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 | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 24th Sonoma International Film Festival is March 24-28th—virtual, for the way we live now

SIFF2021 presents a dazzling choice of films, including a few obscure gems.  Czech-born artist Alfonse Mucha is the subject of a new documentary. Perhaps the most famous unknown artist in the world, he is a pioneer of the Art Noveau movement.  And, for design and science buffs, a fascinating documentary explores how neuroscience is providing a new lens through which to consider the built environment.  Image: Alfonse Mucha in a still from Mucha: The Story of an Artist Who created a Style, maxim film.

The 24th edition of the beloved Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) takes place virtually again this year from March 24-28, with over 100 films from 40 countries and three drive-in screenings. Having scrambled to offer the Eventive platform last year to a global audience that streamed some 4,000 hours of media in four days, SIFF is more than ready to roll this year. It’s the art films that keep ARThound enamored with the SIFF and Program Director, Steve Shor, along with Artistic Director, always provide engaging, informative films that often take us into bygone eras. Here are the films that caught my eyes this year:

Maverick Modigliani

Valeria Parisi’s Maverick Modigliani draws on interviews with historians, artists, curators and forgers. Image: SIFF

Maverick Modigliani (Maledetto Modigliani) delves into Italian-born artist, Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920).  Famous for his serenely seductive women with elongated features, Modigliani created artworks that were a synthesis of ancient and modern techniques and were fashionably hip in their day. Valeria Parisi’s documentary feature covers Modigliani’s life from when he left his home in Livorno in 1906 and arrived in Paris as a vivacious 21 year old dandy, determined to establish himself as an artist.  He began as primarily a sculptor and created tall stone heads—with the long, narrow noses that became his hallmark. He studied with Constantin Brancusi for a year and his radically simplified forms, evocative of African art, which was all the rage, had a powerful influence on him. Crushingly handsome, Modigliani was ensnared by Parisian life and, fueled by alcohol and drugs, he painted and seduced numerous women—notably poets Anna Akhmatova and Beatrice Hastings.  Many became the subjects of his languid portraits, rendered in bold flat colors, eyes without pupils. He married Jeanne Hébuterne, who he immortalized in over 20 paintings but never in the nude.  In a span of 15 years, he painted over 400 pictures, created magical stoneworks, and left a small archive of drawings before his untimely death at age 35 from tubercular meningitis. (2020, Italy, 97 min, in English and Italian) (Available to stream Saturday, March 26, 10 a.m.)

Mucha: The Story of an Artist Who Created a Style


A scene from Roman Vávra’s documentary, Mucha: The Story of an Artist who Created a Style, image: maxim film.

Czech director Roman Vávra’s stylized documentary, Mucha: The Story of an Artist who Created a Style (Svět podle Muchy) (2020), is about the life and reach of Czech-born art nouveau pioneer, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).  Shot in 2019, the film tells Mucha’s story from the perspective of his son, the writer and bon-vivant Jiří Mucha, with lots of re-enactments, animations, archival footage as well as paintings and photos. Mucha has slipped in and out of the limelight. His advertising posters immortalizing French actress Sarah Bernhardt became synonymous with Belle Epoque Paris. In the 1960s, his Art Nouveau posters attained cult status as the hippie movement rediscovered his vivid pictorial world. Mucha’s art has since become the inspiration for street art, psychedelic rock posters, and Japanese manga. What he considered his most important work is largely unknown outside of the Czech Republic. In 1920, at the peak of his fame, Mucha left Paris for a castle in Bohemia where for he holed up for 18 years, pouring his soul into his monumental Slav Epic— 20 huge canvasses, some more than 25 feet tall illustrating key events in the history and mythology of the Czech and Slavic people. Mucha conceived it as a monument for all Slavonic peoples. Instead, he was met with fierce criticism upon its completion.  In 2016, the cycle was at the heart of a major law suit that pitted Mucha’s grandson, John, against the city of Prague.  He argued that because Prague failed to build a permanent gallery for the artworks, which was a pre-condition of his grandfather’s gift, it never became the full owner of the Slav Epic, and that the works should be returned to Mucha’s heirs.  In December 2020, the court ruled in favor of the family. Shortly after that ruling, it was announced that the City of Prague had commissioned an appropriate gallery for the Slav Epic to be completed by 2026. (2020, Czech Republic, Germany, France, 100 min, Czech with English subtitles)

M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity


M.C. Escher, image courtesy Adrian Curry (Kino Lorber Team)

M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity is the story of Dutch graphic artist M.C Escher (1898-1972). Equal parts history, psychology, and psychedelia, Robin Lutz’s entertaining, eye-opening portrait presents the man through his own words and images and delves into the deep waves of math and art he conjured.  Escher’s diary musings, excerpts from lectures, and correspondence are all voiced by British actor Stephen Fry as Escher’s woodcuts, lithographs, and other print works appear in both original and playfully altered form. We hear Escher align himself with scientists and mathematicians, often trashing his own skills as a draftsman. Two of Escher’s sons, George (92) and Jan (80), reminisce about their parents while musician Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash) talks about Escher’s rediscovery in the 1970s. This doc has been praised highly for its innovation, for finding clever ways to show the audience, visually, just how Escher’s style evolved and the principles behind that evolution.  (2020, Netherlands, 81 min, multiple languages with English subtitles)

Built Beautiful


The question of beauty is something that science has shied away. Built Beautiful introduces the new field of neuro-aesthetics which may give us the ability to peer into realms of the human experience that were once thought to be totally abstract and intangible. Image: SIFF

Mariel Rodriguez-McGill’s Built Beautiful explores the interface of design and science in the emerging field of neuro-aesthetics which seeks to understand the neural mechanisms behind the appreciation of design. The documentary features leading experts on neuro-aesthetics from around the world elaborating on ideas presented at the Ux+Design/2019 conference (co-sponsored by Genetics of Design) held at Tufts University. A core area of research is determining how and why beauty plays an important role in our well-being and how subliminal responses to one’s built environment will influence the future of design. It’s an exciting evolutionary approach to art appreciation, a realm of human experience that was once thought to be totally inaccessible to science.  While filming, Rodriguez-Gill discovered that several elements of cities remained the same no matter where they were in the world. At one point in the film, students in schools in Oxford, UK, and Denver, Colorado, were asked to draw a home. Each student drew buildings containing what neuroscientists call the primal form—human facial features unconsciously drawn into renderings of nonhuman objects. (2020, US, 77 min, English)

Drive-in Screenings:

Celebrate cinema at Sonoma Parkway on their 40 foot screen, with FM transmission to car radios, special video introductions by SIFF sponsors, gourmet food, non-alcoholic beverages, and one gift bag per car. Every car present will be eligible to win a door prize of two tickets in the main cabin of Alaska Airlines. Tickets are $75/car with a $25 discount given to pass holders.

Opening Night: Six Minutes to Midnight, (Wed, March 24, 6:15 pm) (Andy Goddard, 99 min, English)  A spy thriller set days before WWII at an Anglo-German finishing school on the south coast of England, involving a teacher, a headmistress and 20 teen girls, daughters of the Nazi high command. Stars Judi Dench (Casino Royale), James D’Arcy (Broadchurch), Jim Broadbent (War and Peace), and Eddie Izzard (Victoria & Abdul).

Friday Night at The Drive-In: Spacewalker, (Fri, March 26, 6:16 pm) (Dmitriy Kiselev, 140 min, Russian, dubbed in English) A look at the Soviet side of the space race, set in the Cold War 1960’s as two Russian astronauts, Pavel Belyayev, a seasoned war veteran and Alexey Leonov, a hot-headed test pilot, part of the Voskhod 2 mission in March, 1965, prepare to step into the unknown on the first space walk.

Closing Night at The Drive-In: The Comeback Trail (Sat, March 27, 6:15 pm) (George Gallo, 104 min, English) An American crime comedy. Two movie producers (Robert De Niro, Emile Hirsh) who owe money to the mob (Morgan Freeman) set up their aging movie star (Tommy Lee Jones) for an insurance scam to try and save themselves. They wind up getting more than they ever imagined.

Details:

SIFF is Thursday, March 24th  to Sunday, March 28, 2021.  Tickets: $12/film.  Passes: SIFF’s Virtually Everything Pass is $175 and includes SIFF Saturdays, a monthly virtual screening on the last Saturday of every month throughout the year.  SIFF Drive-Ins: tickets are $75/per vehicle; passholders receive a $10 discount/one vehicle maximum.; SIFF’s First Responder Passis $25.  Show appreciation for the staff at Sonoma Valley Hospital and the Community Health Center by underwriting their access to SIFF.

March 14, 2021 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 films from the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival you can screen from home, starting Thursday evening

MVFF43 honors actor and producer Viola Davis with its Mind the Gap Award: Actor of the Year in an online conversation with MVFF Director of Programming Zoë Elton and special guest George C. Wolfe. The event can be streamed from October 10-18.   Davis is the first Black woman to attain acting’s great trifecta: two Tony Awards, for Fences and King Hedley II; an Oscar®, also for Fences; and an Emmy® for How to Get Away with Murder.  Her dedication to speaking out with eloquence and wisdom on issues of equality, especially for women and Black women, has established her as one of the great performers and spokespeople of our time. MVFF43 is October 8-18, 2020. 

Grab your popcorn and snuggle in. A pandemic version of the 43rd edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF43) kicks off Thursday evening with drive-in and online programming. In MVFF style, opening night offers a drive-in world premiere screening of “Blithe Spirit,” Edward Hall’s new adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1941 theatrical hit starring Dame Judi Dench as the inept spiritualist Madame Arcati. The locale is Lagoon Park in Marin Civic Center, freshly outfitted with a gigantic studio-grade screen. 

Much of this year’s festival is virtual, with five opening night choices to stream: the US premiere of Judith Ehrlich’s “The Boys Who Said No!;” the California premieres of Argentinian director Ariel Winograd’s “The Heist of the Century,” Mongolian Director Byambasuren Davaa’s “Veins of the World,” American director Alexandre Rockwell’s “Sweet Thing,” and American director David Garrett Byars “Public Trust”.  In all, MVFF43 offers 11 full days of online programming and 10 nights of drive-in screenings.  It presents 144 films, both shorts and features, from 38 countries. It runs through Sunday, October 18 with its final drive in screening, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” on Saturday, October 17. 

The acclaimed festival runs in tandem with DocLands, the California Film Institute’s annual documentary film festival which was postponed from May due to Covid. Despite the Covid curveball, MVFF has held on to its identity— supporting innovative film, local filmmakers and showcasing likely Oscar contenders that have already premiered at the famed Venice and Toronto film festivals.  MVFF has also kept important promises: fifty-seven percent of the films screening this year are directed or co-directed by women which means the festival hit its 50/50 by 2020 pledge goal.  

This year, the MVFF, DocLands, and Mind the Gap Awards will all be presented virtually, so home viewers can catch wonderful conversations with Viola Davis, Kate Winslet, Sophia Loren, Dame Judi Dench, Claire Dunne, Regina King, Bay Area actor Delroy Lindo, documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock and writer/director Aaron Sorkin. As an added benefit, most of these programs which cost upwards of $60 at the festival, are priced at $10.

Here are five films you shouldn’t miss:

Bat-Ireedui Batmunkh as Amra in “Veins of the World.”  Image: Talal Khoury

Veins of the World (Opening Night choice for online viewers)

There are many exciting roads to Asia at MVFF43.  “Veins of the World” presents an exhilarating and poignant story from a child’s point of view and its strong environmental message makes it a wonderful family film. This fiction feature debut of Mongolian director screen writer Byambasuren Davaa’s (Oscar-nominated “The Story of the Weeping Camel”) tells the story of Amra, an 11 year-old boy who lives a nomadic life in the Mongolian steppe with his mother Zaya, father Erdene, and little sister Altaa.  Life as they know it is threatened by the encroachment of international mining companies digging for gold who are destroying the natural habitat. When Amra’s father is killed in an accident, his mother wants to upend their life and move the family to the city. Amra refuses and takes up his father’s fight against the miners. Amra’s musical talent lands him on Mongolia’s Got Talent where he performs a heartfelt song that spells everything out. A wonderful journey of self discovery that explores nomadic and rapdily urbanizing Mongolia. (Opening Night Film; online screening window 10/8 – 10/18, 2020)

Brothers Ilmar Gavilán (L) and Aldo López-Gavilán (R) in a scene from “Los Hermanos/The Brothers.”

Los Hermanos/The Brothers

Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider’s new documentary, Los Hermanos/The Brothers, is a genuine masterpiece, an exhilarating and perceptive dive into the magical and confounded lives of two Cuban-born brothers—violinist Ilmar Gavilán and pianist Aldo López-Gavilán—both virtuosos. They were separated as teens when Ilmar had the chance to study violin in Moscow and later went on to establish himself in New York as a soloist and member of the Harlem Quartet.  Aldo remained in Cuba and became a leading pianist, developing his own signature sound in both the worlds of classical music and Afro-Cuban jazz. They’ve spent their lives on opposite sides of the US-Cuba geopolitical chasm. Filmed in Havana and in the US and drawing on historical performance footage and family archives, the film begins in the Obama era as the brothers reunite, briefly in Havana and then again in New York to collaborate musically. They’ve dreamed of this all their lives. Their joyful and productive reunion is shadowed by future uncertainty about tightening travel restrictions.  The film, a kind of extended road trip in the two countries, takes a palpably intimate look at the frustrating, passionate, humorous and musically inspired lives these brothers lead. It serves up delight after delight—dazzling shots of Havana and a mesmerizing score composed by Aldo López-Gavilán, performed with Ilmar, with guest appearances by Joshua Bell and the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet.  If their names sound familiar, Aldo performed twice locally at Festival Napa Valley Festival. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Investigative journalist Matt Bloomberg in a scene from the documentary “Current Sea.”

Current Sea

This environmental documentary thriller from director Christopher Smith follows Australian investigative journalist Matt Blomberg and ocean activist and former British police officer Paul Ferber to Cambodia where illegal fishing in the Gulf of Thailand has depleted the sea of fish and threatened Cambodian fishermen. As the two men team up to create a marine conservation area and combat the relentless tide of illegal fishing, they face danger and unexpected obstacles. Along the way, a new generation of Cambodian environmentalists are inspired to create better lives. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

A scene from Michal Sulima’s, “Piano to Zanskar.”

Piano to Zanskar

Warsaw-born Michal Sulima’s indie debut, Piano to Zanskar, is the ultimate film for MVFF’s cause and adventure-oriented audience, proving you’re never too old to do something completely insane, incredibly generous, noble, and beautiful. It follows 65 year-old piano tuner Desmond “Gentle” O’Keefe and Anna and Harald, his two eccentric young assistants, as they embark on an arduous trip by foot and yaks across the Indian Himalayas. Their mission: to deliver a 100-year-old, 80-kilogram, upright piano, from bustling London to the remote village of Lingshed, in Khalsi tehsil, India. Why? Because Lingshed needs a piano. When Desmond reassembles the instrument, it becomes the highest piano in the world and everybody is united by the magic of music. You’ll find yourself laughing and crying in equal measures at the irresistible trio that pulled this off. I often wondered where was the camera to so expertly capture the grandeur of this mountainous area, a soaring maze of passes and gorges. And the marvel of Lingshed, an isolated community stuck in centuries past because there is no road linking them to civilization. They have no need for money, cell phone or televisions. This doc took grand prize at the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival 2019.  (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Vintner, Hélène Thibon in her vineyard.

Weed & Wine

This timely and beautifully crafted doc from Emmy-winning Rebecca Richman Cohen focuses on two agricultural families on different continents who have been working their land for generations. The Thibon family are winemakers from France’s Southern Rhone region while the Jodrey family grow newly legalized state-certified organic cannabis in California’s Humboldt County. Worlds apart these families have shared concerns about sustainability, climate change, adapting their businesses to change and to succession to the next generation. (online screening window 10/9 –10/18)

Details:  MVFF43 runs October 8 -18, 2020.  All tickets are sold online. Virtual — $10 general, $8.50 California Film Institute members. Drive-in — $40 per vehicle, $35 members. To browse films and buy tickets, visit https://www.mvff.com/

October 7, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cast your vote in DocPitch, support a non-fiction filmmaker in finishing a film—voting closes Wed midnight

Filmmakers Kenji Yamamoto and Nancy Kelly hope to win $25,000 from DocPitch to help fund “Startup Embassy,” which follows three ambitious migrant high-tech entrepreneurs—two men from Spain and a woman from Turkey—who arrive in Silicon Valley with visions of success. They end up in a hacker house, a shared living space that welcomes fledgling entrepreneurs from all over the globe. There, hackers do constructive work, like coding, to make ends meet while working on pet projects. Putting everything on the line, they learn from one another and their struggles are laid bare, including near financial ruin and the stress of family separation.

Each spring, CFI (California Film Institute) brings awe-inspiring true-life stories to the Bay Area with its Doclands Documentary Film Festival.  Due to Covid-19, Doclands was postponed and will now take place before or in conjunction with the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), scheduled for October 8-18, 2020.

DocLands is calling on anyone who loves film to vote in DocPitch, its annual fundraising forum.  DocPitch supports filmmakers in completing a documentary already in production with cash rewards that are based on votes cast by the public and industry professionals.  So, yes, your voice matters and translates into cash, which funds an elucidating film.  There is just one day left to cast your vote for one of eight eligible film projects that will win a $25,000 Audience Choice Award.  Voting closes on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 at midnight PDT.  Winners of the Audience Choice Award and eight additional film-making grants totaling $100,000 will be announced on Friday, August 21 via a virtual conversation with the filmmakers.

Click here to view projects and to vote and to learn about the Friday’s awards announcement.  The entire process takes but a few minutes and will wet your appetite for films to come.

August 17, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off virtually Thursday evening

Maria Peters’ bio-pic, “The Conductor,” (2018) is one of four opening night films offered at SIFF2020 which opens Thursday evening to a virtual audience.  The period drama explores the difficult life of Dutch immigrant, Antonia Brico, who in the late 1920’s battled incredible sexism to become the first woman to conduct a large symphony orchestra, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Other opening night offerings include the world premiere of “Elephant Refugees,” Louise Hogarth’s documentary about the first community-owned elephant sanctuary in eastern Botswana, where 60 percent of Africa’s elephants live; “I am Woman,” Unjoo Moon’s biopic of the iconic Australian singer, Helen Reddy and her breakout 70’s feminist anthem; and Rajita Shaw’s culinary tale, “Love Sarah.”

Originally scheduled in March but postponed due to Covid-19 outbreak; the 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF2020) is screening to a virtual audience this Thursday, July 30 through Sunday, August 2, 2020.  Theoretically, you can stream the full program of 110 features and shorts, from the comfort of your couch.  Figuring out access issues in advance is key to a pleasant experience, so plan ahead.  The festival has partnered with Eventive so that films can be viewed on home computers and devices as well as televisions.  You first purchase a pass or individual ticket at SIFF’s website which will “unlock” a film so that you can add it your Eventive festival account.

It is essential to test Eventive’s virtual cinema technology in advance.  Eventive has several test films prepared for this purpose.  I will be watching from from two homes and will have a laptop open to my Eventive festival account and will be playing the films on that laptop.  At the home where I have a smart TV, I will be mirroring the laptop over my wifi.  At the home with a regular TV, I will be connecting my laptop to my TV’s HDMI port.  The HDMI port will allow the TV to watch the laptop over the cable.

Passes and tickets:  A pass which allows access to 110 films is $75 and single films are $10.  Many films are available for viewing throughout the entire festival but several films have time-specific streaming windows.

Heads Up!  A few films have caps on tickets.  Tom Dolby’s feature drama, “The Artist’s Wife,” starring Lena Olin and Bruce Dern as a couple facing the onset of dementia as the painter/husband (Dern) is preparing for a huge retrospective, is nearing capacity.

For those who purchased tickets to special culinary and wine events, SIFF continues to ask for patience instead of refund requests while efforts are made to reschedule these after Covid concerns are at bay.

For film descriptions, trailers, screening time slots and to purchase passes or tickets, visit: http://www.sonomafilmfest.org

 

 

 

July 29, 2020 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SIFF2020 is postponed due to COVID-19 risk

“Born a King,” SIFF2020’s opening night feature, was slated to screen at Sonoma’s historic Sebastiani Theater on March 26.  Shot in the UK and Saudi Arabia, the Spanish co-production is the coming of age story of the future King Faisal (played by Abdullah Ali), who in 1919 was sent to on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to England by his warrior father, Prince Abdul Aziz.   His task was to resolve issues around the unification of Saudi Arabia.  At the time, England was fostering dissent by selling weapons to numerous Saudi tribes to encourage warring among themselves instead of collaboration.  The story follows the 14 year-old Arab prince from the Arabian desert to cosmopolitan England where he encounters Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill, and Princess Mary.  SIFF2020 will feature over 90 films, including indie features, docs, world cinema and shorts.

Originally scheduled for March 25-29, 2020, the 23rd Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF2020) has joined the ranks of North Bay cultural organizations that have postponed programming due to COVID-19 concerns.  The move makes sense for this beloved high-end festival which prides itself on film shown in intimate venues and partying in close quarters.  SIFF’s renowned Backlot tent features lavish self-serve buffet tables with local delicacies as well as wine from Sonoma vintners and trendy beverages.  Festival Director Kevin McNeely promises “We’ll be back.”  For those who have purchased passes or tickets to special culinary and wine events, the festival is asking for patience instead of requests for refunds. Check SIFF’s website for updates on the new date: http://www.sonomafilmfest.org

 

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Film, Food | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The SF Jewish Film Festival moves to the Smith Rafael Film Center on Friday—beautiful, small, dramatic stories

Internationally acclaimed writer-director, and two-time Israeli Ophir Award winner  Dani Menkin will be in attendance at SFJFF39 in San Rafael Sunday afternoon for an audience Q & A for his new documentary, Picture of His Life (2019), which he co-directed with Yonatan Nir.  The film follows Amos Nachoum, the world-renowned underwater still photographer as attempts to fulfill the most challenging shoot of his 35-year-long career—to photograph a polar bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.  Throughout his career, Nachoum has taken huge risks to get the images that no one else in the world has been able to capture.  The creation of this exciting and gorgeously shot documentary required a skill set that carries its own thrilling story.  Image: courtesy PRX, San Francisco

The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) comes to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center Friday through Sunday (Aug 2-4) with 15 of its most popular films from its 10-day run at the Castro Theater in July.  With just four of the 15 films from the US, this mini-fest  features a wide slate of stories from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Russia, and the UK.   What’s Jewish about the programming can be quite nuanced: the festival has been designed to appeal to a wide range of interests and diverse identities.

The mini-fest kicks off Friday afternoon with two films that have screened in the Bay Area before but are well worth seeing if you missed them: James Freedman’s documentary, Carl Laemmle (2018), which tells the extraordinary story of the German-Jewish immigrant who practically invented the movie business by starting Universal Pictures in 1912 and then went to rescue over 300 Jewish refugee families from the Holocaust and Alamork Davidian’s Fig Tree (2018), a sensitive first feature told through the eyes of a 16-year-old Ethiopian Jewish teenager in the throws of the Ethiopia’s 1989 Civil War who is offered safe immigration to Israel but becomes frantic with worry over those she will leave behind.

Below are my recommendations for films that have something special:

Dolce Fine Giornata (Friday, 6:20 pm)

Kasia Smutniak, Antonio Catania and Krystyna Janda in a still from Jacek Borcuch’s Dolce Fine Giornata (2019).  Image: courtesy SFJFF

This Polish film about expats living in Italy hits several of our hot-topic buttons—immigration, terrorism, nationalism—and it’s set in gorgeous Tuscany.  It offers a complex and very stimulating moral drama that features Polish film star Krystyna Janda in a role that earned her a Special Jury Award for Acting at Sundance.  She plays Maria Linda, a Polish Nobel Laureate poet who is living la dolce vita in Tuscany with her Italian husband, Antonio, and her single daughter and two grand-kids.  She is also involved with Nazeer, a young Egyptian émigré who runs a taverna in town.  Everything comes crashing down when Maria accepts an award and gives a speech with some ill-thought out inflammatory words that seem to suggest she’s endorsing a recent terrorist act as a form of artistic expression.  As her words go viral, Maria refuses to fully explain herself and the backlash escalates, implicating those she cares about most. (Poland, 2019, 96 min, in Italian w/ English subtitles) Screens: Friday, 6:20 pm

Standing Up, Falling Down (Saturday, 4:05 pm)

Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal in a still from Matt Ratner’s feature debut Standing Up, Falling Down (2019), which has is West Coast debut at SFJFF 39. Image: courtesy SFJFF

When stand-up comedian Scott (Ben Schwartz) strikes out in the Los Angeles comedy scene, the affable millennial is forced to return with his tail between his legs to his parents’ home on Long Island.  Everyone in his circle has moved on to adult life and he keeps running into Becky, the girlfriend he ditched when he left for the West Coast who is now married.  Confronted with with the prospect of finding a real job, aimless Scott hits the local bars and makes a connection with Marty (Billy Crystal) a dermatologist and alcoholic who is in a rut of his own making.  The two manage to forge a supportive friendship that provides the platform for moments of brilliant interaction between the two and for Crystal’s magnetic genius to shine. (USA, 2019, 91minutes, English)

Picture of His Life (Sunday 4:15pm)

Underwater photographer Amos Nachoum in a still from Picture of His Life (2019). Image: courtesy SFJFF

Everyone processes their inner demons in different ways.  The world’s most renowned underwater photographer, Amos Nachoum, swims with crocodiles, leopard seals, killer whales, anacondas and great whites to snap some of the most breathtaking close-up photos of these creatures in existence.  With a thrilling documentary that was 10 years in the making,  Israeli documentarians Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, follow Nachoum, 65, on a treacherous expedition to Baker Lake in the Canadian Arctic where, working with local Inuits, he attempts to fulfill his final photographic dream—to photograph a polar bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.   As the journey unfolds, so does Nachoum’s intimate and painful story of dedication, sacrifice and personal redemption.  In addition to the breathtaking journey North, testimonies of famous scuba divers and wildlife experts are set against iconic images of sea creatures that Amos created throughout his career.  Director Dani Menkin in person for a Q&A. (Israel, 2019, 75 minutes, in Hebrew w/ English subtitles)

Leona (Sunday, 8:35 pm)

Naian González Norvind and Christian Vazquez in a scene from Isaac Cherem’s Leona (2018).  Photo: courtesy SFJFF

Spanish director Isaac Cherem’s debut feature Leona has its Northern CA premiere at SFJFF.  Naian González Norvind co-wrote the film and picked up the Best Actress award at the Morelia International Film festival for her performance as Ariela, a 25 year-old Syrian Jewish street artist from Mexico City who is striving to lead the expressive and free-spirited life of an artist in a conservative and somewhat closed community.  Facing pressure to find a suitable life partner, sparks fly when she meets Ivan, a non-Jewish writer.  The decision to follow her heart will come with a price and Ariela is confronted throughout with the demands of growing up and asserting her own identity.  Norvind delivers a triumphant performance that is in perfect sync with the film’s title “Leona,” the Spanish word for lioness.  (Mexico, 2018, 94 minutes, Spanish w/ English subtitles)

Details:  The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Marin segment is Friday, August 2- Sunday, August 4, 2019. 14 films, each screening once, with 4 to 5 screenings daily.  Tickets: $15 (General Admission), $14 (students and seniors with ID), $12 JFI (Jewish Film Institute) members (JFI membership info here.) Purchase tickets in advance at jfi.org/sfjff-2019 or day of the show at the Smith Rafael.

Marin Passes: Marin Passes ($100 JFI members / $125 general public) available online here.

July 30, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adoptees piece together Korean identities that bind them to a homeland they never knew: Deann Borshay Liem’s “Geographies of Kinship” has its world premiere Sunday at CAAMFest 2019

Emmy-winning Bay Area filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem (L) and subject Estelle Cooke-Sampson (R), a retired general and state surgeon for the District of Columbia National Guard, at Cooke-Sampson’s home in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C..  Liem’s new documentary, “Geographies of Kinship,” (2019) has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2019 and is the festival’s closing night film.  Cooke-Sampson was adopted from a Korean orphanage at age 6 and raised in the U.S.  She is one of over 200,000 South Korean children adopted from Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-53) and part of a much smaller pool of mixed-race children whose parentage was a source of stigma in Korea.  After years of searching, Cooke-Sampson found a picture of herself as a child in a Korean orphanage, but she still knows little about her birth parents except that her birth father was most likely an African-American soldier.  Liem, Cooke-Sampson, and subject adoptee-activist Kim Stoker will be in attendance.  Image: Allison Shelley, courtesy of CAAMFest

Bay Area filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem’s new documentary Geographies of Kinship aptly has its world premiere this Sunday (May 19) at CAAMFest 2019, the annual festival that showcases Asian American filmmakers and artists and Asian stories from all over the globe.  Borshay Liem is an ARThound favorite.  I’ve written about her award-winning adoption documentaries “In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee” (2010) and First Person Plural (2000), both of which explored her own adoption story and the reconciling of her Korean and American identities.  She has a remarkable gift for weaving together personal stories to create a living tapestry of collective history and, through her films, she has brought crucial awareness of the tensions within many Korean adoptees over their experiences.

Geographies of Kinship explores yet another facet of Korean adoption.   Borshay Liem tracks four adult adoptees who were raised in foreign families as they return to South Korea to reclaim their personal histories and make sense of the complex trajectories of their lives.  The stories are all immensely captivating, revealing the lifelong emotional struggles that many adoptees (Korean or not) face around identity and the struggles that are unique to trans-racial adoptees.  She employs riveting images—black and white newsreel clips, U.S. military footage, archival photos, propaganda posters—to frame the complex political, social and historical forces that set the post-war Korean adoption machine in motion and its messy aftermath.  Stay tuned to ARThound: I interviewed Liem last week and will be posting the interview shortly.

Details:  Geographies of Kinship (80 min) screens twice at CAAMFest 2019— Sunday, May 19, 2019, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Roxie Theater,  3117 16th Street, San Francisco. Expected guests:  Deann Borshay Liem (Director), Estelle Cooke-Sampson (Subject) and Kim Stoker (Subject). Purchase $20 tickets direct from CAAMFest here.

 

May 17, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFFilm Festival 2019—here are the films to see this weekend

All the way from Kenya! Emmy and Peabody winning filmmakers Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone will be at the San Francisco’s Castro Theater in conversation for Saturday’s screening of their stirring new documentary, The Elephant Queen. The film follows the impact of drought on Athena, a 50-year-old giant husker elephant matriarch and her youngsters who are forced to undertake a perilous migration across the savanna to ensure their survival. No ordinary nature film, this was four years in the making.  Deeble’s intimate cinematography shines a light on the refined intelligence and distinct personalities of these unforgettable animals as well as the interrelationships of various species they co-exist with.  Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor with extraordinary shots of the elephants and their animal world, this film will resonate on the big screen with a huge audience and engaging conversation about the chain of survival. Photo: Deeble & Stone Productions

SFFilm Festival 2019 has been off and running since April 10.  This extraordinary showcase for cinema, now in its 62nd edition, just keeps getting better and better.  One has to wonder why it’s had such a difficult time with leadership—the latest debacle is the April 1 announcement of executive director Noah Cowan’s resignation after just five years at the helm.  Cowan rebranded the festival from the San Francisco International Film Festival to SFFilm Festival and, under his tenure, festival attendance has grown each year for the past three years according to festival sources.   This year’s festival seems to be running quite smoothly, presenting 163 films and live events from 52 countries in 36 languages with over 200 filmmakers in attendance.  As the festival enters its final weekend, there are plenty of great films to be seen.   Here are ARThound’s recommendations:

 

Friday/Berkeley: Walking on Water

A still from Andrey Panouov’s documentary, Walking on Water of famed installation artist, Christo, at the summer 2016 press opening of his and Jeanne-Claude’s “Floating Piers” project at Italy’s Lake Iseo.  Christo’s first large-scale project since “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park (2005).  Image: SFFilm

There’s something about Christo and his unflinching passion, brilliant wit and stubbornness that has enthralled the world for decades, making any film about this intriguing artist a must-see.   Bulgarian filmmaker Andrey Paounov’s The Floating Piers (2018) chronicles the evolution and realization of Christo and the late Jeanne Claude’s 2016 site-specific work, The Floating Piers, which created a golden path that stretched for two miles across northern Italy’s rustic Lake Iseo.  The idea: let people experience walking on water.  Designed as a gently undulating walkable surface, the artwork was an international sensation.  First conceived of in the 1970’s, the highly-engineered project ultimately consisted of 70,000 square meters of yellow fabric, supported by a modular floating dock system of 226,000 high-density polyethylene cubes.  Christo’s strong personality rises once again to do battle with bureaucracy, corruption, and nature.  Coming seven years after the death of his beloved co-creator and life partner, Jeanne-Claude, Christo, age 81 when the project was completed, has painstakingly regrouped and once again asserted his unique vision in a world of skeptics.  (Screens: 3 p.m., Friday, April 19, BAMPFA)

 

Friday/SF & Sunday/Oakland: Meeting Gorbachev

A still from Werner Herzog and Andre Singer’s documentary, Meeting Gorbachev (2018). Image: SFFilm.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the eight and final president of the Soviet Union, the architect of Perestroika and Glasnost, sits down with iconoclastic filmmaker Werner Herzog to discuss his life and achievements in the fascinating documentary Meeting Gorbachev, co-directed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer.  As might be expected, it’s an engaging battle of wits as Herzog tries to pierce the Russian’s psyche and Gorbachev emerges resilient, preferring to curate his own story.  Broadening the perspective are interviews with former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, the Bay Area’s George Schultz, and Horst Teltschik, former national security adviser to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during the reunification period.  Walesa’s shrewd assessment of Gorbachev’s critical errors seem to resonate even more when we hear then live but, most likely, you’ll come away with a sense of Gorbachev’s charisma and leadership skills.  (Screens: 9 p.m., Friday, April 19, Creativity, SF, and 5 p.m., Sunday, April 21, Grand Lake, Oakland)

 

Friday/SF & Saturday/Berkeley: Honeyland

A still from Macedonian co-directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s documentary Honeyland, which won the grand jury award at Sundance. Photo: SFFIlm

Macedonian filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s documentary, Honeyland focuses on Hatidze Muratova, the last of Macedonia’s nomadic beekeepers and shines a light on the fragile and deeply poetic relationship between her and her hives.  Hatidze’s harmonious way of life is interrupted when a Turkish family shows up in her remote mountainous stomping grounds and disrespects her sustainable beekeeping practices to turn a quick profit.  Shot by a six person crew who lived beside her for three years, this tender documentary delicately captures a life rarely depicted on screen and sheds light on threats to our environmental balance from an entirely different perspective.  It also features mesmerizing cinematography of rural Macedonia, a land so blessed by the gods that its name and status has been the subject of bitter dispute for centuries. (Screens: 6 p.m., Friday, April 19, Victoria, SF, and 1:30 p.m., Saturday, April 20, BAMPFA, Berkeley)

 

Saturday/ San Francisco: The Elephant Queen

A still from Ralph Deeble and Victoria Stone’s documentary, The Elephant Queen (2018). Image: SFFilm.

Vaguely, we know it happens—the annual migration of animals in Africa.  And we assume that as climate change continues to wreak havoc on weather patterns, the stakes are getting higher and higher for animals in the wild.  Kenya-based filmmakers’ Ralph Deeble and Victoria Stone’s documentary, The Elephant Queen is a miraculous testament to the ingenuity of animals in the face of unprecedented threats from nature and mankind.  It took four years of living alongside elephants in the African savanna to make their film, which tells the story of the life and death struggle of Athena, a 50 year-old giant tusker elephant as she makes critical decisions to help her family survive during a season drought in Kenya.  Filmmakers Ralph Deeble and Victoria Stone in attendance.  (Screens: noon, Saturday, April 20, Castro)

 

Sunday/Oakland:  world premiere, We Believe in Dinosaurs

A still from Clayton Brown and Monica Long’s documentary We Believe in Dinosaurs (2019), about creationism, assembling the contents of Noah’s Ark and America’s perplexing views of science.  Image: SFFilm

Shot over the course of three years, this exceptional doc recounts how the rural community of Williamston, Kentucky, planted firmly in the Bible Belt, supported the creation of a $100 million, 510 foot-long replica of Noah’s Ark, replete with the all the creatures they imagine would have been in the ark.  Their theme park venture, Ark Encounter, was meant to debunk evolution and increase tourism to their community.   Filmmakers Clayton Brown and Monica Long follow the designers and builders of the ark, from the blue prints phase to opening day and present an eye-opening glimpse into all the assumptions and decisions that are made along the way, talking with both proponents and protestors.  Inside the theme park are exhibits showing how the universe is roughly 6,000 years old and how dinosaurs walked with early man.  The assertion is made that dinosaurs were on board Noah’s Ark during the great flood.  Both state and local government got behind the project, questioning the separation of church and state.  Filmmakers Brown and Long will in attendance for what should be a riveting Q & A.  (Screens: 2 p.m., Sunday, April 21 at Grand Lake Theater, Oakland)

 

Sunday/Oakland: Meeting Gorbachev

A still from Werner Herzog and Andre Singer’s documentary, Meeting Gorbachev (2018). Image: SFFilm.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the eight and final president of the Soviet Union, the architect of Perestroika and Glasnost, sits down with iconoclastic filmmaker Werner Herzog to discuss his life and achievements in the fascinating documentary Meeting Gorbachev, co-directed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer.  As might be expected, it’s an engaging battle of wits as Herzog tries to pierce the Russian’s psyche and Gorbachev emerges resilient, preferring to curate his own story.  Broadening the perspective are interviews with former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, the Bay Area’s George Schultz, and Horst Teltschik, former national security adviser to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during the reunification period.  (Screens: 5 p.m., Sunday, April 21, Grand Lake, Oakland)

 

Sunday/San Francisco: Official Secrets, Closing Night Film

Keira Knightley in a still from Gavin Hood’s political thriller Official Secrets (2019), SFSFilm Festival’s 2019 Closing Night Film. Image: SFFilm

Keira Knightley stars in Gavin Hood’s exciting thriller Official Secrets (2019) as Katharine Gun, the real-life British intelligence translator-turned-whistleblower who leaked classified documents revealing how the U.S. intended to strong-arm the U.N. Security Council into backing the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Outraged by a confidential staff email about coercing small countries to vote for a UN Iraq War resolution, she leaks the email to the British press and, after her identity is revealed, she is charged with treason.  The cast couldn’t be better—Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans.  This promises to be an enthralling real-life thriller that will surely hit Bay Area’s theaters but there’s something extra special about SFFilm’s big nights that makes the experience memorable.  (Screens: 8 p.m., Sunday, April 21, Castro)

Details: The 2019 SFFilm Festival is April 10-23, 2019.  Most films are $16 and big nights, awards, tributes, and special events are priced higher.   Advanced ticket purchase is essential as most of the screenings and events sell out.  For full program information and online ticket purchase, visit sffilm.org.  Plan on arriving 30 minutes before each screening to ensure that you are seated in the theater.

April 18, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 22nd Sonoma International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday—here are your must-see’s

Luminous, emotional, dazzling…if you see just one of SIFF’s 123 films, see Yuli!  Directed by Catalan filmmaker Icíar Bollaín (Take My Eyes) and written by Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake) with cinematography by Alex Catalán, this bio-pic follows Cuban dance super-star, Carlos Acosta, from his early life in an impoverished Havana neighborhood as he defies all odds and becomes the first black artist to perform as Romeo at the Royal Ballet in London. Acosta goes on to dance in the world’s leading companies and form his own dance company in Havana.  Bollaín masterfully conveys the pride, frustration and contradictions of living in Castro’s Cuba.  Wonderful performances by Carlos Acosta and the participation of the Acosta Danza Company will raise your heart beat.

Ask anyone who makes the film festival circuit and they’ll tell you that the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) tops their list for the “best time” fests–good film, incredible atmosphere, great parties and music, and the Backlot tent’s superb food and unending flow of wine and craft booze.  The 22nd edition of this gem kicks off Wednesday, March 27, with an opening-night reception at the Backlot Tent from 5 to 7 pm, followed by two screenings of Bruce Beresford’s new period drama, Ladies in Black. SIFF continues in full force Thursday through Sunday offering some 123 films from 31 countries with an anticipated 200 filmmakers in attendance who will participate in on stage interviews and audience Q&A’s.  All films are shown at seven intimate venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza so there’s no driving, just meandering charming streets where all the plants are beginning their glorious spring bloom.

SIFF has lots to offer both locals and destination visitors.  Festival passes are the way to go if you’re interested in easy access to films, the marvelous parties, and the Backlot tent.  If you want to see a few films, single tickets are $15 when purchased in advance.  SIFF caters heavily to pass holders and offers just a limited number of individual tickets for many of its films.  Lock in those tickets right now before they are snapped up.  Click here to read about all the pass options and price points.

Here are ARThound’s festival recommendations:

OPENING NIGHT (WED):  Ladies in Black

Australian director Bruce Beresford’s drama Ladies in Black stars Julia Ormond and Angourie Rice and powerfully recreates the postwar culture of 1950’s Sydney.  It took Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Tender Mercies (1983)) 24 years to bring the story to the big screen but it has become Australia’s highest grossing film, ever.  Photo: Sony Pictures, Lisa Tomasetti

Based on Madeleine St. John’s 1993 debut novel The Women in Black, Ladies in Black is set in 1959 Sydney at a time when European migration and the women’s movement are starting to impact Australiaand offers an upbeat reflection on the impact of immigration and integration.  Julia Ormond (Mad Men) stars as Magda, a wise and sophisticated Slovenian emigre who heads the evening wear section of a large department store.  She, along with several other immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, are vital to the store’s success.  Angourie Rice plays the fresh faced and adorable student, Lisa, who lands a temporary job at the store and ends up working alongside these glamorous and self-assured women who encourage her to embrace fashion and to empower herself.  SIFF always pairs shorts with features.  Screening first is Domee Shi’s 8 minute animated film Bao about a dumpling that springs to life as a lively growing boy and gives a weary Chinese mom a life lesson.

Beauty and Ruin (THURS)

A still from Marc de Guerre’s feature documentary Beauty and Ruin of school children at the Detroit Institute of Art. Photo: courtesy Subject Chaser Films

How much does art matter to a city on the verge of distinction?  Canadian director Marc de Guerre’s latest feature documentary explores the fate of the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA), one of America’s great art museums, in the wake of the city’s 2013 bankruptcy.  With a debt approaching $18.5 billion in 2014, and the DIA the largest asset the city of Detroit owns outright, a bitter brawl emerges over whether the city-owned artworks should be sold to pay down the debt.  DIA housed 66,000 artworks, including an irreplaceable collection of European masterpieces from Titian, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Bellini, Brueghel, Tintoretto, Fra Angelico and dozens of others. Most of these were bought during the 30-year period, a century ago, when Detroit was the center of American industry.  No other American museum the size of the institute has ever confronted such a threat to the integrity of its collection.  Emotions and racial tensions reach their zenith when it is revealed that the pending bankruptcy has put the pensions of retired city workers are at risk.  This thorough unpacking of the museum’s story includes interviews with all the key players—the DIA director, the Emergency Manager of Detroit, the retirees, an activist Baptist pastor and acclaimed artist Charles McGee.  Screens: Thursday March 28, 6:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. Open to festival pass-holders only.

Botero: (THURS and FRI)

A still from Don Millar’s documentary, Botero, the definitive documentary profile of the life and work of Fernando Botero, one of the world’s most recognized living artists.   Image: Hogan Millar Media

Directed by Canadian film and television director, Don Millar (Oil Slick, Full Force, Off the Clock), Botero offers a poetic behind-the-scenes look at the life and art of the 86-year-old self-taught Colombian painter and sculptor whose unique style always evokes strong reactions.  Art critic Rosalind Krauss of Columbia University calls his work “terrible,” while others offer praise and penetrating insight into his oeuvre, calling Botero’s critics intellectual snobs.  Don Millar lets you decide.  Either way, Botero’s story is fascinating.  Born in provincial Medellin, Colombia, in 1932, he arrived in New York as a young artist with $200 in his pocket.  Through a stroke of luck, he meets a curator whose connections get him into MOMA and, all of a sudden, he is famous. “I like fullness, generosity, sensuality” says Botero.  “Reality is rather dry.”  The audience learns that, even today, Botero is happiest in his Monaco studio where he says he is still learning as he strives to be the best painter in the world, because “my life is to paint.”  The film weaves together original footage shot in 10 cities across China, Europe, New York and Colombia, with decades of family photos and archival footage alongside unprecedented access to the artist.  Screens:  Thursday, March 28, 4:14 p.m., Landmark Vineyards at Andrews Hall and Friday, March 29, 3:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

 

Yuli (THURS & SAT)

A still from Icíar Bollaín’s Yuli with Edilson Manuel Olbera as the young Carlos Acosta.  Yuli won the Best Screenplay Award at San Sebastian and has gone on to receive five nominations for the Spanish ‘Goya’ awards including Best New Actor for Carlos Acosta, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay.

It’s very difficult to pull off a drama about dance where the acting is an engaging as the dance itself.  Icíar Bollaín has done it with a riveting drama set largely in Castro’s Cuba with astonishing dance scenes and bursts of family drama.  Sit back and soak in the artistry of the astounding Carlos Acosta.  (In Spanish with English subtitles) Screens: Thursday March 28, 1 p.m., Burlingame Hall and Saturday, March 30, 11:30 a.m., Meyer Sound & Dolby Hall at Vets I)

 

Yellow is Forbidden (FRI and SAT)

Chinese designer Guo Pei’s international breakthrough moment was designing Rihanna’s golden gown for the 2015 Met Gala. The 55 pound dress took 100 workers 50,000 hours to create and became one of the most talked about dresses in history. Pietra’s Brettkelly’s documentary explores Guo Pei’s rise to fame and her unique way of interpreting her aesthetic history.  Photo: Getty Images

New Zealand documentarian Pietra Brettkelly (A Flickering Truth, 2015) has created a fascinating and intimate portrait of fashion designer Guo Pei that also speaks to the energy and aesthetic of a rapidly evolving China.  She tracks Guo Pei just as she has burst onto the international scene—when Rihanna wore her hand-embroidered canary yellow gown to the Met Gala in 2015—through her remarkable 2017 show “Legend,” presented at La Conciergerie, in Paris, where Guo Pei proved to the world that she had penetrated haute couture’s most elite circle.  The film takes us into Pei’s life, connecting the dots between her life experiences and aesthetic expression—her upbringing in the Cultural Revolution; her relationship with Cao Bao Jie, her husband and partner; her elderly parents who don’t grasp the scope of her talent, her A-list clients, and her team of craftsmen and embroiderers.  Her world is one of struggle, passionate dreaming and a constant balancing of her artistic passions with the financial reality of running a business.  Ample attention is devoted to her atelier, where she obsesses over the handcrafting of garments that can take over two years to create.  Pei is a curious mix of old and new, a balancing of East and West with an absolutely unique way of interpreting her aesthetic history.  (97 min, in Chinese and French with English subtitles.) Screens:  Friday, March 29, 2019, noon, Andrews Hall, and Saturday, March 30, 2:15 p.m., Vintage House

 

Restaurant from the Sky: (FRI and SUN)

A sill from Yoshihiro’s food drama, Restaurant in the Sky (2019). Photo: SIFF

Yoshihiro Fukagawa has made a number of dramas that tenderly explore human emotions against the gourmet food backdrop.  Restaurant in the Sky unfolds on a bucolic cattle ranch in Setana, Hokkidao where Wataru (Yo Oizumi) lives with his wife Kotoe (Manami Honjou) and his daughter, Shiori.  He inherited the cattle ranch from his father and he also runs a cheese workshop but he lacks passion.  He enjoys hanging out with his sheep farmer friend Kanbe (Masaki Okada) who moved to the area from hectic Tokyo.  After a chef from a famous Sapporo restaurant visits and praises Waturu’s produce and creates a masterful farm-to-table meal with ingredients sourced the ranch, Wataru has his ahh-hah moment.  He will open a restaurant for only one day to let people know about Setana’s wonderful food.  This is a goal that unites the family and community but suddenly a tragedy occurs.  (126 min, in Japanese with English subtitles)  Screens: Friday, March 29, 9 a.m., Sebastiani and Sunday, March 31, 1:45 p.m., Sebastiani

Details: The 22nd Sonoma International Film Festival is Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, March 31, 2019.  For information, tickets, festival passes, prices, and benefits visit www.sonomafilmfest.org.

March 22, 2019 Posted by | Art, Film, Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment