ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 6-16 and it’s a very good year

 

 

Ethiopian writer-director Yared Zeleke’s feature debut film, “The Lamb” (2015) will screen twice at the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival, and the filmmaker will attend both screenings and participate in an audience Q & A. “The Lamb” wasthe first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection, made a huge splash at Cannes in 2015. This drama, which unfolds in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is the story of a young boy, Ephriam (Rediat Amare), who, after his mother’s death, is left to live with his cousins while his father heads off to Addis Abba in search of work. He becomes attached to a goat, Chuni, and when his relatives make plans to sacrifice the goat, he and Chuni go on the run. Much of the film is an exploration of family life in Ethiopia, a land of stunning landscapes and drought-stricken arid areas, where the labor-intensive electricity-free lifestyle is far removed from that in the West. The film is especially recommended for families. Image: MVFF

Ethiopian writer-director Yared Zeleke’s feature debut film, “The Lamb” (2015) screens twice at the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival, and the filmmaker will attend both screenings and participate in audience Q & A’s.  The first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection, “The Lamb” made a huge splash at Cannes. This drama, which unfolds in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is the story of a young boy, Ephriam (Rediat Amare), who, after his mother’s death, is left to live with his cousins while his father heads off to Addis Abba in search of work. He becomes attached to an endearing goat, Chuni, and when his relatives make plans to sacrifice the goat, he and Chuni go on the run. Much of the film is an exploration of family life in Ethiopia, a land of stunning landscapes and drought-stricken arid areas, where the labor-intensive electricity-free lifestyle is far removed from that in the West. The film is especially recommended for families. Image: MVFF

 

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

Actor Gael García Bernal stars in director Pablo Larraíns new film, "Neruda."

Actor Gael García Bernal, the focus of a MVFF Spotlight, stars in director Pablo Larraíns new film, “Neruda.”

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

Shahab Hosseini (L) and Taraneh Alidoosti in a scene from Ashgar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.”

Shahab Hosseini (L) and Taraneh Alidoosti in a scene from Ashgar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.”

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 scene from Yared Zeleke's "Lamb."

A scene from Yared Zeleke’s “Lamb.”

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

Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in a scene from François Ozon’s “Frantz.”

Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in a scene from François Ozon’s “Frantz.”

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

Eszter Ónodi (seated) in a scene from Ibolya Fekete’s “Mom and Other Loonies in the Family.”

Eszter Ónodi (seated) in a scene from Ibolya Fekete’s “Mom and Other Loonies in the Family.”

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

Jimmy Baxter (L) and Ryan Baxter (R) in a scene from Ryan Baxter's "Green is Gold."

Jimmy Baxter (L) and Ryan Baxter (R) in a scene from Ryan Baxter’s “Green is Gold.”

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

A scene from Finn Taylor's "Unleashed," with Kate Micucci (L) and Justin Chatwin (R) who was once her energetic dog, Summit, and has reentered her life as a full grown man. The film screens twice at MVFF with filmmaker, producer and Kate Miccuci in attendance.

A scene from Finn Taylor’s “Unleashed,” with Kate Micucci (L) and Justin Chatwin (R) who was once her energetic dog, Summit, and has reentered her life as a full grown man. The film screens twice at MVFF with filmmaker, producer and Kate Miccuci in attendance.

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.

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October 1, 2016 Posted by | Film, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest—Asian American film, food, music and comradery kicks off Thursday, March 12, and runs for 11 days in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Nikiko, Korio, Marci and David “Mas” Masumoto have an 80 acre farm in Del Ray, south of Fresno, where they grow several varieties of prized heirloom peaches and nectarines.  They are the subject of the CAAM-produced documentary “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,” which lyrically recounts the daughter Nikiko’s decision to take over the reins of the family’s peach business from her father, Mas, the celebrated peach farmer and author.  In their lifelong search for the perfect peach, the Masumotos till much more than the soil; they embrace the soul of farming which is an intimate act of bravely nurturing which life throws at you.  The Masumotos are being honored at CAAMFest 2015 with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening at the Oakland Museum of California where the film will have its world premiere.  Image: CAAMFest

Nikiko, Korio, Marci and David “Mas” Masumoto have an 80 acre farm in Del Ray, south of Fresno, where they grow several varieties of prized heirloom peaches and nectarines. They are the subject of the CAAM-produced documentary “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,” which lyrically recounts the daughter Nikiko’s decision to take over the reins of the family’s peach business from her father, Mas, the celebrated peach farmer and author. In their lifelong search for the perfect peach, the Masumotos till much more than the soil; they embrace the soul of farming which is an intimate act of bravely nurturing what life throws at you. The Masumotos are being honored at CAAMFest 2015 with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening at the Oakland Museum of California where the film will have its world premiere. Image: CAAMFest

The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMfest turns 33 this year and continues its morph from a pure film festival into a series of festive happenings that fuse cutting edge independent film with music and food—all with an Asian American twist.  CAAMFest takes place over the next 11 days in venues all around the Bay Area including the Asian Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, which add their enticing exhibits to the mix.  Formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest 2015 offers more than 100 movies and videos focused on the discovery of new talents, voices and visions. It’s by far the largest festival of Asian American movies in North America. Under the leadership of Masashi Niwano, now in his fifth year as festival & exhibitions director, the event has become one of the country’s major platforms for conveying the richness and diversity of the Asian American multicultural experience.  ARThound loves this festival because it’s so excellently curated, delivering rich and unusual stories from around the globe that stay with you for years.

This year, you’ll see Asian American broadly defined too.  Iranian director Rakshan Banietemad’s new film, Tales, which picked up the award for Best Screenplay at Venice, caught the CAAMFest programmers’ eyes, not just because it’s a great film but because the director, working under dior conditions in Iran, creatively stitched together a series of shorts, stories from her previous films, to create a full length film.  In so doing, she managed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Iranian cultural ministry which requires a license for a feature but not for shorts.  Bravo!   There are also stories involving the Asian diaspora.   Juan Martín Hsu’s La Salada is set in Argentina’s bustling discount market, La Salada, just outside of Buenos Aires, and involves an ensemble cast of Korean, Taiwanese, and Bolivian immigrants whose experiences all converge at the market.  It’s thus no surprise that “travel” is this year’s theme.  Opportunities for armchair travel abound and over 200 guests will be flying in CAAMFest.

BIG NIGHTS:

Opening Night:  The festival kicks off at the historic Castro Theatre on Thursday evening (March 12), with Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching (2015), his new feature film which garnered quite a buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January.  A tribute to the 1980’s teen movies of John Hughes, but infused with a Korean sensibility and Lee’s own experiences, this dramedy is set in a state run summer camp in Korea that brings together Korean teens from all over the globe for the purpose of teaching them about their culture. Lee uses the teen’s stories, and their unexpected twists, to explore the Korean diaspora. Lee’s Planet B-Boy, about break-dancers in an international competition, won best documentary and the audience award at CAAMfest in 2008. Lee and several cast members will attend.

Opening Gala:  After the screening, there’s an opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum, with a 1980’s dance party with cocktails and fine food amidst the Seduction exhibit of Edo-period Japan. The exhibition has over 60 works of art and features Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu’s (1618-1694) spectacular 58 foot long painted silk handscroll, A Visit to the Yoshiwara, which is shown completely unfurled for the first time. The masterpiece, on loan from the John C. Weber, depicts daily life in the entertainment district in the 17th century.

Kalki Koechlin plays Laila in Shonali Bose’s second feature film, “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), CAAMFest’s Centerpiece film, the first Indian film that introduces a character with cerebral palsy.  Image: CAAMFest

Kalki Koechlin plays Laila in Shonali Bose’s second feature film, “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), CAAMFest’s Centerpiece film, the first Indian film that introduces a character with cerebral palsy. Image: CAAMFest

CAAMfest’s Centerpiece movie:  Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) screens at Castro on Sunday, March 15th and represents the powerful storytelling and moments of palpable intimacy that CAAMFest is famous for.  Kalki Koechlin plays Laila, a young woman from Delhi who is determined not to let her cerebral palsy interfere with her life —she writes lyrics for a rock band, flirts wildly with her classmates and dreams of going to New York to participate in NYU’s prestigious creative writing program to which she’s been admitted. Set in Delhi and New York, the film is a brave and glorious homage to that old adage—“follow your heart.”

Closing Night:  The festival’s closes with Bruce Seidel’s Lucky Chow, a six-part PBS series which will be showcased over the course of two days—Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22—at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater.  The series features Danielle Chang (LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder) as she travel across America, taking in the Asian food landscape.  Accompanying the film will be an Asian-inspired curated menu from the New Parkway kitchen.  Other food-related films are Grace Lee’s Off the Menu: Asian America and Edmond Wong’s Supper Club exploring Bay Area restaurants.

As part of a Spotlight on San Francisco documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong, CAAMFest presents the world premiere of his documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicling the period of the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical stronghold over Cambodia.  The story is told through the eyes of the late Dr. Haing S. Ngor, arguably the most recognizable survivor of the Cambodian genocide.  Ngor fled to the U.S. and became a worldwide ambassador for justice, recreating his experience in the film “The Killing Fields” (1984), for which he won an Academy Award in 1984, only to be murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 1996.  Using animation and rare archival material, anchored by Ngor's richly layered autobiography, this remarkable story brings you face to face with a man who embodied the harsh duality of danger and opportunity.   Image: CAAMFest

As part of a Spotlight on San Francisco documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong, CAAMFest presents the world premiere of his documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicling the period of the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical stronghold over Cambodia. The story is told through the eyes of the late Dr. Haing S. Ngor, arguably the most recognizable survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Ngor fled to the U.S. and became a worldwide ambassador for justice, recreating his experience in the film “The Killing Fields” (1984), for which he won an Academy Award in 1984, only to be murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 1996. Using animation and rare archival material, anchored by Ngor’s richly layered autobiography, this remarkable story brings you face to face with a man who embodied the harsh duality of danger and opportunity. Image: CAAMFest

Honoring the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge: Lest we not forget the tragic moments that also define cultures, CAAMfest is presenting a collection of powerful stories of survival and resiliency from Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. As part of the Spotlight feature on acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong, his new documentary, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, chronicles the years encapsulating the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experience in the film The Killing Fields, for which he won an Academy Award in 1984.  Dong will be in conversation with film critic and author B. Ruby Rich on Friday, March 20 at New People Cinema.

Perfectly Peachy:  The festival is also honoring the Masumoto Family, fourth generation peach California peach farmers, with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening of storytelling at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) on Friday, March 20, where the CAAM-produced documentary, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, will have its world premiere. The entire family— Mas, Marcy, Nikiko and Korio Masumoto—will be in attendance. The Masumotos, who have an 80 acre farm south of Fresno, are famous for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches and tenacious adherence to sustainable practices as well as their lyrical writing on farming and food.  When was the last time you visited the Oakland Museum?  CAAMFest provides a perfect opportunity to combine film with art.   Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (ends April 12) is an exciting collaboration between SFMOMA and OMCA that explores California artists, many of them Bay Area artists. Marion Gray: Within the Light (ends June 21) is a riveting exploration of San Francisco-based photographer Marion Gray’s work over the past 40 years documenting Bay Area artists and art happenings. Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact (ends September 20) will educate and entertain the entire family.

In Albert Shin’s second feature “In Her Place,” (2014), Yoon Da-Kyung stars as a wealthy Seoul woman who is desperate to have a child.  She arrives at an isolated farm where a struggling widow (Hae-yeon Kil) is hoping to capitalize on her teen daughter’s pregnancy.  The woman moves in with the family to wait for the birth, telling her friends at home that she’s decided to have her baby in the U.S.  Ahn Ji Hye’s raw performance as the conflicted teen anchors this heart wrenching drama of secret pregnancy.  Toronto based director stumbled upon the story while eavesdropping in a café in South Korea.  In Korea, adopted children are still stigmatized and the act of adoption is a shameful one.  Screens twice at CAAMFest 2015.  Image: CAAMFest

In Albert Shin’s second feature “In Her Place,” (2014), Yoon Da-Kyung stars as a wealthy Seoul woman who is desperate to have a child. She arrives at an isolated farm where a struggling widow (Hae-yeon Kil) is hoping to capitalize on her teen daughter’s pregnancy. The woman moves in with the family to wait for the birth, telling her friends at home that she’s decided to have her baby in the U.S. Ahn Ji Hye’s raw performance as the conflicted teen anchors this heart wrenching drama of secret pregnancy. Toronto based director stumbled upon the story while eavesdropping in a café in South Korea. In Korea, adopted children are still stigmatized and the act of adoption is a shameful one. Screens twice at CAAMFest 2015. Image: CAAMFest

Music:  In addition to the movies, Korean musicians have a strong presence at CAAMFest with performances from Awkwafina (Chinese Korean American rapper Nora Lum from Queens) and Suboi, the Vietnamese “Queen of Hip Hop” and a host of other party rockers who will keep things lively before and after the movies.

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Masumotos about all things peachy.

CAAMFEST Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2015 runs March 12-22, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, bars and music halls.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members.  Special screenings, programs and social events are more.  Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general.  Click here for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day.  Rush Tickets:  If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue around 45 minutes before the screening is set to begin.  Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.

Unpacking the festival: Click here to see full schedule in day by day calendar format with hyperlinks for film and event descriptions and for ticket purchase.  The official website— CAAMFest 2015

 

 

March 11, 2015 Posted by | Asian Art Museum, Film, Food, Gardening, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival starts this Thursday—ARThound’s top picks in world cinema

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2-12, 2014 and, for the first time, offers “¡Viva el Cine!” a spotlight on Latin American and Spanish cinema with eight new films, all in Spanish.  Argentine director Matias Lucchesi’s first feature film, “Natural Sciences” (Ciencias Naturales), which screens twice at MVFF 37, had its world premiere at the Berlinale where it won the Generation Kplus Grand Prix. The drama stars Paula Herzog as Lila, a 12-year-old hell-bent on finding the father she never knew.  Her quest is set against the stunning backdrop of frozen Argentine mountains and reticent adults who want her to stop asking questions.  Image: courtesy MVFF

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2-12, 2014 and, for the first time, offers “¡Viva el Cine!”—an eight film spotlight on Latin American and Spanish cinema. Argentine director Matías Lucchesi’s buzzed about first feature film, “Natural Sciences” (Ciencias Naturales), screens twice at MVFF 37. It had its world premiere at the Berlinale where it won the Generation Kplus Grand Prix. The drama stars Paula Herzog as Lila, a 12-year-old who is hell-bent on finding the father she never knew. Her quest is set against the stunning backdrop of frozen Argentine mountains and reticent adults who want her to stop asking questions. Herzog gave a stunning performance as child caught in the wake of Argentina’s repressive dictatorship in Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize” (El Primeo”) at MVFF36. We welcome her back! Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound loves a great film, with a story that speaks right to my heart and if the setting is in some distant land, all the better. The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 37) kicks-off this Thursday evening with two promising opening night films—Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children— and a splendid opening night party and then gets down to serious full-day programming from Friday onward. This festival, continually rated among the top ten in the world, offers 11 days of the best new films from around the world.  In addition, there are intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars.  This year, over 150 guests and film luminaries will attend and a select few will be honored in spotlights, tributes, centerpieces, and special screenings and many will be participating in post-film Q&A’s.  There are also numerous musical performances and parties.  And for those who fear all that sitting will take a toll on their derrieres, there’s even an Active Cinema hike this Saturday hike from Tennessee Valley to the ocean where guests can get some light, take in fresh air and share their impressions with cinephiles and festival guests.  Having poured over the program, watched numerous screeners, and gotten the scoop directly from festival programmers, ARThound is really excited to cover the festival.

If you’ve missed my previous coverage, here is the link explaining the ins and outs of this festival and the advantages of CFI (California Film Institute) membership for early access to tickets:

Sept 13—Pounce! Sunday, September 14, tickets go on sale for the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival

ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:

 

Iranian producer Payman Haghani’s feature “316” (2014) has its world premiere on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 2-12, 2014, renowned for its support of emerging independent filmmakers. Haghani’s second feature film tells an elderly Persian woman’s “soleful” life story, and that of her homeland Iran, elegantly and humorously through the shoes of those she has known.  From the shoes of her youthful leftist parents through the tumult of the Iranian Revolution, to her rebellious upbringing, courtship, motherhood and the eventual solitude of her later years—we literally encounter a parade of shoes that have walked miles in a land we can only imagine.  Image: Noori Pictures

Iranian producer Payman Haghani’s feature “316” (2014) has its world premiere on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 2-12, 2014, renowned for its support of emerging independent filmmakers. Haghani’s second feature film tells an elderly Persian woman’s “soleful” life story, and that of her homeland Iran, elegantly and humorously through the shoes of those she has known. From the shoes of her youthful leftist parents through the tumult of the Iranian Revolution, to her rebellious upbringing, courtship, motherhood and the eventual solitude of her later years—we literally encounter a parade of shoes that have walked miles in a land we can only imagine. Image: Noori Pictures

316 —Iran | 2014 | 72 min |World Premiere | Executive Producer Behrang Saar Klein in attendance—It’s a no-brainer almost anywhere you go in the world, shoes express personality like nothing else.  From Iranian producer Payman Haghani in Rasht, Iran, (Mardi Ke Gilass Hayash Ra Khord (A Man Who Ate His Cherries), 2009) comes his endearing second feature, 316 (2104), which tells an elderly Persian woman’s life story through the shoes of people she remembers and events unfolding in Iran.   Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers who are based in Iran to make personal appearances at film festivals but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling.  Aptly put in a recent New Yorker article (6/10/2014),  Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Jam’eh, said “We have freedom of expression in Iran…We just don’t have freedom after expression.”  And yet Iran’s next generation have managed to become central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse. Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition. 316 artfully melds archival “footage” with animation and dramatic sequences to create a life story that tells a larger truth. (Screens: Saturday, Oct 4, 1:30 PM, 142 Throckmorton, Tuesday, Oct 5, 5 PM, Sequoia 1)

Japanese actress Haru Kuroki (left) won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale for her performance in Yoji Yamada’s "The Little House" (2014).  Adapted from an award-winning novel, the period romance follows Kuroki’s character, a housemaid, through the war as she watches a secret relationship develop between her elegant employer (Takako Matsu, right ) and a young artist.  Image: courtesy MVFF

Japanese actress Haru Kuroki (left) won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale for her performance in Yoji Yamada’s “The Little House” (2014). Adapted from an award-winning novel, the period romance follows Kuroki’s character, a housemaid, through the war as she watches a secret relationship develop between her elegant employer (Takako Matsu, right ) and a young artist. Image: courtesy MVFF

The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi) Japan | 2014, 136 minThis elegant period romance set in 1920’ Tokyo is the first romance film directed by Yoji Yamada in his 50 year career. The filmmaker is famous in Japan for his immensely popular Otoko wa Tsurai yo series (48 films made over 25 years) and Samurai Trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor). The Little House is based on Kyoko Nakajima’s novel “Chiisai ouchi,” 2010 winner of the Naoki Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards.  The story revolves around Takeshi, a young Japanese man and his posthumous encounter with his late aunt, Taki Nunomiya (Haru Kuroki), who left several journals behind.  Through the notebooks, he learns of her life and the film proceeds, in flashbacks, to tell her story.

Prior to World War II, in a little house with a red triangular roof in Tokyo, young Taki works as a housemaid for a Masaki, a Toy company executive who lives with his wife Tokiko (Takako Matsu) and their 5 year-old son. When Tokiko’s husband hires a young art school graduate, Shoji Itakura; a love affair blossoms between Tokiko and Shoji, whom Taki also has feelings for.  Meanwhile, as the war situation heats up, so too do the relationships in the little house.  This isn’t a conventional love triangle but an exploration of how this budding relationship impacts Taki’s relationship with Tokiko and her later life.  Taki transitions from an unsophisticated young maiden, who initially stands in fear and awe of her beautiful employer, to a trusted confidante who speaks the truth when called upon to do so. Haru Kuroki won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale (Berlin International Berlin Film Festival).  The remarkable political discussions that occur in passing are just one of the film’s many delights. (Screens: Friday, Oct 3, 6 PM, Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 4, 11AM, Lark Theatre)

Midi Z’s “Ice Poison” (2014), which was shot in location in Myanmar, highlights the struggle to survive in an impoverished land that is transitioning from one system to another.  Wang Shin-hong (left) and Wu Ke-xi play two young Burmese who are drawn into drugs.  Image: courtesy Flash Forward Entertainment

Midi Z’s “Ice Poison” (2014), which was shot in location in Myanmar, highlights the struggle to survive in an impoverished land that is transitioning from one system to another. Wang Shin-hong (left) and Wu Ke-xi play two young Burmese who are drawn into drugs. Image: courtesy Flash Forward Entertainment

Ice Poison (Bing Du)—Myanmar/Taiwan R.O.C. | 2014 | 95min—Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z (Return to Burma (2011), Poor Folk (2012)), continues his shrewd examination of social and economic disparities in Myanmar with Ice Poison. Shot on location in Myanmar by a seven-member crew in an impoverished ethnically Chinese community on the outskirts of Lashio, near the Chinese border, this is the story of two young Burmese who get caught up in the drug trade in order to escape their bleak circumstances.  The feature opens with an old Chinese farmer and his nameless son (Wang Shin-hong) toiling on their parched field in Lashio.  The desperate farmer sells his beloved cow to buy a dilapidated scooter so his son can drive a motorcycle taxi.  He asks just one thing in return: his son mustn’t get involved in drugs. Among the son’s first fares is a Burmese-born Chinese woman named Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), who has come home from China for a funeral and is making a new start.  She desperately needs money to bring her son to Lashio.  Her scheme involves helping her drug-dealing cousin deliver crystal meth, known as “ice poison,” to local addicts.  She convinces the son to go into business with her as a driver.  Midi Z draws us into the hard and fractured lives of these two young adults, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer.  Through its intimate portrayal of their circumstances, aspirations, anguish and choices, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is just not possible. Ice Poison won Best Film in Int’l Competition, 68th Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Director, Peace and Love Film Festival, Dalarna, Sweden (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 6 PM Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 11, 11:45 AM, Sequoia 1)

 In “The Patent Wars,” which has its North American premiere at MVFF37, breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani (above) is interviewed about being forced to pay $3,700 up front for her BRCA gene test because the Myriad Corporation of Utah held the patent over two breast cancer gene mutations—BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 —and could essentially charge what they wanted for the critical test, which flags a high potential for breast and ovarian cancer.  The patent also prevented vital medical research and diagnosis beyond the scope of Myriad’s limited breast cancer test.  The US Supreme Court, in a landmark decision (June 2013) ultimately ruled that any naturally occurring human gene cannot be patented.  The filmmakers not only expose many of the inherent flaws in the patent system, they advocate for its overthrow.  German Filmmaker Hannah Leonie Prinzler will be in attendance.


In “The Patent Wars,” which has its North American premiere at MVFF37, breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani (above) is interviewed about being forced to pay $3,700 up front for her BRCA gene test because the Myriad Corporation of Utah held the patent over two breast cancer gene mutations—BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 —and could essentially charge what they wanted for the critical test, which flags a high potential for breast and ovarian cancer. The patent also prevented vital medical research and diagnosis beyond the scope of Myriad’s limited breast cancer test. The US Supreme Court, in a landmark decision (June 2013) ultimately ruled that any naturally occurring human gene cannot be patented. The filmmakers not only expose many of the inherent flaws in the patent system, they advocate for its overthrow. German Filmmaker Hannah Leonie Prinzler will be in attendance.

 

The Patent Wars—Germany | 2014 | 88 min | North American Premiere | Director Hannah Prinzler in attendance—In all but the most capable hands, a documentary about trends in patent litigation could be very dry. German filmmakers Hannah Leonie Prinzler and Volker Ullrich succeed in making the complex topic fascinating by showing us how, in the U.S. in particular, the patent holder has evolved from the classical innovator like Thomas Edison into yet another tool of corporate greed that puts profit above human life.  The savvy doc takes us on a trip around the world to visit at least a dozen well-known figures who explain how the landscape has changed—how patents have proliferated and become global strategic weapons, how profits are made from the mere threat of patent infringement, and who bears the economic and social consequences. The film was in the works while the Myriad Genetics lawsuit over the patenting of human genes was still in litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court but a visit with breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani wonderfully summarizes the case’s impact on breast cancer victims and on the patenting human genes.  It really does seem that almost everything can be patented in the US, sometimes with just a description (not an actual realization) by the patent holders.  Once a patent is in hand, the holder can decide later how much to charge to test for a medication or to plant a seed, thereby controlling access only to the privileged.

Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury inflamed many when he patented sequences of yoga poses. A visit to Delhi to Vinod Kumar Gupta’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unique database developed to prevent foreign companies from patenting products based on ancient sub-continental know-how, shows how Indian is struggling to get savvy on the IP front. Unfortunately, for India and much of the developing world, patents are currently being used to deny the development of crucial generic medications and lives are being lost.  A visit with Anil Gupta, India’s “Ghandi of Innovation” unveils what India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic (patent-free) medicines, is doing to proactively protect its genetic resources as well.  The film concludes with a visit to car enthusiasts in Arizona who are collaborating to build the first open-source cars, showing us that patents are not the only way to inspire innovations.  (Screens: Sat, Oct 4, 5:15 PM, Rafael 3 and Monday, Oct 6, 6:30 PM, Rafael 3)

Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where it received a 10-minute-long standing ovation.  Due to unrest in Mali, the film was shot in neighboring Mauritania.  The film is set in 2012 and tells the story of what happens when people living in northern Mali deal with and ultimately resist a jihadist takeover by some militant rebels.  Actor Ahmed Ibrahim will be in attendance at MVFF37.  Photo: courtesy MVFF

Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where it received a 10-minute-long standing ovation. Due to unrest in Mali, the film was shot in neighboring Mauritania. The film is set in 2012 and tells the story of what happens when people living in northern Mali deal with and ultimately resist a jihadist takeover by some militant rebels. Actor Ahmed Ibrahim will be in attendance at MVFF37. Photo: courtesy MVFF

Timbuktu France/Mauritania | 2014 | 97 min | West Coast Premiere | Actor Ibrahim Ahmed in attendance—Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono) (2002), Bamako (2007)) is one of a handful of filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa who has the rapt attention of the film world.  His latest feature, Timbuktu, is the world’s first look at the jihadist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012 by fundamentalists whose brutal Islamist law shattered the lives of innumerable families.  As always, his understated style combines graceful storytelling with a remarkably rigorous exploration of exile and displacement.   Sissako focuses on the break-up of a close-knit Tuareg cattle-herding family who live peacefully in the dunes with their beloved cow “GPS.” When the cow goes missing, the father, Kidane (first-time actor Ibrahim Ahmed in a mesmerizing performance) accidentally shoots a fisherman dead in a lake and becomes victim to the horrors of Timbuktu’s improvised court system. The peripheral story lines are every bit as riveting. The hardliners punish Timbuktu residents for playing music or even soccer with stonings, executions and lashings.  Sissako’s handling of atrocities in an almost matter-of-fact way punctuates their shock value.  (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 1:45 PM, Rafael 1 and Monday, Oct 6, 3 PM, Sequoia 1)

Turkish filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman’s “The Lamb,” set in northeastern Anatolia, won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale.  The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan) (left), his older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk)(right) and the family’s struggle to hold a feast for Mert’s circumcision. Photo:  MVFF

Turkish filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman’s “The Lamb,” set in northeastern Anatolia, won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan) (left), his older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk)(right) and the family’s struggle to hold a feast for Mert’s circumcision. Photo: MVFF

The Lamb (Kuzu)—Turkey | 2014 | 85 min  | US Premiere—London-based Turkish filmmaker and artist Kutluğ Ataman made such a splash in the contemporary art world (Documenta, Venice Biennale, Carnegie Prize, Cream Art) with his videos that he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2004 and has since racked up an impressive list of exhibitions and commissions. Ataman brings his artistic flair to The Lamb, his fifth feature film, a family drama set in rural Anatolia which inhabits the delicate world of children. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan), his wily older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk), and their financially-strapped family’s struggle to throw Mert a proper circumcision feast.  They cannot afford the traditional lamb which is central to the celebration.  When Vicdan (affectionately called mommy’s “Little Lamb”) taunts Mert by telling him that they’ll roast him in the tandoor if they don’t come up with the money for the lamb, he freaks and sets out to find a solution on his own.  The highlight of the film is the wonderful interaction of the children, who can be so sweet and so cruel. Vicdan’s descriptions of the pending procedure border on tortuous, while bumbling Mert grabs your heart.  Subplots involve the father and his womanizing and the mother and her plot to take revenge on villagers who have been unsympathetic to her plight.  In all, Ataman weaves a rich and humorous story highlighting the inequality and lack of options for women, particularly in rural areas, and the liberties accorded men.  Feza Caldiran’s breathtaking cinematography of a wintery remote Anatolia makes elevates the film to art. The Lamb won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale.  (Screens: Wednesday, Oct 8, 3 PM, Sequoia 1 and Sunday, Oct 12, 11:30 AM, Rafael 2)

Details: The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2 -12, 2014.  The festival’s homepage is here. Advance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. Click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time.  Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—

SAN RAFAEL:

Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

MILL VALLEY:

ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm

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

CORTE MADERA:

Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm

 

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The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival opens Thursday night with a captivating family drama and continues with 14 days of film from all corners of the globe

A scene from Joshua Oppenheimer's “Act of Killing,” a documentary executive produced by Werner Herzog, that paints an extraordinary portrayal of the Indonesian genocide.  In Indonesia, a land ruled by gangsters, death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes and the filmmakers challenge them to re-enact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love.  Playing at SFIFF 56.  Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Joshua Oppenheimer’s “Act of Killing,” a documentary executive produced by Werner Herzog, that paints an extraordinary portrayal of the Indonesian genocide. In Indonesia, a land ruled by gangsters, death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes and the filmmakers challenge them to re-enact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love. Playing at SFIFF 56. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF56) opens Thursday and runs for 15 days, featuring 158 films and live events from 51 countries—67 narrative features, 28 documentary features, 63 shorts, over a dozen juried awards, and over 100 participating filmmakers present.  Organized by the San Francisco Film Society, this is THE premiere festival for film in the Bay Area and is well-known for its emphasis on experimental storytelling, its support of new filmmakers and for championing independent films that are unlikely to screen elsewhere in the Bay Area.  One of the joys of attending SFIFF is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen–on a big screen, in digital projection—and, in many cases, getting to participate in Q&A’s with their directors and actors, most of whom reside in other countries.  SFIFF also distinguishes itself with excellent live onstage special events that feature filmmakers in enthralling moderated discussions.  While its parties are great, this festival is all about film.  In addition to this festival overview, stay turned to ARThound for coverage of Iranian films and art-related films.

BIG NIGHTS:

This year both opening and closing night films address relationships and family and the dirty little secrets that can drive huge wedges in supposedly sacred bonds. OPENING NIGHT  (Thursday, April 24) kicks off with Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s emotional drama What Maisie Knew (USA 2012) starring Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgård.  The film explores the collateral damage

Juliette Moore and Onata Aprile in a scene from Scott McGehee and David Siegel's “What Maisie Knew” which opens the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 - May 9, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Juliette Moore and Onata Aprile in a scene from Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s “What Maisie Knew” which opens the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 – May 9, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

 of divorce through the eyes of six year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) who is silent but, like a sponge, soaks up all the toxic waste her negligent parents put out.  When they do succeed in splitting, they re-partner rapidly. Maisie attaches quite readily to her mother’s new husband, Lincoln, a bartender (Alexander Skarsgård) who has no obvious child-rearing skills but rises to the occasion.  Not surprisingly, this crushing portrait of affluence, indifference, self-absorption, hope and innocence shows that you can’t choose the family you are born into but you’d be better off if you could.  (opens SFIFF56 on Thursday, April 25, 2013, 7  p.m. Castro Theatre, followed by a gala party at Temple Nightclub )

This year’s CENTERPIECE is Saturday, May 4, and celebrates Jacob Kornbluth and his insightful Inequality For All (USA 2013), featuring local UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich, one of the world’s leading experts on work and the economy, Clinton’s former Labor Secretary and named one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last decade by Time magazine.  This powerful documentary, winner of the Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance festival, makes the argument that capitalism has fatally abandoned the middle classes while making the super-rich even richer.  Based on Reich’s bestselling Aftershock (2011, Vintage Press) which explores the roots of American economic stagnation and blames lack of middle class prosperity and spending, the highly entertaining film is billed as An Inconvenient Truth of the economy.  (Screens Saturday, May 4, 6:30 PM, Kabuki, followed by a party at Roe nightclub from 8:30 -11 PM)

A scene from Richard Linklater's “Before Midnight,” which follows Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), who first met on a train to Vienna (“Before Sunrise”) and reconnected in Paris nine years later (“Before Sunset”), and now another nine years have passed and they are navigating the complications of careers, kids, a long-term committed relationship and unfulfilled dreams. Closing night film at SFIFF 56.  Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” which follows Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), who first met on a train to Vienna (“Before Sunrise”) and reconnected in Paris nine years later (“Before Sunset”), and now another nine years have passed and they are navigating the complications of careers, kids, a long-term committed relationship and unfulfilled dreams. Closing night film at SFIFF 56. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

CLOSING NIGHT: The festival closes with a live on-stage discussion featuring celebrated indie director Richard Linklater (Bernie, SFIFF55 2012) and actress Julie Delpy in conversation about their latest film Before Midnight  (USA 2013), the third film in Linklater’s romantic trilogy starring Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  The film was raved about at Sundance.  It’s now eighteen years later and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), the couple who met on that train from Budapest to Vienna in Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), are vacationing in Greece and living in Paris as a middle-aged couple with two twin girls, and negotiating all the minefields of a committed long-term relationship.  He’s got a young son living in the States with his remarried ex-wife and the pressure of holding it all together and remaining true to their own creative drives has left them exhausted. Before Midnight catches the couple in random conversation that oscillates between clever banter and passive-aggressive swipes and then, suddenly, takes the plunge to full-on below-the-belt game-changing blows.  All unfolds as they are vacationing in Greece—beautiful, troubled, ancient, modern—it too becomes a character in the film.  Before Midnight screens as the Closing Night film at the Castro Theatre on May 9. The screening and conversation will be followed by a celebration party.

ARThound’s top picks: 

Below are capsule reviews of my top picks from this year’s line-up.  Thematically, you can go in any direction your taste takes you.  This festival has something for everyone.  I am focusing on films that tell great and important stories that you aren’t likely to see screened anywhere else.   Stayed tuned to ARThound for full reviews in the coming days.

Jem Cohen, recipient of the 2013 POV Award at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 - May 9, 2013.  Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Jem Cohen, recipient of the 2013 POV Award at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 – May 9, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, (2012, USA 107 min) New York based filmmaker Jem Cohen, who over the past 30 years has made over 60 films, will be presented with this year’s POV Award (2013 Persistence of Vision Award). Cohen will appear in conversation before a screening of his latest feature film Museum Hours, a delicately-paced but psychologically vivid film where ideas and environment are as important as the actors.  The story captures a random encounter between Johann (Robert Sommer) a middle-aged museum guard at Vienna’s grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, who, over the years, has nearly melded into his splendid surroundings and watches the visiting crowds looking at art works with detachment, and Anne (Canadian songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara), a woman of roughly the same age who’s visiting Vienna out of duty—she tending to her dear ill cousin and coping with grief.  Sensing Anne’s isolation in the big city, a physically overwhelming sensation that reflects her inner turmoil, Johann breaks from his normal detachment and quickly bonds with her and keeps her company around Vienna.  The museum itself also becomes a character, revealing itself and its rich treasures and, in turn, stimulating a rich dialogue between these two seemingly very ordinary individuals who have a remarkably palpable rapport.  In much the same way that one can pass by or become completely engrossed in a painting, Johann and Anne come into sharp focus as individuals, discussing an accumulation of topics best summarized as the art of living life.  (POV Award, conversation and screening Sunday, April 28, 2013, 5:30 PM Kabuki)

The Act of Killing:  (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, Norway, England, 2012, 116 minutes) In this chilling and highly-inventive new documentary, executive produced by Errol Morris (The Fog of War) and Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), the filmmakers give us Indonesia, like it’s never been seen before.  In 1965-66, Suharto’s anti-communist purge following a failed coup attempt led to the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 people, alleged to be communists.  The pretext for this mass genocide was the assassination of six army generals on the night of October 1, 1965 by The Thirtieth of September Movement made up of some disaffected junior Indonesian Armed Forces Officers. Suharto launched a counter-attack and drove the Movement from Jakarta and then accused the Communist Party of masterminding the Movement.  He then went on to orchestrate a purge of all persons deemed Communists.  Under Suharto’s rule, anti-communism became the state religion, complete with sacred sites, rituals and dates and a sophisticated campaign of controlling the media and planting false stories presenting the opposition as murderers collectively responsible for exaggerated crimes against the State.  The mass killings were skipped over in most Indonesian history books and have received little introspection by Indonesians and comparatively little international attention.   Until Now.  The filmmakers brazenly invited the death squad leaders who carried out these killings, and are now celebrated heroes, to reenact the real life mass killing in the style of the movies they love best.  The result—“An extraordinary portrayal of genocide.  To the inevitable question: what were they thinking, Joshua Oppenheimer provides an answer. Its starts as a dreamscape, an attempt to allow the perpetrators to re-enact what they did, then something truly amazing happens.  The dream dissolves into night mare and then into bitter reality.” (Errol Morris)  (Screens Sat, April 27, 9:15 PM, Kabuki AND Thursday, May 2, 8:55 PM BAM/PFA)

A River Changes Course (Kalyanee Mam, Cambodia/USA 2012, 83 min, GGA Documentary Feature Contender):  If you’ve been to Cambodia, chances are you landed in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap via a transfer from Hanoi or Thailand and hit the breathtaking Angkor Wat, one of the most spectacular sites on earth, and then left.  No matter how little time you spent there though, it’s impossible to overlook the pace of development that is displacing traditional culture and the life and work patterns of the vast majority of Cambodians.  Kalyanee Mam’s new documentary, shot in gorgeous cinéma vérité style, is a moving and intimate portrait of the rapidly vanishing world of rural rice farmers and fisherman told through three Cambodian families who are struggling in the face of rapid and uneven modernization.  

A scene from Kalyanee Mam's award-winning documentary “A River Changes Course,” playing at SFIFF 56.  In a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Khieu Mok must leave and find work in a garment factory to support her familyʼs mounting debt. But life in the city proves no better and Khieu finds herself torn between her obligations to send money home and her duty to be at home with her family. Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Kalyanee Mam’s award-winning documentary “A River Changes Course,” playing at SFIFF 56. In a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Khieu Mok must leave and find work in a garment factory to support her familyʼs mounting debt. But life in the city proves no better and Khieu finds herself torn between her obligations to send money home and her duty to be at home with her family. Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Mam spent many months deep in the Cambodian countryside capturing the daily rhythms of life there.  She built trusting relationships with and then filmed two female breadwinners and a fishing family, all challenged by the plight of diminishing yields and increasing costs of living.    Her thoughtful film was the first by a Cambodian to have its premiere at Sundance, where it was won the World Cinema Grand jury Awrd.  The Yale and UCLA Law School-educated cinematographer for the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, does not believe the answer to her native country’s problems lie in retaining all old traditions though.  This child of refugees who escaped Pol Pot’s hellish regime and ultimately landed in the U.S.. gives the path forward thoughtful consideration.   (Screens Saturday, April 27, 7 PM, Kabuki AND Monday, April 29 6:30 PM, BAM/PFA AND Sunday, May 5 1 PM, New People) 

Downpour (Ragbar): (Bahram Beyzaie, Iran, 1971, 128 min)  Every year SFIFF screens a recently restored classic of world cinema and this year it’s acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, playwright, stage director and producer Bahram Beyzaie’s 1971 debut feature Downpour. The film was the first Iranian feature to cast a woman in a role other than a prostitute or cabaret girl and ushered in a new filmmaking movement in Iran.  The story revolves around Mr. Hekmati, an educated teacher who is transferred to a school in the south of Tehran, a poor conservative area.  His pupils are unruly and he is forced to expel one of them.  The next day, the boy’s sister, `Atefeh, comes to the school and, thinking that Mr. Hekmati is the headmaster, protests the expulsion.  Another student sees them together and spreads rumors that Mr. Hekmati and `Atefeh are having a love affair.  While trying to set the record straight, he suddenly finds he really is in love with her.  Caught between the hyperactive imaginations of his students and the idle gossip of neighborhood busybodies, the idealistic Mr. Hekmati quickly finds himself at the center of controversy.  Soon all eyes in the community are on him.

A scene from Bahram Beyzai's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the great Iranian films for its poetic approach to editing, dialogue and context.  Restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, the film screens at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the great Iranian films for its poetic approach to editing, dialogue and context. Restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, the film screens at SFIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

“The tone puts me in mind of what I love best in the Italian neorealist pictures,” writes Martin Scorsese, “and the story has the beauty of an ancient fable—you can feel Beyzaie’s background in Persian literature, theater and poetry.” This screening presents the film as restored in 2011 by the World Cinema Foundation at Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna/L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory.  (Screens Sunday, April 28, 12:15 PM, Kabuki AND Sunday, May 5, 3:20 PM BAM/PFA) Bahram Beyzaie will attend and participate in a Q&A following the April 28th screening.

The Daughter (Alexander Kasatkin, Natalia Nazarova, Russia, 2012, 111 minutes)  Life in the unforgiving provinces is a well-explored theme in Russian literature and film.  Russian duo Natalia Nazarova and Alexander Kasatkin, (Listening to Silence, 2007) throw a serial killer into a provincial village to liven things up for naïve 16 year-old Inna (Maria Smolnikova) who’s strict widowed father (Oleg Tkachev) keeps her on a tight leash.  Enter the rebellious and fun vixen Masha (Yana Osipova), a girl from a slightly larger town, who quickly educates Inna about alcohol, sex and how to have fun.  Also new to the village is the family of an Orthodox priest, brimming with traditional Christian virtues and values, and Inna falls for the priest’s son, Il’ia (Igor’ Mazepa).  Meanwhile a serial killer is on the prowl and the suspense builds as those close to Inna are killed and implicated.  Filmed in Elat’ma and Kasimovo, two small villages in Russia’s Riazan’ region, the film’s evocation of the slowed rhythms of rural life, lingering traditions and modern impingements create a bleak post-Perestroika commentary, with the lingering question of what the role of the Orthodox church should be.  (Screens Friday, April 26, 6:15 PM and Sunday, April 28, 1 PM both at Kabuki AND Monday, May 6, 9 PM at BAM/PFA)

SFIFF56 DETAILS:   SFIFF 56 runs April 25-May 9, 2013.  5 Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.  Event Venues (all San Francisco): Bimbos 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Avenue; Roe, 651 Howard Street; Rouge, 1500 Broadway; Ruby Skye, 420 Mason Street; Temple Nightclub and Ki Restaurant, 540 Howard Street

Tickets: $15 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes.  Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000, www.festival.sffs.org

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFIFF 53 review: In Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof’s disturbing new film “The White Meadows,” allegory abounds as villagers cry their tears into bottles…what exactly are we watching?

The White Meadows (Keshtzar haye sepid)(Iran, 2009, 93 min)

In Mohammad Rasoulof's new film "The White Meadows" people living on the remote salt islands of Iran's Lake Urmia cry their tears into bottles. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The White Meadows,” set in the Iran’s remote Lake Urmia region near Azerbaijan, is a surreal poetic fable that addresses the messy topics of sin, guilt, judgment and confession.  In fact, the story has such a strong Biblical feel to it that it’s difficult to discern the Muslim factor but there are several veiled references to contemporary Iran.  The story concerns an old boatman Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) who travels among the desolate salt islands and waterways of Iran’s Lake Urmia (the third–largest saltwater lake in the world) and ceremoniously collects people’s tears in a glass vial and mysteriously takes them away, only to later pour them into the sea.  What the precise role of this man is, we never know, but he is entrusted to hear secrets.  As people unburden their sorrows to him, somehow, they are cleansed.  It all sounds simple and beautiful but in Rasoulof’s world, this shaman is powerless to intervene or give advice against the vast injustices he encounters. 

Rasoulof, 37, from Shiraz, was recently among more than 100 prominent Iranian political figures and activists who were put on a mass trial in Tehran following the crackdown on opposition supporters claiming President Ahmadinejad fraudulently won the June 2009 election.  Rasoulof was imprisoned in March of this year and released March 18, 2010, just before the New Year holiday on March 21, 2010.  Despite his and other prominent Iranian filmmakers’ tricky relationship with the post-revolutionary powers that be, the Iranian film industry manages, under extreme repression, to produce over 60 films annually.  A rigorous vetting process entails censorship that begins with the script and follows a film through distribution.  The result is a rich set of low-budget films with an allegorical bend that offer some means of exploring social, political and religious codes within Muslim society.  “The White Meadows” carries on this tradition by offering a fable that can have as many real world applications as a poem–or–it can be taken as just as a story about strange people living in a strange land with stange customs.

The old boatman arrives to gather tears when tensions are most high—first, at a funeral for a young woman who has died suddenly and was buried in a mountain of preservative salt until he can transport her body off the island.  The male elders of the village mourn her but declare all is for the best because she was a temptress “to beautiful to live among us.”  Even the presence of her corpse on the island would cause men to dig her body up.   After collecting their tears, he takes her wrapped body off the island and then sneaks a forbidden peak.  He discovers that a fraud has been played out and that he is transporting a young boy Nassim (Younes Ghazali “Among the Clouds”) who intends to escape this bleak island life to find his father who also left the island.  An arrangement is made whereby the young man can accompany him by pretending to be his deaf and mute son. 

Remembering that tears turn into pearls, the boys steals a jar full while the old man sleeps and it is just a matter of time until he is caught.  They arrive next at an island where a young virgin is about to be cast out on a raft and offered as a bride to the sea, destiny unknown–the perfect metaphor for the unpredictable route that Iranian women travel.  Despite her mother’s pleadings, the old man does nothing to stop this act and the more tears that flow, the faster his vial fills.  Before the girl is carried off, the male elders certify publicly, one by one, that she is an undefiled virgin, worthy of sacrifice.  It is soon discovered that the boy has set out to rescue her but has been intercepted.  He is barbarically stoned to a bloody pulp by the village elders.  He survives but the old man proves to be more interested in protecting his position as confidant than in protecting the boy.  At this point, we glean another reference to contemporary Iran– a group of men in power are dictating the terms of societal behavior to their own advantage and ignoring universal moral rules.  

The next village is even more bazaar…inhabitants whisper their secrets into glass jars and then tightly cap the lids.  The crippled village dwarf (Omid Zare) is chosen to deliver these secrets to the fairies deep in a well before daylight.  With dozens of jars tied to his body, and carrying the symbolic weight of an entire village’s woes, he moves slowly through the crowd and down into the dark well.  When it is feared he will not make it in time, his rope is cut and he perishes.  This sacrifice allows the secrets of others to be assuaged but he leaves behind a young bride who will surely face a horrible future alone and ostracized.

In Mohammad Rasoulof's new film "The White Meadows," screening at SFIFF 53, a painter is punished for using red instead of blue paint for the sea. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

On the next island, a painter is buried up to his neck in sand and left to bake in the sun for the crime of painting the sea “red” instead of “blue.”  He refuses to alter his reality to avoid punishment and the tear gatherer transports him and the boy to an island penitentiary. And on it goes…the tension builds into a set of heart-piercing scenes and bizarre circumstances where ritual and senseless judgment, have more importance than compassion or real justice.  In the end, all is for not, as the tears collected so carefully are used to bath the feet of a dying man and then tossed into the sea.  As an allegory for contemporary Iran, a society pressured to empty its very soul and aware of the sad farce imposed upon it, this film does its work.  

Some viewers may be put off by the lack of clarity and slow meandering tempo of the film.  Those who can pace themselves and handle high levels of ambiguity will be mesmerized by images that are both picturesque and eerily disturbing.  Ebrahim Ghafouri’s camerawork makes the film—much is shot from a distance, capturing darkly clad and covered women moving across the barren salt flats with some close-ups that provide clues for elements that come full circle at the close of the film. The sound is handled simply but eloquently enhancing the sense of isolation in a remote setting.  Extemporaneous guttural wailing has haunting power.  On one level, this is an exceedingly simple film expressing a human dilemma that should be comprehensible to all but whose solution remains incomprehensible… this about sums up contemporary Iran.

Screens: Friday April 23, 6:30 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Saturday April 24, 9:30 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Sunday April 25, 8 PM, Pacific Film Archive

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