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At San Francisco’s 21st Silent Film Festival, Something for Everyone─through Sunday

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

With the proliferation of film festivals in the Bay Area, each offering an overwhelming selection, it’s hard to feel that any one of them is really that special.  Here’s one that truly is.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), now in its 21st year, which kicked off Thursday at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Sunday.  This long weekend of silents is the country’s top silent festival and people come from all over the world to experience its magic.  This is silent film as it was meant to be seen─on the big screen with live musical accompaniment and informative introductions by experts and with an enthusiastic audience.  This year’s festival offers a treasure trove of discoveries, rediscoveries and restorations─18 full-length feature films from all over the world.  And on Sunday, there’s a dazzling Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema program, curated by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, that will present exquisite clips of hand painting, dyeing and stencil coloring from another 15 early short color films. 

This year, there is an emphasis on film restoration.   “We’ve gradually been dipping our toe into film restoration,” said festival director Anita Monga.  “Now, we’re actually participating in restoration efforts.  Our board president, Rob Byrne graduated from the EYE Film Institute’s preservation program and now he’s an itinerant restoration guy.  This year, we have five films that we have been directly involved in restoring─René Clair’s (The Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie)(1928) and his Les Deux Timides (1928) both in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française; Irvin Willat’s Behind the Door (1919) in collaboration with the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond of Russia; the hilarious 1926 Richard Wallace short film, What’s the World Coming To? in collaboration with Carleton University and New York University.  This film is part of our Sunday program on early cross-dressing Girls Will be Boys.  Finally, there’s Willis Robards’ 1917 suffrage film, Mothers of Men, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, the British Film Institute, and film archivist James Mockoski.”

The Festival’s wonderful historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling keeps me coming back year after year.  When you see these films, you actually forget they’re silent and become engrossed in the wonderful stories. And the enthusiastic and well informed audience is an added bonus.  Do plan ahead: battling the traffic to get into the City and then to find parking is a huge a factor in the decision to attend an event or not.  I recommend choosing one day on the weekend and coming in for two or three films.  On Sunday, you can park on most streets in the Castro in one spot for the entire day without having to reload your meter or move your car.  On Saturday, you’re off the clock after 6PM. 

Highlights of this year’s festival include:

Saturday, June 4, 12:00 PM  The Strongest (Den starkaste)

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season's seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship "Viking." Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season’s seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship “Viking.” Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Saturday, June 4, 5:15 PM  Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates

A scene from Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920), the earliest surviving film made by an African American director. The film explores racism and stereotypes as it follows an African American woman who goes North to raise money for a school in the rural South . Her romance with a black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family’s past and her own European, mixed-race ancestry. The film is a direct refutation of DW Griffith’s 1915 racist epic, “The Birth of a Nation.” Oakland Symphony conductor Michael Morgan will conduct Adolphus Hailstork’s special musical score that was commissioned for last September’s “Birth of an Answer” (BOAA) event in Virginia which celebrated African American responses to Griffith’s film. Seven string players and 22 members of the chorus from the Oakland Symphony will perform. Image: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society.

 

Sunday, June 5, 10:00 AM Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

 

Full 2016 Festival Schedule

Details: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs Thursday, June 2, 2016 through Sunday, June 5, 2016 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $16 to $20; click here to purchase tickets.  Festival Pass $190 for Silent Film Festival members and $225 general.  Click here to purchase passes. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org

Parking Alert: If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available near the Castro Theatre.  Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.

 

June 2, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italian Maestro, Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera’s Music Director, will step down in 2018

Maestro Nicola Luisotti during a SFO performance. Photo: Terrence McCarthy, SFO

Maestro Nicola Luisotti during a SFO performance. Photo: Terrence McCarthy, SFO

Nicola Luisotti will end his term as music director of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season. He delivered the news Wednesday at War Memorial Opera House before the full company of staff, musicians, chorus, dancers and crew.

Announced by SFO General Director David Gockley as the Company’s third music director in 2007, Mr. Luisotti took the position in September 2009, replacing Donald Runnicles 17 year run. Since his Company debut in 2005 leading Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, the Tuscan-born maestro has led over 30 SFO productions and concerts to date.  He is beloved by audiences world wide.

“I believe that close to a decade is about the right time to be leading a company,” said Luisotti in a press statement. “I want the company’s general director designate, Matthew Shilvock, to be able to move freely into the future with his ideas, his artistic interests and to take San Francisco Opera into a new direction”

In an interview that appeared on the popular opera blog, Operachic, on January 14, 2010, Luisotti, who had just taken the SFO position, explained his feelings at the time

I’ve nurtured a great love for San Francisco, an almost visceral appreciation.  The first time I arrived here in San Francisco, I had come from Los Angeles where I had just conducted a production of Pagliacci.  After staying a month in Los Angeles, I needed to spend two months in San Francisco for (Verdi’s) la Forza del Destino.  I was tired, and really, I just wanted to go home to my house in Tuscany.  But I think it was totally love at first sight when I saw the city of San Francisco. I was living in an apartment in Pacific Heights, practically with a bay view and one also of the Golden Gate Bridge, and thankfully because of the perfect weather, I was able to enjoy a gorgeous view from one of my very first days there. San Francisco’s Opera House revealed itself as a pure environment for music. The enthusiasm, the unity of the professionals in the house, and the love of the art form can generate extraordinary things. Therefore, I fell in love with the city, with the opera house, with the people, and everything that this place – for me, quite magical – offered.  I asked myself if one day I’d ever be lucky enough to become the Musical Director of an opera house that was so special like this one.  So when David Gockley [SFO’s General Director] proposed the position to me, I didn’t hesitate for a single second. My response was immediate without a doubt whatsoever.  That was the place where with Rita, my wife, I was to spend the next part of my life.

Luisotti will lead this summer’s Don Carlo followed by opening SFO’s 94th season in September 2016 with a new Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts co-production of Andrea Chénier. Photo: Terry McCarthy, SFO

Luisotti will lead this summer’s “Don Carlo” followed by opening SFO’s 94th season in September 2016 with “Andrea Chènier,” a new co-production of Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Terry McCarthy, SFO

Shilvock, who succeeds David Gockley as general director on Aug. 1, says he was “deeply saddened” by Luisotti’s decision.

David Gockley said: “I can think of no other person who embodies the love and passion of opera as much as Nicola Luisotti. I’m particularly heartened to know that Nicola will be returning to guest conduct and will continue to maintain his association with the Company. I wish him great success in his future endeavors and know that he will continue to affirm his status as one of the great conductors of his generation.”

Acknowledging the unique artistry of the SFO Orchestra and Chorus, Maestro Luisotti thanked them for their role in the realizing memorable productions of Luisa Miller, the world premiere of Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara (Two Women), Mefistofele, Lohengrin, Salome, Norma, the trio of Mozart-DaPonte operas, and the Verdi Requiem in a historic combined performance with the Teatro San Carlo of Naples.

Luisotti will lead this summer’s Don Carlo followed by opening San Francisco Opera’s 94th season in September 2016 with a new Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts co-production of Andrea Chénier and the annual Opera in the Park concert at Golden Gate Park.  Later in the season, Luisotti will lead a new production of Aida and a revival of Rigoletto.  Throughout his tenure at SFO, the maestro has always had a full plate of international appearances too.  This past season, he scored great acclaim for his conducting engagements at Madrid’s Teatro Real, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, London’s Royal Opera House and most recently in Paris for a new production of Rigoletto.

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival is off and running─here are the best films for armchair travel

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero,” that paints an extraordinary and rare portrait of one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast and otherworldly Slara de Uyuni plateau. Screening three times at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, with filmmaker Mike Plunkett in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero,” which paints an extraordinary portrait of one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast and otherworldly Salar de Uyuni plateau, one of the most secluded places on the planet. This remote region faces the future head-on when Bolivia’s leaders embark on a plan to extract lithium from beneath the salt crust and to build an infrastructure connecting the Salar to the outside world.  Screening three times at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, with filmmaker Mike Plunkett in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Armchair Traveler?   The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 59) (April 23- May 5, 2016) is known for its wonderfully-curated and inspiring world cinema and for championing the work of young, talented directors.  The festival’s been on since last Thursday but most films screen three times over 15 days, so there’s ample opportunity to find a fit for your schedule.  With 173 films and live events from 46 countries, the choice can be overwhelming.  In a way that ordinary tourism rarely allows, here are seven films, with contemporary stories and characters, that will transport you right into the heart of a remote culture─Bolivia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, the Faro Islands, rural India, Iran, North Korea.  Each film below delivers exquisitely filmed authentic sights and is joyful, sad or complex on its own special terms.

One of the joys of attending is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen with digital projection—and participating in stimulating Q&A’s with their directors and actors.  This year, a director or team member from four of these films will be present for post-screening Q&A’s which always shed light on the grueling work and special observational radar it takes to conceive of and pull off a feature-length film.

For full schedule, info, and tickets visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59 .

To read ARThound’s previous SFIFF59 coverage, click here.

Click on the titles of the films below to be directed to the festival webpage for that film and to purchase tickets.

 

Sonita

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami's "Sonita, playing at SFIFF59

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s “Sonita,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

 

(Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, (Germany/Switzerland/Iran, 2015, 91 min)  Robksareh Ghaem Maghami’s documentary (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for world cinema documentary at Sundance) takes us to a homeless shelter in Tehran as it tracks Sonita, a teen-aged Afghan refugee who fled the violence in her homeland to Iran. Sonita loves hip-hop, idolizes Rihanna and has a real knack for rap─ her sassy lyrics pack a defiant punch. In Iran, she is geographically removed from the tradition of child brides, but her Afghan family’s patriarchal practices are still in place. Her older brother wants to sell her so that he can buy his own bride and Sonita’s mother is in full agreement.  Sonita won’t go down without a fight and believes that her dream of becoming a rapper can set her free, despite the fact that in Iran it is illegal for women to perform in public without a permit or to record in a studio. She raps straight to the camera about her fears of being a child bride and the insanity of marrying her off.  What’s different about this doc is that the filmmaker, Maghami, gets directly involved in Sonita’s plight and it’s all captured on film. In the vein of Mustang, the film eloquently captures a young woman standing up for the innate human right to navigate the course of one’s own life. An important film that features immersive shots of  Tehran and Kabul. (Farsi w/subtitles) Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami in attendance/Q&A. Wed, April 27, 6:15 p.m., Alamo; Fri, April 29, 8:45 p.m., BAMPFA

 

Home Care

Alena Mihulová in a scene from Slávek Horák's "Home Care," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

Alena Mihulová in a scene from Slávek Horák’s “Home Care,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Slávek Horák, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2015, 92 min) Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize  Over-dedicated to the point of being nearly co-dependent, home-care nurse, Vlasta (Alena Mihulová) schleps around the bucolic south Moravian countryside on bus and foot tending to patients too sick or elderly to travel to a clinic. Back at home, she cooks and cleans for her growly, self-absorbed husband whose concern for her well-being extends mainly to pouring her shots of brandy and then taking pot shots at her drinking and suggesting ways to finagle gas money from her state-run employer. When she herself is diagnosed with a serious illness, she rejects morphine and finds support from a group of women healers who embrace alternative therapies and self-love which shakes up her relationship at home. Showcasing the amazing Alena Mihulová, who won the Crystal Globe for best actress at Karlovy Vary, this film of self-awakening also showcases life in a small Czech town, taking a dip into spoon-bending, dance, and saving rare frogs in the countryside. The Czech Republic’s Foreign Language Film Oscar submission. (Czech w/subtitles)  Director Slávek Horák in attendance/Q&A. Wed, April 27, 6:45 p.m., Alamo; Thurs, April 28, 8:50 p.m., BAM/PFA; Mon, May 2, 3 p.m., Roxie

 

Salero

A scene from Mike Plunkett's "Salero," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s “Salero,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Mike Plunkett, USA/Bolivia, 2015, 76 min) West Coast Premiere  Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian in his thirties, is one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast Salar de Uyuni plateau.  Underneath this expanse lies the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia based on the sale of this scarce mineral that is vital for batteries and other industrial uses. Moises lives with his wife and two young sons in the tiny Bolivian village of Colchani. His livelihood is dependent on demand for the home-grown table salt he peddles to vendors in Uyuni, a small city that has become the hub of the burgeoning lithium mining industry. Daily, he rises at dawn and labors to gather salt from the flats and load it onto his truck and drive it to be ground. Demand for table salt has been falling steadily and he can barely support his family. The shots of the Bolivian salt flats are other worldly.  Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance/Q&A.   Sat, April 30, 3:15 p.m., Alamo; Sun, May 1, 1 p.m., BAMPFA; Tues, May 3, 3:30 p.m., Roxie 159

 

Thithi    

A scene from Raam Reddy's "Thithi," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Raam Reddy’s “Thithi,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Raam Reddy, India/USA, 2016, 123 min)  Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize    Twenty-five year old Director Raam Reddy’s debut feature, Thithi, set in rural India, is a realistic comedy exploring how three generations of sons in a family, each with different perspectives on life, react to the death of the family patriarch, the grandfather, 101-year-old Century Gowda. As village elders plan his funeral with the final celebration on the 11th day (the “thithi”), the motivations of the two younger generations (his grown grandson and his young adult great grandson) emerge. The greedy grandson wants a piece of land for himself that should pass directly to his father from Century Gowda. The hapless great grandson is driven so crazy by frustration and desire for a girl that he slacks off on responsibilities just when he is most needed. Century Gowda’s son, elderly Gadappa, on the other hand, roams the fields and is so free of the material world and its trappings that he joins the group of nomadic shepherds. Driving the plot forward is the growing chain of graft and ill-conceived machinations involving snatching the plot of land and pulling off the grand thithi feast for the entire community. Set in a small village in Karnataka India’s rural Mandya district, a place where time seems to have stood still, this is no ordinary film set─Reddy used non-professional actors; the whole community essentially became the cast and the entire village the set. The viewer is thrust into the thrall of 2,000 year old customs in this slow moving portrait of the human condition. (Kannada language w/ subtitles)  Sat, April 30, 2016, Roxie, 3:30 p.m.; Sun, May 1, 3:15 p.m., BAMPFA; Wed, May 4, 2016, Alamo, 9 p.m.

 

Under the Sun

A scene from Vitaly Mansky's "Under the Sun," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Vitaly Mansky’s “Under the Sun,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Vitaly Mansky, Russia/Latvia/Germany/Czech Republic/North Korea, 2015, 106 min)Never underestimate a motivated Russian. The standard M.O. for docs providing windows into repressive regimes is that the filmmaker somehow gets deep inside, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous reporting, shows us how ordinary people live their lives and respond to authoritarian rule.   Russian documentary maker Vitaly Mansky (Bliss, SFIFF 1997) pulls off a real coup in Under the Sun, his documentary about life inside North Korea because it was shot with the full permission and supervision of Pyongyang authorities—a collaboration they would come to regret. Mansky was provided with preapproved locations in Pyongyang and suitable subjects: young Lee Zin-mi, a student at the city’s best school, and her parents, workers at two exemplary factories (or so officials claimed). This state managed propaganda effort morphs into a deep-cover documentary about life inside Pyongyang. When the joint project breaks down midway through, Mansky captures all the off-script machinations of the handlers on film and turns out a highly revealing portrait of life inside Kim Jong-Un’s totalitarian world. (Korean w/subtitles)   Sat, April 30, 6 p.m., Alamo; Wed, Mat 4, 3:15 p.m., Alamo; Thurs, May 5, 6:30 p.m., BAMPFA

 

Thirst

A scene from Svetla Tsotsorkova's "Thirst," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Svetla Tsotsorkova’s “Thirst,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Svetla Tsotsorkova, Bulgaria, 2015, 90 min) Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize  When drought threatens her ability to wash, a laundress, who lives on a parched hilltop in southwest Bulgaria with her teenage son and husband, invites a dowser onto their property to search for hidden springs. The father drills the wells, guided by his spirited daughter’s eerie ability to locate water beneath the ground. Told with minimal dialogue, this story is masterfully attentive in capturing the growing attraction between two very different teens that hesitantly get together. Director Tsotsorkova immediately establishes a bewitching sense of place that immerses the viewer in the hothouse of high Bulgarian summer—a dusty road, row upon row of bed sheets pinned on a line and caught in a hot breeze, the wonderfully functional huge mangle that wrings and flattens those sheets, a sudden torrential rainstorm, and a piercing drill. (Bulgarian w/subtitles)  Sun, May 1, 3:45 p.m. and Thurs, May, 5, 3 p.m.─both at Roxie.

 

The Island and the Whales

A scene from Mike Day's "The Islands and the Whales," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Mike Day’s “The Islands and the Whales,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Mike Day, Scotland/Denmark, 2015, 81 min) Both seabirds and whales are still hunted for food and eaten in the Faro Islands, an island country situated roughly halfway between Norway and Iceland that consists of an archipelago of eighteen small volcanic islands spanning some 541 square miles. Connected by a network of tunnels, bridges and ferry routes, the small and remote archipelago is very rugged, windy, wet, cloudy, and cool year round.  Director Mike May spent four years documenting the controversial fishing culture of the Faro Islands and its unique way of life, telling the story of the hunters’ daily lives and the opposition they face from outside animal rights groups.  And just like the seas that surround them, this community is also suffering from increasing levels of mercury poisoning.  A local toxicologist, wielding 30 years’ worth of data on the neurological effects—particularly on children—of ingesting a traditional diet of pilot whale and seabirds, struggles to deliver the bad news to his neighbors, among them a young father of three who’s reluctant to abandon the customs he’s inherited and his livelihood.  Day presents an unprecedented window into a community reliant on tradition and folk practices colliding with urgent contemporary concerns.  Amidst a landscape of monumental beauty, scenes of local men herding pilot whales into the shallows for the kill or rappelling down a cliff to raid a gannet nesting area are graphic and arresting. (In Faroese, Danish and English)  Director Mike Day in attendance/Q&A.  Wed, May 4, 8:45 p.m., Victoria; Thurs, May 5, 12:15 p.m., Alamo

 

Details:

When:  SFIFF 59 runs 14 days─ Thursday, April 21 – Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where:  Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission Street (Between 21st and 22nd Streets, San Francisco (main venue)

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street., San Francisco (mostly big events, weekends)

Gray Area, 2665 Mission Street., San Francisco

Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street., San Francisco

Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco

BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), 2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Tickets: $15 most films, more for Special Events and Parties which  generally start at $20 or $35.   Passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1350 Film Society members and $1700 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival.   Alamo Drafthouse is open daily from 11:30 a.m. onwards; all other venues are open for SFIFF purchases one hour before the first screening of the day.

Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush.  Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).

Arrive Early!  Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.

Day-of Noon Release Tickets: Each day of the Festival, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings. Pending availability, tickets may be purchased online or in person at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission starting at noon. Not all shows will have tickets released, and purchasing is first-come, first-served.

Rush tickets:  Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time.  If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time.  No rush tickets for screenings at BAMPFA

More info: For full schedule and tickets, visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59

April 25, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, the first and largest Bay Area film festival, starts Thursday and runs for the next two weeks

Kate Bekinsdale and Chloe Sevigny in Whit Stillman's first period film, the romantic comedy, “Love & Friendship,” opens the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21st - May 5th, 2016. Both Stillman and Bekinsdale will be in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Kate Bekinsale (R) and  Chloe Sevigny in Whit Stillman’s first period film, the romantic comedy, “Love & Friendship,” opens the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21st – May 5th, 2016. Both Stillman and Bekinsale will be in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) turns 59 this year and kicks off this Thursday (April 21) at the historic Castro Theatre and runs for the next 14 days. This mammoth festival just keeps getting better and better. With 173 films and live events from 46 countries in 39 languages, and 200 filmmakers and industry guests attending, there is something for everyone.  This year’s opener is Whit Stillman’s new romantic comedy,  Love and Friendship, an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella, featuring actress Kate Beckinsale.  Both Stillman [Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998), Damsels in Distress (2011)] and Beckinsale will be in attendance and conversation.

The big news is that, after nearly 30 years at Japantown’s Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the festival is now headquartered at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theatre, on Mission Street, between 21st and 22nd Streets, in San Francisco, and the energy of the neighborhood and the venue itself feels great. This wonderfully rejuvenated movie palace features state-of-the-art media delivery systems and a hopping standalone bar with superb cocktails, 27 beers on tap, gourmet snacks and will deliver both food and drink to you in your screening room.  The theatres are all outfitted with luxurious seats and snack tables. On the down side, parking is hell, so plan accordingly.  The festival takes place at several other local historic venues as well–the Roxie Theater, the Victoria and the Castro.

And, for those who have not yet visited Berkeley’s new BAMPFA, by all means go!  Everything’s under one stunning brushed stainless steel Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed roof.  The state-of-the-art Barbo Osher Theater has new technology enabling top-level clarity and sound for screening of a variety of film formats. Your film ticket will also get you into the museum where director Larry Rinder’s engaging inaugural exhibition,  Architecture of Life, through May 29, 2016, explores the various ways that architecture illuminates our life experience. Babette Cafe, situated inside the museum and on the second floor, is open until 9 p.m. and offers a range of coffees, teas, delicious meals and pastries, all crafted from fresh local ingredients.  AT BAMPAFA, there’s no food or drink allowed inside any of the galleries or the theater, so you’ll have to enjoy everything at Babette.

Following Thursday’s opening film is an always rocking Opening Night Party, with live entertainment, dancing, food and drink at Public Works on Erie Street.

One of the joys of attending is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen with digital projection—and participating in stimulating Q&A’s with their directors and actors.  With even more new onstage events and awards ceremonies that feature film luminaries in more lengthy moderated discussions, SFIFF delivers one of the highest ratios of face time with creative talent.

Joel and Ethan Cohen, the lauded and seemingly inseparable creators of films like “Raising Arizona,” “The Big Lebowsky,”, “Barton Fink,”and “Fargo” will attend SFIFF59 on Saturday, April 30 and screen their 1984 debut film, the neo-noir blood-soaked thriller, “Blood Simple.”  This was the first film directed by Joel Cohen, produced by Ethan and co-written by the two.  They will appear on stage in conversation with Peter Becker and Jonathan Turell of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, who will be awarded the Mel Novikoff Award.  Honoring the legendary San Francisco film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922–87), the Novikoff Award is given annually to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced film lovers’ knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. Image: Stefano Paltera, courtesy SFFS.

Joel and Ethan Cohen, the lauded and seemingly inseparable creators of films like “Raising Arizona,” “The Big Lebowsky,”“Barton Fink,” and “Fargo” will attend SFIFF59 on Saturday, April 30 and screen their 1984 debut film, the blood-soaked thriller, “Blood Simple.” This was the first film directed by Joel Cohen, produced by Ethan Cohen and co-written by the two. They will appear on stage in conversation with Peter Becker and Jonathan Turell of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, who will be awarded the Mel Novikoff Award. Honoring the legendary San Francisco film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922–87), the Novikoff Award is given annually to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced film lovers’ knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. Image: Stefano Paltera, courtesy SFFS.

This Saturday (April 23), at the Victoria Theatre, Ellen Burstyn will receive the Peter J. Owens Award and spend the afternoon discussing her career and present Requiem for a Dream (2000).  On Sunday (April 24), at the Castro, Mira Nair receives the Irving M. Levin Directing Award and spends an afternoon discussing her life and work, followed by a screening of Monsoon Wedding (2001).  On Thursday (April 26), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight (2015)) receives the Kanbar Storytelling Award and is in conversation at BAMPFA, followed by a screening of his directorial debut film, The Station Agent (2003).  On Saturday (April 30), at the Castro, Blood Simple directorial duo, Joel And Ethan Cohen, will be present for an afternoon screening of this wonderful 1984 debut feature while Peter Becker and Jonathan Turell of Janus Films and the Criterion Collection are awarded the Mel Novikoff Award.

Stay-tuned, shortly ARThound will overview the festival’s top films for armchair travelers, films that take us to remote villages in far flung places where age-old traditions are still practiced and the landscapes and cinematography will take your breath away.

A scene from Mike Plunkett's documentary “Salero” which has its West Coast premiere and screens three times at SFIFF 59. The film follows the story of Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian, one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast plateau Salar de Uyuni. Underneath this snow white expanse are the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia, as it reaps the revenue from this scarce mineral that is necessary for batteries and other industrial uses. The shots of the Bolivian salt flats are other worldly. Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance. Photo: courtesy: SFFS

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero”(2015) which has its West Coast premiere and screens three times at SFIFF 59. The film follows the story of Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian, one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast plateau Salar de Uyuni. Underneath this snow white expanse are the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia, as it reaps the revenue from this scarce mineral that is necessary for batteries and other industrial uses. Otherworldly shots of the Bolivian salt flats and Moises’ life of labor shed light on an utterly remote part of the world. Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance. Photo: courtesy: SFFS

 

SFIFF 59 details:

When:  SFIFF 59 runs 14 days─ Thursday, April 21 – Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where:  Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission Street (Between 21st and 22nd Streets, San Francisco (main venue)

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street., San Francisco (mostly big events, weekends)

Gray Area, 2665 Mission Street., San Francisco

Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street., San Francisco

Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco

BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), 2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Tickets: $15 most films, more for Special Events and Parties which generally start at $20 or $35.   Passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1350 Film Society members and $1700 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival. Alamo Drafthouse is open daily from 11:30 a.m. onwards; all other venues are open for SFIFF purchases one hour before the first screening of the day.

Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush.  Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).

Arrive Early!  Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.

Day-of Noon Release Tickets: Each day of the Festival, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings. Pending availability, tickets may be purchased online or in person at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission starting at noon. Not all shows will have tickets released, and purchasing is first-come, first-served.

Rush tickets:  Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time.  If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time. No rush tickets for screenings at BAMPFA

More info: For full schedule and tickets, visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival─a feel-great extravaganza of film, food, wine and sprits─starts Wednesday in wonderful Sonoma

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, includes three films shot in Cuba. Bob Yari’s “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” (2015) covers Hemingway’s chaotic life on the island and his friendship with young Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, in the 1950’s. The film premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and was the first American production shot on the island since the trade embargo was imposed in 1960. The late Petitclerc was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and lived in Sonoma. Adrian Sparks is brilliant as Hemingway, capturing the vulnerability under the rage and bluster of this great genius in his last years. Image: courtesy HIFF

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, includes three films shot in Cuba. Bob Yari’s “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” (2015) covers Hemingway’s chaotic life on the island and his friendship with young Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, in the 1950’s. The film premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and was the first American production shot on the island since the trade embargo was imposed in 1960. The late Petitclerc was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and lived in Sonoma. Adrian Sparks is brilliant as Hemingway, capturing the vulnerability under the rage and bluster of this great genius in his last years. Image: courtesy HIFF

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) kicks off tonight at the historic Sebastiani Theatre with Norwegian director Joachim Tier’s family drama, Louder Than Bombs (2015) and a live “vertical dance performance” with members of the dynamic Bandaloop dance group performing choreographed moves from ropes on the Sebastiani’s roof.   Over the next 5 nights and 4 days, the festival will present over 100 films from two dozen countries and over 200 filmmakers from around the globe will attend.  Among this year’s treasures are three exciting films shot in Cuba whose stories are bound to inspire a trip to this delightful island before the big Western chain hotels devour the beach space and those beloved’57 Chevys are replaced with Toyotas.  One of these is the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc’s remarkable Papa Hemingway in Cuba, the first American production shot in Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. This is the story of Hemingway and his experiences in Cuba, where he lived with his fourth wife, Mary, as told through the eyes Petitclerc when he was a young reporter at the Miami Herald.  And food!  Complementing its diverse and truly international program of independent cinema, SIFF offers a unique blend of world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners, making for an epicurean experience few film festivals in the world can match. This year, SIFF is offering a complementary tasting and pairing along with its two screenings of Cooking Up a Tribute which takes us on globe-trotting road trip with the fabled Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca. Browse the program and then pounce─a limited number of $15 tickets are available for pre-purchase online for all films.

ARThound’s top picks for films and events─

 Viva

Héctor Medina plays Jesus, a young gay man who discovers the only time he is free from life’s burden is when he is on stage and performing as “Viva,” his mesmerizing alter ego. Image: HIFF

Cuban actor Héctor Medina plays Jesus, a young gay man who discovers the only time he is free from life’s burdens is when he is on stage and performing as “Viva,” his mesmerizing alter ego. Image: HIFF

You’d never guess that Viva, a touching portrayal of a young gay Cuban man’s struggle to find himself, was the work of Irish director Paddy Breathnach.  Directed and shot in Havana, with some very heavy-lifting from Cuban actors Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, this beautiful story captures the yearning of Jesus (Medina), a young gay hairdresser working at a Havana nightclub for drag queens, to step out on stage and perform as a female. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García), Jesus finally gets his opportunity to perform and it awakens sometime vital within.  But when his estranged father Angel (Jorge Perugorría) abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down.  As father and son tussle over their opposing expectations of each other, Viva morphs into a love story with the two men struggling to understand each other and to reconcile as a family.  The drama, Ireland’s Oscar submission for Best foreign Language Film this year, also paints a rich portrait of street life in Havana and the divide between those Cubans who are embracing the coming changes and those who are battling to survive.  (Screens: Thursday, March 31, 9:15 PM and Saturday, April 2, 2:15 PM, both at Sebastiani Theatre)

Papa Hemingway in Havana

Giovanni Ribisi plays Miami Herald cub journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Ernest Hemingway in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” Petitclerc becomes incensed when he reads a review asserting that the only contribution that Hemingway made to the English language was one short sentence. He writes Hemingway in Havana to tell him that he had been inspired greatly by his writing and the letter leads to a great friendship between Petitclerc and the aging writer. Image: HIFF

Giovanni Ribisi plays Miami Herald cub journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Ernest Hemingway in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” Petitclerc becomes incensed when he reads a review asserting that the only contribution that Hemingway made to the English language was one short sentence. He writes Hemingway in Havana to tell him that he had been inspired greatly by his writing and the letter leads to a great friendship between Petitclerc and the aging writer. Image: HIFF

Bob Yari’s vital film tells the fabled story of Hemingway in Cuba through the eyes of the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc (Giovanni Ribisi), a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Sonoma resident. Papa’s backstory was long and difficult because the film was created during the embargo.  It took Yari two years to convince the US State Department and US Treasury to make an exception and he had to agree to a $100,000 spending limit for the cast and crew –unheard of for a Hollywood production.  On the Cuban side, Yari was required to submit the script to the government in Havana.  In addition to a fiery story that profiles two gifted writers who bond over fishing, the film features a stand-out performance by Joely Richardson who plays Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway.  The drama was shot in Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia and locations throughout Cuba including La Floridita and Ambos Mundos Hotel. (Screens: Thursday, 3/31 6:30 PM, Sebastiani Theatre and Saturday, April 2, 2:30 PM at Veterans Hall I)

Cooking Up a Tribute / A Taste of Film:

Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of Girona’s famed El Celler de Can Roca, are the subject of “Cooking Up A Tribute,” a documentary by Luis Gonzalez and Andrea Gomez that screens twice at SIFF 19. Every year the festival outdoes itself with food, wine and spirits. This year, filmgoers will receive a complementary glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of this food documentary to life. Image: SIFF

Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of Girona’s famed El Celler de Can Roca and the subject of “Cooking Up A Tribute.” Every year, SIFF outdoes itself with food, wine and spirits. This year, filmgoers will receive a complementary glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of this food documentary to life. Image: SIFF

The documentary Cooking Up a Tribute follows the famed Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain) as it boldly closes up shop and embarks on a five week global road tour─from Texas to Mexico to Colombia and Peru. The idea is to improvise with local ingredients to create unique tasting menus for each locale. Opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, El Celler de Can Roca holds three Michelin stars.  In 2013 and 2015, it was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine.  Perhaps the best footage in this ambitious doc is shot tagging along with renowned sommelier/maitre d’ Josep Roca on a fascinating pre-exploratory journey where he nails down the places his team will visit.  Here’s your chance to watch agave being smoked to produce mescal in Oaxaca and to explore the seemingly infinite number of gorgeous Peruvian potatoes with names like “Bull’s Blood” and “Yellow Egg Yolk.” Free Food, Wine:  The festival’s Premiere Sponsor, Celebrity Cruises, will activate their onboard “A Taste of Film” multisensory experience at both film screenings and  filmgoers will receive a glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of the food documentary to life. (83 min, 2015) (Screens Fri, April 1, 2:30 PM at Vintage House and Sunday, April 3, 3 PM at Vintage House with complimentary drink and tastings at the film.)

Gordon Getty: There will be Music

Gorden Getty will attend the Friday screening of Peter Rosen’s documentary “Gordon Getty: There will be Music,” at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Chicago Classical Review

Gorden Getty will attend the Friday screening of Peter Rosen’s documentary “Gordon Getty: There will be Music,” at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Chicago Classical Review

At 82, billionaire American composer Gordon Getty, industrialist  J. Paul Getty’s son from his fifth marriage, remains a dedicated music creator, economic theorist, vintner, venture capitalist, philanthropist and longtime supporter of our beloved San Francisco Symphony.  When your name is Getty, is it a help or hindrance being accepted as a serious composer?  Seasoned director Peter Rosen, who has produced and directed over 100 full-length films and television programs on the luminaries of the art world, captures Getty, the musician, at work and in candid conversation with fellow composer and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas about his creative process and vision.  He even captures a few of Getty’s endearing expletives─“Jeepers creepers!” and “Holy flying mackerel.”  Schooled at San Francisco’s Conservatory for Music in the early 1960’s, Getty studied music theory with Sol Joseph.  His business career and responsibilities as head of the Getty Foundation impinged on his time for composition and it wasn’t until the 1980s when Getty published his first work, The White Election, a song cycle on Emily Dickinson poems.  He’s actually spent decades of his life carefully working and honing his music and his oeuvre includes “Joan and the Bells,” “Plump Jack,” “Usher House,” “Poor Peter,” “Four Dickinson Songs,” “The White Election” and more─pieces that have been performed all over the world. (2015, 68 min) Screens Friday, April 1, 5:30 PM, Vintage House (Getty will be present) and Saturday, April 2, Andrews Hall, 2:30 PM

The Messenger:

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the SIFF 19. Image: Su Rynard

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the SIFF 19. Image: Su Rynard

The Messenger:  Making a documentary is a labor of love that often takes years to realize. To understand what was happening with global populations of songbirds, Canadian director Su Rynard and her team followed songbirds on three different continents through several seasons. The message of her riveting documentary is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline.  Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone.  Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey.  Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger.  Whose song will we hear when they are gone?   The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs. (2015, 90 min) (Screens: Friday, April 1, 2:30 PM at Andrews Hall and Sunday, April 3, 9:30 AM at Vintage House)

ARThound’s previous festival coverage:

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, will honor Meg Ryan who will screen her new film “Ithaca”

Details: The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 30 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2016.  To enjoy guaranteed access to all films, themed nightly parties in SIFF Village’s Backlot Tent, after parties, receptions, and industry events and panels, buy all inclusive passes online at sonomafilmfest.org.   A limited number of $15 tickets are available for each film screening too and these will sell out rapidly, so purchase these in advance online at sonomafilmfest.org.

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Classical Music, Film, Food, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest 2016─Asian American film, food, music─starts today; here are the must see films

Every year, CAAMFest offers fascinating documentaries. Ayat Najafi’s endearing “No Man’s Land” follows the ceaseless efforts of his sister Sara Najafi whose dream is to mount a concert in her hometown, Tehran, featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s. The music is entrancing. Footage of Tehran’s once grand concerts halls and Najafi’s visits with authorities in Iran create a portrait like no other of this nation that continues to defy categorization. Image: CAAM

Every year, CAAMFest offers fascinating documentaries. Iranian director Ayat Najafi’s “No Man’s Land” follows the ceaseless efforts of his sister, composer Sara Najafi, whose dream is to mount a concert Tehran featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s. The music is entrancing. Footage of Tehran’s once grand concerts halls and Najafi’s visits with authorities in Iran create a portrait like no other of this nation that continues to defy categorization. Image: CAAM

CAAMFest 2016, an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music kicks off this evening at the Castro Theatre with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus and a rocking after-party at the Asian Art Museum.  The festival’s program includes 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films, along with thoughtfully-curated panels that explore the Asian America experience.  CAAMFest spends its first 8 days at various locales in San Francisco and then moves on to Oakland for a long final weekend.  Programming starts between 5 and 6:30 p.m. on most weekdays and weekends are fully packed weekends.   Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016.

Here are ARThound’s top picks:

Married for over 40 years, Chinese couple Feng and Lou are inseparable. She suffers dementia and he tenderly cares for her. When his own health is jeopardized, the two are forced to consider a big move in Zhao Qing’s evocative “Please Remember Me.” Photo: courtesy CAAM.

Married for over 40 years, Chinese couple Feng and Lou are inseparable. She suffers dementia and he tenderly cares for her. When his own health is jeopardized, and he is not able to fulfill his duties, the fragile house of cards that he has constructed so carefully topples.  The two are forced to consider a big move in Zhao Qing’s evocative “Please Remember Me.” Photo: courtesy CAAM.

Please Remember Me:     Growing old gracefully─with dignitiy and health─ is a global challenge that has had a particularly severe impact on China.  In 2013, there were more than 200 million Chinese over the age of 60.   Many of the adult children of elderly Chinese parents have settled abroad or live in urban areas and their parents face the struggle of aging with little daily support for the practicalities. Chinese director Zhao Qing’s documentary turns the spotlight on her elderly octogenarian grandparents─Shaghai couple Feng and Lou─inseparable for the past 40 years.  He calls her his “baby girl” and she calls him her “Mr. Silly.”  Lou is 88 and has suffered Alzheimer’s for the past decade.  She has deteriorated to the point that that only person she recognizes is her loving husband, who stills takes her to her beloved Chinese opera, despite her lack of comprehension.  When he is diagnosed with a pancreatic mass, their world is rocked as they must contemplate life in a care facility.  Tenderly told and beautifully executed, with rich bows to recent events in Chinese history, this story is one that all of us with aging parents will take to heart. (78 min, in Shanghai dialect with English subtitles) (Screens:  Sat, March 12, 1 p.m., Alamo; Sun, March 20, 4:40 p.m., New Parkway)

 

The Killing Fields of Cambodoia’s Khmer Rouge continue to haunt after 40 years. How does society heal? As the Khmer Rouge tribunal collects testimonies from aging war criminals and survivors alike, Michael Siv travels to Cambodia with survivors to film “Daze of Justice,” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2016. Photo: CAAM

The Killing Fields of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge continue to haunt after 40 years. How does society heal? As the Khmer Rouge tribunal collects testimonies from aging war criminals and survivors alike, Michael Siv travels to Cambodia with survivors to film “Daze of Justice,” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2016. Photo: CAAM

Centerpiece Presentation: Daze of Justice, World Premiere:     Bay Area filmmaker Michael Siv, who himself was a participant in Spencer Nakasako’s vital 2003 documentary Refugee, returns to Cambodia once again. There, Pol Pot’s heinous regime murdered roughly 1.7.million people between 1975 and 1979 and was responsible for running work camps that enslaved Cambodians into collectivized labor to build dams and infrastructure and to oversea the mass murder of their fellow countrymen.  It’s no wonder that this lush cradle of civilization, home to the fabled Angkhor, is still reeling. This time, Siv accompanies Khmer Rouge survivors from the U.S. to their homeland where they seek justice, catharsis and healing in a court for genocide.  (Screens: Sat, March 12, 3 p.m., Alamo)

 

A scene from Ayat Najafi’s “No Land’s Song.” The documentary follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her attempt to organize a concert in Tehran with other female solo singers, something that is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. Photo: CAAM

A scene from Ayat Najafi’s “No Land’s Song.” The documentary follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her attempt to organize a concert in Tehran with other female solo singers, something that is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. Photo: CAAM

 

No Land’s Song:    For Iranian composer, Sara Najafi, the act of communication is a nuanced, multifaceted and exhausting endeavor when it comes to getting permission to sing in public in Tehran. Iran’s 1979 Revolution of banned female singers from appearing in public in Iran and they are not allowed to perform solo except for an exclusively female audience.  In the documentary, “No Land’s Song,” Persian filmmaker Ayat Najafi follows his sister, Sara Najafi whose dream is to mount a concert in her hometown, Tehran, featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s.  Sara realizes that, unless she acts, the female vocal voice in Iran may well be lost.  Were it not captured on film, no would could imagine the convoluted logic, objections and snafu’s that the Iranian Ministry of Culture uses to dissuade her as well as the long-winded metaphor that she receives from an Islamic scholar on why a group  of women singing together is not a dangerous as a solo female singer is.  As Sara moves forward with her plans, inviting artists from France and Tunisia, who incite all sorts of visa concerns, we are brought into the complex and depressing world of an artist just trying to survive in contemporary Iran.  The entrancing music, much of it addressing suffering and transcendence, includes nods to such pre-revolutionary greats as Ghamar Ol Molouk Vaziri, who, in 1924, became the first woman in Iran to perform without a hijab in front of men, and Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi whose song “Kelmti Horra” inspired protestors during the Arab Spring. With footage of street-life in Tehran and visits to several dilapidated but once grand concert venues, this is also a must-see portrait of Tehran.  And there are plenty of shots of women tying, arranging and primping in their headscarfs. (Screens: Wed, March 16, 8:40 PM, Alamo)

In South Korean director Lee Won-suk’s sumptuous period drama, “The Royal Tailor,” a commoner with an innate gift for clothing design catches the eye of the queen and then goes on to design clothing that upsets etiquette and ignites the passions of rivals. Photo: CAAM

In South Korean director Lee Won-suk’s sumptuous period drama, “The Royal Tailor,” a commoner with an innate gift for clothing design catches the eye of the queen and then goes on to design clothing that upsets etiquette and ignites the passions of rivals. The film, while not always true to history, does track the evolution of Korean style and features exquisite hanboks, Korean national costumes, which are seen rarely seen today, except at formal occasions.  Photo: CAAM

 

The Royal Tailor:   South Korean director Lee Won-suk weaves a fine tapestry of court intrigue and high fashion in this period drama, set in the broad Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), which pits two very different tailors against each other in a design competition for the new king’s favor.  At first, it seems that Dol-Sak (Han Suk-kyu), the previous king’s tailor, is a shoe-in with his penchant for exquisite embroidery and fine detail.  When a young commoner,  Lee Kong-jin (Koo Soo), gets a shot at recreating one the king’s robes that was damaged accidentally and does a wonderful job tailoring it so that it fits even better than before, the new king gives him a job creating new hunting attire.  When this young tailor then turns out a stunning 15 layer gown for the queen, with real artisanship and creativity, his access and place in royal society seem secure.  His masterpiece however upstages the dress worn by the royal concubine, a dress designed by rival Dol-Sak and she swears revenge.  Park Shin-hye, known for her roles in the dramas You’re Beautiful and The Heirs is the young queen.   The costumes are stunning.  In Korean with English subtitles.  (Screens: Tues, March 15, 9 p.m., Alamo and Sat, March 19, 2:20 p.m., New Parkway)

 

France-Is-Our-Mother-Country-still Catherine Dussart Productions

Rithy Panh’s “France is Our Mother Country” is made up entirely of archival footage from Cambodia’s colonial period, 1863 to 1953, when Cambodia was a part of French Indochina, a territory including Laos and Vietnam.  Many images familiar to Westerners evoke grandeur, a construct Panh dispenses with, replacing it with discomfort. The Colonial era was characterized by economic servitude, violent suppression of uprisings and imposition of Western education, culture and values.  Image: CAAM

 

 

France is Our Mother Country (La France est notre patrie) Rithy Panh came to our attention with his spellbinding documentary, The Missing Picture (2013), winner of Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2013 and an Oscar nominee, which used hand-sculpted clay figures and elaborately crafted dioramas to recreate the brutal suffering of his family and friends at the hands of the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970’s in Cambodia.  His latest exploration of the Cambodian Diaspora, France is our Mother Country (2014), lacks the power of his earlier masterpiece but uses meticulously edited black and white archival footage and antiqued cards to recapture the romance and promise of French Indochine in its heyday, playing with our perceptions of what it was, might it have been and what it evolved into.  What unfolds is a glorious reflection on the clashing of two cultures, one dominating the other and repressing its very imagination and essence, evoking reflection on Western civilization’s Colonial quest, which has always ended tragically.  75 min, in French with English subtitles.  (Screens: Thu, March 17, 9 p.m., Alamo)

CAAMFest Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2016 runs March 10-20, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as The Asian Art Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, Slate Bar and SOMAR Bar.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings and panel discussions are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members.  Special screenings, programs and social events are more.  Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general.  Click on individual films at CAAMfest website for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and at various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day.  Rush Tickets:  If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue roughly one hour before the screening is set to begin. Approximately ten minutes prior to screening, empty seats are counted and will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis to those in line.  Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.

Unpacking the festival: Click here to see full schedule in day by day calendar format with hyperlinks for film and event descriptions and for ticket purchase.  The official website— CAAMFest 2016

March 10, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, will honor Meg Ryan who will screen her new film “Ithaca”

Meg Ryan, Golden Globe nominated actor and director, will receive the Sonoma Salute Award at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival (March 30-April 30, 2016). The tribute will be presented on March 31 with a program that includes an on-stage conversation with Ryan and the screening of her new family drama, “Ithaca,” her directorial debut. Image: SIFF

Meg Ryan, Golden Globe nominated actor and director, will receive the Sonoma Salute Award at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival (March 30-April 30, 2016). The tribute will be presented on March 31 with a program that includes an on-stage conversation with Ryan and the screening of her new family drama, “Ithaca,” her directorial debut. Image: SIFF

The Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF 19), March 30-April 3, 2016, a Wine Country favorite among film and wine lovers, hasn’t released its full schedule yet but it has just announced that Meg Ryan, the beloved Golden Globe nominated actor and director will be honored with the festival’s Sonoma Salute Award on Thursday, March 31 at the historic Sebastiani Theatre on the plaza.  The presentation will follow a special screening of Ryan’s new film Ithaca and an on stage conversation moderated by filmmaker Elliot Koteck who also publishes the Association of Film Commissioners’ twice annual Beyond Cinema magazine.

Ithaca is Ryan’s directorial film debut and the drama is an adaptation of William Saroyan’s 1943 novel, The Human Comedy. After taking a break from acting for the past six years, the film reunites Ryan with Tom Hanks for the fourth time, after cherished performances in You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Joe Versus the Volcano co-star.  In this drama, Ryan plays a widowed mother, while Hanks plays a very small role.  First filmed in 1943 under the name of The Human Comedy, Ryan’s Ithaca is a “World War II coming-of-age drama about Homer, a young telegram messenger in a small town and looks after his widowed mother while his brother is away at war .  The film was shot along historical back road sites in Virginia and, along with Ryan and Hanks, it features Alex Neustaedter, Sam Shepard, Hamish Linklater, and Ryan’s son, Jack Quaid, who plays Marcus the older brother serving in the war.  The music is by John Mellencamp.

Joachim Tier’s drama, “Louder Than Bombs” (2015), opens the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival on Wednesday, March 30, at the Sebastiani Theatre.

Joachim Tier’s drama, “Louder Than Bombs” (2015), opens the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival on Wednesday, March 30, at the Sebastiani Theatre.

Norwegian director Joachim Tier’s family drama, Louder Than Bombs (2015), opens the festival on Wednesday, March 30 at the Sebastiani.  A smash at last year’s Cannes Film Festival will, the drama stars Isabelle Hupert, Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and David Strathairn and explores how a widower and his two adult sons cope with the recent death of the wife and mother (Hupert), a war photographer.  The opening night festivities will also feature a live “vertical dance performance” with members of the dynamic Bandaloop dance group gracefully performing choreographed moves from ropes on the Sebastiani’s roof.

Details: The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival starts March 30 and runs through April 2, 2016.  Buy passes online now at sonomafilmfest.org.

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What! You’ve never heard of artist Tyrus Wong? The Asian Art Museum and CAAMFest will honor this living legend starting Wednesday, March 9, 2016

 105 year-young Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong will be honored twice this week─on Wednesday at the Asian Art Museum,, with a public proclamation of “Tyrus Wong Day and on Thursday, at CAAMFest 2016, where his life and art are the subject of Pamela Tom’s Opening Night documentary, “Tyrus.” Image: courtesy Museum of California Design


105 year-young Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong will be honored twice this week─on Wednesday at the Asian Art Museum,, with a public proclamation of “Tyrus Wong Day” and on Thursday, at CAAMFest 2016, where his life and art are the subject of Pamela Tom’s Opening Night documentary, “Tyrus,” which has its Bay Area premiere at the festival.
Image: courtesy Museum of California Design

Unless you caught his wonderful retrospective at the Walt Disney Family Museum two years back, Tyrus Wong is a name that most people can’t place readily. At 105 years young, this pioneering Chinese American artist has touched all of us through his innovative art for films like Rebel Without A Cause and Walt Disney Studio’s classic 1942 animation film Bambi.  Wong’s impressionistic conceptual art grabbed the attention of Walt Disney himself and Wong became essentially responsible for the evocative style that we associate with the beloved Bambi and he created much of the film’s background landscapes.  But that was just the beginning of this exceptional artist’s diverse artistic career as a painter, illustrator, calligrapher, muralist, designer, Hollywood sketch artist, ceramicist, and kite maker.  At 105, he is Americaʼs oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation.  On Wednesday, March 9th, at 4:00PM in the Asian Art Museum’s Peterson Room, CAAM (the Center for Asian American Media), the Asian Art Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation will ensure that Wong is long remembered in the Bay Area.  San Francisco District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar will present a Tyrus Wong Day proclamation in honor of the artist.  The next day, CAAMFest 2016 celebrates Wong on the big screen with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus, selected as the opening night film.

Tyrus Wong’s “Chinese Jesus,” 85 x 75 inches, will be on display to the public for one day only─Thursday, March 10─ at the Asian Art Museum. Tyrus Wong painted the long unidentified artwork for the Chinese Congregational Church in Los Angeles decades ago. The unsigned painting was found in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco by CAAM board member David Lee. The artwork is in need of restoration and David Lee is mounting a fund-raising campaign to clean and restore it to its original state. The artwork will then be placed in a Bay Area museum. Image: CAAM

Tyrus Wong’s “Chinese Jesus,” 85 x 75 inches, will be on display to the public for one day only─Thursday, March 10─ at the Asian Art Museum. Tyrus Wong painted the long unidentified artwork for the Chinese Congregational Church in Los Angeles decades ago. The unsigned painting was found in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco by CAAM board member David Lei. The artwork is in need of restoration and David Lee is mounting a fund-raising campaign to clean and restore it to its original state. The artwork will then be placed in a Bay Area museum. Image: CAAM

On Wednesday, Tyrus, will also be signing one of his unidentified large paintings, which had been unattributed for decades, “Chinese Jesus.”  The 85 x 75 inches painting was rediscovered recently by CAAM board member David Lei in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Wong will be joined by his daughter, Kim, and Tyrus director, Pamela Tom.   The painting will be on display at the Asian Art Museum on Thursday, March 10th, for one day only.  The public is invited to view the signed piece during regular museum hours and during CAAMFest’s Opening Night Gala, which takes place at the Asian that evening at 9:30 p.m., following the screening.

“That it was first in Los Angeles in late 1920’s and made its way here is an amazing discovery,” explained CAAM, Executive Director, Stephen Gong, who spoke with ARThound at the CAAMFest press conference in February.  “This came to our attention some 5 years ago.  Tyrus was in the process of being made and our board member, David Lei, was poking around the Great Star Theatre in Chinatown, looking at old opera scenery backdrops, and his memory was triggered about a painting he had seen as child in a local church of a Jesus that he felt might have been done by the same artist.  He did some research and spoke with scholar Mark Johnson at San Francisco State, who told him that Tyrus Wong was around at the time and might be able to identify the artist.   When Tyrus’ daughter, who was about 80, spoke with him about it, he said it ‘might be’ one of his.   I was flabbergasted.  It took David several months to investigate this.  The next time Tyrus came to town, he brought him to the Jesus painting, which he had found, and it was confirmed.”

Right now, Stephen Gong explained, the painting is “in between lives.”  The Chinese Methodist Church in Chinatown stills owns the painting but they have loaned it to the Asian Art Museum, where CAAM board member, David Lei, is also on the board.  Lei is trying to drum up interest to get it restored and to place it in a Bay Area museum, like the de Young or the Asian.

“Tyrus could well have been a major figure early on, but no Chinese artist in the 1930’s was going to be recognized by the art establishment especially when it wasn’t recognizing West Coast artists of any background, ” added Stephen Gong.

Tyrus Wong's pastel illustrations inspired the style of Walt Disney's classic, "Bambi" and he served as the lead artist for the cherished film.

Tyrus Wong’s pastel illustrations inspired the style of Walt Disney’s classic, “Bambi,” including its lush impressionistic forest. Wong served as the lead artist for the cherished film.

Pamela Tom’s Tyrus opens CAAMFest 2016:  Tom’s emotionally inspiring documentary paints a beautifully intimate portrait of Tyrus Wong, eloquently exploring his childhood arrival at the Angel Island Immigration Station, the evolution of his voice and legacy and the formation of what he views as his greatest achievement, his family.

CAAMFest 2016─an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music opens this Thursday, celebrating its 34th year with a program that celebrates and explores the breadth of the Asian and human experience.  This year’s program all things Asian includes no less than 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films and thoughtfully-curated events that run for 8 days in various locales in San Francisco and then move on to Oakland for a long final weekend. Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016

Documentary filmmaker Pamela Tom and Tyrus Wong in 2012. Set against a backdrop of immigration, poverty, and racial prejudice, Pamela Tom’s “Tyrus” tells the life story of 105-year-old Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong. Reaching back to 1919, nine-year-old Tyrus and his father leave their village and family in China. Tyrusʼs journey takes him from the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, where he is detained and interrogated, to earning a scholarship to Otis Art Institute. During his 85-year career as a fine and commercial artist, Tyrus crosses paths with Picasso and Matisse, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Although his design work was crucial to the animated classic “Bambi” and over 100 live-action movies including “The Music Man,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild Bunch,” the name Tyrus Wong remains largely unknown. “Tyrus” screens once at CAAMFest 2016 but has secured distributorship and will open later at the theatres in the Bay Area. Image: courtesy CAAM

Documentary filmmaker Pamela Tom and Tyrus Wong in 2012. Set against a backdrop of immigration, poverty, and racial prejudice, Pamela Tom’s “Tyrus” tells the compelling life story of Tyrus Wong. Reaching back to 1919, nine-year-old Tyrus and his father leave their village and family in China. Tyrusʼs journey takes him from the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, where he is detained and interrogated, to earning a scholarship to Otis Art Institute. During his 85-year career as a fine and commercial artist, Tyrus crosses paths with Picasso and Matisse, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Although his design work was crucial to the animated classic “Bambi” and over 100 live-action movies including “The Music Man,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild Bunch,” the name Tyrus Wong remains largely unknown. “Tyrus” screens once at CAAMFest 2016 but has secured distributorship and will open later at the theatres in the Bay Area. Image: courtesy CAAM

 

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cheesemaking in Poland 7,500 years ago: Princeton Archaeologist, Dr. Peter Bogucki tells the story with archaeology, analytical chemistry and genetics at SRJC this Sunday, March 6, 2016

Early in his career, Princeton Archeaologist, Dr. Peter Bogucki based a ground-breaking theory on the development of Western civilization on cheesemaking and ancient chards of pottery he unearthed in Northern Poland. It took thirty years for developments in modern biochemistry to prove him right. Photo: Frank Wojciechowski

Early in his career, Princeton Archaeologist, Dr. Peter Bogucki based a ground-breaking theory about the development of Western Civilization on cheesemaking and ancient chards of pottery he unearthed in Northern Poland. It took thirty years for developments in modern biochemistry to prove him right. Photo: Frank Wojciechowski

We all know that archaeology entails a great deal of puzzle solving. In 1981, Princeton Archaeologist Peter Bogucki was a key player on an international team of archaeologists investigating ancient Polish agricultural sites when he revisited a site in the Kuyavia region of Northern Poland.  The site yielded some roughly 7,000 year-old hole-pierced “potsherds”—prehistoric pottery fragments.  Later, when Bogucki (pronounced bow-good’-ski) was back in the States visiting a friend in Vermont, he examined some 19th century sieve-like ceramics used in cheesemaking that were somehow similar.  The spark was lit!  On the drive home, it hit him.  Could it be that those shreds of perforated pottery, that had been unearthed for years at Neolithic farming sites in northern Poland, were evidence of ancient cheesemaking?   In 1984, he revealed his theory in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology.  The hitch was that it was impossible to prove that that the bits of pottery were the remains of a cheesemaker rather some other type of strainer.

It would take some of the most cutting edge developments in biochemistry—and 30 years—until researchers at the University of Bristol used a new type of test to measure ancient molecular remnants embedded within the pottery.  When evidence of bovine dairy lipids were found, Bogucki’s hypothesis was finally confirmed and the scientific floodgates were opened.

The presence of these bovine milk byproducts in the potsherds not only provided evidence that perforated pots were used to separate cheese curds from whey, it also explains how Neolithic Europeans, who were generally unable to digest lactose, were able to use milk for food—the whey retains the bulk of the lactose in milk, allowing the farmers to eat the low-lactose cheese.  This discovery, which highlights the interplay between human cultural development and biological evolution, was published in the scientific journal Nature in December 2012 and has attracted worldwide attention.

Science is the art of refinement and enlightenment.  The transformation of milk to a more tolerable product, cheese, for the lactose-intolerant may have helped promote dairying among the first farmers in Europe, Bogucki postulated.  Richard Evershed and his team at the University of Bristol, who were in close contact with Bogucki, further postulated that the presence of dairying over several generations may have set in motion a biological change in Europeans—lactase persistence—retaining the lactase enzyme, which breaks down lactose, well into adulthood, which changed Western digestive capabilities.  The discovery that the modern European digestive system is partly a legacy of Neolithic dairy farming practices is in turn fueling new research.

A clay fragment, or potsherd, found to be early cheese-making equipment. (Mélanie Salque et al, Nature)

A clay fragment, or potsherd, found to be early cheese-making equipment. (Mélanie Salque et al, Nature)

This Sunday, at 4 p.m., Bogucki will give the Robert Braidwood lecture, The Archaeology of Cheese: Cattle, Strainers, Chemistry, and Genes, at the Petaluma campus of SRJC in Ellis Auditorium (Room PC310).  His talk is free and open to the public.

With the 10th California Artisan Cheese Festival following next weekend (March 18-20), in and around Petaluma’s Sheraton Sonoma County and various cheese country locations, March promises a bounty of cheese-related events. The cheese festival, which focuses on cheese sampling and education, also offers a full day of cheese-related seminars but none of this year’s seminars focus on the history of cheese or offer the depth of science and archaeology that will be covered in Bogucki’s talk.  Click here for ARThound’s coverage.

More on Dr. Peter Bogucki: Currently, Dr. Bogucki is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University.  He received his degrees from Harvard University (Ph.D.) and the University of Pennsylvania.  Since 1976 he has studied early farming societies in Europe (ca. 6000 – 3000 BCE), specifically in Poland with excavations at the sites of Brześć Kujawski and Osłonki.  Dr. Bogucki has published extensively, and received numerous honors for his work.

Details: The Archaeology of Cheese: Cattle, Strainers, Chemistry, and Genes is Sunday, March 6 at 4 p.m., Ellis Auditorium, Petaluma campus of SRJC, 680 Sonoma Mountain Parkway Petaluma. The lecture is free but a parking fee is required for all-on campus parking.

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Straight from the designer’s mouth─Charles Renfro discusses the new BAM/PFA building opening January 31, 2016

ARThound was delighted to attend Charles Renfro’s talk today to a full house at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church which covered the conception and design of the new BAMPFA, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives.  The new space opens this Sunday, January 31, 2016.  Renfro is partner at New York interdisciplinary design studio, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and lead partner for his firm’s participation in the $112 million five-year long project which has transformed a 1939 printing plant on Berkeley’s Center Street into a multi-layered museum complex boasting gentle curves and a haute steel skin that catches the light and casts intricate shadows.  Renfro spoke about the new BAMPFA in the context of the firm’s numerous global projects and resonances with the inaugural exhibition,  Architecture of Life, which explores the ways that architecture—as concept, metaphor, and practice—illuminates aspects of life experience.

It’s always fascinating to hear artists and designers talk about their work.  Renfro scattered his talk with fascinating references to the principles (risk-taking, generosity) that excite him and that DS+R aims to impart in their projects and a great deal of his personality comes through in the clip I’ve posted.  I haven’t had a chance to tour the museum yet; that comes later in the week, so I’ll save my comments on the inner core until I’ve had an intimate encounter.  Here’s Renfro.

More free talks:  A series of free Wednesday noon lectures “Perspectives on the Architecture of Life” will be held through April 20 at the new BAMPFA Theatre.  These two hour sessions (roughly one hour lecture and Q&A) include a variety of wonderful guest artists, curators, and scholars covering fascinating topics under the themes of exhibitions and performance; performance and place; and place and nature.  For more information, visit http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/program/perspectives-architecture-life.

Project overview: The BAMPFA project repurposes the Art Deco–style former UC Berkeley Printing Plant at the corner of Center and Oxford Streets in downtown Berkeley, and integrates it with an entirely new modern stainless-steel-clad structure. At roughly 83,000-square-foot, the building features serene spaces for experiencing art and film, including 25,000 square feet of gallery space, two film theaters, a multipurpose performance space, four study centers for art and film, a reading room, an art-making lab, and an external LED screen and plaza for outdoor film screenings.

Architecture of Life, January 31–May 29, 2016: BAMPFA’s inaugural exhibition in the new building is Architecture of Life, which explores the ways that architecture—as concept, metaphor, and practice—illuminates aspects of life experience.  With an international selection of over 250 works of art, architectural drawings and models, and scientific illustrations made over the past two thousand years, the exhibit will occupy all of the gallery spaces in the new BAMPFA.

Details: BAMPFA is located at 2155 Center Street, Berkeley, 94704.  The official opening is January 31,2016.  Visit the website http://bampfa.org/visit  for information on special programming associated with the opening of the museum and film programming.

 

 

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Berkeley Art Museum, Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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