Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 37 hits Marin this Friday: psychic sisters, Hedy Lamarr, an autism romance, historical dramas

A scene from Rachael Israel’s rom-com, “Keep the Change,” screening Saturday in Marin at the 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF37). This offbeat film, Israel’s first, picked up the top narrative feature award at the Tribecca Film Festival and was the opening film for SFJFF37’s San Francisco/Castro Theater segment. Israel relies entirely on non-actors, many on the autism spectrum, to tell a humorous and poignant love story that gets its kick start at a support group meeting for those with disabilities. The industry often tends to oversimplify disability and disease but this film manages to ring true while exploring the misconceptions we carry. SFJFF37’s Marin segment runs Friday-Sunday at the Smith Rafael Film Center and features 14 films, the very best selections from SFJFF37 which opened on July 20 with runs in San Francisco, the East Bay, and Palo Alto.

ARThound’s top picks for SFJFF37’s Marin weekend:

Paradise  (Friday, 3:50 PM)

Holocaust drama, innovative perspective-shifting storytelling, richly shot in black and white

Russian veteran Andrei Konchalovsky’s black and white WWII drama “Paradise” won the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion and was Russia’s entry for the 2017 Academy Award. The film looks back at the 1942-44 period from the perspective of three characters whose paths intertwine amidst the devastation of war— Olga (Julia Vysotskaya), a Russian aristocrat émigrée and member of the French Resistance; Jules (Philippe Duquesne) a French Nazi collaborator who is assigned to investigate her case; and Helmut (Christian Clauss), a high-ranking, quite naive German SS officer who once loved Olga and meets her again when she arrives at a concentration camp. The drama unfolds around several interviews in which the three main characters address an unknown authority and recount their stories as the film flashes back to the end of World War II and the days when their destinies crossed. Instead of focusing directly on the horrors of the Holocaust, which are well-known, Konchalovsky addresses the complex psychological trauma the characters underwent. Exceptional performances by Vysotskaya and Clauss round out this masterpiece. (2016, 130 min, Russian, German, French, Yiddish w/ English subtitles)

Planetarium (Friday, 8:35 PM)

American psychics in France on the eve of WWII

In Rebecca Zlotowski’s third feature, Planetarium, set in pre WWII France, Oscar-winning Natalie Portman and co-star Lily-Rose Depp portray American sisters who are rumored to possess the supernatural ability to connect with ghosts. When they meet a French producer (Emmanuel Salinger) who is fascinated by spiritualism and their gift and he hires them to shoot an ambitious experimental film, the experience spirals into a game of hidden agendas. The story is greatly bolstered by Emmanuel Salinger’s solid performance and by Natalie Portman’s cool demeanor and old world glamour. (2016, 106 min, English and French w/English subtitles)

1945 (Sunday, 2:15 PM)

Interesting drama set in rural Hungary in immediate postwar period with the feel of a Western

Selected as the festival’s centerpiece film, Hungarian director Ferenc Török’s chilling sixth feature, “1945,” delivers an exceptional slow-building drama that has some similarities to a Hollywood Western, except that the tension leads to more of a mental shoot out than an actual gunfight. The film exemplifies one of the trends in independent filmmaking over the past few years, approaching big subjects through small, personal stories. 1945 is an adaptation of Gábor T Szántó’s short story Homecoming which addresses WWII and Hungary’s collaboration with the Nazis through the lens of a small village where preparations are being made for a wedding. Amidst these preparations, two Orthodox Jews arrive at the train station carrying mysterious boxes. Their arrival triggers primal fears amongst some villagers who speculate that they may be forced to give back their ill-gotten gains and in others, it brings up deep feelings of remorse about their inhumane treatment of Jews who had lived amongst them as brothers. As personal stories unfold, we see how all the fates of the villagers are inextricably intertwined and how the events they participated in as perpetrator or victim have inescapable moral consequences. (2017, 91 min, Hungarian w/English subtitles)

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Sunday: 4:15 PM)

Savvy biopic revealing the brainy side of a Hollywood pinup icon

Co-produced by Susan Sarandon, Alexandra Dean’s documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” has its West Coast Premiere at the festival and explores Hollywood pinup actress Hedy Lamarr’s big beautiful mind. Lamarr achieved international notoriety when she casually swam nude in the 1933 Czech Gustav Mahaty film “Ecstasy,” the first time nudity had been depicted in a mainstream film. She leveraged her smoldering beauty and sudden fame into a remarkable Hollywood career but her deeper passion was technology and mechanics. The doc explores her life and fascinating history as a gifted inventor. Never-before-heard audio clips include Lamar telling her story as she chose to frame it, along with first person accounts from stars who knew her, including the late Robert Osborn of TCM fame. Lamar discusses her marriages and her relationship with Howard Hughes. The enduring take away is her little-known contribution to war-time technology.  The mathematically-gifted Lamarr first learned about military technology from dinner party conversations between her first husband, Austrian arms-manufacturer Fritz Mandel and Nazi German generals.  In the early 1940’s, she co-invented an early form of frequency hopping (spread spectrum communication technology) with avant guarde composer George Antheil who happened to be her neighbor.  Their idea, patented in 1942, became the basis for a torpedo guidance system that utilized a mechanism similar to piano player rolls to synchronize the changes between 88 rapidly changing radio frequencies, drawing on the premise that a constantly changing frequency is harder to jam. Lamarr gave her patent to the Navy and received no credit for her contributions. (2017, 90 min, English)

Details:   SFJFF37 is at the Smith Rafael Film Center Friday, August 4, through Sunday, August 6, 2017.  Films start roughly at noon and run until 10 PM, with 4 to 5 films daily. The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 4th Street, San Rafael.  For detailed descriptions of the 14 films screening and to purchase tickets in advance online, click here.  Tickets ($15 general admission, $14 seniors/students) may also be purchased directly at the Festival Box Office at the Smith Rafael Film Center.

August 2, 2017 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival starts Thursday, October, 6, 2011—ARThound looks at the lineup

Glenn Close opens the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival this Thursday in “Albert Nobbs,” where she tackles the role of a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man. Close is also the subject of a festival Tribute event on Saturday night. Photo: Patrick Redmond

In the world of film and film festivals, each season has its delights.  While there may be as many as a dozen mini-fests set to launch in the Bay Area, October always belongs to the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).  Now 34 and considered in the top lists of festivals worldwide, its organizers and programmers —Mark Fishkin, Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin (to name a few)—have hit on a winning formula.   The 11 day festival will  present some 120 films that include Academy Award hopefuls, tributes, emerging talents, documentaries, children’s programming, and world cinema.  MVFF34 all takes place north of the Golden Gate at CinéArts@Sequoia, Mill Valley, and Christopher B, Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, and other convenient Marin locales.

Singing the Praises of WOMEN—actresses, directors, thematically

“When we looked at what seemed strong, it became quite apparent at Cannes that there was an incredible wealth of excellent performances by women,” said Zoë Elton at the festival’s September press conference.  “We have a lot of these Oscar worthy women in the festival.”   The lineup includes films featuring Glenn Close, Michelle Yeoh, Tilda Swinton, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Barkin, Michelle Williams and emerging actresses like Elizabeth Olsen and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.  Ironically, one of the two opening night films, Albert Nobbs, is a gender-bender drama starring Glenn Close as a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man—a shy butler.  Close, well-known for her performances in films such as Fatal Attractions (1987) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) is attending the festival and is the subject of a special Tribute event on festival’s second night.

The programming also reflects a strong interest in the portrayal of women in various cultures.  A number of films weave mythology and ritual with the complex contemporary reality of women’s lives. Moroccan director Mohamed Mouftakir won the Golden Stallion (top prize) at this year’s FESPACO (2011) for Pegasus, the story of a young Moroccan woman (Sadia Ladib) who is found on the streets, wounded and with no memories of her past–but with visions, flashbacks, evidence of trauma, and the belief that she has been impregnated by “The Lord of the Horse.”  The fragmented plotline which echoes David Lynch and Iranian director Mohammad Rasolof  (The White Meadows, 2009), weaves her journey to self with the experiences of her therapist, Dr. Zineb, who is treating her and on her own psychic quest. (Screens Friday and Sunday)


The festival opens Thursday evening with two films that are sure bets to be included among the top independent releases of 2011.  Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close, who will attend, will be screened at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center at 7 p.m.  Jeff  Who Lives at Home will have its U.S. premiere at CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley at 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.  This film, which won’t hit the theatres until March 2012, stars Jason Segal and Ed Helms with Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.  It is the story of Jeff, a sympathetic 30-year old unemployed pot head who lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement and rewatches Signs while nurturing anxiety about clues the universe is dropping about his destiny.  The story all transpires over an afternoon of misadventures culminating in a fate-directed universe rattling ah-hah moment.  Directors Jay and Mark Duplass will also be in attendance.  After the screenings, the Opening Night Gala kicks off at the Mill Valley Community Center at 9 p.m. and goes until midnight.


Closing Night will feature a special screening of The Artist starring Jean Dujardin (Cannes Best Actor),  Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, who is expected to be in attendance, The Artist is an endearing black and white homage to the world of silent film that tells the story of a silent-film star resisting the transition to sound set in 1927 Hollywood.  Just as his star wanes, another’s starlet’s rises who represents Hollywood’s new direction.  After the film, the Closing Night Party will take place at Albert Park/San Rafael Community Center from 7-10 p.m. 

Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in “The Lady,” which screens this Saturday at the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival. Yeoh plays Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and will be the focus of a special Spotlight program. Photo: Magali Bragard © 2011 EuropaCorp – Left Bank Pictures – France 2 Cinéma


In addition to honoring Glenn Close’s career, MVFF34 is celebrating actress Michelle Yeoh and West African director Gaston Kaboré.  On Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. a Spotlight honoring Michelle Yeoh, one of Asia’s best known actresses, will take place at the Smith Rafael Film Center with a Q&A and screening of her new film, The Lady, already generating quite an Oscar buzz.   The Lady is an intimate chronicle of the life of Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest before her release last year.  The Lady follows Suu Kyi starting in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, to care for her ailing mother and soon became iconic in the battle against the military dictatorship.  The story focuses on her family life–her marriage to British academic Michael Aris and their two sons.  Aris, an Oxford professor, strongly supported Suu Kyi’s decision to stay in Myanmar, raising their children and playing a pivotal role behind the scenes in campaigning for her Nobel Peace Prize.  This decision, for the greater good, entailed years of separation and was a tremendous burden yet it was  mutually agreed upon and seemed to cement their courageous love.  Yeoh attends MVFF with Luc Besson, the film’s internationally acclaimed director and producer.  (click here to watch trailer)  After the program, the evening will continue with dinner at Frantoio Ristorante & Olive Oil Company in Mill Valley.

The first weekend of the Festival culminates on Sunday, October 9 at 4:30 p.m., with an MVFF Tribute to West African director Gaston Kaboré, honoring his remarkable career and contribution to African film including an onstage conversation and rare screening of his 1982 classic  Wend Kuuni (God’s Gift), the endearing story of a mute boy found in the bush and adopted by Mossi villagers whose love and tenderness help restore his voice.  Afterwards, the evening continues with dinner at Acqua Mill Valley, catered by Delicious! Catering. 

ARThound’s top five:

Coriolanus:  Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s war tragedy “Coriolanus” set in war-torn Bosnia with chilling urban battle scenes.  Fiennes also stars as Caius Martius, or Coriolanus, a powerful general at odds with the City of Rome, a role that Fiennes played on the London stage.  Coriolanus is a riveting drama about the relationship of authority, power, and the emotions that drive them and should play well reconfigured in the hotbed of the Balkans.  Martius meets his old enemy Tullus Aufidius (a very macho Gerard Butler) on the battlefield and returns to Rome as a hero.  Reveling in his triumph, he is elected to the governing consul but is soon opposed by the citizenry.  His anger at the public’s disfavor leads to his expulsion, and in desperation he turns to his sworn enemy Tullus, with whom he takes revenge on the city.  Vanessa Redgrave is Coriolanus’s iron-willed mother and Jessica Chastain is his trophy wife.  Directed by Ralph Fiennes (UK, 2011) (122 minutes).   Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 9 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley and Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA.  Tickets: $13.50.

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator:   Documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates has passionately been involved in investigating genocide and war crimes for over 25 years.  Her 1984 film, When the Mountains Tremble, made when she was just out of college, is one of the only documentary records of the brutal Guatemalan civil war between the U.S.-backed military junta and the indigenous peasant revolutionaries who were systematically killed in a scorched earth campaign.  A few top generals, notably Efraín Ríos Montt and Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, were behind that slaughter of an estimated 200,000 Mayan and the disappearance of another 40,000 indigenous persons and Ms. Yates interviewed these leaders in 1982.  Granito tells the story of how some 25 years later, Yates was asked to join a team of forensic experts and lawyers and Mayan survivors in a human rights case against Guatemala’s former juntas and how her first film footage became the evidence that led to the indictment of Montt in Spain’s national courts for his attacks on Maya.  The powerful and idealistic film uses the connected stories of five people─they are the “granito,” or tiny pieces of sand─whose destinies all collide around that distant Guatemalan war, to weave an epic tale of justice.  Though somewhat narrowly focused, the film is monumental.   It is also an inspirational look at the career of a brave filmmaker who has dedicated every ounce of her being to seeing that justice is served.  (US, 2011, 104 min)  Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Directors Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis will be present at both screening and will conduct a post-film discussion and Q & A. Tickets: $13.50.

In Gao Xiongjie’s “The Butcher’s Wife,“ which has its North American premiere at the MVFF34, the struggle between a new-married Chinese couple about what they should expect from life is a tragic critique of China’s rapid modernization and the tremendous pressures it creates on those not living in urban areas. Image courtesy: MVFF

The Butcher’s Wife:  North American Premiere (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles)  Epic in scale, this new drama tells the intimate story of a newly-married young couple in rural China facing big life decisions against the gripping backdrop of modernization that threatens to leave all but urban dwellers behind.  Months have passed and Liang, a kind and simple butcher, and his wife Qiao have not consummated their marriage because she fears pregnancy will squash her dream of entering college and starting a new life in the city.  She’s already failed the exam three times and feels intense pressure to start the life she imagines she will have.  Lang can’t bear the situation and wants intimacy and, humiliated, sends his wife to stay with her mother.  Qiao leaves for the big city to get her dream underway and it quickly turns into a nightmare.  The fictional film, a parable for any rapidly modernizing society, draws us into the hard and fractured lives of a young couple, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer.  Through its intimate portrayal of the aspirations and anguish of two individuals, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is not possible.  (contains graphic images of pig slaughter)  Directed by Gao Xiongjie.  (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles) Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 3:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.  

Argentinean Director Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize” coaxes an emotionally rich performance from Paula Galinelli Hertzog, as Ceci, a 7 year-old girl on the run with her mother from Argentina’s repressive military regime. The film won the prestigious Silver Bear award for outstanding artistic achievement at the 61st Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival). Image courtesy: MVFF

The Prize:  Argentinean Paula Markovitch’s impressive autobiographical feature debut is about vivacious 7 year-old Cecilia, (Paula Galinelli Hertzog) who is asked to keep a big secret about her family but can’t possibly understand the implications of that secret.  It’s the 1970’s and Ceci and her mom are living out of suitcases at a desolate and ramshackle abandoned beach town, hiding from Argentina’s repressive military and what will come to be called its “dirty war.”  If asked, Ceci is instructed to tell people only that her mom is a housekeeper and her dad sells curtains.  Ceci soons befriends her schoolmate, Lucia, but it becomes very difficult for her to particpate in activities like writing a school essay about her family and, when she does, she comes close to jeopardizing everything.  Paula Galinelli Hertzog delivers an astounding performance as a young girl trying to understand what she can believe in the adult world and struggling to feel secure in the certitude of her mother’s love when everything else seems to be shifting.  (Mexico/Germany/France/Poland, 2011) (103 minutes) In Spanish with English subtitles. Screens: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.

Old laws clash with the modern world in Joshua’s Marston’s “The Forgiveness of Blood” staring Albanian actor Tristan Halilaj as 17 year-old Nic who is trapped inside his home in rural Albanian because his family is embroiled in a blood feud. Beautifully photographed on location by cinematographer Rob Hardy. Image courtesy MVFF.

 The Forgiveness of Blood:  A mesmerizing drama from Justin Marston, the producer of Maria Full of Grace (2004) shot entirely on location in rural Albania that explores that small Balkan country’s insular clan culture through the story of a teenage boy and his sister.  When Mark (Refet Abazi) gets embroiled in a land rights squabble that escalates to his killing his neighbor, legal justice takes a backseat to Balkan oral code of the Kanun.  This traditional Albanian law, pre-dating the 15th century, states that when a murder is committed, the family of the deceased are warranted to get retribution by taking the life of a male in the offending clan’s family.  Mark goes into hiding but his 17 year-old son, Nik (Tristan Halilaj),  is essentially doomed to indefinite confinement at home, the only place considered safe ground.  Nic leaves his high school life of video games and flirting and becomes a volatile and stir-crazy prisoner at home while his resourceful 15-year-old sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), takes over her family’s bread delivery business but is soon knee deep in threats herself.   As Nic feels increasing pressure to find a solution to this blood feud, his actions escalate such that his entire family is jeopardized.  In Albanian with English subtitles, the film boldly contrasts the resurgence of antiquated traditions with the lives of young people in the country’s first post-totalitarian generation, whose bright future is put at risk by these practices.   Directed by Joshua Marston (2011) (109 minutes)  Screens: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:15 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.   Tickets: $13.50.

Details:  Presented by the California Film Institute, the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 6-16, 2011 at the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley), Chrisopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues.  Tickets are $13.50 (CFI Members, $11), unless otherwise noted, and may be purchased online at  Additional information:  or call 877.874.6833

October 5, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 14th Sonoma International Film Festival opens this Wednesday with a stellar line-up of cinema, food, and wine in gorgeous Sonoma

In Wolfram Hissen's documentary "The Running Fence Revisited," screening Saturday and Sunday at the Sonoma International Film Festival, iconic footage of the Northern, CA coastline is the backdrop for a tender exploration of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's 1976 Running Fence. The film was made in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Art Musuem's 2010 exhibition and acquisition of The Running Fence's archival documentation from Christo. Photo courtesy Erin Van Rheenen

This Wednesday, the curtain rises on the 14th annual Sonoma International Film Festival pairing 5 nights and 4 days of nearly nonstop screenings of new independent films from around the world with great gourmet food and wine.  Highly anticipated by its loyal audience of over 18,000, this festival which takes place in eight venues within walking distance from Sonoma’s charming town square has a lot to offer both locals and destination visitors.   “Our audience is very informed and film-savvy,” said festival director Kevin McNeely on Friday. “What gives our festival a very personal feeling is the chance to mingle with filmmakers and actors in our Backlot tent and at screenings and we absolutely deliver on the best in the film, food and wine.”

Susan Sarandon Honored as Thelma and Louise turns 20 

Susan Sarandon will be present this weekend at the Sonoma International Film Festival to receive the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, given only twice in the festival’s 14 year history. Photo courtesy Sonoma International Film Festival.

 This year’s festival will honor acclaimed actress Susan Sarandon with its Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday, April 9, 2011.  The award, given just twice in the festival’s 14 years honors a creative talent who, through the course of his or her career, has created a body of work which symbolizes the highest level of achievement in the motion picture art form. (Bruce Willis was the first recipient in 2009.)  Sarandon is most associated with her performances in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) Thelma and Louise (1991) but won her Oscar for Best Actress in 1995 for Dead Man Walking.  She has been nominated for an Academy Award 34 times and has appeared in over 70 films.  “She is a remarkable talent with an amazing body of work,” said Kevin McNeely, “and she has conducted her private life admirably–doing responsibly cool things with her celebrity.”  Among her many activities, Sarandon is a spokesperson for UNICEF and the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA).

The tribute will start Saturday at 630 p.m. at the Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall, with a montage of clips from Sarandon’s films and an on-stage discussion with Sarandon about her career and upcoming projects.  Immediately after the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, there will be a reception in her honor and a screening of Thelma and Louise (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year).  The evening will close with the festival’s annual gala, held this year at the Sebastiani Winery.  

The Line-Up

The festival kicks off on Wednesday evening at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art with Marin filmmaker’s Fredrick Marx’s acclaimed documentary Journey from Zanskar and at the Sebastiani Theatre with Rob Hedden’s romantic feature film You May Not Kiss the Bride

Journey from Zanskar tells a moving and important story about the preservation of traditional Tibetan culture, which has survived in remote Zanskar with an untainted and continuous lineage dating back thousands of years.  The film tracks two monks who, with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, take 17 children through the Himalayan mountains to a near-by school to learn and thus preserve the future of their precious culture.  This inspirational film is also controversial.  Because it educates, it has been criticized (Zanskar Resource) for its role in creating a situation that may actually popularize remote Zanskar and thereby accelerate the destruction of its untainted culture and traditions.  You May Not Kiss the Bride tracks a Croatian mobster as he tries to arrange U.S. citizenship for his daughter by setting her up with an American photographer. (Journey From Zanskar, Wed. 6:30 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art) (You May Not Kiss the Bride, Wed. 6:30 p.m., Sebastiani Theatre)

Thursday’s evening line-up includes the French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies, a drama about friendship which features Marion Cotillard (Oscar, Best Actress 2008, La Vie en Rose) and an ensemble cast.  Set at a beautiful vacation home, the film looks at the small cracks in the surface of relationships and pretenses that are hard to keep up in the face of an unexpected tragedy.  (6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m, Sebastiani Theatre (476 First St. East)

The weekend’s programming kicks into high gear Friday with concurrent screenings in all venues across town.   Among the 74 independent feature films, shorts, documentaries and other films screened will be Friday evening’s West Coast premiere of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation, one of the most buzzed about films at this year’s Sundance festival.   The film explores the media’s deplorable impact on our society perception of women.  Through in-depth interviews with academics, newsmakers (including Katie Couric, Lisa Ling and Rachel Maddow) and politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice) and actors (Geena Davis, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho) and youth—basically women in all walks of life—-Newsom shows that we are all being sold (year after year) dated, limited and detrimental stereotypes of what it means to be a powerful woman.  Oprah liked this important film so much that her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) snapped it up in February for their OWN Documentary Film Club that plans to do for film what Oprah has done for books.  Newsom will attend Friday’s 6 p.m. screening at the Sebastiani Theatre on the square.

Two additional documentaries that I consider essential viewing are German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen’s stunning The Running Fence Revisited and Suzan Beraza’s Bag It

The Running Fence Revisited celebrates Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence, the 24 mile white fabric fence that ran through Marin and Sonoma Counties for two weeks in 1976, that profoundly changed the way we all think about art.  This documentary contains precious footage of Jeanne-Claude’s last visit to Northern California in the fall of 2009 and provides a riveting snapshot of the couple’s intense and highly creative style of communicating.   There are numerous interviews with the farmers and community members who supported the controversial project and look back at it with humor and pride.  It also contains some of the most gorgeous aerial footage of our coastline to be seen.   If you’re looking for a film that celebrates life, nature, and art, this is it.  Saturday, 6:00 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Sunday, 6:45 p.m., Woman’s Club)

Bag It follows Jeb Barrier, an earnest guy who greatly resembles Jason Alexander a.k.a. George Castanza on Seinfield, as he explores the proliferation of plastic in our society, particularly single use disposable plastic bags. (link to trailer) After watching this film, you likely cringe every time you see a plastic bag.  Each year, Americans throw out an astounding 100 billion plastic bags, which will never break down because of their non-biodegradable makeup. As they sit in landfills for thousands of years, they merely break up into tiny pieces that absorb toxic chemicals, only to be fed into the soil and water supply or ingested by animals, particularly marine life. With landfill space running out, plastic bags are also likely to be burned at waste-to-energy plants where toxic chemicals seep into the atmosphere.  On March 28, 2011, the subject made the Wall Street Journal when journalist Vauhini Vara profiled Stephen Joseph, the lawyer who sued Kraft Foods to eliminate transfat in Oreos and is now suing several California cities trying ban plastic bags.  Joseph claims that paper bags are even worse for the environment.  Bag It debunks this and makes a compelling case for imposing a ban on plastic bags and is an educational must-see for everyone. (Saturday, April 9, 9:15 a.m., Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House)

The festival frequently pairs a music documentary with a live music event. Following Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. screening of From Gershwin to Garland: A Musical Journey with Richard Glazier, Richard Glazier will give a 30 minute piano concert of some of the classics from the golden age of American song. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m, New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center)

And if you are fascinated with jazz, you won’t want to miss the artfully shot The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi, a tribute to the Bay Area jazz composer who pioneered the crossover of jazz into pop and did the unforgettable scores for Charles Schultz’s Peanuts animations.  Who can forget “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or the stellar hit “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”?  George Winston calls Vince Guaraldi and his music “a part of the deep heart and soul of San Francisco and of the experience of childhood and beyond.” Guaraldi’s daughter Dia, and the members of his original jazz trio, will all be at the Saturday screening.  (Friday, 9:30 p.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center and Saturday, 3:45 p.m., Women’s Club)   

Nabil Elderkin’s Bouncing Cats is another inspiring musical documentary that explores hip-hop with a focus on b-boy culture and breakdancing as a tool for positive social change in Uganda where 49 percent of the population is under the age of 14.  The film tells the story of Abraham Tekya, a Ugandan–boy and A.I.D.S. orphan who created the Breakdance Project Uganda that is helping to rehabilitate the war-ravaged nation, child by child.  (Friday, 6:45 p.. and Saturday 12:45 p.m. at Women’s Club)  

Seattleite Karen Stanton’s documentary debut film A Not So Still Life, profiles Ginny Ruffner, one of the major artists of the modern glass/conceptual crafts movement whose fans include Dale Chihuly and Tony Robbins and most likely anyone who watches this film.  In 1991, at age 39, Ruffner, already a well-established artist, was struck by a car and the accident nearly killed her but didn’t put a dent in her spirit.  Glass is forged with fire and so is Ginny Ruffner.  An early party scene at Ruffner’s sprawling home, itself an artwork, is not to be missed. (Friday, 6:15 p.m. and Saturday, 8:15 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art)

Cinema Epicurea

Food is an area where the Sonoma International Film Festival stakes its claim.  Let’s cover their food films first.  Sally Rowe’s A Matter of Taste tracks British chef Paul Liebrandt, the force behind the legendary haute Tribeca restaurant Croton.  What’s great about this film is that she follows him on a hellish roller coaster ride in the elite food world.  In 2000, at age 24, at Atlas restaurant (on Central Park South), he earned three stars from the erudite New York Times food critic Williams Grimes (1998-2003) who praised his daring style and described him as a “pianist who seems to have found a couple of dozen extra keys.”  In the less flamboyant post-9/11 climate, however, he’s unable to repeat his success and has a rough patch that lasts 8 years until he hits his stride again with Croton, where is both chef and owner.  There’s mesmerizing kitchen action, with scintillating porn of him painstakingly creating his mind-warping masterpieces like chocolate covered scallops.  There’s a romance too.  And there’s lots of commentary from his colleagues in the world of elite food including our own Thomas Keller who built an empire from his legendary French Laundry Restaurant in Yountville and then went on to found the more urban Per Se in New York and who remains the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. (Screens Saturday 12:15 p.m., Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House and Sunday, 12:30 p.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center)

San Francisco-based food journalist Stett Holbrook and Marin documentary filmmaker Greg Roden made a late hour direct appeal to Kevin McNeely to screen “Food Forward,” their pilot for the upcoming PBS food series “Food Forward.”  The compelling film makes its world premiere at the festival on Thursday and shies away from food celebrities to tell compelling stories about committed people across America who are changing the way people eat.  “It’s all about people in Oakland and Manhattan who have rejected industrial food and are growing their own healthy sustainable food in urban settings.” said McNeely. “There are rooftop gardens in Manhattan that are producing enough food for the local farmers’ markets and beekeepers who are producing honey —it’s very cool.”  (Thursday 7 pm at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art).

Also making its world premiere is Robert Lemon’s ¿Tacos or Tacos? a short documentary inspired by the taco trucks of Fruitvale, in Oakland.  The film examines the genesis and metamorphosis of food truck culture into the upscale sensation that we are now experiencing nationwide.  Concentrates on the Bay Area and Austin, Texas, where Lemon is a doctoral candidate at UT.  (Saturday, 9:30 a.m., New Belgium Lounge at the Community Center and Sunday, 3:15 p.m. Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House) 

“JoyRide” is a favorite of SIFF director Kevin McNeely. Alex Petrovitch and Katherine Randolph (Markwood Films) are what film festivals love to roll their dice on. The Los Angeles couple’s first feature film is written, directed, acted, and edited by them. "JoyRide" is about a couple that needs cash fast and decides to make a reality film about her brother’s drug dealing…they hit the road and are soon in over their heads. Screens Saturday and Sunday. Image: Markwood Films.


 Wine, Food and “Backlot”
In 2009, Sonoma was the first U.S. city to receive the distinctive “cittaslow”  (“slow city”) classification that includes not only slow food and a rich agricultural bounty, but a community attitude that savors life along with the finest food and wine.  This special ambiance infuses the festival too whose culinary center is “The Backlot,” a one-of-a-kind hospitality tent on the North side of Sonoma’s City Hall that is open to all pass holders.  Here, they can mingle and have lively discussions in a chic lounge environment while enjoying the best of wine country vintages and culinary delights provided by Wine Country Party and Events.  Wine and beer will be available for purchase with $5 tickets available at the box office. Sushi by Ed Metcalfe of Shiso Sushi will be served on Friday and Sunday in the Backlot. 

Over 23 wineries and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance will be represented throughout the festival including Sebastiani, Gundlach Bundschu, Muscardini Cellars, Eric Ross, Banshee Wines, Haraszthy Cellars, Highway 12, Gloria Ferrer, Roessler Cellars, and Nicholson Ranch. A New Belgium Beer Garden and a Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge will be located in the Sonoma Plaza. Each screening venue will either offer full dining options or feature a sampling of snacks and treats provided by festival sponsors and partners. (Full description of the wine and food options at various venues.)

Closing Night Festivities: The festival closes on Sunday, April 10th, with an Awards Ceremony in the Backlot Tent at 8 pm.  Winners of the Jury Awards in all film categories including Features, Documentaries, World Cinema, Shorts, and Animation will be announced.  

Festival Details:
Star Pass $750 individual/$1,400 couple (Includes Monthly Cinema Series Hosted by Sonoma Film Society)

* All Access to Festival Films and Events at SIFF Including: pre-Opening Party at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Opening Reception at MacArthur Place, Festival Gala, Filmmakers Lunches and Dinners, VIP and After Parties, Opening and Closing Night Film Screenings, Spotlight Tribute, Awards Party, and Filmmaker Reception

* Fast Lane Entry to all Festival Events for priority seating

*All-Inclusive Food and Wine at the Hospitality Tent in our Back Lot

 Premiere Pass $300/$550

*Guaranteed Access to Festival Films and Programs during the SIFF including: Opening Night Film Screening and After Party, Festival Gala, Spotlight Tribute, Closing Night Film Screening and Awards Party.

* Four Food and Wine Tickets for the Hospitality Tent in our Back Lot

 Festival Pass $150/$275

*Access to Films and Programs including: Film Screenings, Panels and Discussions, and Closing Night Film Screening & Awards Ceremony.

 Day Pass $60

*Access to Film Screenings for Day Purchased


Single Film Tickets:  $15 general entry tickets can be purchased at box office.  Arrive 30 minutes before screening and wait to be seated.    


Venue Locations:

Sebastiani Theatre – 476 First St. East
Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club – 574 First St. East
New Belgium Lounge at Sonoma Community Center – 276 E. Napa St.
Mia’s Kitchen at Vintage House – 246 First St. East
Sebastiani Winery Barrel Room – 389 Fourth St. East
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art – 551 Broadway
Murphy’s Irish Pub – 464 First St. East
Sonoma Veteran’s Memorial Hall – 126 First St. West

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment