ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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

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

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

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

ARThound recommends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday/August 5, 6:35 p.m.  To Dust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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