This weekend’s 5th Petaluma International Film Festival spans the remote corners of the globe—ARThound looks at the line-up
With more than 40 independent films from 20 countries and a new program showcasing local filmmakers, 5th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF), this Friday through Sunday, has its best line-up ever. Organized by Saeed Shafa who founded the popular annual Tiburon Film Festival in 2002, PIFF not only emphasizes great storytelling and international points of view; it has films that you just won’t see elsewhere. The festival kicks off at noon on Friday with German filmmaker Hermann Vaske’s acclaimed documentary Balkan Spirit (2013, Germany) which explores the vast creative landscape of the war-torn Balkans and closes with a Sunday 10:15 PM screening of award-winning documentarian Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s dynamically-shot Touba (2013, Senegal/USA) reveals a face of Islam the world rarely glimpses—the Grand Magaal pilgrimage of 1 million Sufi Muslims to their holy city of Touba, Senegal. PIFF offers six screenings daily, running from noon till just before midnight, with each time slot allocated to a full-length film and at least one short (30 minutes or less).
This year, filmmakers and/or films span the globe from Athens to Kosovo to remote Papua New Guinea to Senegal to Yemen. That’s right…Papua New Guinea! How does Shafa find these gems? “When we send out our call for entries, they come to us,” said Shafa. “Fortunately, every year more countries are participating and more filmmakers are getting to know our festival and the kind of programing we have. This, at the same time, makes our selections very difficult but is the reward of having so many good films to choose from for our sophisticated audiences.”
The fine selection of entertaining shorts this year proves that stories can be highly effective in a limited time framework. Shafa has purposely paired all the feature-length films with shorts to get the point across. The incomparable Gérard Depardieu stars as a befuddled door-to-door salesman in Constance Meyer’s comedic short Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude (2012, France) and in just 12 minutes gets caught up in a struggle between an irresistible young woman (Marina Fois), her ex, and their dog. (screens Saturday 8 PM)
New to this year’s festival is Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase, Saturday October 12, 6 PM—a program celebrating 5 short films made by Sonoma County filmmakers in support of the community’s rich and diverse talent. All the filmmakers will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. On the program—Greg Blatman’s Kitty Litter (2012, 9 min, shot in Petaluma); Beth Nelson’s The Sky is the Roof (2013, 30 min—historical overview of pre-colonial Napa Valley); Laura Owen & Aron Campisano’s Chocolatés (5 min); Bret Smith’s Rat-Face Burattino (2013, 5 min) and Paul Winston’s The World is My Stage (2013, 26 min).
Full schedule here.
Film descriptions here.
ARThound has attended this festival every year since it opened and has implicit trust in Saeed Shafa’s programming but here are the films caught my eye:
FRIDAY, OPENING DAY
Balkan Spirit —Friday, noon, : The festival kicks off with German filmmaker Hermann Vaske’s acclaimed documentary Balkan Spirit (2013, Germany). Vaske and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek explore the cultural, philosophical, political and artistic renaissance that is literally breathing life into this amazing region after decades of war and stagnation. The engaging film features Angelina Jolie, Isabelle Huppert, Emir Kusturica, Dušan Makavejev, Abel Ferrara, Jasmila Zbanic and many other who will be forever on your creative radar. 80 minutes. Screens with Shane Atkinson’s short, Penny Dreadful (USA, 2013, 13 min).
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc—Saturday, 2 PM *great for kids*: French filmmaker Luc Besson’s action films (La Femme Nikita, Colombiana, The Fifth Element, The Messenger) often feature a courageous female lead. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc (France, 2013) stars Louise Bourgoin as Adele Blanc-Sec, a daring female investigative reporter and action-seeker. Based on the historical comic book series by French comics artist, Jacques Tardi, the film has the whip-smart and charming young heroine using her reasoning skills to solve a mystery that will save her comatose sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont). Adele believes that an imprisoned scientist, Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian), can reanimate a legendary doctor, who in turn might be able to revive Agathe. With the help of her number-one fan, Andrej Zborowski (Nicolas Giraud), Adele must evade her nemeses long enough to save her sister. 107 minutes. In French with English subtitles
The Professor—Saturday, 2 PM with short Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude: In Tunisian director Mahmoud ben Mahmoud’s retro-thriller, the struggle for social justice and human rights in late 1970s Tunisia is dramatized against the backdrop of a perilous extra-marital affair between a law professor (played by Ahmed Hafiane) who heads Tunisia’s new human rights commission and his radical young student . The period Ben Mahmoud has recreated captures the historical roots of Tunisia’s long slide into tyranny. The period explored coincides with recently deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s career-boosting appointment as General Director of National Security, a major stepping stone towards his 23-year authoritarian rule. Begun in the final days of Ben Ali’s reign, the film was subject to official interference, and could only be completed after the ousted dictator fled to exile in Saudi Arabia last year. Michael Portal’s stirring musical score, with European and Arabic references, has been praised. (2012, Tunisia, France, Qatar, 92 minutes) Screens with Constance Meyer’s comedic short Frank-Étienne Vers la Béatitude (2012, France, 12 minutes).
Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase—Saturday, 6 PM—A new addition to PIFF, a special screening of five short films made by Sonoma County filmmakers in support of the community’s rich and diverse talent. All the filmmakers will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. On the program—Greg Blatman’s Kitty Litter (2012, 9 min, shot in Petaluma); Beth Nelson’s The Sky is the Roof (2013, 30 min—historical overview of pre-colonial Napa Valley); Laura Owen & Aron Campisano’s Chocolatés (5 min); Bret Smith’s Rat-Face Burattino (2013, 5 min) and Paul Winston’s The World is My Stage (2013, 26 min). Total Length: Approx. 2 hours
Agnus Dei—Saturday 10 PM, screens with short Jacobo: Kosovar filmmaker Agim Sopi’s feature drama is based on a true horror story born out of the brutal atrocities of the Kosovo War which occurred in late 1990’s. The film’s backdrop is the face-off of Serb paramilitaries against Kosovar Albanian rebels (KLA) as the Serbs try to remove all Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo. The story involves Peter (Astrit Alihajdaraj), a young Serb solider who is the product of a forbidden love between his Serb mother and Kosovar Albanian father. Peter goes off to war and rescues and then ends up falling in love with an Albanian girl named Maria (the beautiful Dafina Berisha). They travel back to Peter’s mom’s house, only to discover a terrible family secret that will destroy Peter’s entire world. This modern day Odepius-like tale is perfect for its late night time slot. (2012, Kosovo, 85 min) In Serbian with English subtitles. Screens with David del Águilla’s Jacobo (2012, Spain, 14 minutes)
Isolated —Sunday, 2 PM, screens with short Via Tango: American director Justin Le Pera’s documentary Isolated (USA 2013) was shot in remote New Guinea, which seems reason enough to check it out. It follows 6 thrill seeking surfers who embark on a journey to search for one of the world’s last undiscovered waves New Guinea, a vast sprawling region where black magic, sorcery and cannibalism sometimes occur. There’s thrilling surfing footage as they encounter epic waves. The film gets very serious when they run up against human rights atrocities surrounding the West Papua-Indonesian civil war and an unethical mining corporation—alarming maladies that seem to plague the world’s most beautiful places. The film features never before seen footage of an ancient aboriginal culture. 90 minutes. Screens with the Spanish short, Via Tango.
The Last Winter (Zemestane akha)—-Sunday 6:15 PM, Screens with the animated short Double Occupancy: Saeed Shafa, PIFF founder, has a passion for the great poetic of film. This year’s gem from Iran is Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012), an elegant parable about the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan told through the story of a family who is unable to change and to come to terms with a tragedy. Salavati’s documentary is an expanded version of his previous short Snowy Dreams with the same picturesque winter scenery, calm, realistic life style and culture of Iranian Kurdistan. 95 minutes. English subtitles. Screens with the animated short Double Occupancy (2012, Germany, 9 min) by German filmmaker Fabian Giessler.
Touba—Sunday 10:15 PM: The festival closes with a lush doc. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Touba (Senegal, 2013) has won awards for its cinematography and received glowing reviews for delivering a rare sensory experience. This observational film follows the annual Grand Magaal pilgrimage of 1 million Sufi Muslims to the holy city of Touba, Senegal. Dynamically shot in 16mm, it captures the sights and sounds and rituals of the Mouride Brotherhood: one of Africa’s most elusive organizations. Pilgrims travel from all over the world to pay homage to the life and teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, whose non-violent resistance to French colonial persecution in the late 19th century inspired a national movement: freedom of religious expression through pacifism. Vasarhelyi, a Sundance fellow, is the acclaimed director of the award-winning documentary Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (2008) which explored the African pop artist N’Dour as he released a spiritual album that unexpectedly alienated his Senegalese countrymen. Touba screens with the Lebanese filmmaker Mokhtar Beyroth’s short, Studio Beirut (Lebanon, 2013, 15 min).
PIFF Details: The 5th Petaluma International Film Festival is Friday, October 11, through Sunday, October 13, 2013 at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C Street, Petaluma. Tickets are $11 for all PIFF screenings and are available in person or for online purchase at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas. All inclusive festival pass is $150 and can be obtained by phoning (415) 251-8433 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
No comments yet.