Stranger than Fiction, surfing the zeitgeist of reality, the 11th Annual SF DocFest highlights the best new docs—November 8-21, 2012 in San Francisco and November 9-15 in Berkeley
Sometimes you want more from a film than pure entertainment, you want substance, to feel held and enthralled by an issue. There’s nothing more gripping than the reality bite that a great doc provides, particularly when it sheds light on something you know nothing about. The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival (SF DocFest), now in its 11th year, is organized by SF IndieFest, and presents over 50 of the hottest new documentary films from around the world that entertain and inform on just about every subject imaginable. Highlights of this year’s eclectic mix include exciting films about predatory corporations, sinking Venice, birthmothers who relinquished children to adoption, the Miss India pageant, remote Salina (an island off Sicily), Somali piracy, the confessions of love addicts, and the world championship ping pong tournament for over the age of 80. This festival always includes lots of young local filmmakers too. This year, three films—Spencer McCall’s The Institute, Sam Banning’s Cruel and Unusual, and Kelly J. Richardson’s Without a Net— were made right here in the Bay Area, while the opening and closing night films feature local subjects.
It all starts in San Francisco on Thursday, November 8, at 8 p.m. at Brava Theatre with Jeffrey Durkin’s Working Class about San Francisco artist Mike Grant and San Diego artist Mike who have both been involved in underground art for years and have an affinity with the working class. Loosely inspired by Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, the doc explores how their cities shape their lives and artistic processes. After the film, join director Jeffrey Burkin and the two Mikes for an after party with complimentary beer and wine plus music and an art show featuring work by both Mike Maxwell and Mike Giant.
The festival then runs for 11 days (November 9-21, 2012) at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre and for 7 days at Berkley’s Shattuck Theatre (November 9-15, 2012). Film descriptions and full festival schedule are online at www.sfindie.com.
The festival closes with British director Jesse Vile’s Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, a touching music doc. In 1991, Jason Becker was on his way to guitar-god status, tapped to play for David Lee Roth at just 19. Then, the diagnosis: what he called a “lazy limp” in his leg was ALS (AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Jason would not go on tour, and might not make it 5 more years. But two decades later, Jason’s still here, making music. This is a radiant story of dreams, love and the strength of the human spirit. Jesse Vile uses fresh interview footage as well as a wealth of archival material to tell a story that will enthrall the uninitiated as well as the guitarist’s fans. Winner of the Audience Award at Cinequest.
Big Boys Gone Bananas!* : Swedish director Fredrik Gertten’s remarkable follow-up to his controversial 2009 documentary Bananas!* about a successful negligence lawsuit by Nicaraguan plantation workers against the Dole Food Company. This film recounts the hellacious campaign waged by the Dole Food Company to block Bananas!* which was slated to have its world premiere at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. This documentary gives you excellent idea of exactly what it’s like to be slapped with a cease and desist order by a huge corporation with a battery of lawyers and PR professionals who devote their lives and endless funds to achieving their goal, whether or not their claims have any real merit. To his credit, Gertten did not back down and ultimately had the entire Swedish Riksdag on his side and was able to defeat Dole. This is an inspiring film that recounts a heartening uphill battle for truth and freedom of expression for documentary filmmakers who take the job of exposing corporate wrongdoing seriously. (Sweden, 2012, 88 min) (Screens Saturday, November 17, 2012, at 9:30 PM at the Roxie Theatre and Tuesday, November 20, 2012, at 9:30 PM at the Shattuck Theatre.)
A Girl Like Her: Can you ever really recover from the loss of a child, one that you were coerced into giving up? After watching Ann Fessler’s quietly devastating documentary which reveals the hidden history of over a million young women who became pregnant in the 1950s and 60s and were banished to maternity homes to give birth, surrender their children, and then return home alone, your answer will be no. Yet, these young women were told to keep their secret, move on and forget. But, really, how can a woman EVER forget that and what are the consequences?
Producer, director, editor, archival film researcher, Ann Fessler tackles rich territory in her expertly-rendered 48 minute documentary which is the result of extensive groundbreaking interviews she conducted between 2002-5 with over 100 women who surrendered children to adoption during the 28 years that followed WWII, the years before Row v. Wade. Fessler, a professor of photography at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), is the well-known author of The Girls Who Went Away (Penguin Press, 2006), chosen as one of the top 5 non-fiction books of 2006 by the National Book Critics Circle and by readers of Ms. magazine in 2011 as one of the top 100 feminist books of all time. She is also adopted and brings rich understanding and truth-seeking to her filmmaking. It’s impossible not to be moved by the voices of these women as they speak about the devastating long-term impact of surrender on their lives. Many of the women Fessler interviewed had never spoken of their experiences before but candidly share that they have been plagued by grief and shame and regret and anger since relinquishing. (2011, 48 minutes) (Click here to read ARThound’s full review.) Screens Friday, November 17, 2012 at 5 PM and Sunday November 18, at 12:30 PM, both at Roxie Theatre and Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 5 PM at Shattuck Theatre.
Clip from Ann Fessler’s A Girl Like Her
One Year’s Remainder (il resto dell’anno): Were you ever on vacation on at a popular summer tourist destination and wondered what it would the pace of life is like off season? Michele Di Salle and Luca Papaleo’s meditative film is set in the island of Salina, in the Aeolian archipelago, north of Sicily. This island, known to most only as a summer destination, reveals its real beauty after the departure of the tourists, during the solitude of fall and winter in which its thousand inhabitants deal with the slow passage of time. This magical film relies on the simplest of storytelling—no interviews, no narrating voice, only the power of images shot with natural light that changes from day to day. (Italy, 75 minutes, 2011) Screens Sunday, November 18, 2:45 PM and Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 9:30 PM, both at Roxie Theatre.
Stay tuned to ARThound for more festival recommendations.
Details: Regular tickets are $12 at the door; $10 in advance. A “DocPass,” good for admission to all films at the festival as well as the Opening Night Party and Roller Disco Benefit Party is $160. The same all access pass is only $25 for those under 21. More information: www.sfindie.com or (415) 820-3907.
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