ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco Silent Film Festival is back at the Castro May 5-11: Sunday offers two rare films


The stunning Seeta Devi as Gopa, Gautama’s wife, in a scene from Franz Osten and Himanshu Rai’s 1925 Indo-European co-production,“Prem Sanyas” (“The Light of Asia”). Adapted from Edwin Arnold’s 1879 narrative poem, The Light of Asia, the film tells the story of Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Himansu Rai), who became the Buddha or Enlightened one, tracing his journey from privilege and seclusion to awareness of the inevitability of life’s suffering, finally renouncing his kingdom to seek enlightenment. Seeta Devi and Himanshu Rai made their last on screen appearance at SFSFF23 in 2018 in “A Throw of Dice” (1929) which was inspired by one of India’s masterworks, the Sanskrit poem The Mahabarata, “Prem Sanyas” was made with the cooperation of the Maharajah of Jaipur and contained a cast of thousands. Shooting took place in Lahore, now Pakistan, where the set decoration was created by Devika Rani, Himanshu Rai’s wife. Heady mythological subject matter is balanced with realistic glimpses of contemporary (1925) Indian landscape and people. The opening shots accompany a group of European tourists as they wind their way through the bazaars and other exotica of the streets of Bombay City until they encounter a bearded old man who begins to recount a tale, told in flashback, of the young Prince Gautama, and how he came to be called Lord Buddha. Osten, the company that was formed to make this film, eventually evolved into Bombay Talkies, one of the largest colonial era film studios in India. Live music by Club Foot Hindustani featuring Pandit Krishna Bhatt. 97 min, screens Sunday, May 8, 1:30 p.m.

After a two-year pandemic pause, the 25th edition of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) has just launched, and runs May 5-11 at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with 29 programs featuring silent films from 14 countries, all accompanied by live music. The largest silent film in the Americas, SFSFF has also garnered a reputation for some of the finest musical accompaniment to be found. 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. In addition to screening silent films, SFSFF is part of a global network dedicated to finding, saving, and restoring silent film heritage and restoration stories themselves are front and center at the festival. This year’s festival includes 19 recent film restorations, nine of which will have their North American premiere. Seven restorations have been undertaken by the SFSFF. ARThound especially recommends the Sunday afternoon program for its content and for those planing to drive into San Francisco and park. Early Sunday afternoon traffic coming into San Francisco is light and parking is free on Sundays in the Castro district. Allow yourself ample time to get to the theater; once you’re there, settle in for a wonderful experience.


A scene from Ukrainian director Heorhii Tasin’s “Arrest Warrant” (1926) This briskly-paced gem tells the story of Nadia (Vira Vareckaja), whose husband, Sergei, Chairman of the revolutionary committee, flees the city in the midst of civil war, leaving her behind as a communications agent with a cache of secret documents. Expressionist effects, at times riveting and then distressing, highlight Nadia’s psychological torture at the hands of the White Army. Live music: Sascha Jacobsen Quintet, which will include Ukrainian melodies in the score. This program is a benefit screening. Proceeds will be donated to World Central Kitchen which is feeding wqr refugees and Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre in Kyiv, Ukraine, an archive which preserves and promotes national film heritage in Ukraine. 81 min, Screens: Sunday, May 8, 4:30 p.m.

Details: The 25th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 5 -11 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. GA Tickets $18; $16 for SFSFF members. Tickets, schedule, information about performing musicians: https://silentfilm.org/

May 6, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 65th SFFILM Festival is April 21-May 1: the program is online now and non-member tickets go on sale April 1

In celebration of the centennial anniversaries of SF Opera and the Castro Theatre, the 65th SFFILM Festival will offer a free community screening of John Else’s new documentary, “Land of Gold” (2021), that brings to life John Adams’ opera, “Girls of the Golden West,” which premiered at SFOpera in 2017, with libretto by Peter Sellars.  The revisionist opera is set in the days of the California Gold Rush, reworking poetic fantasies of striking it rich in the land of gold.  The documentary features the mesmerizing soprano Julia Bullock, along with John Adams, Paul Appleby, and the Kai brothers.  The free screening will be preceded by a performance by SFO’s Adler Fellows, an elite multi-year residency for opera’s most promising young artists.  Director John Else in attendance. Adler performance is Thursday, April 28, at 7:30 pm at the Castro; film screens at 7:45p.m.  Reserve free tickets now for SFFILM members and April 1 for general public.  Image: SFFILM

The legendary actress, Michelle Yeoh—star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” “Supercop,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The Lady,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and many other films—will receive a special SFFILM tribute, hosted by Sandra Oh on Friday, April 29th, 6:00 pm CastroIn conjunction with the tribute, SFFILM is screening Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), Monday April 25, 7pm, at the Castro.   Who can forget the thrilling martial arts battles between nimble warriors Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat as they battled Ziyi Zhang to recover a powerful 400 year old sword, literally flying across the red-tiled roofs of their ancestral Chinese village.  Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, it won four Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Score. Those who purchase a ticket to the film will receive a discount on the tribute.  Image: Thomas Laisne/Getty Images, Courtesy SFFILM)
 

The 65th SFFILM festival: 130 films (58 features, 5 mid-length films and 67 shorts), 56 countries, 16 world premieres. Fifty-six percent of the films are directed by female or non-binary filmmakers and 52 percent directed by BIPOC filmmakers.  Screenings will take place at venues across the Bay Area, including the Castro Theatre, Roxie Cinema, Victoria Theatre, Vogue Theatre, and UC Berkeley’s BAMPFA.

Full schedule, tickets for the 65th SFFILM Festival: https://sffilm.org/

SFFILM member tickets on sale now; non-member tickets on sale, Friday, April 1, 10 a.m.

March 30, 2022 Posted by | Film, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 19th San Francisco Greek Film Festival is April 8-16 at Delancey Street Cinema and online

A scene from Katiana Zachariou’s short film, “Betrayal” (2019), a coming of age story filmed in Cyprus,  about a daughter coming to terms with her father’s fall from grace.  Short-listed for the Cannes Lions Young Director Award in 2020. Image: SFGFF

Showcasing a selection of films from the Greek and Cypriot worlds, the 19th San Francisco Greek Film Festival (SFGFF) is April 8-16, offering nine days of in-person screenings at Delancey Screening Room in San Francisco and continuing its very popular virtual screenings.  From a pool of 350 submissions, the festival team selected 9 features and 17 shorts for this year’s in person festival and 14 shorts, 11 documentaries, and 3 feature narrative films for the virtual program.  Festival program information and tickets will be available shortly at grfilm.com.  This festival is very popular with the Bay Area’s Greek community and it’s essential to purchase tickets or passes as soon as the program is announced.

A still from the acclaimed Greek documentary series, “Alphabet – Common Code,” which traces the course of the Greek alphabet over centuries. Photo: SFGFF
 

San Francisco Greek Film Festival

WHAT: 2022 San Francisco Greek Film Festival – 19th annual

WHEN: April 8-16, 2022

WHERE: Delancey Screening Room, 600 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, and online

COST: $15 general in person screenings / $40 for April 8 & 16 (opening & closing nights) including reception / $170 for festival pass for all in person screenings / $40 virtual pass for all online programs

LANGUAGE: Films in Greek or other non-English languages are subtitled in English

MORE INFO: grfilm.com and facebook.com/SFGreekFilmFest

March 26, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , | Leave a comment

DocLands is around the corner: early bird passes on sale through April 7

Firouzeh Khosrovani’s prize-winning documentary, ‘Radiograph of a Family” (2020), screened at DocLands 2021.  Khosrovani imaginatively captured the tensions in her parents’ unusual marriage over 50 years as a mirror for Iran’s turbulent history.  Her father, Hossein, a radiologist, is secular and sophisticated, while his young bride Tayi is a devout Muslim who is shocked by her new husband’s Western tastes.  Image: Antipode

Each spring, CFI (California Film Institute) brings awe-inspiring true-life stories to the Bay Area with its Doclands Documentary Film Festival held at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Last year’s festival presented 42 illuminating films, including award-winning feature-length docs and shorts. This year’s festival is May 5-11, at the Smith Rafael Film Center and the full program will be announced shortly.  Early bird passes are on sale now at a substantial discount through April 7.  On sale: In-theater 6-Packs (6 films–$59 CFI members; $89 General Public) and Online Festival Passes (CA residents only), which allow full access to the festival’s online program of 20+ films and additional viewer content including interviews and Q&A’s. Some films have restricted streaming capacity and may sell-out.  

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Film | , , , , | Leave a comment

The 25th Sonoma International Film Festival will honor Jacqueline Bisset and screen her new film, “Loren and Rose,” Friday, March 25

Jacqueline Bisset, Golden Globe winner, who has appeared in over 50 films, will receive SIFF’s Cinematic Excellence Award on Friday, March 25. The special program includes the Northern CA premiere of her newest film, “Loren and Rose,” and an on-stage Q & A with Bisset and director Russell Brown.  Photo: GUILLAUME COLLET/SIPA/Shutterstock

SIFF (Sonoma International Film Festival), hasn’t yet released the full programming for its special 25th anniversary edition, March 23-27, but it’s started dropping announcements like well-paced hors’d ouvers. Its latest delectable—Jacqueline Bisset will be honored with the festival’s Cinematic Excellence Award on Friday, March 25, at the historic Sebastiani Theatre on Sonoma’s plaza.  The award celebrates Bisset’s five plus decades of cinematic achievement and will be presented following a special screening of Bisset’s new feature film, “Loren and Rose,” and an on-stage Q&A with Bisset and director Russell Brown.

“I am thrilled to be seeing Loren & Rose in this environment after such difficult years of waiting for genuine cinema screens. Thank you to SIFF for this recognition,” said the legendary star of “The Deep” and “Day for Night”.

A truly international film star, the British-born Bisset has undertaken a diverse range of dramatic and comedic challenges in the more than 50 films in which she has appeared, winning raves from critics and fans alike. She has worked consistently since her debut nearly 60 years ago as an extra in “The Knack and How to Get it.” Her 2014 Golden Globe for her supporting role in the acclaimed BBC mini-series “Dancing On The Edge” reflected acting skills honed through collaborations with some of our era’s greatest directors. Bisset’s career includes roles in John Huston’s “Casino Royale,” Peter Yates’ “Bullitt,” George Seaton’s “Airport,” François Truffaut’s Day for Night,” Sidney Lumet’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” Peter Yates’ “The Deep,” J. Lee Thompson’s “The Greek Tycoon,” and George Cukor’s “Rich and Famous”. Over the expanse of her career, she has appeared in more than 100 films and television shows and has been nominated for a Golden Globe five times. In 2010, she was awarded France’s Legion of Honor. Based in Los Angeles, Bisset divides her time between America and Europe.

“We are honored to present international film star Jacqueline Bisset with the SIFF Cinematic Excellence Award during our historic 25th festival,” said SIFF Artistic Director Kevin W. McNeely. “She has lit up the screen from the moment she appeared in some of the most memorable films of our collective conscience, and continues to do so to this day.”

Jacqueline Bisset stars in director, writer, producer Russell Brown’s latest feature drama “Loren and Rose,” in which a single meal frames the story of an indelible bond forged between Loren, a promising young filmmaker (Kelly Blatz), and Rose, an iconic actress (Bisset) looking to reinvigorate her career.  

SIFF prides itself on its poignant dramas, many of which weave food and wine into the story. “Lauren and Rose” is set around a pivotal lunch from which a friendship develops between two women whose love of art, understanding of grief, and faith in life guide them through personal and creative
hardships. I can’t wait to see Bisset on screen again…her acting is real, so vital, inviting you inside her characters. She is often quoted for saying: “There is an eternal humanity that crosses through all people, and it’s more interesting often when it’s about struggle – not people with champagne glasses.” (Screens Friday, March 25 at 6PM at the Sebastiani Theatre and Saturday, March 26 at 11:30 AM at Vintage House. Both screenings include Q&A’s with Bisset and Brown. Bisset will receive the SIFF Cinematic Excellence Award after the Q&A on Friday, March 25.)

SIFF Culinary Events: Beloved chefs Jacques Pépin and Joanne Weir, who are best known for their PBS television shows, will also be at SIFF to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Tickets to these sumptuous events are going fast and were first offered to SIFF passholders. Don’t dally in purchasing.

Chef Pépin will attend SIFF Thursday, March 24 to receive the first SIFF Culinary Excellence Award and a $10,000 donation to the Jacques Pépin Foundation during its highly anticipated SIFF | Devour! Chefs & Shorts Culinary Event Honoring Chef Jacques Pépin. This is the third collaboration between SIFF and Devour! The Film Food Fest. The evening includes a five-course dinner from five prominent chefs who will each prepare one course that will be paired with a food short film and wine. Participating are: Ken Frank (La Toque), Michael Howell (Devour!), Roland Passot (La Folie, Left Bank), Seadon Shouse (Timber Cove Resort) and Ari Weiswasser (Glen Ellen Star). Wines: Anaba, Bee Hunter, Breathless (Sparkling Brut), Chateau St. Jean (Cinq Cépages), and Viansa.

Chef Joanne Weir will host a special Plates & Places Lunch on Friday, March 25, at the festival’s Backlot tent, during which she will share segments from her PBS show, “Plates & Places,” filmed on location, to bring the flavors of Spain, Morocco, and Greece to diners’ plates, along with wonderful wines and Thomas Adams Chocolates.

Details: The 25th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 23 and runs through Sunday, March 27, 2022.  Buy discounted passes and tickets to special culinary events at sonomafilmfest.org

February 13, 2022 Posted by | Film, Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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