With the onset of fall, Bay Area moviegoing options start to multiply like crazy. The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 6-16 2016, is hard to beat. The 39th edition offers a line-up of 200 films—winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto as well as an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a Bay Area stamp—all selected for our discriminating Bay Area audience by programmer Zoe Elton and her seasoned team. The legendary festival kicks off on Thursday evening, October 6, with two of Hollywood’s hottest fall films—La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash MVFF 2014) love letter to dreamers, artists, and Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and Denis Vileneuve’s (Sicario) riveting and thoughtful drama, Arrival, starring five time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who communicates with aliens in a bid to save the planet. Actually, in a move to satisfy everyone’s tastes, there are four films screening on Thursday evening, so add Mick Jackson’s Denial starring Rachael Weiss and Rob Nilsson’s Love Twice to the mix but they are not being billed as opening nighters. Special Tributes will honor Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman in a program that includes a screening of her new film with Dev Patel, Lion, and acclaimed filmmaker and author Julie Dash, who will appear in conversation following a screening of her recently restored Daughters of the Dust (1991). The festival closes with Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which tells the real life story of the struggle, imprisonment and 1960’s Supreme Court battle Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving experienced in one of America’s early interracial marriages.
The festival unfolds in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Mill Valley. For North Bay residents, getting there and parking is considerably more time efficient and cheaper than it is in San Francisco. If you want to go, pre-purchase your tickets now as this popular festival tends to sell out before it starts. There is ample choice right now but not for long. I recommend seeing films where the filmmaker or actors will be in attendance. Also, check the new program guide for Smith Rafael Film Center. Several of the festival films are screening there within the next two months and it doesn’t make sense to pay a premium to see them at the festival and wait in long lines unless there are special guests attending that make it worthwhile.
ARThound’s top picks:
Neruda/Spotlight Gael Garcia Bernal—Mon, Oct 10
The foreign film line-up is especially strong this year. Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Chile’s foreign language Oscar nominee, takes center stage in a special Spotlight presentation honoring Mexican actor-director-producer Gael Garcia Bernal. The drama is set in 1948 and Bernal plays a police inspector who is charged with finding the fugitive Communist politician and poet, Pablo Neruda, when he goes underground. In Larrain’s capable hands, the film morphs into a soulful exploration of Chile’s historical dance with heroes and villains and Bernal as the inspector becomes a key figure, obsessed with finding Neruda who has managed to make him his pawn. Bernal will appear in an onstage conversation covering his extensive career.
The Salesman—Fri, Oct 7 and Wed, Oct 12
I can’t remember when the festival last hosted an Iranian filmmaker but, over the year’s, we’ve reveled in their creativity, courage and unparalleled story-telling. This year, acclaimed Academy Award and Golden Globe winning writer-director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) will appear in person to answer questions after the two screenings of his new Tehran-set drama The Salesman. The film picked up Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at Cannes and was selected as the Iranian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Salesman is the suspenceful story of a young Persian couple who are part-time actors in Tehran in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Their relationship is strained after they move into a new flat and the wife is attacked while she is taking a shower. The flat’s previous occupant, a woman who was allegedly involved in prostitution, is never seen but her presence grows as the film progresses. At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini, the husband, won the award for Best Actor.
Lamb—Sat, Oct 8 and Tues, Oct 11
A rarity for MVFF is an Ethiopian film, in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Writer-director Yared Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was the first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection. The 37 year-old director made Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2015. The story revolves around an Ethiopian boy who loses his mother and moves in with relatives and becomes attached to a pet lamb, Chuni, as a way of dealing with loss and grief. He also takes up cooking which is unacceptable to his uncle who considers it girl’s work. The story hits close to home for the director. When he was just 10, Zeleke’s own father was imprisoned by the Derg regme (the ruling military Communist regime that was in power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) and his mother remarried and he went to live with his grandmother. Ultimately, Zeleke was reunited with his father and they lived together in the US but the happy days he had with both loving parents together were long gone. Filmmaker in attendance for both screenings.
Frantz—Fri, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 14
French director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) always stirs me with subtle demonstrations of his artistry and deep understanding of human nature. His latest film, Frantz, a romantic drama set in the aftermath of WWI in the small German town of Quedlingburg, is a layered portrait of grief. The story evolves from a strange graveside encounter between a young German woman (Paula Beer) grieving her fiancé and a Frenchman, Adrian (Pierre Niney), who also visits the fiancé’s grave to leave flowers. He claims to have been friends with her fiancé and, slowly, she begins to develop feelings for him. Shot in black and white, with brief interludes of color, the film is a loose adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby which itself was based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand. Niney, whose elegant face would have inspired Michelangelo, won a Cesar award for his outstanding performance in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014).
Mom and Other Loonies in the Family—Sat, Oct 15 and Sun, Oct 16
Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete’s Mom and Other Loonies in the Family revolves around a 94 year-old grandmother with dementia who relates her life story to her daughter. It’s a heartwarming recounting, told through flashbacks over four generations of crazies. She was a mother on the run who moved twenty-seven times—and the film spans all of the 20th century, meandering through epic moments in Hungarian and world history. Her “present” is a time that is infused with struggles, declining health and the confusing intervention of past events. Her past was committed to keeping the family together at any cost. The story is based on the filmmaker’s own family and stories related to her by relatives. Characters appear in archival footage and in well-known Hungarian films as if they were actually in those films. Eszter Ónodi shines as the reliable yet somewhat whimsical woman who moved too many times and just wants to stand on her own two feet. Her ninety four-year old demented self is played by Danuta Szaflarska who credibly plays the role by reverting to childlike responses.
Green is Gold—Sat, Oct 8 and Sun, Oct 9
I have a weakness for films that are set in Northern, California, where I grew up. Sonoma State University graduate Ryan Baxter’s first feature, Green is Gold, is set in rural Sonoma County and is a family bonds over pot business story that picked up the Audience Best Fiction Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for its poetic filmmaking and emotional truth. Ryan Baxter, the writer, director, editor and star, plays the older brother, Cameron, a black market potrepneur ( a real word I picked up at the Heirloom Festival) who is forced to take care of his younger brother, Jimmy (his real life brother, Jimmy Baxter) when their dad is imprisoned. Cameron tries to put some distance between the kid and the cannabis business, which involves considerable risk but high payoffs, but, soon Jimmy is knee deep in buds and the two find themselves embarking on a dangerous pot delivery journey that will either leave them rolling in dough or six feet under. Ryan Baxter, actor Jimmy Baxtor, and rest of cast and crew in attendance at both screenings.)
Unleashed—Wed, Oct 12 and Thurs, Oct 13
What if your pets turned into full-grown men? I couldn’t resist the whacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin). All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles.
Details MVFF 39:
The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on Thursday, October 6 and runs through Sunday, October 16, 2016. Buy tickets online now at http://www.mvff.com/. Most tickets for films are $14 and special programs starts at $25.
J.J. Wilson, Jonah Raskin, Julie Lee and Terry Ehret discuss the 2014 Sitting Room Publication, This is What a Feminist Looks Like, with host Gil Mansergh on Word by Word, Sunday, Sept. 7, 4pm, on KRCB, 91 FM and www.KRCB.org. Participants will discuss their responses to the anthology’s topic “When I first realized I was a feminist” which was the catalyst for 46 revelatory essays .
The wait for a commercial electric car is over – the first Nissan Leaf is rolling in Sonoma County and I’m driving it
After what seems like forever, our long-awaited all electric Nissan Leaf has arrived and it’s impossible to write objectively about how good it feels to be off oil and to be the first customers in Sonoma County to actually receive their Leaf. The Leaf is part of our strategy, several years in the making, to go renewable through solar and to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint. Like many who live in Northern, CA, we feel our area is ripe for EV adoption and are proud that we will help lead the revolution. Actually, we were one of those 16,300 early enthusiasts who reserved a Leaf last summer in anticipation of its December 2010 launch–delayed several times. The first Leaf actually did arrive at Petaluma’s Northbay Nissan in December but left immediately with its new owner in Silicon Valley. So, when we got the call last Thursday, that we would be the first in Sonoma County to take delivery of our Leaf, we could hardly believe it.
The Nissan Leaf is a zero emission vehicle with a caveat—the car itself is zero emission when charged from solar PV systems but when charged from PG&E’s electrical power (the major supplier here in Northern, CA), it’s slightly better than a Toyota Prius (the leading hybrid) in terms of its overall (car plus electrical generation) emissions. Our Nissan Leaf SL is zero emission because we are charging it from the sun.
Commercial all electric vehicles (EVs) have been around for over 10 years now, but they always seemed to suffer from being impractical, weird, expensive, or downright ugly. General Motors EV1 elevated our consciousness but was killed by Big Oil. Chris Paine’s marvelous movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” tells the story unflinchingly. Other EVs soon followed suit but were fatally weird or downright goofy looking–the Mitsubishi iMiEV, BMW’s Mini E, Nissan’s EV-02, Toyota’s FT-EV II, to name a few. The stunning Tesla Roadster broke onto the scene in 2008 as the first truly commercial EV but was affordable only by the wealthy starting with an MSRP over $100,000 for a two seat sports car.
EV’s: a significant component in saving our planet
When President Obama entered office, he appointed Steven Chu as Energy Secretary. Both Obama and Chu are ardent believers in the dangers of climate change and the economic crisis that U.S. and global addiction to oil will eventually trigger. They created an extremely favorable environment for the electric car and directed the Department of Energy to make it happen. When Nissan received a $1.4 billion loan to build a plant in Tennessee to manufacture the Leaf, the first very affordable and attractive commercial EV was on its way.
The Leaf and other reliable and affordable EV’s are essential in the fight against global warming which will drive catastrophic climate change over the next 50-100 years. Simply stated, global warming is driven primarily by the CO2 Green House Gas that is released by our burning of fossil fuels, like gasoline. Automobiles and other motor vehicles are the largest offenders in releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. NASA scientist Dr. Jim Hansen’s well-known oft-quoted publications on the implications of climate change are harrowing.
EV’s are crucial to the plan for eliminating our CO2 emissions because fossil fuel burning transportation is the largest contributor to these emissions. Generating electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric combined with zero emission EV’s can eliminate the automobile’s contribution in a straightforward manner. This formula also eliminates our addiction to oil for our automobiles thereby reducing the economic risk of oil’s price or availability.
The US economy and national security are at severe risk due to our addiction to foreign oil. The US does not have enough oil reserves to make a difference should supply be jeopardized. The planet itself is approaching “peak oil,” where Earth’s maximum reserves and production of oil hit an upper limit, or peak, and then begin declining. Just as demand for oil is starting to accelerate rapidly in China, India and the developing world, oil’s availability is about to peak and then will decline. If we, as a planet, don’t reduce our consumption of oil, the CO2 emitted from automobiles burning gasoline will accelerate global warming. Eventually, we will see an economic crisis making the 1974 oil embargo look like peanuts and from that all sorts of disasters will follow suit as oil is so integral and deeply woven into the fabric of our economy.
Getting off PG&E and on Solar—EV’s go hand in hand with Solar PV Systems which we also have
In addition to purchasing a Nissan Leaf, two years ago we designed and built a 12.6 kWatt solar PV system that creates all our electricity from sunlight. This is bringing our home to nearly CO2 neutral. Our electricity will be free when our system finishes paying for itself in 1 ½ years from saved utility bills and we have created a model we are proud of— getting off of fossil fuel generated electricity. If everyone could buy and install an EV and a solar PV system, our planet would be safe from the unthinkable impacts of global warming on climate Change and the coming economic crisis due to peaking oil supplies.
Nissan Leaf: pricing
That’s the back story to our Leaf purchase. After paying $99 and signing up for the Leaf months ago online, and waiting through numerous delays, we took delivery last Thursday from Petaluma’s Northbay Nissan. Besides loving the car, I couldn’t believe it cost just over $20,000 after incentives, which is a ridiculously low price for a new car of any quality. With an MSRP at $32,780, California will give you a $5000 rebate check immediately and the IRS will give you a $7500 tax credit next April 15, leaving the final price at $20,280, plus tax and license. A deal! You can visit the Leaf site to appreciate what they offer. We bought ours from Ron Coury at North Bay Nissan in Petaluma which has become the Leaf sales leader and popular with customers from all over CA due to its extremely competitive pricing.
Interior leg and storage room
Upon first glance, the Leaf appears quite small. When I jumped inside, I was shocked at how roomy it is and at its sophisticated dashboard and front-end technology. Both the front and rear seats are comfortable for me at 5’10” with long legs (36’ inseam), as well as offering overall reasonable visibility. The front and rear doors make it easy to enter and the hatchback makes this little car seem almost like a mini-SUV. The rear seats fold forward and an optional rear cargo compartment cover ($190.00) creates a nearly flat storage area from the front seats to the hatch door, just perfect for a giant red hound. Of course, the fabric seats available only in a dove gray color will be a HUGE problem for pet owners as these just grab hair right off the animal. Leather please! We paid an additional $900 to have the car perma-plated and Scotchgarded but it’s not going to solve this issue. I was also hoping that once the seats folded down, there would be a standard protective mat to place over the area if you want to transport a bicycle and keep that upholstery clean. Not yet.
Keyless Start, Power to Merge
Mastering the procedure for starting this electric car without an actual key takes a few practice runs. First, you put your foot on the brake and then push the start button, release the emergency brake and put it in drive. It’s dead quiet, so you really have to take it on faith that it’s ready to go. It feels incredibly quick from a standing start due to the torque character of the electric motor. Its handling is quick and responsive and it turns and stops on a dime, almost feeling like a sports car. I timed it yesterday when merging onto Highway 101 South and reached 65 mph in a snap, a lot faster in fact than I do in my 2009 Subaru Forester.
It’s a truly fun little car to drive and feels quite different from a Toyota Prius or other gasoline-powered car. My only complaint is that shifting into drive is done by pulling back on the shifter and reverse is forward, not terribly intuitive for someone who previously owned a jeep and has become accustomed to shifting Tom’s Z06. Note to Nissan: Forward = drive. Reverse = reverse!
Speaking of its quiet ride, it’s so quiet that Nissan added sound back in to alert the sight and otherwise impaired. Nissan fitted a small speaker on the car’s left front that emits a very subtle tone up to 18 mph. After that, Nissan reasons that sound of the tires and wind will be sufficient to warm of an approaching Leaf. When it’s in reverse, it also emits a faint sound.
EV-IT System: ECO Mode and Pesky Touch Screen
For a relatively inexpensive car, it’s rather sophisticated. The LED headlamps, EV-IT and navigation systems, Nissan Carwings economy tracking system, solar panel (only available with SL model), built in Bluetooth speaker phone, are all features one might find on a more expensive car.
Driving the car is really about optimizing your range. The car comes with a number of features that assist with that. Constantly displayed are how much charge is left and how many miles remain in your driving range. A power meter tracks energy consumption and regeneration. If you drive efficiently, the eco indicator will reward you with a virtual forest. You can also check with the trip computer to see how much time is needed for a full charge. You can switch settings to see your efficiency in miles/kWh.
There’s also an EV-IT system which gives you pertinent graphic information. On the map display, you can see your remaining range with a circle giving nearby charging spots. Another screen tells how to maximize your heater or A/C usage to maximize range.
I had worried that I would have a lead foot and would not be able to maximize the efficiency of the battery charge. The Leaf has what Nissan calls the ECO mode where the car’s computer takes control of acceleration and tries to optimize the battery charge. This really works and it is barely noticeable that computer is controlling acceleration.
Two complaints so far– the multi-level touch screen controls are complex and hard to manage while driving and using the windshield wipers, heater and air conditioning does significantly reduce mileage. Don’t try to get the full 100+ miles if it’s a cold rainy day and you need to run the heater, defroster and windshield wipers throughout the trip or a hot day and need air conditioning. I would guess it takes about 20% of the battery charge to continually run them.
For running around town, the Leaf is fabulous and economical. We have our own solar PV system so charging the Leaf is free. It feels great driving by all those gas stations with their $4 plus per gallon for regular signs staring you in the face.
Charging at Home: Level 1 and Level 2 EVSE
Our Leaf came with a 120 Volt Level 1 EVSE that allows charging from a standard 20 Amp outlets available anywhere. Everyone had been concerned at how slow charging would be at 120 Volts and how the 240 Volt EVSE was going to be over $2000 installed. We discovered that since we don’t run the battery down too low, that at 120 Volts, the Leaf charged to 100% easily overnight in about 12 hours. We have been plugging it in around dinner time and by morning, it’s fully charged. We have ordered a 240V Level 2 Charging EVSE and will be installing it in our garage ourselves with the help of an electrician friend. By doing this, we will be able to install the Level 2 EVSE for about $900 in our garage. Once we’ve done that, we will be able to charge our Leaf in about 5-6 hours from empty to full.
The Leaf is fitted with a 24kW lithium-ion battery pack complete with 48 separate modules housing four cells a piece. If one of these fails, Nissan can replace the nodule without having to replace the entire battery pack. That’s on Nissan. If you happen to ignore the numerous built-in warning systems, and deplete your battery, the first Leafs come with 3 years of free roadside assistance. A flatbed truck will haul you to a charger.
Commercial Parking and Charging and Commute Lane
I have yet to drive the car into San Francisco and park in any of the numerous garages with charging stations. I mainly park at Sutter/Stockton Garage, Civic Center, and Opera Plaza and all of these supposedly have stations. EVs can drive in the commute lane by applying for a special sticker…worth the price alone.
The San Francisco Zoo’s newest resident is a 3,700 male hippopotamus that arrived from the Topeka Zoo on Wednesday evening, January 5 and made his press debut on Friday. Last August, the male hippo, named “Tucker” in Topeka, and his mate welcomed a new son at the Topeka Zoo. But three hippos require quite a bit of room so the search began for a new home for the 8 year old adult male. The San Francisco Zoo hasn’t had a hippo since “Mama Cuddles,” its 46-year-old female Nile Hippo died three years ago. After she passed, the zoo began a massive renovation of the hippo exhibit to create a pool three times larger and with a new dry land pasture area. With a newly renovated space, operation hippo transfer began. Federal Express donated the shipment of the 3,700 pound hippo, and the San Francisco Department of Public Works transported him to the Zoo.
The hippo’s journey began at the Topeka Zoo where he was crated for his long trip then driven to Kansas City International Airport on a Westar Energy flatbed trailer and had an overnight stay in a warm building. On Wednesday, FedEx Express flew him by cargo plane to its Memphis, Tenn., superhub, then to its hub at the Oakland Airport. Memphis-based FedEx Express is a subsidiary of FedEx Corp.. Zoo Assistant Curator Jim Nappi was on hand to greet him at the airport and feed him some welcoming apples. Although the journey was long and he spent 45 hours in a crate, he gingerly backed out of the crate and into his night quarters and was ready to meet his fans in the morning. To see the San Francisco Zoo’s footage of his uncrating and first swim, click here: http://www.sfzoo.org/openrosters/view_homepage.asp?orgkey=1859
The hippo’s public access will be limited until he adjusts to his new home.
At its annual fundraiser on April 29, the Zoological Society will seek “parents” for the hippo who will have the honor of bestowing him with a name.
The San Francisco Zoo has no plans to breed the new hippo and reported that he will not be sharing his space with any other hippos either. While hippos live in large groups called “pods,” they are not social animals and sometimes become aggressive. Tucker, however, so far appears to be very mild-mannered. The zoo also reported that it is unlikely that Tucker will miss his previous mate or offspring. In the wild, hippos breed and then go back to their day-to-day activites in the pod. The male has no interaction with its offspring. The San Francisco Zoo’s former hippos, Puddles and Cuddles became acclimated to each other over a long period of time.
The hippopotamus, whose hide alone can weigh half a ton, can reach up to 3.5 tons in weight and is the third-largest living land mammal, after elephants and white rhinos. It can reach 13 feet long and 5 feet tall and has a lifespan of about 50 years. It was considered a female deity of pregnancy in ancient Egypt, but in modern times is no longer found in Egypt because of the damage it inflicts on crops. The hippo thrives in other parts of Africa.
Hippos move easily in water, either swimming by kicking their hind legs or walking on the bottom. They are well-adapted to their aquatic life, with small ears, eyes and nostrils set at the top of the head. These senses are so keen that even submerged in water, the hippo is alert to its surroundings. By closing its ears and nostrils, the adult can stay under water for as long as six minutes. The zoo’s new hippo has taken to his large new pool like a fish to water.
About the San Francisco Zoo Encompassing 100 acres, the historic San Francisco Zoo is Northern California’s largest zoological park. The Zoo is home to exotic and rescued animals from all over the world and is located across from the Pacific Ocean. Winter Hours through March 12, 2011: The Zoo is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (last entry at 3:30 p.m.) and is located at 1 Zoo Road, San Francisco. Tickets: from free to $15.00. Phone (415) 753-7080 or visit http://www.sfzoo.org for more information.
Art takes many forms. Tonight’s World Series game was a spectacular performance…with the combination of Giant’s pitching ace Tim Lincecum’s 8 inning torrent, a 7th inning a home run by Edgar Renteria that brought in two Giants teammates on base, and Brian Wilson’s confident 9th inning closing pitches, the Giants won tonight’s game again the Texas Rangers 3-1 and their first World Series chamionship since 1954. I am proud of our champions.
Happy New Year! wishing you an inspiring 2010 filled with joy, good friends and good health…and plentiful bones for your ARThounds!