ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.

 

Advertisements

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

Straight from Ai Weiwei’s Playlist—“Turn It On,” docs related to SFMOMA’s China exhibit you can stream at home for free or catch at SFMOMA

A still from Zhang Bingjian’s 2009 documentary, Readymade, screening January 24 at SFMOMA and free on Kanopy as part of SFMOMA’s Turn It On: China on Film, 2000-2017 series.  The film captures the lives of two middle-aged Mao Zedong impersonators in the PRC: Mr. Peng Tian, a 46-year-old farmer from Mao’s home town in Hunan Province who walks into the Beijing Film Academy one day in full Mao dress to study film acting; and Chen Yan, a 51-year-old housewife from Sichuan Province and the only female Mao impersonator in China.  Zhang’s coverage of her life, both onstage and off, reveals the struggle she has with her husband and daughter who disapprove of her impersonating Mao and refuse to support her.  The film tackles the continuing cult of personality of Mao Zedong as a cultural icon, and the mixed feelings stirred up in different generations when they are confronted with him “alive” again through his impersonators. Image: Zhang Bingjian

SFMOMA’s groundbreaking China exhibit, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World has entered its final month; it closes Sunday, February 24, 2019.  Bracketed by the end of the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989 and the Beijing Olympics of 2008, the exhibit showcases 100+ works by more than 60 artists and collectives that anticipated and reacted to China’s sweeping and turbulent transformation to a global superpower in the new millennium.   Through documented performances and socially engaged projects, paintings, photographs, installations, and videos, the exhibit explores how artists such as Cao Fei, Huang Yong Ping and Ai Weiwei acted as catalysts for change, critically questioning the massive changes all around them.  The exhibit, which caused such a stir at the Guggenheim due to three artworks which outraged animal rights activists, has been accompanied by a number of special programs at SFMOMA.

The film series, Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017, is exceptional.  Curated by Ai Weiwei and filmmaker Wang Fen, the series had its genesis at the Guggenheim, NY.  It was suggested by Ai Weiwei to the Guggenheim exhibition curator Alexandra Munroe as a means of helping people further understand China and the history and current state of its contemporary art.  Weiwei invited documentary filmmaker Wang Fen to collaborate.

A still from Wang Jiuliang’s 2016 doc, Plastic China, about China’s plastic waste industry through the eyes and hands of those who handle it.  After visiting a huge recycling plant in Oakland and learning that the US and many other developed countries, even in Asia, export their plastic waste to China, Jiuliang wanted to understand what happens to imported plastic waste once it arrives in China.  Six years in the making, his film documents the dirty downside of China’s capitalist surge as it explores a gnarly plastic recycling facility in a small town, dedicated to the business of processing plastic waste. The facility, one of 5,000 unregulated recycling plants operating in that town alone, is operated by two families in a tense relationship—the family of the owner and a family of employees.  Eleven-year-old Yi-Jie works in squalor alongside her parents while dreaming of attending school.  She pulls enticing ads, toys and everyday items from the trash to eek out a secondhand life. Kun, the facility’s ambitious foreman, hopes for a better life.  Screens: Saturday, January 26 at 3 p.m. at SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater.

 

Turn it On Screenings remaining at SFMOMA:

Since January 10, SFMOMA has been screening selections from this film series at its plush Phyllis Wattis Theater for free (each film requires an RSVP).  There are five screenings remaining and all are in mandarin with English subtitles:

Readymade, Thursday, Jan 24, 6 p.m.  This 90 min film is part of SFMOMA 101, an going SFMOMA free program which invites local thinkers to the museum for a stimulating conversation about art with an introduction by a SFMOMA curator.  At 5 p.m., Abby Chen, curator and artistic director at the, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, will speak.  She will be introduced by Eungie Joo, SFMOMA curator of contemporary art.

Falling from the Sky, Saturday, Jan 26, noon (film runs 145 min)

Plastic China, Sat, Jan 26, 3 p.m.  (film runs 82  min)

Prisoners in Freedom City, Sun, Jan 27, noon (film runs 36 min)

Garden in Heaven, Sun, Jan 27, 1 p.m. (film runs 200 min)

 

Free Streaming of the series via Kanopy:

How exciting that SFMOMA has partnered with Kanopy, the library streaming service to host 16 films in the series for free online viewing through February 24, when the exhibit closes.  Anyone who has library card from one of the thousands of public and university libraries Kanopy partners with can stream the films for free.  I used my Sonoma County Library account.   To sign up for a Kanopy account, and more information about Kanopy, click here.

Some films in the series are long, so we can be especially thankful for the chance to view them at home.  Ai Xiaoming’s engrossing Jiabiangou Elegy: Life and Death of the Rightists (2015) about the persecution of inmates at the Jiabiangou Labor Camp where 2,000 died, is split into six segments and runs 409 minutes.  Xu Xin’s Karamay: Memories of a Terrible Tragedy (2010) about the fire that claimed 323 lives at a theater performance in 1994, runs 356 min.

Ironically, no films in this series were made between 1989-2000, the critical years the exhibit covers.   All films are from 2000-2017.  In a 2017 interview for China Film Insider (click here), Wang Fen explained this is because “very few people had access to equipment back then. The rare few who had access were people who worked for state-owned film & TV studios. These people had very little interest in making the type of documentaries that couldn’t be distributed and wouldn’t be backed by their studios. Around 2000, home video cameras suddenly became available and affordable, which led many young filmmakers to start making films on the subjects they care about.”

Details:  Turn it On: China on film 2000-2017 runs through Sunday, January 27, 2019 at SFMOMA.  Screenings are free but require RSVP.   The series also can also be streamed free on Kanopy.

Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World runs through February 24, 2019 at SFMOMA.  Free entry with general admission. Tickets: free for SFMOMA members; $25 adults; $22 65 and older; $19 19-24 years; free 18 and under.  Save time and buy tickets online before coming to SFMOMA.

January 23, 2019 Posted by | Art, Film, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bernardo Ruiz’s “Harvest Season,” introduces the unsung Latino and Mexican-American heroes of Napa Valley’s wine industry—world premiere Saturday, MVFF41

VanessaRobledo

Vanessa Robledo, a Napa viticulturist, is profiled in Bernardo Ruiz’s documentary, Harvest Season, which was filmed in Napa and has its world premiere Saturday at MVFF41.  Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, Producer Lauren Capps and subjects Vanessa Robledo, Maria Robledo, Angel Calderon, and Gustavo Brambila will be in attendance. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

Two Latina viticulturists from Sonoma, Vanessa Robledo and her mother Maria Robledo; long-time activist for affordable farmworker housing, Angel Caldero; H-2A temporary worker from Michoacán, René Reyes Ornelas; and Napa winemaker Gustavo Brambila, all co-star in Bernardo Ruiz’s new documentary feature Harvest Season (2018), which has its world premiere at the 41st Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF41) on Saturday, October 13, 2018 and then will be shown again on Sunday, October 14, 2018.  The film is part of the festival’s ¡Viva el Cine! line-up which showcases 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language films during the course of the 10 day festival which kicks off Thursday evening.

“The big impulse for the film,” said Ruiz, speaking from his office in New York, “is that I love wine and I love Northern CA.  It took three years to make this and the film is really a love letter to immigrant Napa and the generations of people who have been working the field picking grapes and, through hard work, become entrepreneurs themselves.”

Bernardo Ruiz, director of Harvest Season. Photo courtesy: Bernardo Ruiz

This is Ruiz’s third feature documentary, following Reportero (2012), about violence against the press in Mexico for reporting on drug trafficking and government collusion and Kingdom of Shadows (2015), a front-line view into Mexico’s drug war from the perspective of three workers dealing with its fall-out.  The two-time Emmy® nominated filmmaker is also heavily involved in documentary television. When we spoke, he was hard at work on a series he was producing for documentarian Alex Gibney.

“There are so many films out there about rock-star vintners, high profile people in the industry,” said Ruiz.  “We’re trying to highlight and celebrate the behind-the-scenes players, often small producers whose roots are tied to working these fields or, in Angel’s case someone dedicated to improving the lives of workers.”

Ruiz cites two films as highly inspirational: Morgan Neville’s Oscar winning 20 feet from Stardom (2013), which focused a long-overdue spotlight on the contribution of back-up singers to musical hits, and John Else’s Sing Faster: The Stagehand’s Ring Cycle (1999) which presents Wagner’s Ring Cycle from the point of view of the stage hands at San Francisco Opera. Harvest Season tells four stories to shine a light on the hard-working individuals in Napa’s wine industry who have often propped up the rock stars and recently stepped out into their own ventures.

Ruiz was born in Guanajuato Mexico (central Mexico) to an American mother and Mexican father and moved New York when he was six and has lived there ever since. “I’m very interested in stories about immigration and the relationship between the US and Mexico.  A number of news outlets have done broad profiles of the Mexican-American and Latino vintners and, slowly, we’re starting to see more reporting about that.  Mexican-American vintners are the underdogs in the huge Napa constellation and I wanted to explore that further, bring their stories forward.

Ruiz began researching the film and doing a little shooting in Dec 2015 but the bulk of filming took place during the harvest in the summer and fall of 2017.   He filmed during the fires, which is a thread in the story but doesn’t overwhelm the film.

“I actually had an interview scheduled the 8th of October and went out to Napa and, just like everybody else, witnessed the devastation.  For the next two weeks, with various crew members, I filmed—destruction, shelters and did lots of interviews.  What impressed me was the way people mobilized so quickly, pulled together, and how particularly devastating this was to the community I was documenting.”

Vanessa Robledo, Maria Robledo

Vanessa Robledo (seated) and her mother Maria Robledo.  Image: Art & Clarity/Janna Waldinger

 

Ruiz interviewed Vanessa and Maria Robledo during an early scouting trip. “Here were these two women running a Napa vineyard. Vanessa is an accomplished entrepreneur, but she is genuine and passionate about the wine business and that passion gives her a quiet power.  They are a tiny but growing operation and tell the story of small women producers who are doing something very interesting.”

Vanessa Robledo, founder and CEO of VR Wine Business Consulting, was born in Sonoma and is a fourth generation grape grower.  As president of the Robledo Family Winery, started by her father Reynaldo Robledo, she took the winery from a 100 case producer in 1997 to a thriving 20,000 cases by 2007, over 80 percent of which was direct to consumer.  She then went on to become majority owner of the successful cult winery, Black Coyote Chateau, where she doubled the company’s production and sales.

Maria de la Luz Robledo, Vanessa’s mother, was born in Michoacán, Mexico and followed her husband, Reynaldo, to California in 1973.  She and Reynaldo worked in the fields, raised nine children, bought land, planted their own vineyards and started their own winery, opening the first tasting room in the US run by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker.

The two women joined forces following a divorce that left Maria reeling and a desire on Vanessa’s part to get back to the land and grapes.  They began improving quality, replanting, and renegotiating contracts and are really enjoying collaorating.

Angel Calderon

Angel Calderon. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

Harvest Season also explores the lifestyles and needs of vineyard workers through the stories of Angel Calderon, who has been active on the housing front for two decades and René Reyes Ornelas, an H-2A temporary worker from Michoacán, Mexico.

One of workers’ main concerns is affordable, safe, and convenient permanent housing.  Costs continue to rise in Napa County— the median rent is now $2,750 per month and the median home price is roughly $800,000, while many workers are paid $15-$25 an hour.  As the labor market shifts from a migrant to a year-round workforce, affordable housing is more critical than ever.  Angel Calderon immigrated to the US in 1980 and worked as a cook at Silverado Country Club and Meadowood and, even then, affordable housing was an issue.  Calderon manages River Ranch Farm Workers Housing (three housing centers) in St. Helena which provides no frills housing at roughly $14 day for farm workers and is vital in ensuring that workers needs are met.

René Reyes Ornelas

René Reyes Ornelas. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

While documenting the Mahoney harvest in Napa, Ruiz met René Reyes Ornelas, a 41 year-old Mexican farmworker who became one of his central characters.  California employs about one third of the nation’s roughly 2.5 million farmworkers. With immigration raids occurring across the state, growers and labor contractors are increasingly relying on the H-2A, or guestworker program, which permits the importation of foreign nationals into the U.S. in order to fill temporary agricultural jobs.  This was René’s second harvest in Sonoma.  The nine months he spends away from his wife and two daughters is burdensome but, in the wine country, he earns in an hour what he earns in a day driving a truck back home in Michoacán.

Gustavo Brambila

Winemaker Gustavo Brambila. Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

Gustavo Brambila is a Napa Valley winemaker who was one of the first Mexican-Americans to earn a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis.  If the name Brambila is familiar, Freddy Rodriguez portrayed him in the famous film, Bottle-Shock (2008).  Brambila was at Chateau Montelena in 1976 when the famed “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting took place that pitted the some of the finest wines in France against unknown California wines.  It was a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay created by Mike Grgich, who was then the chief winemaker at Montelena, that beat out the French white burgundies.  After the big win, Grgich branched out on his own and Brambila followed to work as winemaker and general manager for Grgich Hills. After 23 years, in 1996, Brambila created his own label Gustavo Wine.  By 2002, he had started his own winery and vineyard management company.  He does things a little differently: officially, he is based in Napa’s Crusher District and leases vineyards to get the grapes and his son runs the vineyard management company that cares for them.  This allows Brambila to operate with more freedom, less regulation and at much less cost than actual land ownership.

Ruiz is excited about the world premiere at MVFF.   “This is an indie film and, like a boutique winery, we make limited editions of things, no mass production.  It means a lot to premiere at Mill Valley, where many in the audience will be personally connected to the people we’ve profiled.”  Ruiz, so far, has invitations to at least three other film festivals, (he’s embargoed on mentioning names until Oct 10); there will be select screenings in New York and California and then the film will be broadcast nationally on PBS in spring 2019.  “We’re very interested in showing the film all over Northern CA.”

To read ARThound’s article about MVFF’s wonderful  ¡Viva el Cine! programming, with film recommendations, click here.

DetailsHarvest Season has its world premiere and screens twice at MVFF41: Saturday, Oct 13, 2 pm at Sequoia Theater and Sunday, Oct 14, 2:45 pm at Larkspur Theater.  Purchase tickets here.

October 10, 2018 Posted by | Film, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MVFF41 starts Thursday—¡VIVA EL CINE! showcases 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language films with many special guests

Special guests make a film come alive.  Cuban actor Héctor Noas will attend MVFF41 as part of ¡Viva el Cine!  Noas plays Russian cosmonaut Sergei Asimov in Ernesto Daranas Serrano’s drama Sergio and Sergei, set in 1990 Havana, and based on a real incident.  Photo: Ernesto Daranas

The forty-first edition of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF41) kicks off Thursday (Oct 4) with two big opening night films—Matthew Heineman’s bio-pic, A Private War, starring Rosamund Pike as tenacious Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and Peter Farrelly’s drama, Green Book, which takes us on a tense 1962 concert tour in the American South with Mershala Ali (Moonlight, MVFF2016) as black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lipp, his Italian-American chauffeur and bodyguard.  Starting full force Friday and running for 10 days, MVFF41 delivers an exciting line-up of the very best and latest in American indie and world cinema, with more than 300 guests in attendance. Special events—Centerpiece and Closing Night Presentations, Spotlights, Tributes, Special Premieres, the Mind the Gap Summit, Behind the Screens Panels  and intimate parties and receptions—bring the films to life, fostering engaging discussion about issues and art.

The festival’s wonderful ¡Viva el Cine! series, programmed by MVFF Senior programmer Janis Plotkin with the help of Claudia Mendoza Carruth, turns five this year.  The line-up has doubled to include 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language films and there’s even a new ¡Viva el Cine! Launch Day that brings a fiesta to the Smith Rafael Film Center.  With films from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain and the US, the series’ spellbinding storytelling and special guests make it an increasingly influential forum for the exploration of history, culture and identity.

¡Viva el Cine! Launch Day: Sunday, October 7

Coco / Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios

 

It all begins Sunday morning at the Smith Rafael Film Center with a family-friendly fiesta with live mariachi music, Day of the Dead face painting, fresh churros and hot chocolate. At 11 am, on Smith Rafael 1’s big screen, is the first Marin-ever screening of Coco, the Oscar-awarded, Pixar family favorite in Spanish with English subtitles, so that all children attending can both listen and read it.

Running concurrently in Smith Rafael 3, is the acclaimed coming of age drama, Too Late to Die Young (Tarde para morir joven), directed by Chilean Dominga Sotomyer, who will be in attendance.  This is Sotomayer’s second feature film and its set in 1990 Chile, with three main characters, ages 10, 16 and 16, who experience the pain of unrequited love and begin in their own ways to relate to the complexities of their parents’ world, all against the back-drop of a society reeling from Pinochet.

In Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Museo, Gael Garcia Bernal, plays thirty-something veterinary student, Juan Nuñez, who takes a job at the Anthropology Museum in order to support his marijuana habit.  He learns enough about the museum to come up with a plan to rob it with the help of his best friend. Image: Courtesy Alejandra Carvajal

At 2 p.m., Mexican Director Alonso Ruizpalacios will be in attendance for the screening of Museo, an art heist thriller with Gael García Bernal, based on the 1985 robbery of more than 100 Mesoamerican and Mayan artifacts from Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology.  Winner Best Screenplay award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

At 8 pm, Argentinian director Luis Ortega’s fourth feature, the engrossing biopic, The Angel (El ángel), presents a dramatized true story of angelic-looking, baby-faced young sociopath, Carlos Robledo Puch, aka “The Death Angel,” who in the 1970’s embarked on a murder spree across Argentina.

Centerpiece:  Roma,  Monday, October 8

A scene from Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Image: courtesy MVFF

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, his first film shot in Mexico, since Y tu mamá también (2001) is a meditative masterpiece on the meaning of family that screens as the festival’s Centerpiece.  Cuarón will be in attendance for an extensive on-stage conversation about this film, awarded the Golden Lion in Venice for best film and Mexico’s foreign language Oscar submission.  Set in 1970’s Mexico City, Roma follows the life of a quiet live-in indigenous housekeeper, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), and the upper middle class family that employs her.  Through a series of small moments, both humorous and poignant, there’s a slow build to mounting crisis for both Cleo and her employers.  Gorgeously shot in black and white.  Every scene and every woman seem steeped in personal memory and deep reflection.  Roma is Cuarón’s follow-up to Gravity (2013), awarded Academy Awards for directing and editing.

Harvest Season: World Premiere, Sat, October 13

Napa Valley Latina viticulturist, Vanessa Robledo, is profiled in Bernardo Ruiz’s Harvest Season.  Image: Roberto “Bear” Guerra

¡Viva el Cine! also includes films produced in the U.S. that are relevant to Latinos’ experiences here.  Benardo Ruiz’s documentary, Harvest Season, set and filmed in the Napa valley, has its world premiere at MVFF41 on Sat, October 13.  Through four stories, the film addresses the Latino and Mexican-American entrepreneurs and activists involved in the production and harvest of the grapes that go into premium California wines, small players with fascinating insights.  Shooting began in December 2015 and continued during the 2017 harvest, one of the most dramatic grape harvests in decades.  Filmmaker David Ruiz, Producer Lauren Capps, and subjects Vanessa Robledo, Maria Robledo, Angel Calderon and Gustavo Brambila will be in attendance. Screens: Sat 10/13 and Sun 10/14.

 

6 must-see films:

For recommendations, I went to Claudia Mendoza Carruth, who helped program ¡Viva el Cine!  She is well-respected for initiating and running the Sonoma International Film Festival’s Vamos Al Cine  and she regularly attends Havana’s Festival Internacional del Neuvo Cine Latinoamericano (or Havana Film Festival). (Read ARThound’s review here)  This year, she brought some of the best films from the Havana festival to MVFF and is especially excited to screen the Cuban film Sergio and Sergei with Cuban actor Héctor Noas to MVFF for an audience discussion.

“I’ve always marveled how Cuba, with all its limitations can produce such incredible cinema,” said Carruth. “It’s always been thought that it was difficult to impossible to bring Cuban films and actors here.  It’s not easy, but my attendance every year at the Havana Film Festival has enabled me to see the immense scope of films that come out of this island and the region and make connections.  I hope to really help develop MVFF’s programming.”

Sergio and Sergei

In Sergio and Sergei, Cuban actor Tomás Cao plays a ham-radio buff and downtrodden professor of Marxism in Havana who unexpectedly makes a connection with a Russian cosmonaut stuck in space. Image: Ernesto Daranas

One of the first films to come out of Cuba that has outer space effects, Ernesto Daranas Serrano’s Sergio and Sergei, is a story of human communication between Earth and the Russian Mir space station.  The engaging and very funny satirical drama is set in 1991, during a period of economic hardship for both the unraveling USSR and Cuba. Sergei (Héctor Noas) is stranded satelliting Earth on Mir space station, unable to descend and, by chance, communicates with Sergio (Tomás Cao), a ham-radio buff and professor of Marxism in Havana who is unable to support his family. A friendship forms as both men realize they share feelings of geopolitical isolation.  The film is shot in Havana.  Héctor Noas in attendance.  Screens:  Tues 10/9 and Wed 10/10.

Los Adioses

Mexican actress Actress Karina Gidi plays feminist writer Rosario Castellanos in Natalia Beristáin’s Los Adioses. Image: courtesy MVFF

Mexican filmmaker Natalia Beristáin’s second feature, Los Adioses, is a superbly acted portrait of Rosario Castellanos, one of Latin America’s greatest 20th century writers.  A poet, novelist, and essayist, Castellanos was an early supporter of women’s rights in postwar Mexico when the society was extremely patriarchal.  Her style was vulnerable, revealing, self-searching.  She struggled with balancing how to be happy in a love relationship, how to be a mother and, at the same time, how to work and assert her thoughts about the struggles of being a woman into her work.  Actress Karina Gidi, who plays the older Rosario, took home the Best Actress trophy at the Ariel Awards, Mexico’s equivalent of the Academy Awards®.  Screens: Tues 10/9 and Thurs 10/11

Virus Tropical

In Virus Tropical, Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Power Paola takes ownership of her life story, working with Colombian director and artist, Santiago Caicedo, to adapt her 2011 graphic novel to an animated film with exquisite, emotive black and white drawings. Image: Courtesy of Timbo Estudio/Santiago Cacedo/Powerpaola

Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist and Power Paola (the pen-name of Paola Gaviria) is well-known for addressing themes of sexuality, feminism, family and personal identity in her graphic novels (Por Dentro, Todo Va a Estar Bien).  Her animated autobiographical film, Virus Tropical, is an adaptation of her 2011 graphic novel of the same name.  This coming- of-age tale, set in middle class Quito, Ecuador, and Cali, Colombia, is focused on family dynamics from the perspective of Paola, a very self-aware young girl, who is the youngest child in a close-knit family of three girls.  There are intimate scenes from family dinners where she is picked on, moments of pain and loss as she confronts the shock of her father’s suddenly moving back to Colombia and reflective moments such as her sister’s wedding.  It took Paola roughly five years to create the 5,000-plus detailed black-and-white line drawings that comprise the novel. Video artist and animator Santiago Caicedo, who previously worked with Paola on the short film Uyuyui! (2011), has beautifully transferred these to the screen.  Filmmaker Power Paola in attendanceScreens: Sat 10/13 and Sun 10/14

Amalia, the Secretary

Colombian actress Marcela Benjamin in a scene from Colombian director Andrés Burgos’ comedy, Amalia the Secretary (Amalia, la secretaria, 2017).  Image: courtesy MVFF

Colombian Director Andrés Burgos has hit the sweet spot with his comedy Amalia, the Secretary (Amalia, la secretaria, 2017) played to pitch perfect rigidity by Marcela Benjamin.  The story is about Amalia, who runs the office by taking passive-aggressive swipes at everyone who crosses her path until she meets Lazaro, a maintenance temp who so intrigues her that she creates more and more work for him by breaking things. “It’s so rare in Latin America to have a very well-crafted comedy that has people doing belly laughs,” said Claudia Mendoza Carruth. “One of my favorite scenes involves Amalia, this very very rigid woman, attempting yoga.  The way her character evolves and she asserts herself in almost every situation is really special.”  Director Andrés Burgos in attendance.  Screens:  Thurs 10/11 and Fri 10/12

 

Birds of Passage

A still from Birds of Passage. Image: Quinzaine

Birds of Passage (Pájaros de verano), a crime epic, co-directed by frequent collaborators Cristina Gallego and Ciro Gallego, portrays the slow and steady destruction of a close-knit native family who gets caught up in the marijuana export business in the 1970s, and the beginnings of Colombia’s burgeoning narco-trafficking industry. The film, selected as the opener for Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, is a bit of ethnographic thriller as well introducing the Wayúu, Native Americans who live in North part of the country, in the deserts of the north-western Guajira peninsula, that many people, even native Colombians, know very little about.  At its heart, this is a family story that involves power, legend, culture, money, greed and the difficulty of honoring ancestors and customs in an increasingly modern world.  Cristina Gallego has accolades as a producer and this is her directing debut, while Ciro Guerra has global acclaim. His Embrace of the Serpent, co-produced by Guerra, (2015, MVFF38) won the Directors’ Fortnight prize at Cannes and was the first Colombian film to be nominated for the foreign language Oscar.  Screens: Wed 10/10 and Thurs 10/11

 

Ernesto

Japanese actor Joe Odagiri as Japanese-Bolivian medial student, Freddy Maemura Hurtado, in a scene from Junji Sakamoto’s biopic Ernesto (2018), screening twice at MVFF41. Photo: @2017 ‘Ernesto’ Film Partners

It’s a rare that one encounters a portrait of Che Guevara from a Japanese perspective.  Junji Sakamoto’s biopic Ernesto (2018), a very rare Japan-Cuba co-production, tells the story of idealistic Japanese-Bolivian medial student, Freddy Maemura Hurtado (Japanese superstar Joe Odagiri), who travels to Cuba in 1962 to become a doctor but instead joins Che Guevara’s guerilla army.  He becomes a very serious revolutionary who idolizes Che and becomes vehemently anti-war and outraged with American aggression in the Cuban missile crisis. The films traces Hurtado’s life from the time he sets foot in Havana in 1962 to his violent end in the jungle. Shot mainly in Cuba.  Screens: Thurs 10/11 and Fri 10/12

 

Details:

For full descriptions of ¡Viva el Cine!, click here.  MVFF41 is October 4-14, 2018.  For full schedule and to purchase tickets, click here.  Advance ticket purchase of films is essential as they sell out.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Film, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tickets on Sale for MVFF41, Saturday, September 15, at 11 a.m.

 

Icelandic actor and director Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Woman at War” features Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as Halla, a forty-something village choir conductor who is a secret guerrilla eco-activist campaigning against energy corporations that are moving into Iceland.  To protest, she sneaks out into the countryside and sabotages electricity pylons in remote areas using cordless circular saws to slice through the girders, and a bow-and-arrow to shoot disruptive cables over the power lines.  One day, she comes home to find a letter announcing that her application to adopt an orphan Ukrainian baby, made some years ago and all but forgotten, has been approved.  Halla is about to become a mom.  A realization dawns simultaneously on her and the audience.  How will motherhood and her eco-campaign activities mesh?  Besides the breathtaking locales, Erlingsson employs a brilliant concept with the score, with Icelandic and Ukrainian musicians appearing onscreen and providing superbly sonorous commentary on the action.  The film screens three times at MVFF41.  Photo: MVFF

MVFF41 is October 4-14, 2018, and features 204 films from 46 countries with 8 world premieres, 4 North American and 12 US premieres.  Forty five percent of all films across the festival are directed by women.  In addition to film, the 10-day festival features live musical performances. Stay tuned to ARThound for festival recommendations.

Click here to view the full festival program and to buy tickets.  Lock in your tickets early, particularly big events and weekend screenings, as they will sell out.

September 15, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 38th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival comes to Marin: 14 films over 3 days (August 3-5, 2018)

A still from Shawn Snyder’s debut film To Dust, SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film and winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.  The dark comedy screens Saturday evening at the Smith Rafael Film Center as part of the SFJFF38’s Marin segment, which runs August 3-5, 2018 and includes 14 of the 18-day-long festival’s most popular films. Image: SFJFF

The 38th installment of SFJFF (San Francisco Jewish Film Festival) come to Marin this Friday through Sunday (August 3-5, 2018) at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Featuring 14 of the full festival’s most popular films, the Marin segment offers a fascinating global film survey.   This year’s Marin lineup includes a mix of feature-length award winning documentaries covering Jews in Bollywood to UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s tainted 1986 bid for the Austrian presidency as well as compelling high-stakes dramas.  For those north of the Golden Gate, this mini-fest affords a short drive time, hassle free parking, and the Rafael Film Center’s state of the art acoustics.  The only downside to this year’s Marin programming is that there are no special guest appearances.

Presented by the Jewish Film Institute of San Francisco, SFJFF38, is an annual 18-day-long festival (July 19-August 5) that showcases 67 films from 22 countries at venues in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, Oakland and San Rafael.   A number of films have won awards at prestigious film festivals and many of those presented in years past have gone on to be distributed nationally in theaters and on TV.

ARThound recommends:

Friday/August 3, 8:20 p.m.  Wajib (Duty)

A scene from Wajib, Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s third feature film. Image: SFJFF

Wajib (Duty) is a low key comedy set and filmed around the Arab community in Nazareth.  Shadi (Saleh Bakri), an architect who lives in Italy, returns to Nazareth for his sister’s wedding. His father, Abu Shadi (renowned actor Mohammed Bakri, the real-life father of Saleh Bakri), welcomes his son’s help in hand-delivering 340 wedding invitations, a Palestinian tradition.  Driving around in Dad’s blue Volvo, the men reconnect as they bring envelopes to friends, cousins, aunts and uncles who ply them with coffee and sweets at each stop.  Winner Special Jury Prize Locarno Film Festival, the film provides a glimpse into the beauty and complexities of life in Middle East, presenting two different generations of Palestinians’ views on the ongoing conflict and Israeli occupation.  (97 minutes, in Arabic with English subtitles)

Saturday/August 4, 11:30 a.m.  Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema

A still from Austrian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe’s documentary, Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema. Image: SFJFF

Eleven years in the making, Austrian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe’s delightful Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema celebrates the world’s largest film industry with the largely unknown story of the 2,000-year-old Indian Jewish community and its shaping of the Bollywood.  When Indian cinema began 100 years ago, it was taboo for Hindu and Islamic women to perform on screen, so Indian Jewish women took on female lead roles, which they then dominated for decades. Some of the biggest stars of Indian cinema — Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila, Nadira, and David — were all Jewish.  Through interviews with descendants, imaginative use of archival footage, animation and a pulsing Bollywood soundtrack, the film focuses on the lives of Indian cinema’s Jewish icons at the heart of Bollywood, from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. The documentary also provides a glimpse into the history of the Bene Israel and Baghdadi Jews, who came to India to escape persecution, and how their small community continues on today. (136 min, English)

Saturday/August 4, 4:05 p.m.  The Waldheim Waltz

Kurt Waldheim in a scene from Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann’s documentary The Waldheim Waltz. Image: SFJFF

In 1986, Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann (Return to Vienna,  SFJFF 1984) took to the  streets of Vienna to film protests over former United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s election bid to become Austria’s president.  Just weeks before the final vote, news broke that Waldheim had been a senior ranking German army officer in the vicinity of the infamous 1942 Nazi deportation of 56,000 Greek Jews from Thessaloniki.  He denied it.  For some Austrians, Waldheim’s firm refusal to admit guilt symbolized their nation’s unspoken complicity in wartime atrocities. For others, supporting Waldheim was an issue of national pride.  Waldheim won the presidency and Beckermann never used the footage.  With the recent rise populist right-wing demagogues such as Austrian chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, she revisited her material and put together the riveting doc,  The Waldheim Waltz, covering the tense weeks prior to Waldheim’s June 1986 victory.  The material presented is from second-hand newsreel and TV footage, with clips of self-shot video and stills from inside homegrown protest groups.  Beckermann delivers a deadpan voiceover commentary, pinpointing how the Waldheim affair destroyed “Austria’s grand delusion of having been the first victims of the Nazis.”  Winner Best Documentary, Berlin Film festival 2018 and SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Documentary.  North American premiere (93 minutes, German, English, French)

Saturday/August 5, 6:35 p.m.  To Dust

A still from Shawn Snyder’s debut film To Dust, SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film and winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Image: SFJFF

This absurdist story, To Dust,  SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film, is so absurd it is captivating.  It involves a grief-stricken Hassidic cantor (Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul, 2015) in Upstate New York whose wife has died of cancer and who becomes obsessed with how her body will decay.  He ends up in the classroom of a local community college science professor (Matthew Broderick) and the two embark on a number of bizarre experiments aimed at gaining insight into bodily decay.  (92 min, English)

Sunday/August 5, 11:45 a.m.  The Interpreter

A still from Slovakian director Martin Sulik’s The Interpreter (Tlmocnik). Image: SFJFF

Czech new wave director Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, 1968 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) and Peter Simonischek (the father in Toni Erdmann) star in The Interpreter, Slovakian director Martin Sulik’s bittersweet drama.  Menzel plays Ali Ungar, an interpreter, who is investigating the circumstances of his parents’ death at the hands of a Nazi officer during World War II. With an automatic pistol in his pocket, he heads to Vienna and meets the officer’s paunchy son, Georg Graubner. The happy-go-lucky Graubner, oddly enough to Ungar, also wants to know about his father and the atrocities he is accused of committing against the Jews. “Let’s go,” says Graubner cheerily, offering to pay Ungar for his services as an interpreter.

Details:  SFJFF38 in Marin starts Friday, August 3 with a 1:20 p.m. screening and concludes Sunday, August 5, with an 8:30 pm screening. Tickets: $15 per film or $125 Marin Pass for all 14 films. Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  Full schedule and tickets at https://jfi.org/sfjff-2018.

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with silent golden oldies and live music

Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine in Paul Leni’s drama, “The Man Who Laughs” (1928) which opens the 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival, on Wednesday. Newly restored by SFSFF and Universal Pictures, the film will be accompanied by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, making their fifth appearance at the festival. The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 30-June 3 at the Castro Theatre.  Image: Universal Studios

One of those old adages worth its weight in gold is “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.”  The pre-sound era produced some of the most beautiful and engaging films ever made, shedding light on societies that were changing rapidly.  If you’ve never experienced a silent film the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen, with the correct speed and formatting and with riveting live music—it’s high time!  Silent film might just be the experience you’ve been waiting for.

On Wednesday, May 30, the 23rd edition of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) kicks off with 23 programs pairing silent-era films with live musical accompaniment, including eleven recent film restorations.  Ten of those restorations will make their North American premieres and four are SFSFF projects.  Nine countries are represented this year.  What makes SFSFF particularly wonderful is its top rate live accompaniment by more than 40 musicians (soloists and groups) from all around the globe.  These musicians serve as conductor, arranger and accompanist melding film, music, theater and art into one.  It all takes place at San Francisco’s historical Castro Theatre, May 30-June 3, 2018.

The festival kicks off Wednesday evening with Universal Pictures and SFSFF’s new restoration of Paul Leni’s 1928 “The Man Who Laughs”.  Considered one of the treasures of the silent era, the film is based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel, but set two centuries earlier.  The story involves an orphan, Gwynplaine, who is captured by outlaws who use a knife to carve his face into a hideous permanent grin.  Disfigured and all alone, he rescues a baby girl and they are raised together by a fatherly vaudevillian. Everything centers on Gwynplaine’s extraordinary wide grin which inspired the Joker character in the original Batman comic books.  This presentation also marks the world premiere of a commissioned score by Berklee College of Music’s Silent Film Orchestra.

 

Sally O’Neil and Buster Keaton in a scene from Buster Keaton’s 1926 comedy, “Battling Butler,” SFSFF’s closing night film.  Still: courtesy Cohen Film Collection.

Closing the festival on Sunday, June 3, is the North American premiere of Cineteca di Bologna’s restoration (in collaboration with Cohen Film Collection) of Buster Keaton’s 1926 “Battling Butler,” which will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Keaton considered this sparkling comedy his personal favorite among his works.

Recently, I had my annual interview with Anita Monga, SFSFF’s insightful artistic director who programs the festival.  She decides what films will be included, how they are ordered and the rhythm and flow of the weekend.  With her guidance, I put together an overview of the festival.

 

Cinematography buff?

A still from “Fragment of an Empire”.  Image: courtesy SFSFF

The Russian film by Fridrikh Ermler, Fragment of an Empire(Oblomok Imperii)(1929) (Sunday, June 3, 5:30p.m.) is virtually unknown and has an unforgettable opening.  The film is a portrait of a soldier who loses his memory during WWI and returns home to St. Petersburg, a place of heart-wrenching change.  He gains back his memory after seeing his wife on a train but later learns she has remarried.  The cinematography enforces the cold psychology of the revolution, the state of human condition, the rapid pace of modernism.  SFSFF worked on the complete restoration with EYE Filmmuseum, and Gosfilmofond of Russia), based on materials preserved by EYE Filmmuseum and Cinémathèque Suisse.  This rarely-screened-in-America film only existed in chunks with some very famous scenes, like its image of Christ on the cross with a gas mask on.

Friday’s 2 pm Silent Avant-Garde program presents early American Avant-garde films from 1894-1941 and has some amazing images. “Everything in the Unseen Cinema collection is fascinating,” said Anita Monga. “The Slavo Vorkapich montage (four rare segments) took my breath away.” For the look of film on film, Monga recommends Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1925 “Master of the House” (DU SKAL ÆRE DIN HUSTRU) screening Thursday at 2:45 p.m..

 

Arm chair traveler?

Seeta Devi (L) and Himansu Rai in a scene from “A Throw of Dice”.  Image: courtesy British Film Institute

Sunday’s “A Throw of Dice” (Prapancha Pash) from 1929, the third collaboration between German director Franz Osten and Indian film producer Himansu Rai, was shot entirely in Rajasthan, India with a cast of over 10,000.  Inspired by one of India’s masterpieces, the Sanskrit poem The Mahabarata, it tells the story of two kings vying for the hand of a young woman.  A game of dice and a desperate gamble play into the story.  It provides a unique vision of Indian life and is extraordinary in its presentation of wild nature: elephants, tigers, snakes, monkeys, birds and riversides and jungles with plush fauna.  It also has extravagant palaces, teeming streets and gorgeous costumes.

 

A scene from “People on Sunday” (Menschen am Sonntag). Still: courtesy Janus Films

If you are interested in seeing what Berlin street activity was like in the 1930’s, Thursday evening’s “People on Sunday” (Menshcen am Sonntag) was shot entirely on the streets on Berlin. It was created by a group of young filmmakers who would go on to become famous—Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnermann. Their idea was to create a film without actors and they went out on the streets and started filming.  “It really skirts fiction and documentary and captures the feel of life in Berlin in that moment, just on the cusp before the world would change,” said Monga.  “All of the Weimar titles are so devastating because we know what is about to happen in Germany.” (Screens Thursday, may 31, 7:15 p.m.)

 

Takeshi Sakamoto in a scene from Yasujirô Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo (Tokyo no yado). Still: courtesy Janus Films

On Thursday at 5:15 p.m., Yasujirô Ozu’s poetic “An Inn in Tokyo” (Tôkyô No Yado), from 1935, is an expressive portrait of industrial pre-war Tokyo framed by Hideo Shigehara’s amazing cinematography.  A single father (the great Takeshi Sakamoto who starred in over 100 Japanese films) is struggling with his two sons as he tries his best to find work.  As they wander the streets of the Koto district, he has his sons catch stray dogs for cash.  The film addresses the essence of family and the dignity of an ordinary individual in crisis, Ozu’s forte.

Ozu made silent films well into the mid-1930’s, several years after sound was available.  He did this because of the prevalence of Japanese “benshi” performers who stood right next to the screen and interpreted the action for the audience, taking on all the characters’ roles and creating entertaining dialogue.

 

1906 SF Quake junkie?

An image from the short “San Francisco 1906” showing people looking at the debris and wreckage left behind from the earthquake.  Some 8,655 frames of found footage were photographed with a digital camera and then cleaned up and made back into a film.  Image: courtesy Jason Wright

If you’re fascinated with post-earthquake footage of 1906 San Francisco, you can’t miss the 10 minute short,“San Francisco 1906,” newly found earthquake footage that SFSFF has restored.  It will be shown on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. when it screens with the lovely Italian film from 1922, Eugenio Perego’s “Trappola”.   The footage was found in 2017 at the Alemany flea market in fragile condition and is thought to be one of the longest surviving segments of the lost Miles Brothers’ film.   The Miles Brothers produced and directed numerous films in the early 20th century. Their 13-minute film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” explored pre-quake Market Street and was shot on April 14, 1906.  Their studio was destroyed by a post-earthquake fire on April 18, 1906, along with many of their films.

“This is essentially the same sort of footage that the brothers shot when they made “A Trip Down Market Street,” said Monga. “We make the familiar trip down Market towards the ferry building.  The buildings are now in rubble. When the people get to the ferry plaza, you see all the horse-drawn carriages and understand that the people are there to escape to East Bay.”

 

Gaga for Garbo?

Greta Garbo in her first starring role in 1924 in “The Saga of Gösta Berling”.  Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

Saturday evening delivers Greta Garbo in 1924, in her first starring role in the great Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller’sThe Saga of Gösta Berling” (Gösta Berlings Saga) with live accompaniment from the Matti Bye Ensemble.  Garbo is radiant opposite Lars Hansen in this romantic drama. Jon Wengström from the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) will accept the 2018 Silent Film Festival Award at this premiere screening of SFI’s beautiful new restoration which was completed earlier this year and adds 16 minutes to the previous version and restores the film’s original tinting scheme.

 

Love Freebies?

Film preservationist and SFSFF board president Robert Byrne collaborates with film archives around the world. He and SFSFF colleague, Russell Merritt, will share the story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” from 1929, the last silent Sherlock Holmes’ film, considered the most important Hound produced in Europe.  (screening on Saturday). Image: courtesy SFSFF

Thursday morning’s Amazing Tales from the Archives, is a free program in keeping with the festival’s education mandate, which flies in experts from the world’s top restoration facilities to share their personal experiences in breathing life back into critically damaged nitrate.  This year’s guests are Deutsche Kinemathek’s Martin Koerber and Weimar film scholar Cynthia Walk, who will talk about the complete reworking of E.A. Dupont’s “The Ancient Law” (screening on Sunday); Davide Pozzi from L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, whose Kinemacolor presentation will examine the first successful color process for motion pictures; and Elzbieta Wysocka of Filmoteka Narodowa, with SFSFF’s Robert Byrne and Russell Merritt, will share the detective story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” which screens on Saturday.

 

Details: 

SFSFF is May 30-June 3, 2018 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.  Visit http://www.silentfilm.org/ for tickets, festival passes, and detailed information on films and musicians.  Advance ticket purchase is essential and most screenings are $17 to $24.  If you are driving in, allow an additional hour to secure parking.

May 28, 2018 Posted by | Chamber Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest36: Asian American films paired with conversation, food, music and parties —May 10-24, 2018

Vivian Wu plays fierce beautician Candy Wang whose Facebook page is blocked by the Chinese Communist Party as she takes a tough stance against real estate developers in a scene from Cathy Yan’s debut feature, “Dead Pigs” (2018).  The film screens twice at CAAMFest36,  May 14-24, 2018.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker, will be in attendance at CAAMFest.  Yan was just selected by actor Margot Robbie to direct a “Suicide Squad” sequel film for DC Productions, making Yan the first Asian American woman to direct a big budget Hollywood action film for DC Productions.  Photo: CAAMFest

It’s been exciting to experience CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) annual film festival, as it has morphed into an extravaganza embracing Asian American film, music, food and dance.  The 36th festival kicked off Thursday, May 10 and runs through Thursday, May 24th.  CAAMFest offers more than 120 films, live performances, music and culinary events.  The second week continues with films in 17 Bay Area venues.

A must-see film is Cathy Yan’s observant and wacky first feature, Dead Pigs (2018, 130 min), which she wrote and directed, screening Sunday, May 20 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.   The film exemplifies the filmmakers and thought-provoking stories that CAAMFest celebrates.  Yan herself is an exciting draw and she will be in attendance at CAAMFest for post-screening conversation.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker has just bashed through a ceiling for women and directors of color in Hollywood.  The Chinese-born American has just been selected by Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment to direct Australian Margot Robbie in a yet-to-be-titled Harley Quinn sequel.  Yan is thus the first Asian-American woman to direct a big budget superhero film for the mega industry powerhouse DC (home to iconic brands such as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash).

Dead Pigs is set in China, between bustling Shanghai and the provincial town of Jiaxing which sits on the Huangpu River about 70 miles from Shanghai.  The fictional story employs sharp storytelling, comedy and is full of surprises.  It takes off on a real incident that occurred in China in spring 2014 when over 7,500 pig carcasses were found floating in the Huangpu River that supplied Shanghai’s drinking water.  The pigs don’t factor heavily in the story-line but they do bob down the river through several scenes, adding all the symbolism that pigs evoke in the Chinese zodiac of marching forward fearlessly.   They aslo set the stage for five very eccentric characters, whose stories ultimately collide—an alcoholic pig farmer (Yang Haoyu) in debt up to his nose to local thugs; a tough-as-nails beautician (Vivian Wu) who refuses to sell her family home and property to developers seeking to cash in on gentrification; a highly-leveraged American businessman (David Rysdahl) who is in win-or-die development deal; a spoiled rich girl (Li Meng) who is hospitalized after crashing into a watermelon stand while driving drunk; and a lowly waiter/bus-boy at a suckling pig restaurant (Wang Zhen Mason Lee) who pretends he has a big career in the city.

With plentiful energy, wit, a skillful use of music, and a crazy ending, Yan takes up a fascinating set of complex topics, weaving a tale of modern China racing forward.   The film premiered in the world dramatic competition at Sundance, where it won the special jury prize for ensemble acting.

Details:  CAAMFest36 is May 10-24, 2018 at 17 Bay Area sites, including AMC Kabuki 8, Asian Art Museum, Castro, New People Cinema and Roxie theaters.  Tickets: $14 to $20 general; $75 for six-pack; more for special events.  Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.caamfest.com

May 17, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment