ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with silent golden oldies and live music

Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine in Paul Leni’s drama, “The Man Who Laughs” (1928) which opens the 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival, on Wednesday. Newly restored by SFSFF and Universal Pictures, the film will be accompanied by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, making their fifth appearance at the festival. The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 30-June 3 at the Castro Theatre.  Image: Universal Studios

One of those old adages worth its weight in gold is “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.”  The pre-sound era produced some of the most beautiful and engaging films ever made, shedding light on societies that were changing rapidly.  If you’ve never experienced a silent film the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen, with the correct speed and formatting and with riveting live music—it’s high time!  Silent film might just be the experience you’ve been waiting for.

On Wednesday, May 30, the 23rd edition of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) kicks off with 23 programs pairing silent-era films with live musical accompaniment, including eleven recent film restorations.  Ten of those restorations will make their North American premieres and four are SFSFF projects.  Nine countries are represented this year.  What makes SFSFF particularly wonderful is its top rate live accompaniment by more than 40 musicians (soloists and groups) from all around the globe.  These musicians serve as conductor, arranger and accompanist melding film, music, theater and art into one.  It all takes place at San Francisco’s historical Castro Theatre, May 30-June 3, 2018.

The festival kicks off Wednesday evening with Universal Pictures and SFSFF’s new restoration of Paul Leni’s 1928 “The Man Who Laughs”.  Considered one of the treasures of the silent era, the film is based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel, but set two centuries earlier.  The story involves an orphan, Gwynplaine, who is captured by outlaws who use a knife to carve his face into a hideous permanent grin.  Disfigured and all alone, he rescues a baby girl and they are raised together by a fatherly vaudevillian. Everything centers on Gwynplaine’s extraordinary wide grin which inspired the Joker character in the original Batman comic books.  This presentation also marks the world premiere of a commissioned score by Berklee College of Music’s Silent Film Orchestra.

 

Sally O’Neil and Buster Keaton in a scene from Buster Keaton’s 1926 comedy, “Battling Butler,” SFSFF’s closing night film.  Still: courtesy Cohen Film Collection.

Closing the festival on Sunday, June 3, is the North American premiere of Cineteca di Bologna’s restoration (in collaboration with Cohen Film Collection) of Buster Keaton’s 1926 “Battling Butler,” which will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Keaton considered this sparkling comedy his personal favorite among his works.

Recently, I had my annual interview with Anita Monga, SFSFF’s insightful artistic director who programs the festival.  She decides what films will be included, how they are ordered and the rhythm and flow of the weekend.  With her guidance, I put together an overview of the festival.

 

Cinematography buff?

A still from “Fragment of an Empire”.  Image: courtesy SFSFF

The Russian film by Fridrikh Ermler, Fragment of an Empire(Oblomok Imperii)(1929) (Sunday, June 3, 5:30p.m.) is virtually unknown and has an unforgettable opening.  The film is a portrait of a soldier who loses his memory during WWI and returns home to St. Petersburg, a place of heart-wrenching change.  He gains back his memory after seeing his wife on a train but later learns she has remarried.  The cinematography enforces the cold psychology of the revolution, the state of human condition, the rapid pace of modernism.  SFSFF worked on the complete restoration with EYE Filmmuseum, and Gosfilmofond of Russia), based on materials preserved by EYE Filmmuseum and Cinémathèque Suisse.  This rarely-screened-in-America film only existed in chunks with some very famous scenes, like its image of Christ on the cross with a gas mask on.

Friday’s 2 pm Silent Avant-Garde program presents early American Avant-garde films from 1894-1941 and has some amazing images. “Everything in the Unseen Cinema collection is fascinating,” said Anita Monga. “The Slavo Vorkapich montage (four rare segments) took my breath away.” For the look of film on film, Monga recommends Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1925 “Master of the House” (DU SKAL ÆRE DIN HUSTRU) screening Thursday at 2:45 p.m..

 

Arm chair traveler?

Seeta Devi (L) and Himansu Rai in a scene from “A Throw of Dice”.  Image: courtesy British Film Institute

Sunday’s “A Throw of Dice” (Prapancha Pash) from 1929, the third collaboration between German director Franz Osten and Indian film producer Himansu Rai, was shot entirely in Rajasthan, India with a cast of over 10,000.  Inspired by one of India’s masterpieces, the Sanskrit poem The Mahabarata, it tells the story of two kings vying for the hand of a young woman.  A game of dice and a desperate gamble play into the story.  It provides a unique vision of Indian life and is extraordinary in its presentation of wild nature: elephants, tigers, snakes, monkeys, birds and riversides and jungles with plush fauna.  It also has extravagant palaces, teeming streets and gorgeous costumes.

 

A scene from “People on Sunday” (Menschen am Sonntag). Still: courtesy Janus Films

If you are interested in seeing what Berlin street activity was like in the 1930’s, Thursday evening’s “People on Sunday” (Menshcen am Sonntag) was shot entirely on the streets on Berlin. It was created by a group of young filmmakers who would go on to become famous—Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnermann. Their idea was to create a film without actors and they went out on the streets and started filming.  “It really skirts fiction and documentary and captures the feel of life in Berlin in that moment, just on the cusp before the world would change,” said Monga.  “All of the Weimar titles are so devastating because we know what is about to happen in Germany.” (Screens Thursday, may 31, 7:15 p.m.)

 

Takeshi Sakamoto in a scene from Yasujirô Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo (Tokyo no yado). Still: courtesy Janus Films

On Thursday at 5:15 p.m., Yasujirô Ozu’s poetic “An Inn in Tokyo” (Tôkyô No Yado), from 1935, is an expressive portrait of industrial pre-war Tokyo framed by Hideo Shigehara’s amazing cinematography.  A single father (the great Takeshi Sakamoto who starred in over 100 Japanese films) is struggling with his two sons as he tries his best to find work.  As they wander the streets of the Koto district, he has his sons catch stray dogs for cash.  The film addresses the essence of family and the dignity of an ordinary individual in crisis, Ozu’s forte.

Ozu made silent films well into the mid-1930’s, several years after sound was available.  He did this because of the prevalence of Japanese “benshi” performers who stood right next to the screen and interpreted the action for the audience, taking on all the characters’ roles and creating entertaining dialogue.

 

1906 SF Quake junkie?

An image from the short “San Francisco 1906” showing people looking at the debris and wreckage left behind from the earthquake.  Some 8,655 frames of found footage were photographed with a digital camera and then cleaned up and made back into a film.  Image: courtesy Jason Wright

If you’re fascinated with post-earthquake footage of 1906 San Francisco, you can’t miss the 10 minute short,“San Francisco 1906,” newly found earthquake footage that SFSFF has restored.  It will be shown on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. when it screens with the lovely Italian film from 1922, Eugenio Perego’s “Trappola”.   The footage was found in 2017 at the Alemany flea market in fragile condition and is thought to be one of the longest surviving segments of the lost Miles Brothers’ film.   The Miles Brothers produced and directed numerous films in the early 20th century. Their 13-minute film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” explored pre-quake Market Street and was shot on April 14, 1906.  Their studio was destroyed by a post-earthquake fire on April 18, 1906, along with many of their films.

“This is essentially the same sort of footage that the brothers shot when they made “A Trip Down Market Street,” said Monga. “We make the familiar trip down Market towards the ferry building.  The buildings are now in rubble. When the people get to the ferry plaza, you see all the horse-drawn carriages and understand that the people are there to escape to East Bay.”

 

Gaga for Garbo?

Greta Garbo in her first starring role in 1924 in “The Saga of Gösta Berling”.  Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

Saturday evening delivers Greta Garbo in 1924, in her first starring role in the great Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller’sThe Saga of Gösta Berling” (Gösta Berlings Saga) with live accompaniment from the Matti Bye Ensemble.  Garbo is radiant opposite Lars Hansen in this romantic drama. Jon Wengström from the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) will accept the 2018 Silent Film Festival Award at this premiere screening of SFI’s beautiful new restoration which was completed earlier this year and adds 16 minutes to the previous version and restores the film’s original tinting scheme.

 

Love Freebies?

Film preservationist and SFSFF board president Robert Byrne collaborates with film archives around the world. He and SFSFF colleague, Russell Merritt, will share the story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” from 1929, the last silent Sherlock Holmes’ film, considered the most important Hound produced in Europe.  (screening on Saturday). Image: courtesy SFSFF

Thursday morning’s Amazing Tales from the Archives, is a free program in keeping with the festival’s education mandate, which flies in experts from the world’s top restoration facilities to share their personal experiences in breathing life back into critically damaged nitrate.  This year’s guests are Deutsche Kinemathek’s Martin Koerber and Weimar film scholar Cynthia Walk, who will talk about the complete reworking of E.A. Dupont’s “The Ancient Law” (screening on Sunday); Davide Pozzi from L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, whose Kinemacolor presentation will examine the first successful color process for motion pictures; and Elzbieta Wysocka of Filmoteka Narodowa, with SFSFF’s Robert Byrne and Russell Merritt, will share the detective story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” which screens on Saturday.

 

Details: 

SFSFF is May 30-June 3, 2018 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.  Visit http://www.silentfilm.org/ for tickets, festival passes, and detailed information on films and musicians.  Advance ticket purchase is essential and most screenings are $17 to $24.  If you are driving in, allow an additional hour to secure parking.

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May 28, 2018 Posted by | Chamber Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Parfum de Blanche,” ARThound’s new Lavender Rose from the Celebration of Old Roses

Parfum de Blanche, a spectacular lavender Hybrid Tea bred by Ted Liggitt. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I am drawn to lavender roses and always searching for “the one.”  The right lavender can be calming, healing, inspiring.  Prior to today, the closest I’d come was “Blue Girl”, a classic hybrid tea of confusing parentage that produces lavender-blue, longish buds that develop into upright, large, full, deliciously fragrant booms.  I live in zone 9b and, once established, “Blue Girl” produces continually.  The problem: it lacks pizazz.

At today’s Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group Bay Area (HRGBA), I met rosarian Tom Liggitt and fell hook, line and sinker for his “Parfum de Blanche,”  a silvery lavender rose with a wonderful form and heady fruity fragrance.  I came home with a gallon size plant that has about a half dozen roses in various stages of bloom.  I’ve posted some pics.  While it has some road wear from being hauled all over the Bay Area and being in a small pot, I can’t wait to nurture this baby to full health and see how those glorious blooms hold up in the vase.  What I love about Blanche is its ruffled petals and silvery hues which range from a rosy mauve lavender in bud to a silvery gray with slight pinkish hues at the center when in full bloom.  Blanche is a substantial rose, a star, that begs you to cup it in your hands and inhale.  And when you do, a world opens up, an old, romantic world.

“Parfum de Blanche,” bred by Ted Liggitt.

Liggitt, the founder of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, describes his passion as “non-stop plant research.”  He brought several flats of his roses in bands and gallon pots to sell today and was moving them quickly to rose addicts like me who will always find room for another rose.  Liggitt is especially proud of “Parfum de Blanche.”  Over the years, he worked with some 3,000 variants of the famous lavender rose “Lagerfield” (grandiflora, Jack Christensen, 1986) and boiled them down to three superstars, one of which is “Parfum de Blanche.”  His gorgeous roses went unnamed for 15 years until he met and married Blanche, the only woman worthy of naming his roses after.  Blanche was at his side today helping usher her namesakes on to their forever homes.

May 20, 2018 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The annual “Celebration of Old Roses” is Sunday, May 20 and has moved to Albany

Monsieur Tillier, a tea rose that repeats several times and has a remarkable color—salmon and peachy shades of pink blended with deeper pinks that change over the course of its bloom. The result is an ever-changing spectrum of lush color. Dozens of heritage roses will be on display at the annual “Celebration of Old Roses” in Albany, on Sunday, May 20. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Whether they climb a fence, or explode on their own with gorgeous sprays of colorful and fragrant blooms, old roses are a source of pure delight. And in April and May, they are in all their glory. With names that run the gamut from “Baron Girod d l’Ain,” to “Ispahan” to “Tuscany,” heritage roses evoke history and poetry.  Rose lovers will get their fix this Sunday at the annual Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group Bay Area (HRGBA).  This annual spring event is one of the few remaining places where we can see, smell, talk, and purchase old roses.  It takes place this Sunday at the Albany Veteran’s Memorial Building from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Officially, old roses, or antique roses, are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier.  Devotees praise their colors, their rich and varied fragrances and their graceful growth habits which make them ideal for the garden. Once established, many are drought tolerant too, so in these times when many are culling plants to save water, an old rose can make sense.  For those unable to have a rose garden at this time, the Albany event is a chance to see dozens of roses without the responsibility of ownership.  Much like a delightful old-fashioned country fair, people gather round to ohh and ahh its focal point—a 100-foot plus display of freshly picked old roses in old-fashioned mason jars, all in glorious states of bloom.  The roses are organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid Chinas, bourbons, Portlands, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others.   There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit.

Bright crimson pinstripes and slashes that age to purple velvet on a blush to creme ground make the annual bloom of the hybrid bourbon, Variagata di Bologna (1909), worth the wait. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In addition to the display and sale of old roses, rose experts who have made it their mission to save and perpetuate this diverse group of plants will be on hand to answer questions.

Have a rose that you can’t identify?   Just put a complete cutting (full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring it to the event and the experts will try to identify your rose.

Vendors will also be selling rare perennials, rose books, rose greeting cards, and other items inspired by roses.  This year, all children attending the event will receive a free rose plant, courtesy of Tom Liggett and HRGBA.

Blooming just once a year in a profusion of fragrant dark wine-purple cups that are white within, Cardinal de Richelieu is one of the most arresting old roses. While this dark beauty from 1840 exhibits most of the growth habits of a Gallica rose, it is actually a Hybrid China

 

An eglantine rose of simple elegance whose leaves are heavily scented with the fragrance of apple. Eglantines, hybrids of Rosa eglanteria, the old Sweet Briar of Shakespeare, grow vigorously into a wild arching and interlacing sprawl and meld wonderfully into any Mediterranean landscaping plan. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Details: The Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 20, 2018, Veteran’s Memorial Building, Albany, 1325 Portland at Carmel, Albany, CA 94706. 11 am to 3:30 p.m.  Free.  If you plan to buy roses or plants, bring cash.  For more information, call Kristina Osborn at The Heritage Rose Group Bay Area (510) 527-3815 or visit http://www.celebrationofoldroses.org

May 18, 2018 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest36: Asian American films paired with conversation, food, music and parties —May 10-24, 2018

Vivian Wu plays fierce beautician Candy Wang whose Facebook page is blocked by the Chinese Communist Party as she takes a tough stance against real estate developers in a scene from Cathy Yan’s debut feature, “Dead Pigs” (2018).  The film screens twice at CAAMFest36,  May 14-24, 2018.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker, will be in attendance at CAAMFest.  Yan was just selected by actor Margot Robbie to direct a “Suicide Squad” sequel film for DC Productions, making Yan the first Asian American woman to direct a big budget Hollywood action film for DC Productions.  Photo: CAAMFest

It’s been exciting to experience CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) annual film festival, as it has morphed into an extravaganza embracing Asian American film, music, food and dance.  The 36th festival kicked off Thursday, May 10 and runs through Thursday, May 24th.  CAAMFest offers more than 120 films, live performances, music and culinary events.  The second week continues with films in 17 Bay Area venues.

A must-see film is Cathy Yan’s observant and wacky first feature, Dead Pigs (2018, 130 min), which she wrote and directed, screening Sunday, May 20 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.   The film exemplifies the filmmakers and thought-provoking stories that CAAMFest celebrates.  Yan herself is an exciting draw and she will be in attendance at CAAMFest for post-screening conversation.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker has just bashed through a ceiling for women and directors of color in Hollywood.  The Chinese-born American has just been selected by Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment to direct Australian Margot Robbie in a yet-to-be-titled Harley Quinn sequel.  Yan is thus the first Asian-American woman to direct a big budget superhero film for the mega industry powerhouse DC (home to iconic brands such as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash).

Dead Pigs is set in China, between bustling Shanghai and the provincial town of Jiaxing which sits on the Huangpu River about 70 miles from Shanghai.  The fictional story employs sharp storytelling, comedy and is full of surprises.  It takes off on a real incident that occurred in China in spring 2014 when over 7,500 pig carcasses were found floating in the Huangpu River that supplied Shanghai’s drinking water.  The pigs don’t factor heavily in the story-line but they do bob down the river through several scenes, adding all the symbolism that pigs evoke in the Chinese zodiac of marching forward fearlessly.   They aslo set the stage for five very eccentric characters, whose stories ultimately collide—an alcoholic pig farmer (Yang Haoyu) in debt up to his nose to local thugs; a tough-as-nails beautician (Vivian Wu) who refuses to sell her family home and property to developers seeking to cash in on gentrification; a highly-leveraged American businessman (David Rysdahl) who is in win-or-die development deal; a spoiled rich girl (Li Meng) who is hospitalized after crashing into a watermelon stand while driving drunk; and a lowly waiter/bus-boy at a suckling pig restaurant (Wang Zhen Mason Lee) who pretends he has a big career in the city.

With plentiful energy, wit, a skillful use of music, and a crazy ending, Yan takes up a fascinating set of complex topics, weaving a tale of modern China racing forward.   The film premiered in the world dramatic competition at Sundance, where it won the special jury prize for ensemble acting.

Details:  CAAMFest36 is May 10-24, 2018 at 17 Bay Area sites, including AMC Kabuki 8, Asian Art Museum, Castro, New People Cinema and Roxie theaters.  Tickets: $14 to $20 general; $75 for six-pack; more for special events.  Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.caamfest.com

May 17, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Opera Hour” radio show kicks off Sunday, May 6, 8PM on Classical KDFC with co-hosts SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and KDFC President Bill Lueth

image: courtesy San Francisco Opera

This Sunday, May 6, at 8 p.m., Classical KDFC will launch “The Opera Hour,” a new opera showcase created by KDFC President Bill Lueth and co-hosted by Lueth and SFO (San Francisco Opera) General Director Matthew Shilvock.  The 60 minute program will air the first Sunday of each month.  It replaces broadcasts of complete SFO performances, celebrating the art form’s continuing vibrancy while reducing the station’s actual allocation of pure opera time.

With something for both longtime opera fans and hoping to draw in the opera curious, in each episode, Shilvock and Lueth will share new recordings of arias, duets and ensembles they are enjoying along with some of their favorites oldies, honoring singers of the past.  The hosts will also highlight opportunities to hear great singing around the Bay Area and dig into the treasure trove of archival SFO broadcasts.  Additionally, Shilvock will take listeners backstage at the War Memorial Opera House and, with special guests, share opera insights.

Details:  Classical KDFC’s The Opera Hour can be heard on the FM dial at 90.3 (San Francisco), 89.9 (Wine Country), 92.5 (Ukiah-Lakeport), 104.9 (Silicon Valley), 103.9 (Santa Cruz and Monterey); on Comcast Cable 981; or online at https://www.kdfc.com/

 

May 5, 2018 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

With films from Argentina to Kyrgyzstan to Zambia, the 61st San Francisco International Film Festival is up and running

Charlize Theron will be honored with a special tribute at the Castro Theater, Sunday, April 8, 7:30 pm, followed by a screening of her new film, Jason Reitman’s “Tully.”  Her performance as an exhausted mom who has just given birth to her third child and, day by day, feels the life drained out of her, has been called “fearless, emotionally raw, and physically intense.” Other prominent honorees to be presented with public tributes and awards at the 2018 SFFILM Festival include Wayne Wang, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Annette Insdorf, and Nathaniel Dorsky. Image: courtesy SFFILM

The 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM Festival), April 4–17, 2018, has something for everyone.  The festival, the longest running in North America, features the latest and most exciting in world cinema plus great docs, archival gems, live musical performances, big nights, special tributes and numerous awards.

This year, offerings include 186 films from 48 countries with 8 world premieres, 5 North American premieres, 6 U.S. premieres, and films from 67 women directors and co-directors.  Over 300 filmmakers and industry guests will be in attendance.

There’s even a film that will have the dogs lining up:  Don Hardy’s “Pick of the Litter,”  a delightful doc about San Rafael’s wonderful Guide Dogs for the Blind program that tracks 4 pups on their journey to become indispensable human helpers.  The screening (Saturday, April 7, Victoria Theatre)  is one of the festival’s free community screenings and it sold out almost immediately.  Dogs will have their own section in the theater and are asked to be on their best behavior.

It’s a fact: a film has an exponentially larger impact if you discuss it and meet its makers.   The best way to fest is to select films with filmmakers in attendance, so that you can take in the enlightening post-screening Q&A’s or to attend one of the many artists talks, live presentations or collaborative film and conversation events which feature filmmakers, actors or industry luminaries in more lengthy conversation or performance.

Through its Cinema by the Bay festival programming, SFFILM champions new work made in and about the Bay Area and honors Bay Area visionaries who helped establish the Bay Area as such a vital area for film production and exhibition.  This year, Cinema by the Bay offers 36 films and special programs celebrating the Bay Area.  Among these, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award  (Friday April 6, 6pm, SFMOMA), honoring experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky is one of those events that will leave a lasting impression.  It’s a shame that Dorsky is largely unknown outside the small world of avant-garde cinema because his short films, with their bursts of light and shifting shadows, have a deep impact and encourage contemplation of both life and art.  The program will include a screening of four of Dorsky’s 16mm short films and an in depth conversation with Dorsky about his unique compositional technique.

Coinciding with its mission to promote exceptional new talent, SFFILM is also continuing its Launch Program, which it began last year to assist a select group of films starting their journey into the distribution world.  In Launch’s second year, five documentary features within the festival official lineup have been selected to have their world premieres—The Human Element (US), The Rescue List (US/Ghana), Tre Maison Dasan (US), Ulam: Main Dish (US) and Wrestle (US).  “We are delighted to shine the spotlight on our second year of Launch,” said SFFILM Executive Director Noah Cowan. “This is a tightly focused program of world premiere presentations that we feel represent the values of our city and region and that we want to see enter the global film distribution system to help promote those values…”

ARThound’s top picks:

These are all gems of world cinema that are unlikely to have a theatrical release in the Bay Area. Indulge!

A Man of Integrity, Mohammad Rasoulof, (Iran, 2017, 118 min)

Reza Akhalghirad as Reza in a scene from Mohammad Rasoulof’s “A Man of Integrity,” image: courtesy Cannes Film Festival

Winner Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s “A Man of Integrity,” examines economic corruption and religious intolerance in Iran through the story of Reza, a man who relocates his family from Tehran to a small town where he dreams of building goldfish farm and where his wife guides students as the principal of a girls’ school.  Soon after the move, Reza is approached by local goons and requested to pay bribes.  The story address how he and his wife use their minds and fight back against these corrupt forces to regain their lives.  In October, Rasoulof was charged with national security infringements and propaganda against the Iranian state and, once again, faces imprisonment.  Despite great restrictions, he has managed, for the past decade, to remain central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse and with his gripping, allegorical films.  Rasoulof’s previous films at SFFFILM include Iron Island (SFIFF 2006) and The White Meadows (SFIFF 2010), Goodbye SFIFF 2012.  YBCA (SF) April 6, 1:30 p.m.  Also, SFMOMA, April 7, 9:30 p.m. and BAMPFA, April 8, 3:15 p.m.

 

Scary Mother, Ana Urushadze, (Estonia, Georgia, 2017, 107 min)

Nata Murvanidze is Manana in Ana Urushadze’s “Scary Mother.” Image courtesy: SFFILM

This intense debut feature, Georgia’s 2018 Best Foreign Language Oscar entry, tracks Manana, a Georgian mother of three, who negotiates middle age by writing a novel that leaves no family member unscathed.  As the ramifications of her artistic endeavor unravel in compellingly bizarre fashion, Manana’s single-minded pursuit of her new calling leads the film into dark territory.  She begins to dream that she is a Manananggal, a mythical Filipino creature that’s torn into two pieces—one human and one a monstrous bird-creature that emits a clicking noise when on the hunt.  Winner of Best First Feature Prize, Sarajevo.  Golden Gate Award Competition.  Children’s Creativity Museum (SF), April 6, 8:45 p.m.  Also Roxie (SF), April 13, 4 p.m. and Children’s Creativity Museum (SF), April 14, 5:30 p.m.

 

The Other Side of Everything, Mila Turajlić, (Serbia, France, Qatar, 2017, 102 min)

A scene from Mila Turajlić’s “The Other Side of Everything.” Image: courtesy SFFILM

 

In this eye-opening doc, Belgrade-born Mila Turajlić examines Serbia’s political history in the Tito and Milošević eras through the eyes of her mother, the pro-democracy activist, Srbijanka Turajlić.  Under Tito, the family’s spacious Central Belgrade apartment was divided and redistributed by the state government. Srbijanka’s activism meant that they were spied on from the very rooms they used to own.  Now, she is free to talk about “the other side” and existence under Communism.  From the director of Cinema Kommunisto (Festival 2011) this film also employs archival footage and interviews brilliantly. Mila Turajlić and Srbijanka Turajlić in attendance for April 10-11 screenings.  Golden Gate Award Competition  Roxie (SF), April 10, 6:30 p.m. Also BAMPFA April 11, 8:40 p.m. and Children’s Creativity Museum (SF), April 12, 12:45 p.m.

 

Blonde Redhead performs to Yasijuro Ozu’s silent masterpiece I was Born, But…(Japan, 1932, 90 min)

A scene from Yasijuro Ozu’s “I Was Born, But…” image: courtesy SFFILM

Blonde Redhead. Image: courtesy of SFFILM.

Taking a clue from the SF Silent Film Festival’s tremendously popular on stage live accompaniments to silent goldies, SFFILM has invited the musicians of the alternative rock band Blonde Redhead (Kazu Makino, Amedeo Pace and Simone Pace) to accompany Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s most popular film, the 1932 black and white drama I was Born, But…The story summarizes life in post-war Japan and follows the working class Yoshi as he moves his family to the Tokyo suburbs to be closer to his new job.  As his two rambunctious young boys, Keiji and Ryoichi, prepare for school, they encounter all sorts of bullies and must negotiate the local pecking order.  When they discover their good-natured dad is a nobody who sucks up to his new boss, they become indignant with the realities of class stratification.  The film is of full of wonderful physical gags and comedic moments.  Castro (SF), April 11, 8 p.m.

 

Suleiman Mountain, Elizaveta Stishova (Kyrgyzstan, Russia,  2017, 103 min)

A scene from Elizaveta Stishova’s “Suleiman Mountain.” Image: courtesy SFFILM

Russian actress-turned-filmmaker Stishova weaves mythological and even comedic elements into her debut feature.  Uluk, a young Kyrgyz orphan boy, is reunited with his father and his two wives who are traveling skam artists and who survive by swindling unsuspecting villagers in various Kyrgyz townships.  Working with a cast of nonprofessional Kyrgyzstani actors, Stishova guides audiences into a world of ancient folk traditions and shamanistic rituals that are enacted at fabled Takht-i-Suleiman Mountain, the mid-point of the Silk Road, where the characters aim to find their destinies.  Golden Gate Award Competition  BAMPFA, April 12, 6 p.m.  Also YBCA (SF), April 13, 5:30 p.m. and Roxie (SF), April 14, 2 p.m.

 

Jupiter’s Moon, Kornél Mundruczó, (Hungary, Germany, 2017, 128 min)

A scene from Kornél Mundruczó’s “Jupiter’s Moon.”  Image: courtesy SFFILM

From the director of the 2014 Cannes Un Certain Regard winner, White God, comes another visually astounding film, a parable of a Syrian refugee named Aryan, who, in death, discovers he can fly, literally.  An opportunistic doctor smuggles Aryan to Budapest and touts him as an angel. Soon, he is identified as a person to fear and possibly destroy.   Castro (SF), April 12, 9:30 p.m. and Roxie (SF), April 17, 3:30 p.m.

 

Details:  The 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival is April 4–17, 2018.  Most films are $16 and big nights, awards, tributes, and special events are priced slightly higher.   Advanced purchase is highly recommended as most of the screenings and events sell out well in advance.  For full program information and online ticket purchase, visit: sffilm.org.

April 5, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 21st Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday…a long list of great short films

Stanford students Cameron McClellan and Jacob Langsner’s short film, Going Home, addresses the Sonoma wildfires of 2017 and screens twice at the 21st Sonoma International Film Festival, March 21-25, 2018.   The film is paired with the world premiere of producer Stephen Most and director Kevin White’s full-length documentary, Wilder than Wild (2017) which explores the central Sierra’s Rim Fire of 2013 and the wine country’s wildfires of 2017.   SIFF’s line-up includes 110 films from around the world, 6 SIFF-curated shorts programs, the LUNAFEST traveling festival of shorts celebrating female filmmakers, and the annual “Student Showcase” of shorts from Sonoma Valley High School’s Media Arts Program.  Image: still from Going Home, courtesy Cameron McClellan.

Stanford freshman Cameron McClellan, who hails from the UK, never dreamed that his first film ever would be accepted as an official selection of the Sonoma International Film Festival and that his subject, the Sonoma fires of October 2017, would hit so close to home.  Shortly before McClellan completed the interviews for Going Home, a 6:33 min short, which he co-produced with freshman Jacob Langsner, he learned that his 83 year-old grandfather’s home on Calistoga’s Franz Valley School Road had been burned to the ground by the infamous Tubbs fire which wreaked havoc from Calistoga to Santa Rosa and remained unstoppable for days.

McClellan and Langsner’s film will screen twice at the 21st Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), March 21-25, which is dedicated to the Sonoma Firefighters, First Responders and the rebuilding of our Sonoma Community.

“Going Home is a special film not only because of the Sonoma fires, but because it covers the subject from a unique perspective and is succinct,” says Steve Shor, SIFF’s chief programmer.

Cameron McClellan co-produced and directed Going Home as a project for his first film course at Stanford, Film Production 114: Intro to Film and Video Production.  The short film screens twice at SIFF. Image: Geneva Anderson

Going Home is among 15 shorts that have been paired with feature films and one of dozens of shorts that the four-day-long festival will screen in its line-up of 110 films from around the world.   The prevalence of shorts demonstrates SIFF’s regard for emerging and student filmmakers and for the art of the short format itself.  Limited only by their truncated run time, shorts embrace the best of traditional story-telling and have become a vital and budget-conscious way for filmmakers to connect with audiences.

McClellan’s film project got rolling when he and Langsner managed to hitch a ride from Palo Alto to Napa with some students from the Stanford Storytelling Project who were going there to interview families impacted by the fires. “We drove down and pretty much shot all the footage we could over the course of a day,” said McClellan.  “Our idea had been to interview several families but we really had no idea how many families we would have access to or the visuals that we would be able to get.  We ended up with access to two families, who we stayed with.  We did a very long interview with Dale and Kathy Albin from Santa Rosa who had lost their home in the fire and that’s how the whole film emerged.”

McClellan said that he was nervous about how to speak with the victims of such trauma but was relieved that the conversation carried itself and their story just spilled out.  In terms of creative choices, the two directors debated about how to best use the footage they had.  They selected a haunting shot of a burnt out car for the film’s poster.  They went with just showing a single image of the Albin house before the fire, and placed that at the end of the film, as a reminder of what had once been.

McClellan found about the status of his grandfather’s home just a few days before his visit to Napa.  “The smoke had blocked the mobile signal.  There was a long period when we just hadn’t heard from them.  Then, after we established contact, no one knew what had happened with the property as they weren’t allowed to go the site and there was no information.  Doing this project first, before I managed to get out to my grandpa’s place, prepared me for what I would see and his reaction to the loss.  Since I didn’t really live in the house, I didn’t have a huge connection to everything that was lost but you do find the loss hits you in waves…you’ll think about times you spent there with family and realize…oh, that’s gone.”

McClellan has never attended a film festival before and is excited to participate at Sonoma and to continue with film-making.  His short will screen before with the world premiere of  producer Stephen Most and director Kevin White’s full-length documentary,  Wilder than Wild (2017) which journeys from the Rim Fire of 2013, which burned 257,000 acres in the central Sierra, to the wine country’s wildfires of 2017, which destroyed 9,000 buildings and killed 44 people.  The film reveals how fuel build-up and climate change have made Western wild-lands vulnerable to large, high intensity wildfires, while the greenhouse gases released from these fires have accelerated climate change.   The result is a vicious cycle that jeopardizes forests and creates extreme weather and even more wildfires.

This year, in addition to its pairing of shorts with feature films, SIFF is offering six  90-minute-long curated shorts programs—Animated Shorts, Comedy Shorts, Delicious Shorts, Documentary Shorts, Dramatic Shorts, and World Cinema shorts.  A new SIFF addition, inspired by the immense popularity of its longer films that embrace diverse culinary cultures, artisan chefs and vintners is the Delicious Shorts programming—five international food and wine shorts from six countries.  The festival also welcomes back LUNAFEST, the popular traveling film festival showcasing women filmmakers, which is always hosted at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and features a fabulous gourmet spread featuring LUNA bars.

Polish filmmaker Bartosz Dziamski’s The Chef at the Palace (2017, 6 min) is part of SIFF’s new “Delicious Shorts” program. The film introduces Maciej Nowicki, executive chef at the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, who researches and reconstructs the world of Polish flavors in old Polish cookbooks re-published by the museum.  Dziamski tracks him in the library and in the garden as he harvests sunchokes, whose baby stalks used to be known as Polish asparagus.  We learn that the first rule of reconstructing long forgotten recipes that lack precise weights and measures for ingredients is keeping things in perspective, which Nowicki gains by reading historical texts.  The film leaves us craving a full length feature on this extraordinary character.  Image: Bartosz Dziamski

SIFF’s pride and joy—the “Student Showcase,” which is presented twice this year, will feature over three hours of shorts from student filmmakers in Sonoma Valley High School’s lauded Media Arts Program.  Since 2002, SIFF and its members have donated nearly $500,000 to SVHS’s Media Arts Program which creates opportunities in the digital arts through film-making classes, animation, script-writing, film theory, and storytelling.   The program has become a launchpad for students interested in pursuing film in college and film school.

Shorts at SIFF 21:

Animated Shorts (11 films, 96 min) Thursday/March 22, 6:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Saturday/March 24, 2:15 p.m., Vintage House.

Comedy Shorts (7 films, 77 min) Thursday/March 22, 3:45 p.m. and Friday/March 23, 1:30 p.m, both at SF Chronicle House of Docs and Shorts at Vets II.

Delicious Shorts (5 films, 91 min) Thursday/March 22, 2 p.m., Celebrity Cruises Theatre at Burlingame Hall and Friday/March 23, 6:30 p.m., SF Chronicle House of Docs and Shorts at Vets II.

Dramatic Shorts (7 films, 94 min) Thursday/March 22, 11 a.m., SF Chronicle House of Docs and Shorts at Vets II and Saturday/March 24, 9 a.m., Celebrity Cruises Theatre at Burlingame Hall.

Documentary Shorts (4 films, 96 min) Friday/March 23, 9 a.m., Andrews Hall and Saturday, 7:15 p.m., SF Chronicle House of Docs and Shorts at Vets II.

World Cinema Shorts (5 films, 85 min) Sunday, 9 a.m., Andrews Hall.

Lunafest (9 films, 90 min) Saturday, March 24, 4 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Sonoma Valley High School Media Arts Program, Thursday/March 22, 8:45 a.m.- 1 p.m., Sebastiani Theatre and Sunday/March 25, 11:15 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Andrews Hall.

 

Details:

The Sonoma International Film Festival is Wednesday, March 21 through Sunday, March 25.  All films are shown at seven intimate venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza so there’s no driving, just meandering charming streets where roses, lilacs and irises are in glorious spring bloom.  The best way to experience the Festival and ensure stress-free access to all films and the Backlot Tent’s wonderful food and wine is by getting a SIFF pass. Cinema Passes are $280 (Good for all films, panels and Backlot Tent during daytime hours); Soiree Passes are $850. (Priority access to all films, Backlot Tent VIP area, Opening Night Reception, regular events & parties & priority offerings for special receptions during Festival).  Punch Cards: $35 good for any 4 films with access only after all passholders and reserved ticket holders have been admitted.

For information, tickets, festival passes, prices, and benefits visit www.sonomafilmfest.org.

March 18, 2018 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pounce!— tickets on sale now for Devour! Sonoma Chefs & Shorts Gala Dinner at the 21st Sonoma International Film Festival

SIFF21’s five-course dinner and film shorts event, “Devour! Sonoma Chefs & Shorts Gala Dinner” is Thursday, March 22, 2018, 6pm, at the Sonoma Veterans Hall.  A unique collaboration between SIFF and Devour! The Food Film Fest, the evening will celebrate cinema, food and wine.  Image: courtesy Phototype

The Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF), March 21-25, 2018, celebrates its 21st anniversary this year and has just announced its first special film/food/wine event, Devour! Sonoma Chefs & Shorts Gala Dinner, Thursday, March 22, 2018, at 6pm the Sonoma Veterans Hall.  SIFF is partnering with Canada’s renowned Devour! The Food Film Fest to bring this unique experience to SIFF film and food aficionados.

The evening will feature an extraordinary five-course dinner, with each course taking its inspiration from short food films from around the world.  Lia Rinaldo, managing director of Devour! will serve as curator.   Culinary collaborators include luminaries such as Dominique Crenn (first woman to earn two Michelin Stars and named Best Female Chef in 2016, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco), Evan Funke (Felix Trattoria, Los Angeles), Michael Howell (Founder of Devour!, Wolfville, Nova Scotia) and Sonoma Chefs John McReynolds (Edge) and John Toulze (The Girl and The Fig).  Each course will be paired with Sonoma’s finest wine, including Gloria Ferrer and WindVane, as well as Benjamin Bridge from Michael Howell’s backyard in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  The films are screened simultaneously with the dinner.  This unique offering has sold out in many locations around the world, and with this combination of award-winning chefs, great local foods and wines, it’s sure to please SIFF’s savvy foodies.   “SIFF is thrilled to work with Devour! The Food Film Fest to bring this first Chefs & Shorts culinary experience to our festival attendees!” said SIFF Executive Director Kevin McNeely.

Details:  Devour! Sonoma Chefs & Shorts Gala Dinner is Thursday, March 22, 2018, at 6pm the Sonoma Veterans Hall.  Tickets are $120 for Soiree pass holders, $150 for all other pass holders and $200 for general public.  Click here to purchase tickets for this event or visit  www.sonomafilmfest.org to first purchase your festival pass.

 SIFF Pass Information:
SIFF21 is Wednesday, March 21 through Sunday, March 25.  The best way to experience this very popular festival and to have access to all films is by getting a SIFF pass. Currently, Cinema Passes are $225 and Soiree Passes are $725.  All Cinema pass holders will have day access to the Backlot Tent in SIFF Village.  Soiree pass holders will have day VIP area and evening party access.  For information about tickets, festival passes, prices, and benefits visit www.sonomafilmfest.org.

More about Devour!  Combining cinematic talent with extraordinary gastronomic activities, Devour! The Food Film Fest is the world’s largest film festival focused on food and drink. This annual five-day festival hosts 100+ events, high profile chefs & celebrated filmmakers from around the world and, just this past season, attracted almost 11,000 food and film lovers to Nova Scotia, Canada. The eighth edition of Devour! is slated for October 24-28, 2018.

 

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 40th Mill Valley Film Festival opens Thursday—¡Viva El Cine! features prize-winning Latin American and Spanish language cinema

Janis Plotkin, MVFF senior programmer, curated the festival’s ¡Viva El Cine! series—eight prizewinning Latin American and Spanish language films with stories from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Spain, Venezuela, and the US.  ¡Viva El Cine! is in its 4th season and MVFF40 marks Janis’ 14th season with MVFF. MVFF40 is Oct 5-15, 2017. Image: Geneva Anderson

The fortieth edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 40) gears up this evening with three big opening night films–Joe Wright’s, Darkest Hour, intense Churchill drama; Jason Wise’s Wait for Your Laugh, a soulful profile of comedian Rose Marie; and Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent, an astounding animated portrait of Vincent van Gogh.  Starting Friday and running for the next 10 days, MVFF40 will offer an exciting and eclectic line up of the very best in America independent and world cinema, with more than 200 filmmakers in attendance.  There are several special seminars, panels and musical performances as well.  For me, the biggest draw is the world cinema and some 50 countries are represented this year.  Experiencing the world from someone else’s point of view can be life changing and the exceptional storytelling that characterizes MVFF’s foreign lineup always tends to be full of unexpected twists.

Recently, I spoke with senior programmer Janis Plotkin who curated the festival’s ¡Viva El Cine! programming—eight prizewinning Latin American and Spanish language films with stories from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Spain, Venezuela, and the US.  At MVFF, I often find myself in a theater with Janis and her film introductions are always packed with insight and a pure passion for cinema.  I’ve come to consider her as my MVFF person–if she’s in the room, I’m probably going to love the film.  MVFF40 marks Janis’ 14th season with MVFF.  From 1982 through 2002, she was the executive artistic director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and was renowned for showing great films and building community.  When I learned that Janis programmed this influential Latin American film series, I couldn’t wait to discuss it with her.

¡Viva El Cine! launched in 2014 and has continued to grow in scope and attendees.  In 2016,  at MVFF39, more than 4,000 patrons attended screenings, which included a series of new works from Mexico as well as seminal films from Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Spain—and a very special musical performance by the Alejandro Escovedo Trio at the Sweetwater Music Hall as part of the MVFF Music program.

Chilean director Marcela Said’s Los Perros is set in post-Pinochet era Chile and is galvanized by Antonia Zegers’ (El Club, MVFF2015) performance as Marina, a wealthy forty-something equestrian whose riding instructor is charged with human rights abuses stemming from the Pinochet era. The film thrillingly tackles issues of class, power, and historical culpability.   Los Perros is also part of the festival’s Mind the Gap Initiative which promotes female filmmakers and the portrayal of strong leading female characters in film.. Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound:  What is special about ¡Viva El Cine! and how did it get its start?

Janis Plotkin:  Four years ago, we received a grant from the Marin Community Fund to support programming efforts to reach out to Marin’s Spanish speaking community.  At that time, Spanish speaking people were one of the largest growing groups in the county and this was our response.  We also did some community organizing by bringing together a group of community advisors to see what type of films the community was interested in and to help get the word out.  Last year, we had Mexican actor, director and producer, Gael García Bernal visiting with two of his films and that was a kind of benchmark in terms of aspiration.  We sold out all those shows and it was very satisfying for us and for the audience.

This year’s films reflect the vitality and high quality of the Latin American film world which is producing really excellent work on both the artistic and technical sides.  We have new films from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, Spain and Cuba.

Tension and apprehension flow like a river in the drama El Amparo, based on a 1988 incident on the Venezuela/Colombia border, where two men were accused in the disappearance of 12 of their fellow fisherman. In this debut feature, Venezuelan director Rober Calzadilla focuses his lens on tenderness and vulnerability as a weapon. Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound:  The storytelling is amazing too. You picked some fine examples.

Janis Plotkin:  I tend to enjoy most world cinema because I feel these films aren’t under the same pressures that US films are for commercial viability.  They are made for the art of film and yet the story telling is very good, with historical or present day issues impacting all social strata.  Rober Calzadilla’s El Amparo, from Venezuela, for example, is done with non professional actors and tells a true story of what happened when 12 fisherman disappeared in 1988 and it’s from the point of view of the victims.  This a film full of dignity, truth telling and fighting for justice.   I would rather see and hear it from their point of view, the point of view of the people, rather than a sensationalized version of the government actions.  We don’t often get to hear stories like this, so this was one of the first films I looked for the series.

ARThound:  When do you start preparing for MVFF and for this series?

Janis Plotkin:  Officially, I start on May 1, but I went to the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) with Zoe (Elton) in February and saw Vazante and A Fantastic Woman and that was how it began.  We also do a lot of research with interns who scour every country’s national cinema and we try to find the best films.  It’s a lot of watching and eliminating. We have weekly meetings where we present and discuss films and we’re looking to have a balance of themes as well as making sure that we have 50/50 by 2020.  In ¡Viva El Cine!,  you’ll see we have lots of talented women.

Esteban is Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela´s debut film. It is an intimate drama about a ten-year-old boy who discovers his musical talent and falls for the piano. This is a story about dreams, about not quitting, about doing something every day to achieve your goals. Much of the music in the film is by the legendary Chucho Valdés. Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound:  Special guests really make a film come alive.  Who are you bringing in this year?

Janis Plotkin:  This year, we are expecting Jonal Cosculluela, from Havana, the director of Esteban, his first feature film.  All screenings of this film are at rush and we’ve got educational screenings planned too, so I am very excited about this. We just heard that the US embassy’s staff in Havana was being cut by 50 percent and we still don’t know how that will impact Jonal’s visa interview, which was delayed initially by hurricane Irma.  Barring these political and weather-related issues, we hope to see him here.   This is a very special story about a child who basically has no resources but he is passionate about playing the piano and he has real talent and his persistence wins over his teacher and his family.   We’ve also got Santiago Rizzo and the cast of Quest attending.

ARThound:  I saw Esteban last December in Havana at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema and Reynaldo Guanchein, who is nine and plays the child prodigy, Esteban, gave an amazing performance.  He took on the entire project with just three month’s training in acting. There’s something so special about children who can play the part of a child in very precarious circumstances and yet what shines through is their beautiful spirit and innocence.

Janis Plotkin:  We also have some amazing child actors in Summer of 1993, Spanish director Carla Simón’s feature debut film set in Spain’s Catalan region.   This film is from the point of view of an orphaned little girl who has lost both of her parents.  We assume it’s from drug use and AID’s-related but it’s never made clear.  The story deals with how she comes to adjust to a new life while living with her aunt and uncle and her realization that her life has changed forever.  It’s also about her relationship with her three-year-old cousin.  Carla Simón is known for her ability to work with children and these three and six-year-olds are quite spontaneous and natural.  The film received the first best film award in Berlin and went on to win many awards.

ARThound:   I have discovered from Havana that there is an entire genre of Latin American films that reflect back on the atrocities of past regimes as a form of truth-telling, honoring victims and societal healing.

Janis Plotkin:  Los Perros reflects on the post-Pinochet era and how the next generation either is or is not dealing with it.  This 40ish woman (Antonia Zegers) who comes from privilege did not know that her father was involved in the anti-Pinochet actions and she has a fascination with her older riding teacher who turns out to be one of the generals who was in charge of disposing of pro-Pinochet leftists.   It’s really about her specific emptiness, a specific type of apathy and denial and what a privileged life in Chile looks like.  She’s so spoiled and without empathy for what happened.  Antonia Zegers is the actress who was in El Club who played the housekeeper and nun who stole babies and she is very icey here too.

ARThound:  The segment also introduces us to Latin stars who really aren’t on our radar like Chilean actress Paulina Garcia (Gloria, MVFF 2013) who stars in The Desert Bride.

Janis Plotkin:  The Desert Bride is Argentinean directors Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato’s first feature.  It was launched at Cannes to very favorable reviews and is anchored by Garcia’s performance.  She was the main character in Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria (2013), where she played a lonely and sympathetic divorcee, and she won the Berlinale’s best actress prize.  In The Desert Bride, her character— a housekeeper—is also at the center of everything and she pulls off a subtle performance.   After a rather closed and cloistered life as a housekeeper, she goes on a trip to another part of the country.  Through small moments and encounters that she has on her way, she starts to open up and her transition mirrors the dessert and mountainous landscape of rural Western Argentina that she is traveling across.

Daniela Vega plays Marina, the transgender heroine of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman. Marina is young, beautiful, enigmatic, and plunged into a precarious situation after her middle-aged boyfriend dies unexpectedly in her company. As she struggles with her own grief, social prejudice and ostracism, she must summon her own inner strength to survive. Image: courtesy MVFF

This year, we have another incredible performance by Daniela Vega, a Chilean transgender actress in her breakthrough role in in A Fantastic Woman.  This is Sebastián Lelio’s latest film and it is getting lots of attention.  In comparison to The Danish Girl (MVFF38), where we had Eddie Redman— a man playing a male transgender who transitions to a woman—here we actually have a transgender actress playing herself.  Her performance actually walks through the kind of walls that she faces with the family of her beloved who dies suddenly and his family who won’t let her grieve.  It’s how she finds her dignity in fighting them all the way through .  Daniela Vega gives an outstanding performance and the script itself won a prize in Berlin.

Daniela Thomas’ period drama, Vazante, is set in 1821, when Brazil was on the verge of independence from Portugal. Brazil was one of the last countries to officially abolish slavery in 1888 and Vazante relives the tale of a wealthy slaveholder who marries his young niece.  Photographed in black and white, the film was shot on rugged locations in the craggy and wild Diamantina Mountains. Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound: You have what sounds like an amazing Brazilian period drama in Vazante.

Janis Plotkin:  Vazante is a real work of art and tells a transitional story of Brazil in the death throes of colonialism and the desperate efforts of a wealthy plantation owner to sire a child after his wife and baby die in childbirth.  He marries his 12-year-old niece and the story is about what happens and it’s also a racial story of the plantation owner’s relationship to the slaves that work on his plantation.   It’s shot in black and white and very naturalistic.   Daniela Thomas, the director, was a protégée of the great Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles (Central Station (1988), Motorcycle Diaries (2004)) and has been engaged in the best of Brazilian cinema and this is her first outing as a director.  This is the kind of film that needs to be seen on a big screen.

Filmmaker Santiago Rizzo and most of the cast of Quest will attend the film’s three screenings at MVFF40. Quest is set in 1995 Berkeley and tells Rizzo’s own heart-breaking and life-affirming story of his relationship with a teacher who took such an interest him that Rizzo’s life took an completely unexpected course.  Gregory Kasyan, above, plays Rizzo, his first lead role in a feature film.  Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound:  Quest, produced by Santiago Rizzo does not have Latin American theme; it is not in Spanish; and he is living in the US.  Why is it in this series?

Janis Plotkin:   We like to include films that are produced in the U.S. that are somehow relevant to Latinos’ experiences here.  Last year, we screened Rodrigo Reyes’ Lupe Under the Sun, which was set in Modesto and used migrant workers to tell a story about life in the fields of the Central Valley.   Quest is a new American indie film by Los Angeles-based Santiago Rizzo that is set in Berkeley in 1995.  Rizzo is Argentinean.  He was raised in Berkeley and went to Berkeley Middle School.  This film tells his own story and the story of a teacher who mentored him and basically saved his life, enabling him as a high school student who was fast on his way jail to instead becoming a such a good student that he got into Stanford.  When he graduated from Stanford, he went on to become a very successful hedge fund manager.  He made a commitment to himself and to his teacher to tell the story.  This Bay Area set film is the end result.  I was very moved by all aspects of it.   Rizzo and most of the cast will attend and that will make for a very exciting program.

ARThound:  Stepping outside of ¡Viva El Cine!, what are the highlights of MVFF40?

Janis Plotkin:  MVFF is operating on all cylinders: it has its upper crust strata of big films that are going to be presented in 2017-18 but it’s got this depth of inquiry that’s going on with its Mind the Gap program which looks at the intersection of women in film and women in tech and compares the experience of female directors to those of leaders in tech.  To me, that’s spectacular and very important.

In terms of films, Guillermo del Toro’s film, The Shape of Water, just won the Golden Lion at Venice and should be a huge winner at the Oscars.   On the big picture level, this is the one to see—the quality of his film-making and humor which is so satirical about the Cold War era, CIA operations and politics.  There’s also the whole magical aspect of a creature that a deaf woman falls in love with and their relationship, so it’s a love story.  It’s very special.

MVFF40 details:

MVFF 40 runs October 5-15, 2017.  Main venues this year include: CinéArts@Sequoia (Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (San Rafael), Lark Theatre (Larkspur), and Cinema Corte Madera.

¡Viva El Cine! programming

Full festival schedule

General Public tickets during the festival available online (with convenience fees of $3.75 per order) or in person (no fee) at Smith Rafael Film Center Box Office (1114 Fourth Street, San Rafael) or Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, 85 Throckmorton Ave.)  Tickets will be available 1 hour before the first screening of the day to 15 minutes after the last show starts.  Rush tickets:  rush line forms outside each venue roughly 1 hour before show time.  Rush tickets are sold on a first come, first sold basis roughly 15 minutes before show time.  Patrons have a 90% chance of getting into a show by using the rush line.

Lines during the festival:  CFI (California Film Institute) Passholders get first dibs in lines in order of their pass status. Premier Patron, Director’s Circle, Gold Star.  Non-pass holding CFI members and general public enter the theaters last.

October 5, 2017 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 40th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 5-15, 2017, will honor Sean Penn with a special tribute

Actor, director, screenwriter, and political activist Sean Penn will be honored on Saturday, October 7, with a tribute and the MVFF award at the 40th Mill Valley Film Festival (October 4-14, 2017).  The afternoon will feature an onstage conversation with Penn, who won two Academy Awards for Best Actor for Mystic River (2003) and Milk (2008), and has been nominated three more times in the same category for Dead Man Walking (1995), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), and I Am Sam (2001).  As a director, Penn has crafted powerful dramas such as The Indian Runner (1991), The Pledge (2001), and Into the Wild (2007).  Penn’s most recent MVFF appearance was in 2014 to support The Human Experiment (2014), a film that he executive produced and narrated.  Image courtesy: MVFF

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 40), October 4-15, 2107, a favorite among film lovers, hasn’t released its full schedule to the public yet but has just announced that Sean Penn will be honored with a festival tribute on Saturday, 3 p.m., October 7, 2017 at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  The two-hour program will feature an onstage conversation with Penn, a clip reel of his work, and the presentation of the MVFF award.  There will be time for an audience Q&A afterwards too, which is always fascinating as savvy audience members ask direct and often difficult questions–familiar territory for Penn.  The complete MVFF schedule will be available online Monday, September 12, 2017.  For this milestone, plan on a star-studded extravaganza, a roll-out in the neighborhood of 150 films and several special musical offerings, all selected with the progressive, knowledgeable and fun-loving spirit of our Bay Area audience in mind.

MVFF founder and executive director Mark Fishkin said that Sean Penn was essential for their 40th: “Not only is Sean one of the greatest actors of this generation; he may be one of the greatest actors of many generations.  The integrity of his performances in unparalleled.  Very few actors can be as absorbed in a role as he can and that comes right from his core.  He has history with this festival.”

Sean Penn, whose film career spans three decades, lived in Ross for several years and has a long association with MVFF.  In fact, over the years, it was a treat to see him catching a movie at the Rafael.  In 2002, he presented and spoke about Jessie Nelson’s I Am Sam (2001), which he starred in with Michelle Pfeiffer and Dakota Fanning.  Penn, nominated for Best Actor Academy Award, played a mentally challenged single father struggling to raise a daughter who ends up with Michelle Pfeiffer as his attorney.

Sean Penn was a lead actor in Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003) which had its world premiere at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival, where Penn won his second Volpi Cup (Best Actor Award).  At that time, he had been nominated for three Academy Awards but hadn’t yet won any.  The film later screened at MVFF and Penn and Iñárritu captivated the audience with a revealing post-screening Q&A.

In 2003, Penn came to MVFF as the lead actor in Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s tormenting  21 Grams.  Inarritu presented the film and Penn appeared on stage with him in an intense Q&A with festival founder and executive director, Mark Fishkin.  Reception guests included the unbeatable Tom Waits and Peter Coyote; the evening was unforgettable.

At a very special pre-festival event in 2007, Penn presented Into the Wild (2007), which he both directed and wrote the screenplay for.  The film, based on Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction bestseller, was nominated for two Academy® Awards.  Penn also presented the Mill Valley Award to Emile Hirsch for his breakout performance as the impulsive young adventurer, Christopher Johnson McCandless who lived thrillingly in the natural world for two years and then died tragically of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness.

In 2009, as part of the Smith Rafael’s 10th anniversary celebration Film of My Life series, Penn presented Elem Klimov’s film Come and See (1985), which unfolds in the Soviet republic of Byelorussia in 1943 and depicts the brutality of war.  Penn explained that the film, which he considers a masterpiece of film-making, affected him deeply.

In November of 2009, Penn was also in attendance at the Smith Rafael for a special screening of Oren Moverman’s lauded debut film, The Messenger (2009), which included an on stage conversation with Woody Harrelson, who starred in the film.

Who can forget Sean Penn’s Academy Award winning performance as Jimmy, an ex-con whose 19-year-old daughter is brutally murdered, in Clint Eastwood’s 24th film, the crime drama, Mystic River.

Penn’s most recent MVFF appearance was in 2014 to support The Human Experiment (2013), a documentary that he executive produced and narrated which explored the astonishing numbers of toxic chemicals found in everyday household products and the need for tighter regulation.

Penns’ fifth film as a director,  the drama The Last Face (2016), with Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as African aid workers who become romantically involved in Liberian and Sudanese conflict zones, garnered a string of one star reviews and was was promptly relegated to a VOD release.  You can expect some discussion at MVFF of what prompted Penn to cast two gorgeous white actors in the lead as compassionate savior/healers and ensconce them in a bloody black war.

Penn’s latest film, The Professor and the Madman (2017), directed by Farhad Safinia and produced by Mel Gibson, is based on the Simon Winchester book about the true story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Set in 1857, Gibson plays the obsessive professor, James Murray, who oversaw the dictionary’s creation, while Sean Penn plays the equally obsessive madman — Dr. William Chester Minor — who contributed 10,000 entries from an asylum for the criminally insane.  This is the first time Penn and Gibson have appeared together on screen but audiences may have to wait until a legal matter is resolved.  In late July, Gibson filed a lawsuit alleging that the producing company, Voltage Pictures (the company behind The Hurt Locker)  was in breach of contract because one it did not allow him to select a final cut of the film.

MVFF 40 Details:

MVFF 40 runs October 4-15, 2017.  Main venues this year include: CinéArts@Sequoia (Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (San Rafael), Lark Theatre (Larkspur), and Cinema Corte Madera.

Full schedule online Monday, September 11, 2017.

Tickets before the festival:  CFI (California Film Institute) Passholders get first dibs in order of their pass status. Premier Patron, Director’s Circle, Gold Star, and non-pass holding CFI members can begin to purchase tickets September 12-16.

General Public tickets available September 17-October 4, 2017 online (with convenience fees of $3.75 per order) or in person (no fee) at Smith Rafael Film Center Box Office (1114 Fourth Street, San Rafael, 4 to 8 pm) or Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, 85 Throckmorton Ave., 4 to 8 pm)

Tickets during the festival:  October 5-15, 2017 tickets will be available 1 hour before the first screening of the day to 15 minutes after the last show starts.  Rush tickets:  rush line forms outside each venue roughly 1 hour before show time.  Rush tickets are sold on a first come, first sold basis roughly 15 minutes before show time.  Patrons have a 90% chance of getting into a show by using the rush line.

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