and screens three times at SFIFF 59. The film follows the story of Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian, one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast plateau Salar de Uyuni. Underneath this snow white expanse are the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia, as it reaps the revenue from this scarce mineral that is necessary for batteries and other industrial uses. The shots of the Bolivian salt flats are other worldly. Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance. Photo: courtesy: SFFS

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero”(2015) which has its West Coast premiere and screens three times at SFIFF 59. The film follows the story of Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian, one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast plateau Salar de Uyuni. Underneath this snow white expanse are the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia, as it reaps the revenue from this scarce mineral that is necessary for batteries and other industrial uses. Otherworldly shots of the Bolivian salt flats and Moises’ life of labor shed light on an utterly remote part of the world. Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance. Photo: courtesy: SFFS

 

SFIFF 59 details:

When:  SFIFF 59 runs 14 days─ Thursday, April 21 – Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where:  Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission Street (Between 21st and 22nd Streets, San Francisco (main venue)

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street., San Francisco (mostly big events, weekends)

Gray Area, 2665 Mission Street., San Francisco

Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street., San Francisco

Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco

BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), 2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Tickets: $15 most films, more for Special Events and Parties which generally start at $20 or $35.   Passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1350 Film Society members and $1700 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival. Alamo Drafthouse is open daily from 11:30 a.m. onwards; all other venues are open for SFIFF purchases one hour before the first screening of the day.

Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush.  Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).

Arrive Early!  Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.

Day-of Noon Release Tickets: Each day of the Festival, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings. Pending availability, tickets may be purchased online or in person at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission starting at noon. Not all shows will have tickets released, and purchasing is first-come, first-served.

Rush tickets:  Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time.  If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time. No rush tickets for screenings at BAMPFA

More info: For full schedule and tickets, visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival─a feel-great extravaganza of film, food, wine and sprits─starts Wednesday in wonderful Sonoma

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, includes three films shot in Cuba. Bob Yari’s “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” (2015) covers Hemingway’s chaotic life on the island and his friendship with young Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, in the 1950’s. The film premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and was the first American production shot on the island since the trade embargo was imposed in 1960. The late Petitclerc was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and lived in Sonoma. Adrian Sparks is brilliant as Hemingway, capturing the vulnerability under the rage and bluster of this great genius in his last years. Image: courtesy HIFF

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, includes three films shot in Cuba. Bob Yari’s “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” (2015) covers Hemingway’s chaotic life on the island and his friendship with young Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, in the 1950’s. The film premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and was the first American production shot on the island since the trade embargo was imposed in 1960. The late Petitclerc was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and lived in Sonoma. Adrian Sparks is brilliant as Hemingway, capturing the vulnerability under the rage and bluster of this great genius in his last years. Image: courtesy HIFF

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) kicks off tonight at the historic Sebastiani Theatre with Norwegian director Joachim Tier’s family drama, Louder Than Bombs (2015) and a live “vertical dance performance” with members of the dynamic Bandaloop dance group performing choreographed moves from ropes on the Sebastiani’s roof.   Over the next 5 nights and 4 days, the festival will present over 100 films from two dozen countries and over 200 filmmakers from around the globe will attend.  Among this year’s treasures are three exciting films shot in Cuba whose stories are bound to inspire a trip to this delightful island before the big Western chain hotels devour the beach space and those beloved’57 Chevys are replaced with Toyotas.  One of these is the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc’s remarkable Papa Hemingway in Cuba, the first American production shot in Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. This is the story of Hemingway and his experiences in Cuba, where he lived with his fourth wife, Mary, as told through the eyes Petitclerc when he was a young reporter at the Miami Herald.  And food!  Complementing its diverse and truly international program of independent cinema, SIFF offers a unique blend of world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners, making for an epicurean experience few film festivals in the world can match. This year, SIFF is offering a complementary tasting and pairing along with its two screenings of Cooking Up a Tribute which takes us on globe-trotting road trip with the fabled Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca. Browse the program and then pounce─a limited number of $15 tickets are available for pre-purchase online for all films.

ARThound’s top picks for films and events─

 Viva

Héctor Medina plays Jesus, a young gay man who discovers the only time he is free from life’s burden is when he is on stage and performing as “Viva,” his mesmerizing alter ego. Image: HIFF

Cuban actor Héctor Medina plays Jesus, a young gay man who discovers the only time he is free from life’s burdens is when he is on stage and performing as “Viva,” his mesmerizing alter ego. Image: HIFF

You’d never guess that Viva, a touching portrayal of a young gay Cuban man’s struggle to find himself, was the work of Irish director Paddy Breathnach.  Directed and shot in Havana, with some very heavy-lifting from Cuban actors Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, this beautiful story captures the yearning of Jesus (Medina), a young gay hairdresser working at a Havana nightclub for drag queens, to step out on stage and perform as a female. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García), Jesus finally gets his opportunity to perform and it awakens sometime vital within.  But when his estranged father Angel (Jorge Perugorría) abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down.  As father and son tussle over their opposing expectations of each other, Viva morphs into a love story with the two men struggling to understand each other and to reconcile as a family.  The drama, Ireland’s Oscar submission for Best foreign Language Film this year, also paints a rich portrait of street life in Havana and the divide between those Cubans who are embracing the coming changes and those who are battling to survive.  (Screens: Thursday, March 31, 9:15 PM and Saturday, April 2, 2:15 PM, both at Sebastiani Theatre)

Papa Hemingway in Havana

Giovanni Ribisi plays Miami Herald cub journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Ernest Hemingway in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” Petitclerc becomes incensed when he reads a review asserting that the only contribution that Hemingway made to the English language was one short sentence. He writes Hemingway in Havana to tell him that he had been inspired greatly by his writing and the letter leads to a great friendship between Petitclerc and the aging writer. Image: HIFF

Giovanni Ribisi plays Miami Herald cub journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Ernest Hemingway in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” Petitclerc becomes incensed when he reads a review asserting that the only contribution that Hemingway made to the English language was one short sentence. He writes Hemingway in Havana to tell him that he had been inspired greatly by his writing and the letter leads to a great friendship between Petitclerc and the aging writer. Image: HIFF

Bob Yari’s vital film tells the fabled story of Hemingway in Cuba through the eyes of the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc (Giovanni Ribisi), a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Sonoma resident. Papa’s backstory was long and difficult because the film was created during the embargo.  It took Yari two years to convince the US State Department and US Treasury to make an exception and he had to agree to a $100,000 spending limit for the cast and crew –unheard of for a Hollywood production.  On the Cuban side, Yari was required to submit the script to the government in Havana.  In addition to a fiery story that profiles two gifted writers who bond over fishing, the film features a stand-out performance by Joely Richardson who plays Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway.  The drama was shot in Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia and locations throughout Cuba including La Floridita and Ambos Mundos Hotel. (Screens: Thursday, 3/31 6:30 PM, Sebastiani Theatre and Saturday, April 2, 2:30 PM at Veterans Hall I)

Cooking Up a Tribute / A Taste of Film:

Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of Girona’s famed El Celler de Can Roca, are the subject of “Cooking Up A Tribute,” a documentary by Luis Gonzalez and Andrea Gomez that screens twice at SIFF 19. Every year the festival outdoes itself with food, wine and spirits. This year, filmgoers will receive a complementary glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of this food documentary to life. Image: SIFF

Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of Girona’s famed El Celler de Can Roca and the subject of “Cooking Up A Tribute.” Every year, SIFF outdoes itself with food, wine and spirits. This year, filmgoers will receive a complementary glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of this food documentary to life. Image: SIFF

The documentary Cooking Up a Tribute follows the famed Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain) as it boldly closes up shop and embarks on a five week global road tour─from Texas to Mexico to Colombia and Peru. The idea is to improvise with local ingredients to create unique tasting menus for each locale. Opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, El Celler de Can Roca holds three Michelin stars.  In 2013 and 2015, it was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine.  Perhaps the best footage in this ambitious doc is shot tagging along with renowned sommelier/maitre d’ Josep Roca on a fascinating pre-exploratory journey where he nails down the places his team will visit.  Here’s your chance to watch agave being smoked to produce mescal in Oaxaca and to explore the seemingly infinite number of gorgeous Peruvian potatoes with names like “Bull’s Blood” and “Yellow Egg Yolk.” Free Food, Wine:  The festival’s Premiere Sponsor, Celebrity Cruises, will activate their onboard “A Taste of Film” multisensory experience at both film screenings and  filmgoers will receive a glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of the food documentary to life. (83 min, 2015) (Screens Fri, April 1, 2:30 PM at Vintage House and Sunday, April 3, 3 PM at Vintage House with complimentary drink and tastings at the film.)

Gordon Getty: There will be Music

Gorden Getty will attend the Friday screening of Peter Rosen’s documentary “Gordon Getty: There will be Music,” at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Chicago Classical Review

Gorden Getty will attend the Friday screening of Peter Rosen’s documentary “Gordon Getty: There will be Music,” at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Chicago Classical Review

At 82, billionaire American composer Gordon Getty, industrialist  J. Paul Getty’s son from his fifth marriage, remains a dedicated music creator, economic theorist, vintner, venture capitalist, philanthropist and longtime supporter of our beloved San Francisco Symphony.  When your name is Getty, is it a help or hindrance being accepted as a serious composer?  Seasoned director Peter Rosen, who has produced and directed over 100 full-length films and television programs on the luminaries of the art world, captures Getty, the musician, at work and in candid conversation with fellow composer and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas about his creative process and vision.  He even captures a few of Getty’s endearing expletives─“Jeepers creepers!” and “Holy flying mackerel.”  Schooled at San Francisco’s Conservatory for Music in the early 1960’s, Getty studied music theory with Sol Joseph.  His business career and responsibilities as head of the Getty Foundation impinged on his time for composition and it wasn’t until the 1980s when Getty published his first work, The White Election, a song cycle on Emily Dickinson poems.  He’s actually spent decades of his life carefully working and honing his music and his oeuvre includes “Joan and the Bells,” “Plump Jack,” “Usher House,” “Poor Peter,” “Four Dickinson Songs,” “The White Election” and more─pieces that have been performed all over the world. (2015, 68 min) Screens Friday, April 1, 5:30 PM, Vintage House (Getty will be present) and Saturday, April 2, Andrews Hall, 2:30 PM

The Messenger:

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the SIFF 19. Image: Su Rynard

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the SIFF 19. Image: Su Rynard

The Messenger:  Making a documentary is a labor of love that often takes years to realize. To understand what was happening with global populations of songbirds, Canadian director Su Rynard and her team followed songbirds on three different continents through several seasons. The message of her riveting documentary is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline.  Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone.  Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey.  Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger.  Whose song will we hear when they are gone?   The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs. (2015, 90 min) (Screens: Friday, April 1, 2:30 PM at Andrews Hall and Sunday, April 3, 9:30 AM at Vintage House)

ARThound’s previous festival coverage:

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, will honor Meg Ryan who will screen her new film “Ithaca”

Details: The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 30 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2016.  To enjoy guaranteed access to all films, themed nightly parties in SIFF Village’s Backlot Tent, after parties, receptions, and industry events and panels, buy all inclusive passes online at sonomafilmfest.org.   A limited number of $15 tickets are available for each film screening too and these will sell out rapidly, so purchase these in advance online at sonomafilmfest.org.

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Classical Music, Film, Food, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest 2016─Asian American film, food, music─starts today; here are the must see films

Every year, CAAMFest offers fascinating documentaries. Ayat Najafi’s endearing “No Man’s Land” follows the ceaseless efforts of his sister Sara Najafi whose dream is to mount a concert in her hometown, Tehran, featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s. The music is entrancing. Footage of Tehran’s once grand concerts halls and Najafi’s visits with authorities in Iran create a portrait like no other of this nation that continues to defy categorization. Image: CAAM

Every year, CAAMFest offers fascinating documentaries. Iranian director Ayat Najafi’s “No Man’s Land” follows the ceaseless efforts of his sister, composer Sara Najafi, whose dream is to mount a concert Tehran featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s. The music is entrancing. Footage of Tehran’s once grand concerts halls and Najafi’s visits with authorities in Iran create a portrait like no other of this nation that continues to defy categorization. Image: CAAM

CAAMFest 2016, an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music kicks off this evening at the Castro Theatre with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus and a rocking after-party at the Asian Art Museum.  The festival’s program includes 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films, along with thoughtfully-curated panels that explore the Asian America experience.  CAAMFest spends its first 8 days at various locales in San Francisco and then moves on to Oakland for a long final weekend.  Programming starts between 5 and 6:30 p.m. on most weekdays and weekends are fully packed weekends.   Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016.

Here are ARThound’s top picks:

Married for over 40 years, Chinese couple Feng and Lou are inseparable. She suffers dementia and he tenderly cares for her. When his own health is jeopardized, the two are forced to consider a big move in Zhao Qing’s evocative “Please Remember Me.” Photo: courtesy CAAM.

Married for over 40 years, Chinese couple Feng and Lou are inseparable. She suffers dementia and he tenderly cares for her. When his own health is jeopardized, and he is not able to fulfill his duties, the fragile house of cards that he has constructed so carefully topples.  The two are forced to consider a big move in Zhao Qing’s evocative “Please Remember Me.” Photo: courtesy CAAM.

Please Remember Me:     Growing old gracefully─with dignitiy and health─ is a global challenge that has had a particularly severe impact on China.  In 2013, there were more than 200 million Chinese over the age of 60.   Many of the adult children of elderly Chinese parents have settled abroad or live in urban areas and their parents face the struggle of aging with little daily support for the practicalities. Chinese director Zhao Qing’s documentary turns the spotlight on her elderly octogenarian grandparents─Shaghai couple Feng and Lou─inseparable for the past 40 years.  He calls her his “baby girl” and she calls him her “Mr. Silly.”  Lou is 88 and has suffered Alzheimer’s for the past decade.  She has deteriorated to the point that that only person she recognizes is her loving husband, who stills takes her to her beloved Chinese opera, despite her lack of comprehension.  When he is diagnosed with a pancreatic mass, their world is rocked as they must contemplate life in a care facility.  Tenderly told and beautifully executed, with rich bows to recent events in Chinese history, this story is one that all of us with aging parents will take to heart. (78 min, in Shanghai dialect with English subtitles) (Screens:  Sat, March 12, 1 p.m., Alamo; Sun, March 20, 4:40 p.m., New Parkway)

 

The Killing Fields of Cambodoia’s Khmer Rouge continue to haunt after 40 years. How does society heal? As the Khmer Rouge tribunal collects testimonies from aging war criminals and survivors alike, Michael Siv travels to Cambodia with survivors to film “Daze of Justice,” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2016. Photo: CAAM

The Killing Fields of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge continue to haunt after 40 years. How does society heal? As the Khmer Rouge tribunal collects testimonies from aging war criminals and survivors alike, Michael Siv travels to Cambodia with survivors to film “Daze of Justice,” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2016. Photo: CAAM

Centerpiece Presentation: Daze of Justice, World Premiere:     Bay Area filmmaker Michael Siv, who himself was a participant in Spencer Nakasako’s vital 2003 documentary Refugee, returns to Cambodia once again. There, Pol Pot’s heinous regime murdered roughly 1.7.million people between 1975 and 1979 and was responsible for running work camps that enslaved Cambodians into collectivized labor to build dams and infrastructure and to oversea the mass murder of their fellow countrymen.  It’s no wonder that this lush cradle of civilization, home to the fabled Angkhor, is still reeling. This time, Siv accompanies Khmer Rouge survivors from the U.S. to their homeland where they seek justice, catharsis and healing in a court for genocide.  (Screens: Sat, March 12, 3 p.m., Alamo)

 

A scene from Ayat Najafi’s “No Land’s Song.” The documentary follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her attempt to organize a concert in Tehran with other female solo singers, something that is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. Photo: CAAM

A scene from Ayat Najafi’s “No Land’s Song.” The documentary follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her attempt to organize a concert in Tehran with other female solo singers, something that is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. Photo: CAAM

 

No Land’s Song:    For Iranian composer, Sara Najafi, the act of communication is a nuanced, multifaceted and exhausting endeavor when it comes to getting permission to sing in public in Tehran. Iran’s 1979 Revolution of banned female singers from appearing in public in Iran and they are not allowed to perform solo except for an exclusively female audience.  In the documentary, “No Land’s Song,” Persian filmmaker Ayat Najafi follows his sister, Sara Najafi whose dream is to mount a concert in her hometown, Tehran, featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s.  Sara realizes that, unless she acts, the female vocal voice in Iran may well be lost.  Were it not captured on film, no would could imagine the convoluted logic, objections and snafu’s that the Iranian Ministry of Culture uses to dissuade her as well as the long-winded metaphor that she receives from an Islamic scholar on why a group  of women singing together is not a dangerous as a solo female singer is.  As Sara moves forward with her plans, inviting artists from France and Tunisia, who incite all sorts of visa concerns, we are brought into the complex and depressing world of an artist just trying to survive in contemporary Iran.  The entrancing music, much of it addressing suffering and transcendence, includes nods to such pre-revolutionary greats as Ghamar Ol Molouk Vaziri, who, in 1924, became the first woman in Iran to perform without a hijab in front of men, and Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi whose song “Kelmti Horra” inspired protestors during the Arab Spring. With footage of street-life in Tehran and visits to several dilapidated but once grand concert venues, this is also a must-see portrait of Tehran.  And there are plenty of shots of women tying, arranging and primping in their headscarfs. (Screens: Wed, March 16, 8:40 PM, Alamo)

In South Korean director Lee Won-suk’s sumptuous period drama, “The Royal Tailor,” a commoner with an innate gift for clothing design catches the eye of the queen and then goes on to design clothing that upsets etiquette and ignites the passions of rivals. Photo: CAAM

In South Korean director Lee Won-suk’s sumptuous period drama, “The Royal Tailor,” a commoner with an innate gift for clothing design catches the eye of the queen and then goes on to design clothing that upsets etiquette and ignites the passions of rivals. The film, while not always true to history, does track the evolution of Korean style and features exquisite hanboks, Korean national costumes, which are seen rarely seen today, except at formal occasions.  Photo: CAAM

 

The Royal Tailor:   South Korean director Lee Won-suk weaves a fine tapestry of court intrigue and high fashion in this period drama, set in the broad Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), which pits two very different tailors against each other in a design competition for the new king’s favor.  At first, it seems that Dol-Sak (Han Suk-kyu), the previous king’s tailor, is a shoe-in with his penchant for exquisite embroidery and fine detail.  When a young commoner,  Lee Kong-jin (Koo Soo), gets a shot at recreating one the king’s robes that was damaged accidentally and does a wonderful job tailoring it so that it fits even better than before, the new king gives him a job creating new hunting attire.  When this young tailor then turns out a stunning 15 layer gown for the queen, with real artisanship and creativity, his access and place in royal society seem secure.  His masterpiece however upstages the dress worn by the royal concubine, a dress designed by rival Dol-Sak and she swears revenge.  Park Shin-hye, known for her roles in the dramas You’re Beautiful and The Heirs is the young queen.   The costumes are stunning.  In Korean with English subtitles.  (Screens: Tues, March 15, 9 p.m., Alamo and Sat, March 19, 2:20 p.m., New Parkway)

 

France-Is-Our-Mother-Country-still Catherine Dussart Productions

Rithy Panh’s “France is Our Mother Country” is made up entirely of archival footage from Cambodia’s colonial period, 1863 to 1953, when Cambodia was a part of French Indochina, a territory including Laos and Vietnam.  Many images familiar to Westerners evoke grandeur, a construct Panh dispenses with, replacing it with discomfort. The Colonial era was characterized by economic servitude, violent suppression of uprisings and imposition of Western education, culture and values.  Image: CAAM

 

 

France is Our Mother Country (La France est notre patrie) Rithy Panh came to our attention with his spellbinding documentary, The Missing Picture (2013), winner of Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2013 and an Oscar nominee, which used hand-sculpted clay figures and elaborately crafted dioramas to recreate the brutal suffering of his family and friends at the hands of the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970’s in Cambodia.  His latest exploration of the Cambodian Diaspora, France is our Mother Country (2014), lacks the power of his earlier masterpiece but uses meticulously edited black and white archival footage and antiqued cards to recapture the romance and promise of French Indochine in its heyday, playing with our perceptions of what it was, might it have been and what it evolved into.  What unfolds is a glorious reflection on the clashing of two cultures, one dominating the other and repressing its very imagination and essence, evoking reflection on Western civilization’s Colonial quest, which has always ended tragically.  75 min, in French with English subtitles.  (Screens: Thu, March 17, 9 p.m., Alamo)

CAAMFest Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2016 runs March 10-20, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as The Asian Art Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, Slate Bar and SOMAR Bar.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings and panel discussions 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 on individual films at CAAMfest website for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and at 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 roughly one hour before the screening is set to begin. Approximately ten minutes prior to screening, empty seats are counted and will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis to those in line.  Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.

Unpacking the festival: Click here to see full schedule in day by day calendar format with hyperlinks for film and event descriptions and for ticket purchase.  The official website— CAAMFest 2016

March 10, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers