ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival starts tonight and runs through October 18─here are ARThound’s favs

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard's documentary,

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Gorgeously photographed, with stunning super slo-mo shots of birds in flight and plenty of exquisite melodies, this thoughtful film celebrates these glorious magicians and explores their rapidly shrinking global populations, calling for drastic action to save them. image: MVFF

The 38th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF38) is upon us─it kicks off this evening with two opening night films─Tom Hopper’s The Danish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight─ and an always opulent gala afterwards at Marin Country Mart.  The festival runs full force (11AM to 10PM) for the next 10 days at several Marin venues, all within close range of Sonoma County.

Even with the catalog in hand, a 60 pager, redesigned to make it easier to figure out, it takes time and planning to decide which of the 170+ films and special programs to attend.  Long-time programmers Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin and Karen Davis are so tuned in to our North Bay tastes, every film is a de facto good choice but I’ll point to some standouts.

I have a soft spot for world cinema that delivers a great story (the quirkier the better) and takes me to a (beautifully-filmed) place I’ve never been.  I also love documentaries that expose and inspire.  There are always a handful of films from Cannes and some that represent foreign language Oscar nominees.  As for the tributes and special programs, if you have the time, go to as many as possible.  Every special program I’ve attended at this festival has been well worth the extra money and I’ve been inspired to do wonderful things as a result.  In 2012, after seeing Luc Besson’s amazing bio-pic, The Lady, and hearing guest Michelle Yeoh interviewed about playing Burmese activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, I visited Myanmar for two weeks and experienced it on the brink of its transformation.  I got involved with supporting a school and I visited Suu Kyi’s family home in a posh suburb of Yangon─it was surrounded a high wall─and left flowers in tribute.

These are my recommendations for this year’s not-to-miss films and events─

Embrace of the Serpent:

Ciro Guerra's

Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent,” won top prize at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight and is Columbia’s submission to foreign-language category for the Academy Awards. Image: MVFF

Thirty-four year-old Columbian director Ciro Guerra is no stranger to Cannes.  His 2009 drama The Wind Journeys, which competed in the Uncertain Regard category, was filmed in some 80 locations all over Columbia and tracked a musician’s restorative journey to return an accordion.  His Embrace of the Serpent took this year’s Directors’ Fortnight prize at Cannes which is the top Art Cinema prize and it’s Columbia’s submission to foreign-language Oscar category.  Rich is the only way to describe the rare Amazonian languages you’ll hear and the exquisite black and white photography of fabled Amazonian landscapes.  The story unfolds from point of view of European explorer and a Shaman who work over the course of some 40 years to search for a sacred healing plant.  The thoughtful film delivers a fairly comprehensive critique of the destruction of indigenous cultures at the hands of white invaders.  Cast member Brionne Davis in attendance. (Ciro Guerra, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, 2015, 125 min)

Golden Kingdom:

“Golden Kingdom” is American filmmaker Brian Perkins first feature film and it has its US premiere at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Image: courtesy: Brian Perkins

“Golden Kingdom” is American filmmaker Brian Perkins’ first feature film and it has its US premiere at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Image: courtesy: Brian Perkins

 

The first feature film shot in Myanmar and a first feature for it its director, Brian Perkins, too, Golden Kingdom is a prescient widow into the culture of this remote fabled land.  This is the story of four young boy monks, all orphans (played by non-professional actors), who are left alone in a monastery in Shan State in Northeast Myanmar when their elderly head monk receives a letter and takes off on a journey.  The film cleverly uses the Buddhist motif of pursuit of enlightenment and knowledge and traditional Burmese storytelling to explore the unknown and overwhelming new world the boys encounter as they decide to leave and venture out into the countryside, only to encounter a land that is still engaged in remnants of a violent separatist uprising.  (Brian Perkins, US, 2015, 103 min) in Burmese (10/13 5PM; 10/15 2PM Sequoia 1)

Rams:

In Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams,” two peculiar brothers in a small Icelandic farming community, who haven't spoken in 40 years, are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to them – their sheep. Image: MVFF

In Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams,” two peculiar brothers in a small Icelandic farming community, who haven’t spoken in 40 years, are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to them – their sheep. Image: MVFF

When’s the last time you saw a film from Iceland or heard their language, Íslenska (Icelandic), spoken?  Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams, winner of the Uncertain Regard Prize at Cannes, weaves the story of two brothers, both single and getting on in years, who compete fiercely each year for valley-wide recognition for having the best ram.  They haven’t spoken in 40 years but are forced to come together in order to save what’s dearest to their hearts—their sheep.  Shot in remote lush valleys of Iceland, with added color in the peculiar characters of the two brothers, the film is also infused with some Norse humor. (Grímur Hákonarson, Iceland, 2015, 93 min)

Mustang:

Five beautiful sisters on the verge of womanhood in an Anatolian village by the sea suffer from their guardians' attempts to lock them away to protect their virginity. image: MVFF

Five beautiful sisters on the verge of womanhood in an Anatolian village by the sea suffer from their guardians’ attempts to lock them away to protect their virginity. image: MVFF

We’ve all heard of young girls cloistered away to protect their virginity and make them marriage worthy by their tradition-bound families.  Here’s Turkish female director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s take on this. Mustang weaves a story of five young carefree Turkish girls, all orphans, who under the “protection” of their grandmother and uncle, are punished severely for being seen at the beach interacting with boys in what is interpreted as an indecent act by townspeople who report them.  One moment they are free and then they are not.  They are subjected to virginity tests, beaten and then essentially locked up until it is time to try and marry them off.  They don’t go down without a fight though and thus the aptness of the title–these gorgeous young mustangs, with their amazing flowing hair, yearn for the very freedom that defines them.  The filmmaker has crafted a potent critique of the suppression and demonization of female sexuality that is alive and well in Turkish society.  Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, France, Germany, Turkey, 94 min)

The Messenger:

Filmmaker Su Rynard's

Filmmaker Su Rynard’s “The Messenger” screens twice at MVFF38 and she will be at both screenings. Making a documentary is a labor of love that often takes years to realize. To understand what was happening with global populations of songbirds, Rynard and her team followed the seasons and songbirds on three different continents. Along the way, she met many people who shared her concern for the plight of these glorious musicians of nature. image: Su Rynard

The message of Su Rynard’s riveting documentary, The Messenger, is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline.  Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone.  Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey.  Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger.  Whose song will we hear when they are gone?   The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs.  Director Su Rynard in attendance. (Su Rynard, Canada, France, 2015, 90 min)

Son of Saul:

Géza Röhrig is Saul Auslander in Laszlo Nemes' holocaust drama,

Géza Röhrig is Saul Auslander in Laszlo Nemes’ holocaust drama, “Son of Saul.” image: MVFF

 

First time director László Nemes’  Son of Saul (Saul Fia) is a Holocaust film that won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and everyone’s buzzing about.  (Earlier this week, NPR’s Terry Gross devoted a full hour to the film, click here, to read or listen to her interview with the director.) The dark story is centered on Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is forced to assist the Nazis with the killings of Jews and the gruesome disposal of bodies afterwards.  In exchange, he is given some special privileges.  When he spots a young boy’s body that he believes is his son, he sets out to give him a proper burial.  The film captures the organization and chaos of the camps like no other film has and, at its core, it is the story of one man’s brave rebellion and humanity.  The camera rarely leaves his face in which there are worlds of grief.  The story is based on the actual testimonials, the so-called Scrolls of Auschwitz.  (László Nemes, Hungary, 2015, 107 min)   image: MVFF

Amnesia Centerpiece Presentation, October 13:

Crafted from events in his mother’s life, Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder’s “Amnesia” stars German icon Marthe Keller as a German expat hiding out in idyllic Ibizia whose cage is rattled by a young German man who is her new neighbor and it's not just because he falls in love with her. Image: MVFF

Crafted from events in his mother’s life, Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder’s “Amnesia” stars German icon Marthe Keller as a German expat hiding out in idyllic Ibizia whose cage is rattled by a young German man who is her new neighbor and it’s not just because he falls in love with her. Image: MVFF

An interesting take on a Nazi story and moral culpability by Swiss director Barbet Schroeder. Amnesia is set in picturesque Ibizia and the story involves a younger man’s attraction to an older woman, who is hiding the fact that she is German, and much more, from him.  The young DJ tries to crack this hard nut by peeling away her layers.   Writer/director Barbet Schroeder in attendance (Barbet Schroeder, Switzerland, France, 2015 96 min)

At RUSH but keep your eyes out in Bay Area theaters for─

The Assassin (Nie Yinniang) (Hou Hsia-hsien, Taiwan, 2015, 105 min) spectacular Ibizan landscape (Thurs 10/8 6:16 PM; Sat 10/17 8:30 PM─both screenings at Rush)

Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015, 118 min) (Sun 10/11 5:30PM; Wed 10/14 4 PM──both screenings at Rush)

The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, Australia, 2015, 118 min) (10/16 7PM; 10/18 11AM─both screenings at Rush)

Details:   MVFF38 is October 8-18, 2015.  Screening venues include: Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael); Century Larkspur (500 Larkspur Landing Circle); Lark Theater (549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur), Century Cinema (41 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera); CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Throckmorton Theatre (142 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.

Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. (Online purchases have a $1.75 per film surcharge).  There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantages of getting your tickets on the spot, no service fee, and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—

SAN RAFAEL

Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept.19-Oct 7, 4–8 pm (General Public)

MILL VALLEY

Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, 85 Throckmorton Ave, October 7, 11 am–3:00 pm; Oct 8-18, 10 am to 15 min after last show starts

Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

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October 8, 2015 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SFIFF 53 — 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22- May 6, starts Thursday with an Impressive Line-up of Global Cinema

It’s film festival season again and nothing beats the San Francisco International Film Festival for exceptional global cinema.  The festival, now in its 53rd year, runs April 22-May 6, 2010 and offers 177 films from 46 countries in 31 languages with 9 North American premieres, 5 world premieres and one international premiere.   I am especially attached to SFIFF because the programming is wonderfully diverse offering narrative features, feature documentaries, works from new directors, and shorts from all over the world that can loosely be divided into over 20 niche causes– animals, the arts, civil liberties, environment, family issues, human rights, science and technology, world culture, war, youth, and Cinema by the Bay (locals).  All screenings include engaging audience Q&A with the directors, actors, and film crews.  

The festival always includes a number of “big nights” with special gala screenings and events.  This year, the opening night film at the Castro theatre is Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MicMacs, a David and Goliath story about extracting revenge from weapons manufacturers who have reeked havoc in the life of man with a bullet lodged in his head.

The centerpiece screening on May 1 is Happythankyouplease, the feature debut film by Josh Radnor, star of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”  The story involves a struggling Lower East Side writer who strikes up a touching friendship with a lost child he meets on the subway and whose orbit includes an engaging group of twenty-somethings whose lives exemplify a generational shift for post-9/11 Manhattanites.  The festival closes on May 6 with an appearance by the amazing Joan Rivers and a screening of Joan Rivers–A Piece of Work.  At 76, this unflappable, courageous, quick-witted dynamo has been entertaining us for 55 years and is not about to abdicate her role as America’s reigning queen of comedy. 

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek starring in Aaron Schneider's GET LOW, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

The Film Society Awards Night on Thursday April 29, 2010 honors achievement in acting, directing and screenwriting.  Robert Duvall will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for brilliance in acting.  His latest film Get Low (Dir. Aaron Schneider, USA, 2009, 102 min) screens on Friday, April 30 and is sure to garner Oscar attention. 

 This year’s Founder’s Directing Award goes to Brazilian director Walter Salles whose trademark semi-documentary style was honed in memorable films like Central Station (1994) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).  The festival will screen his most recent film Linha de Passé (2008) and In Search of the Road, a work in progress based on Kerouac’s On The Road on Wednesday April 28, 2010.  James Schamas will receive the coveted Kanbar Award for screenwriting and his 2009 Director’s Cut of Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil will screen on May 1, 2010.

Tilda Swinton starring in Erick Zonca's JULIA, will screen at An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends at the Castro Theatre on May 1 as part of the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

Chicago film Critic Roger Ebert, who has been commenting on and championing movies professionally for over 4 decades will receive the Mel Novikoff Award recognizing his enhancement of filmgoer’s appreciation of world cinema.  An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends at the Castro Theatre on May 1, will include a screening of Ebert’s 2009 fav—Erik Zonka’s thriller Julia, starring Tilda Swinton as a boozed-up abrasive kidnapper who attempts a double-cross but finds herself overwhelmed.  

SFIFF takes place in San Francisco (Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, and Landmark’s Clay Theatre) and Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive).  Most of these films sell out, so buy your tickets in advance.

Here are my must-see flicks, biased by my interest in global politics, human rights, environmental concerns and penetrating storytelling.  I will be posting full reviews of several of these films in coming days. 

 
 
 
 
 

A scene from Ciro Guerra's THE WIND JOURNEYS, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

The Wind Journeys (Dir. Ciro Guerra, Columbia/Netherlands/Argentina/Germany, 2009, 117 min) Every year SFIFF offers a must-see “journey film”—an inspiring and unforgettable road trip through cloud-capped mountains in a remote and mystic locale.  The Wind Journeys takes us on a final trek with elderly Columbian juglar (migrant musician) Ignacio who, after his wife’s death, sets out to return his accordion to his mentor before he dies.  He travels through Columbia’s mountain villages and spectacular forests with Fermin, a pesky and unwelcome young follower who hopes to become his apprentice and successor but lacks musical talent.  When tragedy strikes, the two men discover they actually need each other.  Aside from its beautiful music and rich ethnographic context, this slow moving but perfectly-paced film is infused with references to sorcery–Ignacio’s accordion is said to be cursed.  Screens: Sunday, May 2, 8:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday May 4, 8 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, May 6, 5:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre.

 

Marwencol (Dir. Jeff Maimberg, USA, 2010, 82 min) As a result of a brutal beating in April 2000, Mark Hogancamp awoke brain-damaged with no memory of his life before the attack, unable to walk, speak or rely on his motor skills.  As something to pass the time while nursing himself back to health, Hogancamp began to build

A scene from Jeff Malmberg's MARWENCOL, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of san Francisco Film Society.

 Marwencol, a 1/6 scale fictional Belgium WWII era town in his backyard.  Populated with life-like Barbi dolls who he has painstakingly and tenderly given identities, Hogancamp plays out scenes from life and WWII and then photographs them.  The result is an amazing collection of gripping photographs that would hold their own next to any war photojournalism.  This engrossing documentary takes us into the brilliant creative mind of a remarkable man whose play therapy has captured the attention of the fickle art world.  I had the pleasure of watching this with my 85 year-old step-father, a veteran, who was so moved by the enactments and Hogancamp that he began to share his own remarkable war stories.    Screens: Saturday May 1, 4:10 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday May 2, 6:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday May 4, 4:15 PM Kabuki Theatre.  

A scene from Andrei Dascalescu's documentary CONSTANTIN AND ELENA, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010.

 Constantin and Elena (Dir. Andrei Dascalescu, Romania, Spain, 2008, 102 min)  Only if we could all be so lucky to reach our twilight years with the love, energy and genuine affection of Constantin and Elena, a Romanian couple who have been married happily for 55years.  This delightful documentary feature film, made by their grandson Andrei Dascalescu, follows them over the course of a year as they live simply but richly side by side–making sausage, weaving carpets, milking cows, going to church, nurturing each other and bursting into song and laughter.  Not that they don’t bicker but they do so lovingly.   They talk constantly about everything, even death– which they accept is coming but oh to keep living because they’ve got things to do.  Screens: Friday April 23, 4:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Sunday April 25, 12 noon, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday, April 27, 6:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Saturday, May 1, Pacific Film Archive.  

Ordinary People (Dir. Vladimir Perisic, France/Switzerland/Serbia, 2009, 80 min) An unforgettable and utterly numbing debut film that about a group of young soldiers, including Dzoni (Rejila Popovic)

A scene from Vladimir Perisic's ORDINARY PEOPLE, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

a twenty something recruit played by, taken on a bus ride to a remote locale–unstated but presumably somewhere in the Balkans—where their horrific task is to execute a large group of civilians.   As the act gets underway, the characters various responses to it will stay with you for days.  Dzoni refuses at first and fails at his first kill–a shot to the back of a bound man—but before our eyes, he slowly evolves into a brutal killing machine with hardened features to match. The film explores the familiar ethical defense that in war soldiers cannot always be held responsible for their actions when they are obeying orders.  In this case, the secretive slaughter of civilians violates international law and all moral codes.  We realize that these young men have been so brain-washed by their military training and their need to be accepted by their comrades that they will blindly follow any order.  In the end, they come to treat the act of killing as drudgery.  While this excellent film depicts an abstract massacre, it should spark an interest in the genocide trials now going in The Hague where actual heinous acts are being prosecuted.  Screens: Friday April 30, 9 PM,  Kabuki Theatre, Monday, May 3, 8:55 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, May 5, 7:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre.

 
 
 
 

A scene from Satyajit Ray's 1958 film THE MUSIC ROOM, playing at the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of Aurora Film and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

The Music Room (Dir. Satyajit Ray, India, 1958, 100 min)  Every year, SFIFF offers a restored classic.  One of the greats of Indian cinema, this lovely slow film is based on Bengali writer Tarashankar Banerjee’s novel of the same name.  It tells the story of a turn-of-the-century zamindar, an Indian semi-feudal landlord in Bengal, whose wealth is dwindling but who continues to spend lavishly on concerts in his opulent jalsaghar (music room).  There is excellent footage of Hindustani classical vocal and instrumental music by Vilayat Khan, Asis Kumar, Robin Majumder, and Dakhin Mohan Takhur, as well as classical dance.  The iconic lead actor Chhabi Biswas delivers a stunning performance—of a man hell-bent on preserving his image of grandeur as he recklessly spends it all on one last musical orgy.   Satyajit Ray’s work occupies a special place in the history of SFIF.  Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali, had its U.S. premiere at the very first SFIFF in 1957. Since then, the festival has screened more of his films than those of any other director.  Screens: Saturday May 1, 2:30 PM, Castro Theatre, Sunday, May 2, 6:15 PM, Pacific Film Archive.  

Get Low (Dir. Aaron Schneider, USA, 2009, 102 min)  Robert Duval plays Felix Bush, a elderly recluse who has exiled himself in the back woods for 40 years, crippled by a tragic event that has kept him in a prison of his own making.  Stirred by the death of a one-time friend, Bush makes a rare trip to town and discusses plans to “get low” or make funeral plans.  He wants a funeral party where everyone who has a story to tell about him will have a chance to speak and he wants to watch it all go down. Co-starring Bill Murray as the greasy funeral home director and Sissy Spacek, as a jilted love interest, this story will leave you thinking twice about self-imposed baggage we all carry with us through this life.  Screens: Friday April 30, 7:30 PM, Castro Theatre.

Ticket Information:
Tickets are $12.50  Online: sffs.org   By phone: 925-866-9559 (Monday–Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm)
In Person: Main Ticket Outlet: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street (at Fillmore)
Pre-Festival: April 1–22, 3:30–7:30 pm
During the Festival: April 23–May 6, open one hour prior to the first screening of the day.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment