ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.

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

Women take the Lead in Havana’s 39th Festival of New Latin American Cinema, December 8-17, 2017

 

Nastasha Jaramillo and Giovany Rodriguez in a scene from Colombian director Laura Mora’s drama Matar A Jesús (2017) which won two of the 39th Havana Film Festival’s most important prizes, awarded by the Glauber Rocha Foundation and Casa de las Américas.  Image: HabanaFilmFestival

In Colombian director Laura Mora’s second feature film, Matar A Jesús (Killing Jesus, 2017) there is an intensely moving scene where university student Paula is in a car driving home with father, a political science professor, and he is shot dead by a young assassin on a motorcycle.  A few weeks later, when she spots the young hit-man drunk at a dance club, she purposely meets him and begins methodically to enact a plan that involves buying a gun and getting revenge.  Her plan gets infinitely more complicated as she gets to know Jesús.  He even instructs her on how to shoot a gun—“Just aim with hate in your heart.”  The story was personal for Laura Mora whose own father was murdered before her eyes and who, like her heroine, later met his killer.  Instead of a straightforward tit-for-tat revenge story, Mora uses the plot to explore how Colombian society has failed its underclass.

This drama was one of dozens of powerful films directed by women at the 39th Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano or Havana Film Festival (December 8-17, 2017), where 34 percent or 38 of the 114 films that were officially competing this year were directed by females.  This festival’s top prize, the Coral for Best Feature Fiction, went to a woman as well—Argentinian director Anahí Berneri for her film Alanís, making this the third time in 39 years that a female director has won the top honor.  Twenty-five of the festival’s 34 awards went to women—directors, editors, scriptwriters, actors and artists.

The huge and diverse 10-day festival is one of Latin America’s most anticipated annual events, offering the best and latest in Cuban, Latin American and world film—roughly 404 features, documentaries, fiction, animation, and archival gems from 41 countries.  The bulk of these films, 308, were from Latin America with the largest participants as follows: Argentina had 65 films, Mexico (50), Cuba (43), Brazil (41), Chile (32), Colombia (21)… all the way down to Bolivia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama with one film each.  The remaining films came from other parts of the world, mainly the US, Spain, France, Germany and the UK.

The breadth of programming is astounding, a challenge that long-term Programming Director, Zita Morriña and her small staff revel in.  (Read my 2015 interview with her here.)  Figures on female directors were published only for competing films, not across the entire festival, where there were dozens of additional female-directed films, female-centered stories from both female and male filmmakers and important panels which brought together female directors and actors to discuss storytelling and challenges they face in their respective countries.  It would be wonderful to have full statistics, for all to see.  As film festivals all over the world scramble to adjust their programming to include more women directors, Havana seems very inclusive.  Festival director Iván Giroud pointed out at the awards ceremony, that the female directors in competition were chosen on their own strength not due to set quotas.

In terms of competing films, only 114 of the 404 films screening were in the official competition for the festival’s Coral Awards.  These are given in seven categories—fiction, opera primas (first films) (18 competing films), documentaries (23), short films (18), animated films (16), unpublished scripts (20) and artistic film posters (24).

The festival publishes a 200+ page catalog every year but “Diario del Festival, its daily 8-page newspaper, is indispensable for festival news and scheduling.  It arrives hot off the press and is distributed each morning at 9 a.m. at the Hotel Nacional.  While all program information in Havana is in Spanish, about one third of the films are subtitled, mainly in English, but also in German or French.  On many occasions, promised subtitles were not available. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Cine Riviera in Havana’s Vedado district is immediately recognizable by its blue and white motif. Built in the early ’50s on the site of the previous 1927 Rivieria Theatre, it became the first “atmospheric” cinema in Cuba—its walls were once painted with imitation Spanish facades creating the illusion of being outdoors. Currently, it seats 1,200 and also functions as venue for contemporary music. Photo: Geneva Anderson

My goal for my eight days at the festival was to see as many films as I could and to hit Havana’s rustic streets running.  Using the festival’s headquarters, the Hotel Nacional, in Vedado, as a base, I walked to most of the 15 screening venues, which are glorious retro-classics of Cuban architecture.  In all, I saw 42 films, usually five to six films daily, from 10 a.m. to midnight, and I attended press conferences and special programs.  There’s something magical about immersing oneself in powerful Latin American dramas, unfolding in Spanish, on native soil.  One can’t help but be swept up in the moment—the excitement of the Cuban crowd, the lines, the impassioned conversations, the thrill of stepping into these historic cinema houses— Acapulco, America, Charles Chaplin, Infanta, Karl Marx, La Rampa, Riviera, Yara, and 23Y12.

Below are a sampling of some of the films I saw that made a strong impression.

Bring on the dramas, both soft and strong!

 

Sofía Gala in a scene from Argentinian director, writer and co-producer Anahí Berneri’s sixth film, Alanís.  Sofia Gala was awarded the Coral for Best Female Performance and the film was awarded the top Coral. Sofía Gala gave a feisty and naturalistic performance as an unapologetic self-determined young mother and prostitute struggling to feed herself and her child after she is thrown out of her apartment.  Set in the streets of Buenos Aires, the unsentimental story contained scenes with the artistry of Renaissance portraits.

 

In Sebastian Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica, transgender Daniela Vega gives a breathtaking performance as Marina, a transgender woman and aspiring singer who has just lost her partner and who just wants to grieve.  Vega was awarded a Coral for Best Female Performance.  This was Sebastian Lelio’s fifth time to present a film in Havana and Una Mujer Fantástica won a special jury award and the UN’s Únete Prize.  His 2013 drama Gloria, another remarkable portrait of a woman, opened the 35th festival.

Argentinian director Anahí Berneri’s Alanís (2017) which went on to win the top feature fiction prize, screened in a sweet spot, Saturday night, and1 a huge crowd turned out at Cine Yara to see it and the Chilean film that followed, Sebastian Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman, 2017).  Through stories of female outcasts, both films unpacked female stereotypes, identity and societal intolerance.  How wonderful to see the crowd reacting so enthusiastically to these to two Latina actors who imbued their characters with dignity and presence and enough mystery that we wished their stories would go on and on.

 

Chilean actress Paulina García in a scene from La Novia del Desierto (2017), a delicate drama of female self-empowerment, which made a huge splash in Havana when its first-time directors, Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, picked up a Coral Award. 

In recent years, filmmakers from Chile, Argentina and Brazil have received international attention for dramas that inventively explore the outward and internal life journeys of female characters marginalized in society.  La Novia del Desierto (The Desert Bride, 2017) written and directed by Argentinians Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, picked up the festival’s Coral for best debut film and the CiberVoto prize.  Chilean actress Paulina García (Gloria, 2013) gives a radiant and wonderfully-nuanced performance as Teresa, a quiet 54-year-old-woman who has worked for decades as a live-in maid in Buenos Aires, with no real life of her own.  When the family sells their home, she is shipped off to work for their relatives in the distant town of San Juan.  When an unplanned pit-stop in the desert strands her and she loses her small purse and crosses paths with a traveling salesman, her life changes suddenly at an age when taking ownership of her life no longer seemed possible.

In Liquid Truth, Brazilian actor, Daniel de Oliviera, plays a well-liked swimming teacher whose life is virtually ruined by viral internet rumors after he is accused of kissing one of his students, a seven-year-old boy, on the mouth. Brazilian director, Carolina Jabor, won a SIGNUS award for her second fiction feature film.

What if the only actual evidence of a crime is the testimony of an emotional parent translating the words of her child?  Brazilian producer-director, Carolina Jabor, deftly tackles a timely subject in her second feature film, Aos Teus Olhos (Liquid Truth, 2017), which focuses on a person who is all but convicted on the Internet before he is even tried or the facts are known.  Liquid Truth is one of a number of films coming out of Brazil’s thriving art-house cinema scene which has been fueled by strong government funding.

Daniel Giménez Cacho in a scene from Argentinian director Lucretia Martel’s period drama, Zama (2017), which won 3 Coral awards and the FIPRESCI Prize.

Long before Havana, Argentinian director Lucretia Martel (La ciénaga (The Swamp, 2004), La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, 2010) had charmed international audiences with her period drama, Zama, set in the late 18th century somewhere in the backwaters of South America. It was no surprise when the film picked up multiple Corals in Havana for Best Director, Artistic Director, and Sound, as well as the coveted film critics’ FIPRESCI Prize.  Zama is an epic examination of colonialism and prejudice told through the experiences of a Spanish functionary, Don Diego de Zama (Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho), whose life revolves around his anticipation of a job transfer.  Martel once studied philosophy and she imbues her films with a critical examination of big potent issues, exploring cause, blame and ambition.

 

Docs: informing and entertaining

 

Chilean director Lisette Orozco investigates her own aunt’s complicity in torture and the disappearance of dissidents as one of the female police agents Pinochet-era Chile (1973-90) in “El Pacto de Adriana” (2017). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Chilean director Lisette Orozco’s El Pacto de Adirana (2017) follows her frustrating investigation of her mercurial aunt, Channy—Adriana Elcira Rivas González—a female police agent in Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.  Adriana was arrested in 2007 in Santiago under charges of torture and involvement in an event that took place in 1976 when Pinochet’s secret political police’s (DINA) extermination unit raided Chile’s Communist Party safe house in Santiago, located at 1587 Conferencia Street.  During this raid, secret police officers, allegedly including Adriana, tortured, killed and did away with the bodies of one of the party’s chiefs, Víctor Díaz, and several other members.  Orozco’s dogged investigation into DINA and her aunt’s involvement literally divided her family, most of whom sided with Adriana.  Fascinating multiple conversations with the aunt reveal her to be highly suspect and unstable.  The remarkable film reveals deeply buried secrets festering in Chilean society to this day.  Orozco was awarded a special jury prize for Feature Length Documentary as well as the FEISAL Prize (Federation of Latin America Image and Sound Schools) and the Memory Award of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center.

A scene from Pamela Yates’ 500 Years.  Mayan survivors of the Guatemalan genocide cheer the guilty verdict against dictator Ríos Montt.  Convicted and sentenced to genocide and crimes against humanity on May 10, 2013, Montt was given an 80-year sentence and sent directly to prison.  It was the first time the perpetrator of genocide against indigenous people had been tried in a court of law. Photo credit: Daniel Hernández-Salazar

Intrepid American director Pamela Yates’ new film 500 Years (2017) continues her important saga of Guatemala’s indigenous resistance that began with When the Mountains Tremble (1983), followed by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011).  In this doc, Yates introduces journalist Dr. Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, who covered the 2013 genocide trial of former dictator General Rios Montt and the citizen’s uprising which felled President Otto Pérez Molina in 2015.  Finally, it seems Guatemalan society’s plea to end corruption has been heard.  Simply put, Pamela Yates is the gold standard.  Her work ethic, dedication to truth telling and decades of reporting in the troubled region are unparalleled.

 

Mexican ranchera singer and rebel Chavela Vargas, the subject of Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s Chavela (2017).  Chevala was a LGBT icon in Mexico long before she officially came out at age 81.

Every year the festival showcases talented Latin American celebrities.  Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s captivating music-filled documentary, Chavela (2017), was a huge hit in Havana and introduced Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas who burst onto the Mexican music scene in the 1950’s.  She was known for her passionate, rebellious performances, and for often wearing men’s clothing.  She burned-out due to alcoholism and then rebounded late in life, coming out as lesbian at age 81, and establishing herself as musical and lesbian icon for a new generation of fans.  Gund and Kyi masterfully explore the singer’s legacy and her elusive and contradictory nature relying on filmed interviews with the late singer done in the 1990’s, more recent interviews with those who knew her, and a montage of archival footage from 70 years of performances.

Cuban Film:

Whether the focus is a period film looking back at Cuban history, a documentary or an entertaining drama or comedy, Cuban film inherently addresses life in Cuba and, for an outsider, there’s no better window on the island.  Before each screening of the two Cuban films in official competition for the fiction prize —Gerardo Chijona’s Los Buenos Demonios (2017) and Ernesto Daranas’ Sergio & Serguéi (2017) (winner of the Audience Award for Best Film), there were long lines of people eager to see how Cuba would be reflected on the big screen.

A scene from Cuban director Magda González Grau’s ¿Por qué lloran mis amigas? (2017). Photo: habanafilmfestival.com

Cuban director Magda González Grauda’s elegant drama, ¿Por qué lloran mis amigas? (Why My Friends Cry, 2017), was enlivened greatly by superb acting on the part of its four costars, all prominent film and television actresses—Luisa María Jiménez, Jasmín Gómez, Edith Massola and Amarilys Núñez.  The film, not included in official competition, screened as part of the enormous Latin America in Perspective portion of the festival which offers some 17 categories of films. The story revolves around four female friends who were very close growing up and who reunite after 20 years have passed.  Their discussion grows more candid the more time they spend together and shines a light on Cuban society, unleashing pent up emotions, frustrations and insecurities about the courses their lives have taken, the secrets they are keeping and how far they are willing to go to help each other out.  With a production team of mainly women, it was a joy to see them all take the stage in Havana.

Cuban actress and director, Isabel Santos.

Isabel Santos is one of Cuba’s most revered and beloved actresses and she made multiple appearances at the festival.  She starred in Carlos Barba’s 25 horas (2017), in the short fiction competition.  She co-starred in Gerardo Chijona’s Los Buenos Demonos (The Good Devils, 2017), in the feature-length fiction competition.  She was also one of 10 female directors included in the festival’s official documentary competition with her own 40 min doc, Gloria City (2017).  The film deftly explores the intertwining of fact and myth associated with the first Americans to settle in Cuba, at the beginning of the 20th century, in the village Gloria City, presently in the municipality of Sierra de Cubitas, on Camagüey Province’s northern coast, about 500 kilometers east of Havana.  Santos, who is from Camagüey, interviewed Cuban essayist and author Enrique Cirules (1938-2016), also from Camagüey, who wrote two books on the subject of Gloria City.  We can only imagine what this powerhouse would turn out if she were to direct a feature-length film.

Details: The 40th Festival of New Latin American Cinema is December 6-16, 2018 in Havana.  Click here for information.  Plan on making plane and hotel reservations well in advance of the festival.  Once in Havana, festival passes can be purchased at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where the festival is headquartered, or, individual tickets can be purchased at various screening venues.  Due to the immense popularity of the festival, and to avoid long lines, purchasing a festival pass is advised.

 

 

 

March 3, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment