Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 4th Petaluma International Film Festival starts Friday, October 19, 2012, and runs all weekend at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas

Slava Ross’ “Siberia Monamour” is a story of survival set in remote Siberia, with a screenplay developed under the prestigious Cannes Residence program. Young Mikahil Protsko gives a standout performance a recently-orphaned boy who befriends a wild dog. It screens on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at the 4th Petaluma International Film Festival.

Film festivals are cropping up in virtually every nook and cranny of the extended Bay Area now.  For residents of Sonoma County, the convenience and line-up of the Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF) are hard to pass up.  The three-day festival, in its 4th year, begins its impressive run of international independent film tomorrow (Friday) at noon at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas and runs through Sunday.  The line-up includes over 40 films (17 new features and 13 new shorts) from Armenia to Uruguay, and even tiny Luxemburg and distant Azerbaizan make an appearance.  This gem of a festival flies under the radar but it’s worth a look and a visit.

“In our fast-paced world, we are still looking for human stories,” said Saeed Safa, founder and executive director of festival. “The Robots, CGI (computer-generated imagery), and machines in the movies are eye candy that, sooner or later, will be forgotten but the human stories will remain with us for a long time,” said Safa.

Safa also runs the popular Tiburon International Film Festival (TIFF) every spring.  He has an eye for interesting films that might not otherwise be screened due to commercial reasons, and certainly not in Petaluma, and has put together a line-up that includes a great mix of documentaries, dramas and shorts focusing on what loosely might be called global understanding–seeing the world through the eyes of another.  “We try to create an opportunity for the young and talented filmmakers from around the world who will be the torch holders of the next generation of the filmmakers,” said Safa. “Each film we select has a different story and special message.”

For detailed programming information, a list of filmmakers attending and information about a festival pass, visit the Petaluma International Film Festival homepage.

ARThound’s Picks:

Unfinished Spaces: Navigating between past and present, while deftly mixing contemporary and archival footage, Alysa Nahmais and Benjamin Murray’s documentary Unfinished Spaces tells the remarkable story of how in 1961 Fidel Castro enlisted three visionary young architects to construct a Cuban National Art Schools complex on the grounds of a former golf course. Construction of their radical designs for five separate schools began immediately and classes soon followed.  Dancers, musicians and artists from all over the country reveled in the beauty of the schools, but as the dream of the Cuban Revolution quickly became a reality, construction was abruptly halted and the architects and their designs were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. Forty years later the schools are in use, but remain unfinished and decaying. Castro has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream.  A moving and well-researched documentary that uses bricks, arches and fountains as a metaphor for the evolving Cuban landscape. This fascinating film includes footage of Fidel Castro, the architects themselves and embraces the very mutable intersection of art, aesthetics, politics, history and Cuban culture. (2011, 86 minutes) (Screens Friday, October 19, 2012, 4:15 p.m.)

Marie Jung plays a talented young Luxembourg chess player, Sophie Latour, who beats a famous chess master in “The Symmetry of the Butterfly” (“D’Symmetrie vum Päiperlek”), a new feature film from Luxembourg screening at the 4th Petaluma International Film Festival on Friday.

The Butterfly’s Symmetry (D’Symmetrie vum Päiperlek):  This second feature film by Luxembourg directors Paul Scheuer and Maisy Hausemer tells the story of a famous chess master, Gregori Sczyrkutah, known for his misogyny, who is beaten at his own game by a young and talented Luxembourg chess player, Sophie Latour (Marie Jung).  The defeat is hard to take and he withdraws from public life in bitterness and anger.  A Swiss software engineer, Max von Allmen, proposes using a revolutionary chess software that is guaranteed to beat Sophie.  While Max is programming the software, he falls in love with Sophie.  And, to further complicate matters, this entire story is imagined by a Luxembourg writer, Roger, during his prolonged stay at an old-age pensioners’ home, where he uses the people he sees around him as inspiration for the characters in his story. (2012, 93 minutes) (Screens Friday, October 19, 2012 at 10 p.m.)

Wind & Fog (Bad o meh):  Captivating images from pastoral northern Iran serve as a backdrop for Mohammad-Ali Talebi’s enchanting tale of a boy rendered deaf and mute after losing his mother in the Iran-Iraq war. Ostracized by his classmates but doted over by his loving sister, eight-year-old Sahand—whose wan face and haunted eyes evoke the unspeakable horrors he’s witnessed—becomes obsessed with a wounded white goose.  The climax unfolds in a misty, magical forest making wondrous use of classic fantasy elements.   Official Selection: Vancouver International Film Festival – Awarded Berlinale Film Festival CINEMA Fairbindet Prize for contributing in an “extraordinary way” to the ongoing dialogue on important global issues. (2011, 74 minutes) (Screens Saturday, October 20, 2012, 8:25 p.m.)

Iranian director Mohammad-Ali Talebi’s award-winning “Wind & Fog” (“Bad o meh) tells the story of a young boy who is injured and traumatized by Iran Iraq war and his slow path to healing. The film a special award at the prestigious Berlinale film festival in 2011.

Siberia Monamour:  Slava Ross’ tale of survival is set in the remote reaches of the wild Siberian taiga—the forested area of Siberia that covers more than a quarter of Russia’s territory, an undeveloped place that remains largely untouched by politics.  This dark feature, with a very Russian perspective, builds slowly and involves the thoughtful intersection of several characters and their stories, ultimately pitting men against the forces of nature to survive.  An orphaned seven year-old boy, Lyochka (Mikahil Protsko) and his grandfather (Pyotr Zaichenko) live alone in a cabin and are unexpectedly isolated as winter sets in.  A parallel storyline has two soldiers (Nikolai Kozak and Maxim Yemelyanov) on a mission to find a prostitute to satisfy their depraved lieutenant (Sergei Puskepalis) and their encounter with a young girl (Lidiya Bairashevskay) whom they bring back to their base.  The cinematography by Yury Rajski and Alexxey Todorov includes stunning landscapes, wild dogs, and decaying interiors and the unforgettable story itself is a harsh reflection on contemporary Russia and its collapsed morality.   Stand-out performance by young Mikahil Protsko.   (Screens Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.)

Tickets: $10 per screening at  Boulevard Cinemas, Petaluma Blvd. North at C Street.   Most screenings include a feature-length film coupled with a short. For detailed programming information and list of filmmakers attending, visit the Petaluma International Film Festival homepage.

October 18, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understanding the World through Film: 2nd Petaluma International Film Festival, October 22-24, 2010

Oana Marian’s 2009 documentary short “Sunset,” screening Sunday at the 2nd Petaluma International Film Festival, was shot at Petaluma’s Sunset Line and Twine Factory and features a mysteriously rebellious twine machine. Image courtesy Mihai Malaimare.

The 2nd Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF) concludes its run of international independent film Sunday afternoon with a fabulous line-up at the Boulevard Cinemas including 5 new feature films and 10 shorts.  This gem of a festival has hardly gotten any publicity but it’s worth a look and a visit—it includes 40 important new films from 27 countries and guests from all over the world.   For me, it represents the new face of Petaluma, a town that is opening to the world and embracing its artistic hipness right along with its grass-roots hominess.  The festival is the brainchild of Tiburon resident Saeed Shafa, founder and executive director, who also organizes and founded the Tiburon International Film Festival, about to turn 10.   You may not have heard of Shafa before but his eye for interesting films that might not otherwise be screened due to commercial reasons, and certainly not in Petaluma, grabbed my attention.   Shafa has put together a line-up that includes a great mix of documentaries, dramas and shorts focusing on what loosely might be called global understanding–seeing the world through the eyes of another.

The festival opened Friday afternoon with “Into the Forbidden Zone,” a riveting documentary by Richard Mackenzie, Charles Poe, and Jody Shiliro featuring author Sebastian Junger and photographer Reza as they journey into war-torn Afghanistan in search of Northern Alliance resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of Panjshir.  Later Friday, director Robert Adanto made a guest appearance for the screening of his latest feature length film “Pearls on the Ocean Floor,” which profiles contemporary Iran through the creative lives of female artists such as Shirin Neshat and Gohar Dashti who work under tremendous pressure both inside and outside of Iran.

Friday’s screening came to a dramatic close with “The Last Script Remembering Luis Buñuel” produced by Javier Espada and Gaizka Urresti, a documentary that reflects Shafa’s keen interest in revolutionary filmmakers.  Topping that list is Spanish director, writer, occasional producer, Spanish Civil War propagandist Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) who worked mainly in Mexico and France but also in his native Spain producing an influential body of surrealistic and radical film that became entangled with his celebrated personality.  “The Last Script” is a pilgrimage following Buñuel’s eldest son Juan Luis Buñuel accompanied by his screenwriter friend Jean Claude Carrière, on a fascinating exploration of Buñuel’s life chronologically that begins in his home town Calanda continues in Zaragoza, Toledo, Madrid, and Paris, before jumping stateside to New York and Los Angeles and ending in Mexico. The script was based on Buñuel’s best-selling memoir, “My Last Sigh.”

Saturday included Romanian transplant Oana Marian’s charming 12 minute documentary short “Sunset,” filmed and shot at our beloved Sunset Line and Twine building that graces corner spot across from the railway depot, aka Petaluma Arts Center.  The film is about a twine braiding machine with a mind of its own that escapes its factory-setting and goes on a journey, which Oana captures in film.  In attendance were Anahid Nazarian (Producer), Mihai Malaimare (Cinematographer), and Pete Horner (Sound designer).

Saturday evening concluded with Serbian- Bosnia‐Herzegovinan director Predrag Velinovic’s humorous and reflective romantic drama “Motel Nana,” that follows the expulsion of Ivan, a Belgrade high school history teacher from his job for impulsively slapping a rebellious student.  Ivan accepts a post as an elementary school teacher in a remote Muslim town in Serbia and, along the way, meets Jasmina, a young woman who changes his life.   The film poignantly explores the underlying tensions in this war torn land that will never completely heal as long as prejudices abound.

Up Sunday is “Sergio Leone: The Way I see Things Now,” Italian director Giuilio Reale’s tribute to Italian director, producer and screenwriter Sergio Leone, closely associated with the Spaghetti Western (“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “A Fist Full of Dollars,” etc.)

Contrary Warrior” is director John Ferry’s documentary exploration of the life of Native American Adam Fortunate Eagle, an activist, artist, author, ceremonial leader and one of the principle architects of the American Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island in 1969 – an action that brought about social change and got him declared an enemy of the state.  Fortunate Eagle, now 79, is an iconic figure, who has shape the modern conception of what it means to be a Native American.  John Ferry will be in attendance.

On Sunday evening, local director Steve Clark Hall will make an appearance at the screening of his new documentary “Out of Annapolis,” which explores the experiences of eleven gay and lesbian alumni of the U.S. Naval Academy who share their lives as midshipmen at Annapolis and as officers in the U. S. Navy and U. S. Marine Corps.  Their stories reveal the difficulties and joys of coming and being out in the naval service, both before and during “Don’t‐Ask‐Don’t‐Tell.”  Petaluma resident Linda Postenrieder, co-owner of Pelican Art & Custom Framing, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1982, who is profiled in the film will also be in attendance.

The festival concludes with the Northern California premiere of Ryan Ward’s “Son of the Sunshine,” which profiles the gripping story of Canadian Sonny Johns, a young man with Tourettes Syndrome who is on a quest for healing which involves an intense struggle to decouple himself from the cadre of unhealthy relationships he is enmeshed in.  The film profiles Sony as he spends his savings from years of disability payments to undergo an experimental procedure that promises to eradicate his symptoms.  Upon his recovery, Sonny discovers that the surgery has somehow smothered an amazing supernatural gift he has had all his life: the uncanny ability to heal the sick and the dying.

Tickets:  $10 per screening at Cinema West Boulevard Cinemas, Petaluma Blvd. North at C Street.  Most screenings include a feature-length film coupled with a short.  For detailed programming information and list of filmmakers attending, visit the Petaluma International Film Festival homepage.

October 24, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival turns 15–Something for Everyone, October 5 – December 1, 2010

Gertrude Berg in a scene from "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," sold out at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Gertrude starred in the domestic sitcom that started on radio and moved to television and established the character-driven domestic sitcom as a tv staple.

Looking for a mid-week lift?   The 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County is in full swing and the line-up is excellent.  In fact, whether you’re Jewish or not, you will appreciate having the world at your feet with this diverse mix of new international films that includes dramas, comedies, and documentaries, many of which have won numerous awards.  With the recent closing of the Rialto Lakeside Cinemas, The Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival is the main platform in Sonoma County for new independent and foreign films that otherwise get little exposure, outside of the film festival circuit.   The series of six films runs on Tuesday evenings at 7:15 pm at Cinema West’s Boulevard Cinemas in Petaluma and on Wednesdays at 1 pm and 7:15 pm at the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.  Screenings are selling out fast but individual tickets are still available for screenings at both venues.

The festival is the brainchild of Ellen Blustein, program director, who says that she and a dedicated programming committee screen films from around the world that are about engaging with life and that also have a Jewish connection.    The idea was originally to expand the outreach of the Jewish Community Center, a non-religious Jewish cultural organization in Sonoma County.   “Film was perfect.  What life lessons don’t get addressed in film?    That’s what keeps people in our community coming out to this festival.”  

Blustein is also proud that the festival  is financed entirely through private contributions.  At each screening, the sponsors for that particular film are asked to stand and are warmly applauded.  And, at every screening, there is a raffle—$2 buys a chance to win a fabulous prize, for example, dinner for two at Everest Restaurant and theatre tickets at the Cinnabar Theatre.  

Still left in the series—

 Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg:  For two and a half decades, Gertrude Berg, the creator of the wildly popular radio and TV show, “The Goldbergs” was the most famous woman in America, and the winner of the first ever Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The Oprah of her day, Gertrude Berg’s blend of comedy and social commentary, with Jewish characters at the center, endeared her to audiences and made her an American cultural icon. This highly entertaining feature length documentary blends interviews with Ed Asner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear,and Susan Stamberg, among others.  Documentary, USA, 92 minutes, English.  Tuesday, October 12, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 13, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

 Nora’s Will:  Nora plots to reunite her family and friends by ending her life on the eve of Passover. In this dark comedy, her curmudgeonly ex-husband of 30 years propels the zany and poignant events forward, including hilarious burial plans, the expectations of several orthodox rabbis, answers to long held secrets and Nora’s meticulously pre-planned Seder. Winner of seven Ariel Awards (Mexican Academy Awards) including Best Picture, Best Original screenplay and Best Actor,  Comedy,  Mexico, 92 minutes, Spanish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, October 19, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 20, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Saviors in the Night:  Based on the true story of three German farm families who hid and saved a Jewish family during Nazi rule, the film reveals the complex relationships and emotional and physical hardships of saviors and saved. Ultimately hopeful, this example of a new self-reflective German film movement shows the potential for the heart to care for all humankind. The names of the farmers have been immortalized in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  JFF audience award winner.  Drama,  Germany, 95 minutes, German, French and English, English subtitles.  Tuesday, October 26, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 27, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Camera Obscura: Growing up in late 19th century Buenos Aries, Gertrud  is a disappointment to her mother from the moment of her birth. As the invisible ugly duckling, she is compelled to create beauty in everything she does, while remaining unseen. Married off to an older Jewish rancher, her husband hires an itinerant photographer for a family portrait. Through the photographer’s eyes, Gertrudis becomes visible for the first time. This luminous, artistic film uses archival and surrealistic photographs, black and white film, and hand drawn animation.  Drama, Argentina, 86 minutes, Spanish and Yiddish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, November 16, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, November 17, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger: In this coming-of-age comedy, Esther, a feisty outsider at her posh private girls’ school, becomes desperate to fit in and discover her true self at the time of her Bat Mitzvah. Secretly, rebelling against her “perfect” upper middle class parents, Esther befriends Sunni, a public school bad girl and her super hip mom. Adopting a new identity, Esther becomes entangled in a web of lies, betrayal and bullying, ultimately finding a more honest self in the process. Actors include Keisha Castle- Hughes, Toni Collette and Danielle Catanzariti (winner of AFI Young Actors Award). Comedy, Australia, 103 minutes, English.  Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, December 1, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Tickets: $10 per matinee tickets, $12 per evening ticket. For further information on tickets, locations and times, contact the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County (707) 528-4222 or Ellen Blustein (707) 526-5538 or visit the JCC website and click on Film Festival.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment