ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

CAAMFest 2016─Asian American film, food, music─starts today; here are the must see films

Every year, CAAMFest offers fascinating documentaries. Ayat Najafi’s endearing “No Man’s Land” follows the ceaseless efforts of his sister Sara Najafi whose dream is to mount a concert in her hometown, Tehran, featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s. The music is entrancing. Footage of Tehran’s once grand concerts halls and Najafi’s visits with authorities in Iran create a portrait like no other of this nation that continues to defy categorization. Image: CAAM

Every year, CAAMFest offers fascinating documentaries. Iranian director Ayat Najafi’s “No Man’s Land” follows the ceaseless efforts of his sister, composer Sara Najafi, whose dream is to mount a concert Tehran featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s. The music is entrancing. Footage of Tehran’s once grand concerts halls and Najafi’s visits with authorities in Iran create a portrait like no other of this nation that continues to defy categorization. Image: CAAM

CAAMFest 2016, an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music kicks off this evening at the Castro Theatre with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus and a rocking after-party at the Asian Art Museum.  The festival’s program includes 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films, along with thoughtfully-curated panels that explore the Asian America experience.  CAAMFest spends its first 8 days at various locales in San Francisco and then moves on to Oakland for a long final weekend.  Programming starts between 5 and 6:30 p.m. on most weekdays and weekends are fully packed weekends.   Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016.

Here are ARThound’s top picks:

Married for over 40 years, Chinese couple Feng and Lou are inseparable. She suffers dementia and he tenderly cares for her. When his own health is jeopardized, the two are forced to consider a big move in Zhao Qing’s evocative “Please Remember Me.” Photo: courtesy CAAM.

Married for over 40 years, Chinese couple Feng and Lou are inseparable. She suffers dementia and he tenderly cares for her. When his own health is jeopardized, and he is not able to fulfill his duties, the fragile house of cards that he has constructed so carefully topples.  The two are forced to consider a big move in Zhao Qing’s evocative “Please Remember Me.” Photo: courtesy CAAM.

Please Remember Me:     Growing old gracefully─with dignitiy and health─ is a global challenge that has had a particularly severe impact on China.  In 2013, there were more than 200 million Chinese over the age of 60.   Many of the adult children of elderly Chinese parents have settled abroad or live in urban areas and their parents face the struggle of aging with little daily support for the practicalities. Chinese director Zhao Qing’s documentary turns the spotlight on her elderly octogenarian grandparents─Shaghai couple Feng and Lou─inseparable for the past 40 years.  He calls her his “baby girl” and she calls him her “Mr. Silly.”  Lou is 88 and has suffered Alzheimer’s for the past decade.  She has deteriorated to the point that that only person she recognizes is her loving husband, who stills takes her to her beloved Chinese opera, despite her lack of comprehension.  When he is diagnosed with a pancreatic mass, their world is rocked as they must contemplate life in a care facility.  Tenderly told and beautifully executed, with rich bows to recent events in Chinese history, this story is one that all of us with aging parents will take to heart. (78 min, in Shanghai dialect with English subtitles) (Screens:  Sat, March 12, 1 p.m., Alamo; Sun, March 20, 4:40 p.m., New Parkway)

 

The Killing Fields of Cambodoia’s Khmer Rouge continue to haunt after 40 years. How does society heal? As the Khmer Rouge tribunal collects testimonies from aging war criminals and survivors alike, Michael Siv travels to Cambodia with survivors to film “Daze of Justice,” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2016. Photo: CAAM

The Killing Fields of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge continue to haunt after 40 years. How does society heal? As the Khmer Rouge tribunal collects testimonies from aging war criminals and survivors alike, Michael Siv travels to Cambodia with survivors to film “Daze of Justice,” which has its world premiere at CAAMFest 2016. Photo: CAAM

Centerpiece Presentation: Daze of Justice, World Premiere:     Bay Area filmmaker Michael Siv, who himself was a participant in Spencer Nakasako’s vital 2003 documentary Refugee, returns to Cambodia once again. There, Pol Pot’s heinous regime murdered roughly 1.7.million people between 1975 and 1979 and was responsible for running work camps that enslaved Cambodians into collectivized labor to build dams and infrastructure and to oversea the mass murder of their fellow countrymen.  It’s no wonder that this lush cradle of civilization, home to the fabled Angkhor, is still reeling. This time, Siv accompanies Khmer Rouge survivors from the U.S. to their homeland where they seek justice, catharsis and healing in a court for genocide.  (Screens: Sat, March 12, 3 p.m., Alamo)

 

A scene from Ayat Najafi’s “No Land’s Song.” The documentary follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her attempt to organize a concert in Tehran with other female solo singers, something that is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. Photo: CAAM

A scene from Ayat Najafi’s “No Land’s Song.” The documentary follows Iranian composer Sara Najafi in her attempt to organize a concert in Tehran with other female solo singers, something that is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. Photo: CAAM

 

No Land’s Song:    For Iranian composer, Sara Najafi, the act of communication is a nuanced, multifaceted and exhausting endeavor when it comes to getting permission to sing in public in Tehran. Iran’s 1979 Revolution of banned female singers from appearing in public in Iran and they are not allowed to perform solo except for an exclusively female audience.  In the documentary, “No Land’s Song,” Persian filmmaker Ayat Najafi follows his sister, Sara Najafi whose dream is to mount a concert in her hometown, Tehran, featuring female singers performing Persian songs written and once performed by Iranian female singers of the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1960’s.  Sara realizes that, unless she acts, the female vocal voice in Iran may well be lost.  Were it not captured on film, no would could imagine the convoluted logic, objections and snafu’s that the Iranian Ministry of Culture uses to dissuade her as well as the long-winded metaphor that she receives from an Islamic scholar on why a group  of women singing together is not a dangerous as a solo female singer is.  As Sara moves forward with her plans, inviting artists from France and Tunisia, who incite all sorts of visa concerns, we are brought into the complex and depressing world of an artist just trying to survive in contemporary Iran.  The entrancing music, much of it addressing suffering and transcendence, includes nods to such pre-revolutionary greats as Ghamar Ol Molouk Vaziri, who, in 1924, became the first woman in Iran to perform without a hijab in front of men, and Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi whose song “Kelmti Horra” inspired protestors during the Arab Spring. With footage of street-life in Tehran and visits to several dilapidated but once grand concert venues, this is also a must-see portrait of Tehran.  And there are plenty of shots of women tying, arranging and primping in their headscarfs. (Screens: Wed, March 16, 8:40 PM, Alamo)

In South Korean director Lee Won-suk’s sumptuous period drama, “The Royal Tailor,” a commoner with an innate gift for clothing design catches the eye of the queen and then goes on to design clothing that upsets etiquette and ignites the passions of rivals. Photo: CAAM

In South Korean director Lee Won-suk’s sumptuous period drama, “The Royal Tailor,” a commoner with an innate gift for clothing design catches the eye of the queen and then goes on to design clothing that upsets etiquette and ignites the passions of rivals. The film, while not always true to history, does track the evolution of Korean style and features exquisite hanboks, Korean national costumes, which are seen rarely seen today, except at formal occasions.  Photo: CAAM

 

The Royal Tailor:   South Korean director Lee Won-suk weaves a fine tapestry of court intrigue and high fashion in this period drama, set in the broad Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), which pits two very different tailors against each other in a design competition for the new king’s favor.  At first, it seems that Dol-Sak (Han Suk-kyu), the previous king’s tailor, is a shoe-in with his penchant for exquisite embroidery and fine detail.  When a young commoner,  Lee Kong-jin (Koo Soo), gets a shot at recreating one the king’s robes that was damaged accidentally and does a wonderful job tailoring it so that it fits even better than before, the new king gives him a job creating new hunting attire.  When this young tailor then turns out a stunning 15 layer gown for the queen, with real artisanship and creativity, his access and place in royal society seem secure.  His masterpiece however upstages the dress worn by the royal concubine, a dress designed by rival Dol-Sak and she swears revenge.  Park Shin-hye, known for her roles in the dramas You’re Beautiful and The Heirs is the young queen.   The costumes are stunning.  In Korean with English subtitles.  (Screens: Tues, March 15, 9 p.m., Alamo and Sat, March 19, 2:20 p.m., New Parkway)

 

France-Is-Our-Mother-Country-still Catherine Dussart Productions

Rithy Panh’s “France is Our Mother Country” is made up entirely of archival footage from Cambodia’s colonial period, 1863 to 1953, when Cambodia was a part of French Indochina, a territory including Laos and Vietnam.  Many images familiar to Westerners evoke grandeur, a construct Panh dispenses with, replacing it with discomfort. The Colonial era was characterized by economic servitude, violent suppression of uprisings and imposition of Western education, culture and values.  Image: CAAM

 

 

France is Our Mother Country (La France est notre patrie) Rithy Panh came to our attention with his spellbinding documentary, The Missing Picture (2013), winner of Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2013 and an Oscar nominee, which used hand-sculpted clay figures and elaborately crafted dioramas to recreate the brutal suffering of his family and friends at the hands of the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970’s in Cambodia.  His latest exploration of the Cambodian Diaspora, France is our Mother Country (2014), lacks the power of his earlier masterpiece but uses meticulously edited black and white archival footage and antiqued cards to recapture the romance and promise of French Indochine in its heyday, playing with our perceptions of what it was, might it have been and what it evolved into.  What unfolds is a glorious reflection on the clashing of two cultures, one dominating the other and repressing its very imagination and essence, evoking reflection on Western civilization’s Colonial quest, which has always ended tragically.  75 min, in French with English subtitles.  (Screens: Thu, March 17, 9 p.m., Alamo)

CAAMFest Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2016 runs March 10-20, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as The Asian Art Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, Slate Bar and SOMAR Bar.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings and panel discussions 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 on individual films at CAAMfest website for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and at 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 roughly one hour before the screening is set to begin. Approximately ten minutes prior to screening, empty seats are counted and will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis to those in line.  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 2016

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March 10, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival just opened—ARThound looks at opening night and gives top picks

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.  He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival. He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Best Offer” which screens twice at the festival.

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF36) is off and running in grand style.  Tonight, there were two opening night screenings to choose from and an opening party.  ARThound is just back from the enthralling world premiere of director Brian Percival’s The Book Thief with Academy Award®-winner Geoffrey Rush as an accordion-playing foster father and Sophie Nélisse as Lisel Meminger, the young heroine.  Over seven years from inception through filming, the film is an adoption story of sorts set in Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death, it relates a spirited young girl’s relationship with her new German foster parents and neighbors just as WWII breaks out in Germany and is a remarkable roller-coaster story of inspiration, perseverance, loss, and the ability of books to liberate the soul. Following the screening at the jam-packed at the Century Cinema Corte Madera,  Brian Percival, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse and the film’s production team appeared on stage for a discussion with festival organizer Mark Fishkin, which included an audience Q & A.  These spontaneous exchanges are a big part of the thrill of experiencing a world premiere at MVFF.

Enchanting Sophie Nélisse, a born story-teller, delighted us all with her rendition of her nonchalant audition for the part of Lisel which all began with an emailed video and ended up with a live read in Berlin.  Nélisse confided that she hadn’t read Markus Zusak’s book or even put much thought into prepping for the audition. She was an Olympic caliber gymnast who had her sites set on making the national team instead.  Once she got talking, it was easy to see why she was selected. Her bright warm energy and enthusiasm for life, much like that of Lisel,  gave us all a boost.

Geoffrey Rush, who will be presented with the MVFF Award on Saturday evening, part of the Geoffrey Rush Tribute (tickets are still available), exhibited pride and a myriad of smiles while his young co-star chatted with the audience. Rush also stars as antiquarian art auctioneer in Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso, Baarìa) first English-language feature, The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.  Critics have praised Rush’s sensitive performance. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Rush brings a striking depth of character to this classic Old World mystery…”  (Both screenings are AT RUSH) I can’t wait to attend Saturday’s tribute and to experience more of his razor-sharp humor and learn more about this fascinating actor’s life and career.

The filmmakers admitted that they are actually still putting finishing touches on the The Book Thief and that MVFF was indeed the film’s very first reveal.  The release date will be November 15.  Bay Area audiences can expect to see the film out for the holidays.

The 10 day festival runs through Sunday, October 13, and eases into its first weekend with several Friday evening screenings clustered around 6 PM and 9 PM at venues in San Rafael and Mill Valley.  The programming revs up to full days on the weekend and continues full force until closing.

Many of the films and special tributes are already sold out.  For a list of films currently at rush, click here.  Below are my recommendations among the films which still have ample ticket availability as of opening night.  Several of these films are newly announced entries for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.  If these films sound interesting, don’t dally, as they will sell out.

A Long and Happy Life (Dolgaya schastlivaya zhizn) (Russia, 2013) US Premiere

Screens: Sat, Oct 5 2:30 PM at Rafael 3 (AT RUSH) and Mon, Oct 7, 4 PM at Sequoia 1

Russian director Boris Hlebnikov’s latest film depicts the futile struggle of an idealistic young farmer, Sasha (Alexander Yatsenko), in the Russian provinces against corrupt local authorities.  Hlebnikov’s previous film, Till Night Do Us Part ( Poka noch ne razluchit, 2012), took a satirical look at the Moscow elite and now he explores graft in a small village.  The setting is the picturesque Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk region, the northern most territory of Northwest Russia, above the Polar Circle.  The film was shot on a hand-held digital camera in natural light by former Berlinale cinematography prize-winner and all-around camera-tzar Pavel Kostomarov (How I Spent This Summer (2010)).  Sasha (Yatsenko) has come from the city to run a collective farm with dreams of finally thriving.  He works hard and is well-respected by the locals who even turn a blind eye to his romance with Anna (Anna Kotova) who works for the town council.  Things get tense when he is pressured by local council bureaucrats (the provincial arm of the new Russian state) to sign over his land to them so that they can profit from redevelopment. It’s an epic story of a man who stands up for what is right and rightfully his but, as in real life, there’s the dream of a “long and happy life” and what life dishes out. 80 min. In Russian with English subtitles.

The Past (Le Passe) (France, Italy, 2012)

Screens: Sat, Oct 5, 8 PM at Sequoia 2 (AT RUSH) and Thurs, Oct 10, 3 PM at Rafael 1

This year’s Cannes Film Festival honored Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as Best Actress for her galvanizing performance as Marie, a French woman who has summoned her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) from Tehran to Paris to finalize their divorce. Marie takes Ahmad to her slightly disheveled house on the outskirts of Paris, where she lives with her two daughters from a previous marriage, her fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) and his young son. Asghar Farhadi, Academy Award–winning director of A Separation, crafts another superb drama of domestic secrets and unexpected revelations. Farhadi invests this intricately layered tale with an essentially humanistic point of view, in which every character—young or old—has his or her own reasons. 130 min. In French with English subtitles.

The Human Experiment (U.S., 2013) World Premiere

Screens: Sun, Oct 6 8:30 PM Rafael 1 (AT RUSH) and Thurs Oct 10 3:30 PM at Sequoia 1

What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time wasn’t an oil spill or the threat of a nuclear meltdown but instead was constant, low-level chemical exposures affecting every single being on the planet?  In certain ways, our lives are longer, healthier, and more prosperous than those of our great-grandparents but the inexorable march of progress is exhibiting major glitches—cancer, infertility, asthma, autism and a plethora of noxious diseases are all on the rise.   The Human Experiment is the latest documentary from acclaimed Bay Area filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy (Witch Hunt).  They again team up with impassioned activist Sean Penn, this time examining the high stakes battle to protect our health from literally thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday consumer products.  Narrator Sean Penn thoughtfully guides this fascinating look into the duplicitous tactics of the chemical industry and its stranglehold on regulation efforts.  The film’s brilliant four-dog argument about how corporate power beats down and co-opts is worth the price of admission alone.  In short, we’re on our own—Even China has better regulation than we do here in America.  Yes! China is sending its dubious ingredient products here to our markets and we are snapping them up.  Unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists are carefully managing scientific evidence about the health risks of chemicals.  Sham-science conducted by product and industry defense specialists has been elevated to the status of sound science and has created confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry.  As our confidence in science and U.S. government’s ability to address public health and environmental concerns is shaken, chemicals continue their insidious spread.

Gloria (Chile, Spain 2013)

Screens: Tues Oct 8 8 PM at Sequoia 1 and Thurs Oct 10 at 2 PM at Sequoia 2

(Chile, Spain 2013) When acclaimed Chilean stage actress Paulina García tried her hand film, starring in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, she walked off with Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.  The film was just chosen to represent Chile in the in the Foreign Language race for the 86th Academy Awards. García has been called the Meryl Streep of Chile and, like our amazing Meryl, brings out an inner candescence in her characters that has everything to do exposing the nakedness of their souls. Gloria finds García playing a 58-year-old divorcee who stumbles into a dubious romance with a man her own age (Sergio Hernandez) who she meets at a singles club.  The film has been praised for its courageous and juicy middle age sex scenes.  At its heart, it speaks to a woman with a story a lot of us can identify with—a woman who’s raised her children and is financially comfortable, and who is a bit fragile but who is more or less making the best of her situation…until a man who might just be the next big love comes along and shoots it all to hell.  As the new couple try to forge a lasting bond, their pasts constantly intrude.  This uplifting film was inspired by the life of director Sebastián Lelio’s own mother and her generation in Chile.

Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) (Japan, 2013)

Screens: Wed, Oct 9 2:30 PM at Rafael 1 and Sat, Oct 12 8 PM at Lark Theatre (AT RUSH)

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda knows how to weave a sensitive drama and his wonderful Like Father, Like Son picked up the esteemed Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for good reason.  The mixed up babies saga has been visited often but rarely executed in way that rips at your heart the way this tender and slow-paced telling does.  When the bourgeois Nonomiyas (workaholic architect Ryota and passive obedient mom Midori) receive news that their biological son may have been switched at birth with another couple’s boy and that Keita, the six-year-old boy they have been raising, may not be their biological child; a slow meltdown ensues that threatens their stability as individuals, as parents and as a family unit.  Keita is actually the biological child of working class suburban appliance storeowners Yudai and Yukari Saiki, who have unwittingly raised the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei, as their own.  As the two families arrange gatherings for their children to mingle, and begin a trial system of exchanging the boys on weekends, we see just how complex the nature vs. nurture arguments are when actually road-tested.  Should nature trump nurture? Can the tentacles of attachment really recede when you’ve raised a child from infancy? What does it mean to pass something on to your children? And what are the lessons to be learned from forced socialization with people you normally wouldn’t have anything to do with?  120 min. In Japanese with English subtitles.

The Missing Picture (L’image manquante) (Cambodia, France 2013)

Screens: Sat, Oct 12 4:45 PM at Lark Theatre and Sun Oct 13 5:30 PM at Rafael 3

Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture uses simple sculpted clay figures to retell the atrocities he and others endured under the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.  The documentary won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was recently selected as the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. Panh was 13 on April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and rounded up civilians and deported them to forced labor camps. There, they worked as slaves for the Pol Pot’s revolution which centralized the peasant farming society of Cambodia virtually overnight. One after another, Panh’s father, mother, sisters and nephews died of starvation or exhaustion, as they were held in a remote labor camp in rural Cambodia. In just three short years, over 25% of the country’s population was eliminated.

“Missing Picture” centers on Panh’s search for a “missing picture” via his recreated vision of the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed.  These clay figures intercut with archival footage and Panh’s spoken word fill in the gaps in history and allows us to witness the human experience below the surface of this tragedy with an incredible compassion. 92 min In French with English subtitles.

Details:  The festival’s homepage is hereAdvance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. To purchase tickets online for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full list and scheduling information are online here.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.  Tickets can also be purchased in person at select Marin ticket outlets.

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.)

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment