Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 44th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 7-17, 2021—in theater and online—non-member tickets on sale now

Music and journalism lovers, add this engaging documentary to your MVFF playlist— “Like A Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres.” Bay Area director Suzanne Joe Kai has crafted a ten-years-in-the-making portrait of Oakland-born, Ben Fong-Torres, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine and KSAN-FM dj, who became America’s premiere rock interviewer and music journalist.  Fong-Torres introduced the world to the musicians they loved through his formidable and engaging Q & A interviews, which became a standard in journalism.   Kai’s doc goes back to Torres’ childhood as the son of Chinese immigrants, his tragic loss of his brother Ben to gang violence, his rise at Rolling Stone. It also covers his activism for the rights of Asian Americans through his writing for San Francisco’s Chinatown newspaper, East-West. Supplemented with iconic music clips and commentary from musicians and artists of the day (Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Steve Martin, Annie Leibovitz).  Screens twice at MVFF:  Sunday, October 10, and Monday, October 11, with filmmaker Suzanne Joe Kai and subjects Ben Fong-Torres and Dianne Fong-Torres in person for onstage conversations at both screenings.  On Sunday, October 10, Sweetwater Music Hall will host a live music event with Ben Fong-Torres in attendance.  

Lucky day for film lovers.  The 44th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF44), which opens in three weeks, and runs October 7- 17, 2021, has general admission tickets available on September 16 for almost all its films.  Generally, the esteemed festival’s films and events are in such demand that many are sold out to California Film Institute (CFI) members before tickets are made available to the general public.  Most in-theater screenings, save a few big nights, are available now. This won’t last for long, so browse the program and don’t dally in pre-purchasing tickets.  Several of these films will figure in the looming Oscar race and it’s very gratifying to say “I already saw that,” especially when talent appears on stage in conversation.

After last year’s almost entirely virtual edition, this year, the festival will return to a few more live events while offering substantial online content. MVFF44 is smaller than usual too, reflecting the challenges of programming with Covid: 118 films representing 39 countries with 37 premieres and 55 percent of all films are directed or co-directed by women.  Thirty-seven features will screen in theaters only—Smith Rafael Film Center (San Rafael), CineArts Sequoia (Mill Valley) and PFA (Berkeley)—and 28 features and 65 shorts will screen online with a few of these in theaters too.  A MVFF Online pass covers all online programming, offering potentially substantial discounts the more films watched.   

With the Delta and the new Mu variants of the coronavirus pressing concerns in the Bay Area, safety will be the festival’s top priority. To attend any of its in-theater events or live musical performances, the festival will require proof of vaccination, or a recent negative coronavirus test, as well as a valid ID, which will be checked at every event.  Screenings and events be held at 75 percent theater capacity.  Masks will be required;  no concessions.

Arthound will be posting more on MVFF, so stay tuned.

Shortlist of MVFF44’s live offerings:

In-theater Opening night/October. 7:Cyrano,” from director Joe Wright, starring Peter Dinklage. A musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” inspired by the 2018 musical stage play adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt. Director Joe Wright will appear in conversation.

In-theater Tributes: October 8: Director Jane Campion and “The Power of the Dog” (it’s been 10+ years since her last film); October 25: Director/actor Kenneth Branaugh and screening of “Belfast.”

In-theater Spotlights: October 9: Actor Simon Rex and “Red Rocket”; October 13: director Denis Villeneuve and “Dune“; October 16: Director Paolo Sorrentino and “The Hand of God“; October 16: Director Maggie Gyllenhaal and “The Lost Daughter.”

In-theater Centerpiece Program/October. 12: Director Mike Mills in conversation and“C’mon C’mon,” a family drama starring Joaquin Phoenix.

In-theater Mind the Gap special screening/October 14: Producer Nina Yang Bongiovi (“Fruitvale Station,” “Sorry to Bother You”) will receive the 2021 Mind the Gap Award, Independent Producer of the Year and will be joined in conversation by Director Rebecca Hall, along with “Passing,” a film about passing as white in the Jim Crow era starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga.

In-theater Closing night, Oct. 17: Director Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” a tribute to the New Yorker’s fabled literary world with idiosyncratic performances from Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, and Jeffrey Wright.

MVFF music: Four live music shows at Mill Valley’s historic Sweetwater Music Hall paired with four musical docs playing at CineArts Sequoia: October 9: MONOPHONICS and “Lady Buds“; October 10: house band and Ben Fong-Torres and “Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres“. October 11: THE BARRY GOLDBERG – JIMMY VIVINO BLUES REUNION (Featuring ROB STONE) and “Born in Chicago“; October 15: ABEL SANCHEZ & TEATRO CAMPESINO and guest musicians in a benefit honoring Cesar Chavez and “Song for Cesar.”


MVFF44 is October 7-17, 2021.  Tickets to most films are $16.50 general admission, $14 CFI members.  Special events start at $25.  MVFF Online pass, $130 for CA residents, allows access to all online films, programs, conversations.

Complete schedule:

September 16, 2021 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Benvenuto Novembre! New Italian Cinema starts Wednesday, November 13, with a line-up of 14 new films and a spotlight on Neapolitan cinema, through Sunday, at San Francisco’s Landmark Clay Theatre

Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” (La grande bellezza, Italy/France 2013) is the Closing Night film at New Italian Cinema, November 13 – 17, 2013.  Sorrentino, one of Italy’s most influential film director’s, will attend.  Set in Rome, the film has been described as a Technicolor “La Dolce Vita” for the Berlusconi era, allegorically asking what has happened in Italy?  Image: San Francisco Film Society

Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” (La grande bellezza, Italy/France 2013) is the Closing Night film at New Italian Cinema, November 13 – 17, 2013. Sorrentino, one of Italy’s most influential film director’s, will attend. Set in Rome, the film has been described as a Technicolor “La Dolce Vita” for the Berlusconi era, allegorically asking what has happened in Italy? Image: San Francisco Film Society

Celebrating its 17th year, New Italian Cinema (NIC) is the much-loved annual festival of newly-released Italian films which comes to San Francisco every November.  NIC opens tomorrow, November 13, at San Francisco’s Landmark Clay Theatre with Garibaldi’s Lovers, the latest film from Silvio Soldini (Days and Clouds, 2007), and will feature a Closing Night tribute to Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be the Place, 2011) that includes a screening of his new film The Great Beauty.   NIC 2013 will screen a total of 14 new films, including a three-film spotlight of recent Neapolitan cinema and eight terrific features by up-and-coming directors entered in the City of Florence Award competition.  Decided by audience ballot, this annual award is announced at Closing Night on Sunday, November 17.  There is also a fabulous Closing Night Party at 1300 On Fillmore, known for Chef David Lawrence’s inspired soul food and its smooth jazz.  The program eases into weekend by offering two films on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings starting and four films on both Saturday and Sunday.

NIC provides the opportunity not only to see these films before they are widely available (and some will always be difficult to find outside Italy) but also to experience them presented by directors, actors, producers and other involved parties, and to participate in lively Q&A’s about the films. Attending this year: Silvio Soldini, director, Garibaldi’s Lovers (Opening Night film); Paolo Sorrentino, director, The Great Beauty (Closing Night film); Stefano Mordini, director, Steel; and actor Luigi Maria Burruano who appears in The Ideal City.   Thematically, this year’s NIC delves into issues of economic instability, cultural and familial conflict and metropolitan living.

NIC is organized by the San Francisco Film Society, in collaboration with New Italian Cinema Events ( and Italian Cultural Institute, San Francisco, under the auspices of the Consulate General of Italy. NIC is one of more than 200 participating events taking place in more than 50 American cities this year in recognition of 2013 The Year of Italian Culture in the United States.

The charming venue, Clay Theatre, situated on the busting Fillmore Street, was built in 1910 and is one of the oldest theatres in San Francisco (refurbished with comfortable new seats).

ARThound recommends:

Thursday 6:45 pm: There Will Come a Day (Un giorno devi andare) (Georgio Diritti, Italy/France 2013)

Having suffered the double whammy of losing her baby and then being abandoned by her husband for her inability to have children, soulful Augusta (Jasmine Trinca) flees Italy for the Brazilian Amazon to restore some meaning to her life.  There, hoping to do aid work, she joins up with Franca, a hard-line Catholic whose conversion tactics clash with her own spiritual values.  As the two women float down the river in a houseboat ministering to indigenous peoples, Augusta grows increasingly frustrated and leaves.  She ultimately ends up in the favelas in the port city of Manaus doing work that seems authentic and right for her.  Depicting Augusta’s journey with compassion and complexity and an often astonishing visual magnificence, director Giorgio Diritti’s second feature film is a work of great beauty about finding one’s place in this world, something all of us grapple with.  Diritti (The Man Who Will Come, SFIFF 2010) also address important issues like the surge in World Evangelism, the displacement of poor Brazilians (in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics), the Amazon’s fragile ecology, and the widening disparity between rich and poor.  Augusta’s story is delicately interwoven with that of her mother and new adoptive sister whose set-backs and own emotional wounding make for a compelling story of suffering, growth, and spiritual healing.  Features aerial shots of the grandeur of the Amazon.  110 minutes.


Sunday 6:00 pm Closing Night Film: The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza, Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France 2013)

(Sunday 6:00 pm Closing Night Film) The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza, Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France 2013)  In Italian, “grande bellezza,” like “grande tristezza,” can relate to love, sex, art, or death.  In Paolo Sorrentino’s swooning epic, it refers to Rome, and Sorrentino evokes the eternal city with exacting panache, melancholy, and knowing.  It’s also been hailed as a very timely reflection on the excesses and stagnation of Italy in the era of prime minister Berlusconi.  The film premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival where it was a contender for the Palme d’Or and has been selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.  It reunites Sorrentino with his favorite leading man, Toni Servillo, Italy’s leading stage and screen actor, who has starred in three of his previous films— films One Man Up (2001), The Consequences of Love (2004), and Il Divo (2008).  Servillo plays aging Roman playboy Jep Gambardella, a man who wrote one promising novel in his youth and, since then, has lived on its fumes.  A cultivated gentleman by day; at night, Jep chases away death and introspection by hosting wild parties to the stylish elite at night.  Following his 65th birthday and a shocking news about a long lost love, Jep looks beyond his shallow and amusing world to find a timeless Roman landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty—a classic in the high Italian style of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Antonioni’s La Notte.  (142 mins.)

New Italian Cinema 2013 line up:

6:15pm Opening Night Film: Garibaldi’s Lovers (Silvio Soldini, 2012) filmmaker attending*
9:00pm Napoli 24 (Multiple Directors, 2010) Neapolitan Retrospective*

6:30pm Balancing Act (Ivano De Matteo, 2012)
6:45pm There Will Come a Day (Georgio Diritti, 2013)

6:30pm Steel (Stefano Mordini, 2012)  filmmaker attending*
9:00pm Cosimo and Nicole (Francesco Amato, 2013)

12:15pm We Believed (Mario Martone, 2010)  Neapolitan Retrospective*
4:15pm Ali Blue Eyes (Claudio Giovannesi, 2012)
6:30pm Out of the Blue (Edorado Leo, 2013)
9:00pm The Interval (Leonardo di Costanzo, 2012)

1:00pm Gorbaciof (Stefano Incerti, 2010)  Neapolitan Retrospective*
3:00pm The Ideal City (Luigi Lo Cascio, 2012)  Luigi Maria Burruano, actor, attending*
6:00pm Closing Night Film: The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) filmmaker attending*
9:15pm Closing Night Reception at 1300 on Fillmore
9:30pm One Man Up (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)

Details: New Italian Cinema is November 13-17, 2013 at San Francisco’s Landmark Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore Street, San Francisco. (Please click here for a map of the location.) Film tickets $12 for SFFS members, $14 general, $13 seniors, students and persons with disabilities, $10 children (12 and under); Closing Night film and party tickets $20 for SFFS members, $25 general; Fall Season CineVoucher 10-Packs $110 for SFFS members, $130 general.  Purchase tickets online here.

November 12, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco presents “Italy in Film: 1978 – 2008,” a free film series, Friday evenings, February 24-March 23, 2012

Tony Servillo (center) is scandal-ridden seven time Italian Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, in Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo,” screening at “Italy in Film: 1978-2008,” at San Francisco’s Italian Cultural Institute, starting February 24, 2012. Image: Music Box Films/MPI Media Group

 The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco will present “Italy in Film: 1978-2008,” a selection of five entertaining Italian films on Friday evenings starting February 24, 2012,  that explore main changes and issues in Italian society.  The Italian Cultural Institute co-sponsors the acclaimed annual Italian fall film series “New Italian Cinema” and at last November’s N.I.C. hosted Daniele Luchetti and held post-film discussions with the prominent filmmaker.  The audience was transfixed.   “Italy in Film” offers another chance to familiarize yourself with a few of the best newer Italian films.  The series follows a chronology of events from the 1970s to the 2000s, as well as five key themes: politics, mafia and family, work, economy, and immigration. Together, these create a vivid portrait of contemporary Italy from multiple perspectives.  The host is Professor Andrea Bini (MA in Film studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D. in Italian studies at UCLA).  He is currently teaching Italian literature and film at Santa Clara University and contributed two chapters to the newly published Popular Italian Cinema: Culture and Politics in a Postwar Society, edited by Flavia Brizio-Skow.  All movies are in Italian with English subtitles.  

Friday, February 24 at 6:30 pm:     The Divo (Il Divo), Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, (2008, 110 min.): Register Now!

A biographical drama based on seven time Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, leader of Italy’s Christian Democrat party.  “Il Divo” is a label that was once applied to Julius Ceasar II and is just once of Andreotti’s nicknames─Sphinx, Hunchback, Black Pope and Beezebub are others.  The film is an almost operatic look at his 44 year reign and the Christian Democrats’ last months of power in the early 90’s as mob connections, murders, and other corruption became public knowledge.  Andreotti’s legend is enhanced by the great performance of Toni Servillo, an actor who delivers an absolutely hypnotic character so devoid of magnetism, so Poker-faced, dry and dispassionate, that he becomes fascinating.   The film is a full-on indictment and delivers an astounding and engrossing spree of violence and carnage.

Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino; director of photography, Luca Bigazzi; edited by Cristiano Travaglioli; music by Teho Teardo; production designer, Lino Fiorito; produced by Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Andrea Occhipinti and Maurizio Coppolecchia.  Cast:  Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci , Carlo Buccirosso and Giorgio Colangeli.

Friday, March 2 at 6:30 pm:     One Hundred Steps (I Cento Passi) , Directed by by Marco Tullio Giordana (2000, 114 min.): Register Now! 

I Cento Passi is about the life of Giuseppe “Peppino” Impastato, a political activist who opposed the Mafia in Sicily. The story takes place in the small town of Cinisi in the province of Palermo, the home town of the Impastato family. One hundred steps was the number of steps it took to get from the Impastato house to the house of the Mafia boss Tano Badalamenti.  The film opens with Peppino as a small child singing the popular song “Volare” with his brother in the back seat of a car on the way to a family gathering. The family is in good standing in the social community and they are celebrating the fact that they have such a good life.  Soon after, Peppino’s uncle Don Cesare, a Don (Mafia boss), is blown up by a car bomb which was planted by a rival Mafia boss. So ends Peppino’s time of innocence.  Little by little, as Peppino grows, he learns to despise the Mafia and in 1968, he joins left wing parties and groups and starts organizing and supporting the farmers and landowners whose ground has been expropriated to build the Punta Raisi airport.  Along with friends, he starts a pirate radio station, ‘Radio Aut’ and publicly accuses the Mafia in Cinisi and Terrasini of controlling the drugs and arms trafficking through the airport.  Through the radio, Peppino mocks the mafia and they tire of his impudence.  Peppino’s final days play out against the great upheavals of the 1970’s. 

Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana; written by Claudio Fava, Marco Tullio Giordana.  Cast: Luigi Lo Cascio, Luigi Maria Burruano, Lucia Sardo.

Friday, March 9 at 6:30 pm:     The Fever (La Febbre), Directed by Alessandro D’Alatri (2005, 108 min.): Register Now!

D’Alatri  is beloved by audiences and critics for his amazing ability to balance drama and comedy and to tell amazing stories of the inner lives of seemingly ordinary people leading boring lives.  La Febbre is the story of Mario (Fabio Volo), a young man in his thirties who still lives with his mother in the northern town of Cremona, birthplace of Stradivarius.  The film addresses what was once a very common European middle class career aspiration─parents who encouraged  their children to settle into civil service jobs, with job security and good benefits, which is what Mario’s mother wants for Mario. He dreams of opening a nightclub but goes along with mom and gets a job at a local prefecture. Things seem to go from bad to worse but, at the same time, he meets the beautiful Linda (Valeria Solarino), an exotic dancer who makes him rethink his life.

Cast: Fabio Volo, Valeria Solarino, Vittorio Franceschi, Massimo Bagliani, Gisella Burinato, Thomas Trabacchi, Gianluca Gobbi, Paolo Jannacci, Alessandro Garbin, Lucilla Agosti, Julie Depardieu.


Friday, March 16 at 6:30 pm:     The Jewel (Il Gioellino), Directed by Andrea Molaioli (2011, 110 min.): Register Now! 

Based on the real-life bankruptcy of the Italian company Parmalat, Molaioli’s film reunites him with the great Toni Servillo (The Girl by the Lake, La Ragazza del Lago)(2007) to dramatize a true example of corporate corruption. In 1992, Italian dairy company Leda decides it needs to diversify.  CFO Ernesto Botta (Servillo), right hand man of the boss Amanzio Rastelli (Remo Girone) suggests going public in order to raise cash, but mismanagement, backroom dealings and widespread financial finagling lead to disaster.  Even as the business unravels and it becomes obvious who will be the scapegoat, Botta remains loyal and unflappable. The pace is slow and mesmerizing, and we watch Leda unraveling for years as Rastelli keeps bringing the company back from the brink of failure.  The action switches from Italy to New York to Moscow as various leveraged financing schemes are tried to keep Leda, once the little jewel, afloat.  With a wide range of hooded glances and a particular rhythm of speech, Servillo inhabits yet another character unable to extricate himself from a devastating predicament.

Directed by Andrea Molaioli; written by Andrea Molaioli, Ludovica Rampoldi, Gabriele Romagnoli; photographed by Luca Bigazzi. Cast: Toni Servillo, Remo Girone, Sarah Felberbaum, Lino Guanciale.

Friday, March 23 at 6:30 pm:   Clash of Civilization Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio (Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a Piazza Vittorio), Directed by Isotta Toso (2010, 96 min.): Register Now! 

A nineteenth century apartment building inhabited by a group of tenants of various nationalities in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio is the scene of a suspicious death.  Within the walls of the building, there arises a clash of civilizations in which the differences within the group─ beliefs, cultural pratcices─become more evident daily and lead to misunderstandings, provocations, and distrust.  Anyone could to be the killer and each person, zany but believably real, begins to blame the other.  The group, together, will reveal the killer’s name to the police commissioner, in place of the only witness that cannot speak: the elevator.  Based on the novel of the same name by Algerian novelist Amara Lakhous, Toso’s film is an exploration of truth seen through various perspectives and a touching ode to the human condition, so fraught with misunderstandings.  

Directed by Isotta Toso; written by Maura Vespini, Isotta Toso; photography by Fabio Zamarion;
music by: Gabriele Coen, Mario Rivera. Cast: Kasia Smutniak, Daniele Liotti, Roberto Citran, Isa Danieli, Ninetto Davoli, Kesia Elwin, Ahmed Hafiene, Francesco Pannofino, Marco Rossetti, Milena Vukotic, Serra Yilmaz 

Details:  Screenings are held Fridays, February 24, 2012 – March 23, 2012 at 6:30 PM, at the Italian Cultural Institute, 814 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94133.  Admission is free, but space is limited, and RSVP required.  To RSVP, click the link by the film you wish to see and you will be directed to  a registration webpage which will send you a confirmation email.

February 24, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment