ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

SFFILM 2021 starts Friday: female-directed & BIPOC films bring distant worlds and global issues to our homes

A scene from Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s inspirational debut documentary, “Writing with Fire,” playing at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 9-18.  There are 20 documentary features at SFFILM 2020.  “Writing with Fire” is one of 12 films nominated for a Golden Gate Award for emerging global film artists. Image courtesy of SFFILM.

The 64th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM 2021) kicks off this Friday and runs through April 18, 2021—103 films from 41 countries in 28 languages with strong contributions from local filmmakers. The longest running and biggest film festival in the Bay Area, SFFILM always has a fascinating line-up. It’s paired down and mainly online this year, a concession to the Covid-era, but there several drive-in screenings and events at Flix, at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture.  

The festival was cancelled last year and there have been big changes since at SFFILM. There’s a new executive director, Ann Lai, who came from the Sundance Institute, as well as a new programming director, Jessie Fairbanks, who replaced Rachel Rosen who’d held the position for the past 20 years. Fairbanks has led the festival’s curation of film and off-screen programming resulting in a lineup of 42 feature films, 56 shorts, and five mid-length films, a new offering.  Fifty-seven percent of these films are directed by women and 57 percent by BIPOC filmmakers. A common thread in this year’s film selection is identity, a focus on individuals navigating through isolation, hardships, relationships. ARThound is a world cinema buff, so my recommendations are biased towards remote settings and cultures.

Settle in; here are six films to stream:

After Antarctica

A scene from Tasha Van Zandt’s “After Antarctica,” which has its world premiere at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 9 -18, 2021. Courtesy of SFFILM.

Bay Area director Tasha Van Zandt’s enthralling documentary, “After Antarctica,” transports viewers to Antarctica with intrepid explorer Will Steger, who embarked on the first ever coast to coast dogsled expedition across Antarctica in 1989.  Leading a team of six scientists and explorers and their sled dogs, braving storms, sub-zero temperatures, Steger crossed this treacherous 3,741 mile route for 7 months to draw attention to Antarctica’s changing climate.  Van Zandt catches up with Steger 30 years later to relive the trip.  Featuring never-before-seen-archival footage and the ever prescient Steger discussing his eyewitness experience with the irreversible changes occurring in the Earth’s polar regions, this doc records a journey that will never happen again because climate change has progressed so.

Nudo Mixteco


A scene from Ángeles Cruz’ “Nudo Mixteco,” playing at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival

Ángeles Cruz’s debut feature, “Nudo Mixteco,” emerges as an essential portrait of indigenous life in San Mateo, the Mixtec Oaxaca village where Cruz grew up. It seems that wherever one is in the world, there’s nothing like a holiday to raise festering wounds. This story unfurls against the village’s annual patron saint festivities and revolves around three people who left the village and return home only to find themselves embroiled in traumatic conflicts. María comes back for her mother’s funeral and is rejected by her father who disapproves of her being a lesbian; Esteban returns from working abroad only to learn his wife has a lover and he seeks revenge; Toña must re-visit the trauma of her own childhood sexual abuse by an uncle in order to save her daughter from the same experience. Esteban and Toña let the village community decide what action will be taken, a custom that is common in indigenous Mexican communities but has never been played out on screen.  Villagers from San Mateo enact this, rather than actors. María’s story highlights the fact that in several regions of Mexico, male homosexuality is accepted but lesbianism is not, making her struggle for identity and acceptance hard to resolve. Cruz authentically shows how difficult it is to navigate the trappings and protections of native culture having had the experience of assimilating into global culture.

Writing with Fire

A scene from “Writing with Fire,” playing at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 9-18. Courtesy: SFFILM.

Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s inspirational debut documentary, “Writing with Fire,” is a story of perseverance and female empowerment. It follows several Dalit women who founded and have kept a grassroots all-female newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, floating for 14 years. and have decided to take their publication digital, with an online edition and YouTube channel. It’s also the story of contemporary India in turbulent transition. Despite plentiful obstacles on the home front, these women fearlessly tackle abuses of patriarchy and government malfeasance in their impoverished state of Uttar Pradesh. Their reporting yields measurable results and hits to to their site climb steadily.

Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam


Seyran Ateş in a scene from “Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam” playing at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 9 -18, 2021.  Courtesy of SFFILM.

“Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam,” a new documentary about Turkish-German lawyer, radical Muslim feminist, and female imam, Seyran Ateş, unveils a relentless, yet elusive, warrior making headway. Both subject and filmmaker, Oslo-based Turkish/Norwegian Nefise Özkal Lorentzen, are iron-willed activists fighting for human rights, LGBTQ people and gender equality within Islam, confronting traditionalists who have been steadfastly resistant to change.  Lorentzen has recently been named one of the top 10 immigrant role models in Norway.  Ateş is the founder of Germany’s first liberal, LGBTQ-friendly Muslim house of worship, the Ibn Ruschd-Goethe mosque in Berlin, where women can be recognized as imams.  To the point of taking a bullet in the neck, and living under police protection and death threats, Ateş has been fighting for years for sexual revolution within Islam and for an interpretation of Islam that reflects the values of the Western society in which many Muslims live.

The Cuban Dancer


Alexis Valdes, a dance apprentice at San Francisco Ballet, in a scene from Roberto Salinas’ “The Cuban Dancer,” playing at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival. Courtesy: SFFILM

Luminous, emotional, with dazzling dance sequences guaranteed to raise your heartbeat.  Roberto Salinas’ “The Cuban Dancer” follows Cuban born dancer Alexis Valdes as he prepares to leave Cuba to move with his family to Florida and pursue his dream of professional ballet dancing.   Shot over a period of four years — first in Cuba and then in Florida, Salinas captures the pride, frustration and incredible risk it takes to pursue this dream.  Radiant, smoldering Alexis Valdes is a star in the making.  Co-presented by the San Francisco Dance Film Festival.  

The Overclockers

Maciej Musiałowski in a scene from Michal Wnuk’s “Overclockers” at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 9 -18, 2021. Courtesy of SFFILM

Talent comes in all forms as does struggle. In Michal Wnuk’s engaging feature, “Overclockers,”  Karol, a 25-year-old Polish aviator with a brilliant mind, works part-time for the family business and runs his own start-up. When his father dies in an accident, Karol has to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of his home and his mother. Forming a partnership with friends he grew up with, he puts everything on the line to finance the building of his dream, a next-generation zeppelin.  But his exacting standards and a fundamental misunderstanding of his associates endanger the entire project and his stubbornness threatens his relationship with his girlfriend.  Maciej Musiałowski shines as Karol, embodying the collision of impassioned youth with the realities and limitations of life in a risky start-up.

Sloan Science on Screen: “Overclockers”:   Join SFFILM online for a deep dive into the aeronautic science behind the film as San Francisco critic Michael Fox moderates a streamed conversation between director/co-writer Michal Wnuk and Debbie G. Senesky, Stanford University Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Principal Investigator of the EXtreme Environment Microsystems Laboratory (XLab).  Free, requires advance RSVP.  RSVP here.

Details:

SFFILM 2021 is Friday, April 9 through Sunday, April 19, 2021.  Almost all streaming films are available for the duration of festival. Individual tickets are $12; all-inclusive Cinevisa pass, $75, grants access to all films that are streaming; drive-in films at at Fort Mason Flix drive-in, San Francisco, $70 per car.  Info: sffilm.org

April 7, 2021 - Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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