ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival─a feel-great extravaganza of film, food, wine and sprits─starts Wednesday in wonderful Sonoma

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, includes three films shot in Cuba. Bob Yari’s “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” (2015) covers Hemingway’s chaotic life on the island and his friendship with young Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, in the 1950’s. The film premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and was the first American production shot on the island since the trade embargo was imposed in 1960. The late Petitclerc was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and lived in Sonoma. Adrian Sparks is brilliant as Hemingway, capturing the vulnerability under the rage and bluster of this great genius in his last years. Image: courtesy HIFF

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, includes three films shot in Cuba. Bob Yari’s “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” (2015) covers Hemingway’s chaotic life on the island and his friendship with young Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, in the 1950’s. The film premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana and was the first American production shot on the island since the trade embargo was imposed in 1960. The late Petitclerc was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and lived in Sonoma. Adrian Sparks is brilliant as Hemingway, capturing the vulnerability under the rage and bluster of this great genius in his last years. Image: courtesy HIFF

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) kicks off tonight at the historic Sebastiani Theatre with Norwegian director Joachim Tier’s family drama, Louder Than Bombs (2015) and a live “vertical dance performance” with members of the dynamic Bandaloop dance group performing choreographed moves from ropes on the Sebastiani’s roof.   Over the next 5 nights and 4 days, the festival will present over 100 films from two dozen countries and over 200 filmmakers from around the globe will attend.  Among this year’s treasures are three exciting films shot in Cuba whose stories are bound to inspire a trip to this delightful island before the big Western chain hotels devour the beach space and those beloved’57 Chevys are replaced with Toyotas.  One of these is the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc’s remarkable Papa Hemingway in Cuba, the first American production shot in Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. This is the story of Hemingway and his experiences in Cuba, where he lived with his fourth wife, Mary, as told through the eyes Petitclerc when he was a young reporter at the Miami Herald.  And food!  Complementing its diverse and truly international program of independent cinema, SIFF offers a unique blend of world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wine from Sonoma vintners, making for an epicurean experience few film festivals in the world can match. This year, SIFF is offering a complementary tasting and pairing along with its two screenings of Cooking Up a Tribute which takes us on globe-trotting road trip with the fabled Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca. Browse the program and then pounce─a limited number of $15 tickets are available for pre-purchase online for all films.

ARThound’s top picks for films and events─

 Viva

Héctor Medina plays Jesus, a young gay man who discovers the only time he is free from life’s burden is when he is on stage and performing as “Viva,” his mesmerizing alter ego. Image: HIFF

Cuban actor Héctor Medina plays Jesus, a young gay man who discovers the only time he is free from life’s burdens is when he is on stage and performing as “Viva,” his mesmerizing alter ego. Image: HIFF

You’d never guess that Viva, a touching portrayal of a young gay Cuban man’s struggle to find himself, was the work of Irish director Paddy Breathnach.  Directed and shot in Havana, with some very heavy-lifting from Cuban actors Héctor Medina and Jorge Perugorría, this beautiful story captures the yearning of Jesus (Medina), a young gay hairdresser working at a Havana nightclub for drag queens, to step out on stage and perform as a female. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama (Luis Alberto García), Jesus finally gets his opportunity to perform and it awakens sometime vital within.  But when his estranged father Angel (Jorge Perugorría) abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down.  As father and son tussle over their opposing expectations of each other, Viva morphs into a love story with the two men struggling to understand each other and to reconcile as a family.  The drama, Ireland’s Oscar submission for Best foreign Language Film this year, also paints a rich portrait of street life in Havana and the divide between those Cubans who are embracing the coming changes and those who are battling to survive.  (Screens: Thursday, March 31, 9:15 PM and Saturday, April 2, 2:15 PM, both at Sebastiani Theatre)

Papa Hemingway in Havana

Giovanni Ribisi plays Miami Herald cub journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Ernest Hemingway in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” Petitclerc becomes incensed when he reads a review asserting that the only contribution that Hemingway made to the English language was one short sentence. He writes Hemingway in Havana to tell him that he had been inspired greatly by his writing and the letter leads to a great friendship between Petitclerc and the aging writer. Image: HIFF

Giovanni Ribisi plays Miami Herald cub journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Ernest Hemingway in “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” Petitclerc becomes incensed when he reads a review asserting that the only contribution that Hemingway made to the English language was one short sentence. He writes Hemingway in Havana to tell him that he had been inspired greatly by his writing and the letter leads to a great friendship between Petitclerc and the aging writer. Image: HIFF

Bob Yari’s vital film tells the fabled story of Hemingway in Cuba through the eyes of the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc (Giovanni Ribisi), a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Sonoma resident. Papa’s backstory was long and difficult because the film was created during the embargo.  It took Yari two years to convince the US State Department and US Treasury to make an exception and he had to agree to a $100,000 spending limit for the cast and crew –unheard of for a Hollywood production.  On the Cuban side, Yari was required to submit the script to the government in Havana.  In addition to a fiery story that profiles two gifted writers who bond over fishing, the film features a stand-out performance by Joely Richardson who plays Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway.  The drama was shot in Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia and locations throughout Cuba including La Floridita and Ambos Mundos Hotel. (Screens: Thursday, 3/31 6:30 PM, Sebastiani Theatre and Saturday, April 2, 2:30 PM at Veterans Hall I)

Cooking Up a Tribute / A Taste of Film:

Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of Girona’s famed El Celler de Can Roca, are the subject of “Cooking Up A Tribute,” a documentary by Luis Gonzalez and Andrea Gomez that screens twice at SIFF 19. Every year the festival outdoes itself with food, wine and spirits. This year, filmgoers will receive a complementary glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of this food documentary to life. Image: SIFF

Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of Girona’s famed El Celler de Can Roca and the subject of “Cooking Up A Tribute.” Every year, SIFF outdoes itself with food, wine and spirits. This year, filmgoers will receive a complementary glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of this food documentary to life. Image: SIFF

The documentary Cooking Up a Tribute follows the famed Catalonian eatery El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain) as it boldly closes up shop and embarks on a five week global road tour─from Texas to Mexico to Colombia and Peru. The idea is to improvise with local ingredients to create unique tasting menus for each locale. Opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, El Celler de Can Roca holds three Michelin stars.  In 2013 and 2015, it was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine.  Perhaps the best footage in this ambitious doc is shot tagging along with renowned sommelier/maitre d’ Josep Roca on a fascinating pre-exploratory journey where he nails down the places his team will visit.  Here’s your chance to watch agave being smoked to produce mescal in Oaxaca and to explore the seemingly infinite number of gorgeous Peruvian potatoes with names like “Bull’s Blood” and “Yellow Egg Yolk.” Free Food, Wine:  The festival’s Premiere Sponsor, Celebrity Cruises, will activate their onboard “A Taste of Film” multisensory experience at both film screenings and  filmgoers will receive a glass of JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset’s French sparkling No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne with a carefully curated food tasting, which will bring the aromas and flavors of the food documentary to life. (83 min, 2015) (Screens Fri, April 1, 2:30 PM at Vintage House and Sunday, April 3, 3 PM at Vintage House with complimentary drink and tastings at the film.)

Gordon Getty: There will be Music

Gorden Getty will attend the Friday screening of Peter Rosen’s documentary “Gordon Getty: There will be Music,” at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Chicago Classical Review

Gorden Getty will attend the Friday screening of Peter Rosen’s documentary “Gordon Getty: There will be Music,” at the 19th Sonoma International Film Festival. Photo: courtesy Chicago Classical Review

At 82, billionaire American composer Gordon Getty, industrialist  J. Paul Getty’s son from his fifth marriage, remains a dedicated music creator, economic theorist, vintner, venture capitalist, philanthropist and longtime supporter of our beloved San Francisco Symphony.  When your name is Getty, is it a help or hindrance being accepted as a serious composer?  Seasoned director Peter Rosen, who has produced and directed over 100 full-length films and television programs on the luminaries of the art world, captures Getty, the musician, at work and in candid conversation with fellow composer and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas about his creative process and vision.  He even captures a few of Getty’s endearing expletives─“Jeepers creepers!” and “Holy flying mackerel.”  Schooled at San Francisco’s Conservatory for Music in the early 1960’s, Getty studied music theory with Sol Joseph.  His business career and responsibilities as head of the Getty Foundation impinged on his time for composition and it wasn’t until the 1980s when Getty published his first work, The White Election, a song cycle on Emily Dickinson poems.  He’s actually spent decades of his life carefully working and honing his music and his oeuvre includes “Joan and the Bells,” “Plump Jack,” “Usher House,” “Poor Peter,” “Four Dickinson Songs,” “The White Election” and more─pieces that have been performed all over the world. (2015, 68 min) Screens Friday, April 1, 5:30 PM, Vintage House (Getty will be present) and Saturday, April 2, Andrews Hall, 2:30 PM

The Messenger:

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the SIFF 19. Image: Su Rynard

The Indigo Bunting, a small songbird in the Cardinal family, sings with gusto. The male is all blue and looks like a slice of sky with wings. The plight of songbirds is the subject of Su Rynard’s documentary, “The Messenger,” which screens twice at the SIFF 19. Image: Su Rynard

The Messenger:  Making a documentary is a labor of love that often takes years to realize. To understand what was happening with global populations of songbirds, Canadian director Su Rynard and her team followed songbirds on three different continents through several seasons. The message of her riveting documentary is urgent─songbirds are disappearing and many species are in serious decline.  Changes in our world have brought utter catastrophe to theirs and soon they will be gone.  Each year, twice a year, songbirds embark on a dangerous and difficult migratory journey.  Every species has its own story to tell but the resounding commonality is that songbirds are in danger.  Whose song will we hear when they are gone?   The film is full of gorgeous shots of birds and clips of bird songs. (2015, 90 min) (Screens: Friday, April 1, 2:30 PM at Andrews Hall and Sunday, April 3, 9:30 AM at Vintage House)

ARThound’s previous festival coverage:

The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival, March 30-April 3, 2016, will honor Meg Ryan who will screen her new film “Ithaca”

Details: The 19th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 30 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2016.  To enjoy guaranteed access to all films, themed nightly parties in SIFF Village’s Backlot Tent, after parties, receptions, and industry events and panels, buy all inclusive passes online at sonomafilmfest.org.   A limited number of $15 tickets are available for each film screening too and these will sell out rapidly, so purchase these in advance online at sonomafilmfest.org.

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March 30, 2016 Posted by | Classical Music, Film, Food, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“God’s Fiddler”—a new film about the life of the great violin master, Jascha Heifetz, screens this Tuesday, October 30, at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

Mysterious at his core, contradictory, visionary, incredibly difficult—legendary violin master Jascha Heifetz wears the genius label well.  Heifetz’ life (1901-1987) spanned nearly the entire 20th century, starting at the very dawn of the age of recording technology—when most people still traveled by horse and buggy—and ending on the forefront of the digital age.  And for most of that long life, when it came to the violin, he ruled.  Born in Vilnius, Lithuania (then a part of Russia), the child prodigy, took up the violin at three at his father’s knee.  At seven, he studied in the fabled St. Petersburg Conservatory with Russian virtuoso Leopold Auer, acknowledged as the greatest teacher of his time.  At ten, he was mobbed at his famous public debut concert in St. Petersburg; at eleven, he made his European debut.  At sixteen, in 1917, he escaped revolutionary Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway for a new life in America.  That same year, he gave his first concert in America at Carnegie Hall and he became an immediate sensation.  Yitzhak Perlman, who has a presence throughout the film said, “When I spoke with him, I thought, ‘I can‘t believe it.  I’m talking with God.’”

Filmmaker Peter Rosen tackles Heifetz’ life and far-reaching influence in his 2011 feature length documentary Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler,” which screens this Tuesday, October 30, 2012, at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol as part of the 17th Annual Jewish Film Festival.   The program will include a special guest appearance by musician Ayke Agus, Heifetz’ student, accompanist, and companion, who appears in the film, and who will speak and play after the screening.  Angus first met Heifetz as a violin student in his master class at University of Southern California and had extensive involvement in life in his later years.  Many say she knew him better than anyone.  She is the author of Heifetz As I Knew Him (Amadeus Press, 2001).

Award-winning director, producer and editor Peter Rosen has made 49 films, many about musicians—from Leonard Bernstein: Reflections (1978) to Yo-Yo Ma at Tanglewood (1990) to Nobuyuki Tsujii Live at Carnegie Hall (2012).  Prior to watching Rosen’s latest, God’s Fiddler, I had little exposure to Heifetz and his legacy and, in that, I am not alone—there is a whole generation who are too young to have any personal experience with his playing.  The film itself does a great job of explaining the creative environment surrounding this great violinist whose music was unparalleled and whose spell was overpowering for those in close contact with him.  Thoroughly researched, it draws on 300 hours of film and 2,000 photos and fascinating personal and professional memorabilia taken from 1903-1987.  A recently discovered cache of Heifetz’ own home movies surface for the first time here too.  The photos are all the more special for their great historical significance.  We are privy to the family leaving St. Petersburg on the heels of the great Russian Revolution, to his early European tours, and to stirring shots of Heifetz interacting with the troops during his three year USO tour during WWII.  The film is also sprinkled richly with clips of Heifetz playing, though many of those are time-weathered and there is some distortion of the sound.

For anyone looking for an enthralling story, or to simply sort out fact from lore, the film delivers.  It includes musicians who knew him and heard him play live chiming in on what made his playing so special.  While it is well known that Heifetz’ expressive tone was coupled with technical perfection, beyond numerous accolades, there is not much discussion of his actual technique or the actual substance of his playing.  Heifetz is touted as the first modern violinist but there is no explanation of what modernity means in musical terms.

As for his personality, it is well-known that Heifetz was stoic, but professionals put the oft-repeated accusation that he was cold in context.  Violinist Ida Haendel says assuredly, “His playing was so passionate. I am astounded that people don’t realize it. They thought that he was cold— and it was fire, absolute fire!”

The film also devotes time to Heifetz’ stern teaching methods evidenced in several student anecdotes of his master classes.  Time flies and these students are now seniors.  Many pursued careers in music and have had years to reflect on their interaction with Heifetz and the importance of a mentoring relationship.  The word mentor, in fact, never comes up.  While there is no connection drawn between his perfectionistic and controlling father, the implication is obvious—it left scars on his son, who also was very controlling and, at times, despotic with his pupils.  This is all the more interesting in that the film delves into the exacting blow that a single negative review had on Heifetz when he was at his peak professionally.  He took the criticism to heart and it caused him to work all the harder and to rekindle his devotion to his artistry.  Heifetz was harsh but never demanded more from his students than he demanded of himself and those who stayed the course seem to have benefitted immensely as musicians.

Jascha Heifetz was ahead of his time with his understanding of the importance of protecting the environment. In the early 1960’s, he drove a custom-made electric car and spoke out against the Los Angeles smog. Image: Jascha Heifetz.com

Particularly enjoyable segments of the film include his affluent lifestyle in Southern California, enabled by his high concert and teaching fees, income from recordings and shrewd money management.  His career lasted more than 60 years and for many of those years, following his arrival in the States, he was paid upwards of $100,000 per concert.  He was connected intimately with the history of recording, logging more studio time than any other violinist, committing to disc virtually the entire violin repertory, along with a substantial amount of chamber music.  He sold more records than any violinist in history, so many that, even after he stopped making records, he was on a $100,000 permanent annual retainer from RCA Victor, his lifelong record label.  This enabled him to live well and he maintained a beach house in Malibu.  He also lived thoughtfully.  He was so concerned about the environment and the unacceptable level of air pollution in Los Angeles that he bought a custom-built electric car in 1966, the first on West Coast.  The film shows footage of him tooling around in this little dream machine which reportedly could go 45 mph for 45 to 70 miles, depending on his driving efficiency.

The film leaves us hungering for more about Heifetz the man.  There is precious little, save at the end, about his family life which includes two ex-wives and several children.  Sadly, no one says he was a friend of Heifetz.   The natural question that emerges is what price did he pay for his genius?  The implication of the film is that there were sufferings and misunderstandings that he never worked through in his lifetime, though he was celebrated day in and day out.  And the larger looming question—what are the proper conventions for dealing with genius?  And the larger musical question—violin playing has evolved since Heifetz, what is his musical legacy and how does that impact how we define today’s virtuosos?

As it stands, the thoughtful film brings up many questions and is best seen in the company of a musician who can offer more substantial explanations of topics broached in the film.  The screening at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival with Ayke Agus will provide an excellent forum for discussion.  For purposes of this review, I asked Wayne Roden, a friend of mine and violist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to watch this film.  Wayne’s enthusiasm for Heifetz is contagious and, not only did he find Rosen’s film engaging, on several occasions, he got up and actually demonstrated what was unique about Heifetz’s bow grip, speculating how he got that silken sound out of his violin.

Violist Wayne Roden, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, on Jascha Heifetz’ Bow Grip

Run time: 87 minutes. English with Russian dialogue. Director: Peter Rosen; Screenplay: Sara Lukinson; in collaboration with WDR, Arte, Euroarts Music International; Produced by Peter Rosen.

With: Jascha Heifetz, Itzhak Perlman, Ayke Agus, Seymour Lipkin, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, John Maltese, Bill Van Horn.

Details: Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler screens Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 7:30 p.m. at the Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley Street, Sebastopol as part of the 17th Annual Jewish Film Festival.  The festival presents six Thursday evening shows and runs through December 4, 2012.  Remaining screenings include:

Kaddish for a Friend Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Nicky’s Family, Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Reuniting the Rubens, Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

A.K.A. Doc Pomus, Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Hava Nagilia, Tuesday, December 4, 7:30 p.m. Special Program: Filmmaker Roberta Grossman (Blessed Is The Match, SCJFF 2009) will speak and answer questions after the screening.

October 29, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment