Geneva Anderson digs into art

Silent Winter—a full day of silent film masterpieces, with live music—at the Castro Theatre, Saturday February 16, 2013

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From the beloved slapstick of Buster Keaton to the searing drama of the old European legend of “Faust” to the exoticism of “The Thief of Bagdad,” The San Francisco Silent Winter Film Festival offers five great silent films, all screening on a single Saturday February 16, 2013—at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre.   The event is sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFS), host to the acclaimed SF Silent Film Festival which will turn 18 this July.  These are the early cinema lovers who brought Abel Gance’s fabled “Napoleon” to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre last March for the U.S. premiere of its restoration.   Each of the films will feature an informative introduction by a film historian and live musical accompaniment by musicians who are watching the film as they are playing, making each screening unique.  And there’s no better environment to catch these early masterpieces than on the big screen at the historic Castro Theatre which was built in 1922 during the silent era and is home to the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, which will be played for some of the screenings.   “It’s such an enchanting experience and anyone of these films is sure to delight you,” said Anita Monga, SFSFS Artistic Director, “but, if you’ve never seen a silent film before and are looking for a recommendation, start with the Buster Keaton.  You may find yourself sticking around for the rest of the day.”   

SNOW WHITE—  The festival starts at 10 a.m. with J. Searly Dawley’s SNOW WHITE, the 1916 feature motion picture adaptation of the popular Grimm’s fairy tale.  The charming Marguerite Clark is Snow White who was 33 at the time and who had also played the role in the popular 1912 play “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”  Clark’s popularity in the play and other Broadway productions had led to a silent film contract in 1914 with Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.  At just 4’10,” Clark was so petite and had such youthful features that she was able to easily portray characters much younger than her actual age. 

J. Searle Dawley’s 1916 film is integral in the Walt Disney Family Museum’s 75th anniversary celebration of its own legendary “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which was the first full-length animated feature in motion picture history, the first film produced in full color and the first film produced by Walt Disney Productions.  The 1916 film is one of the first features that Walt Disney watched as a 16-year old newsboy in Kansas City and would remember all his life.  Disney attended a special free screening attended by sixteen thousand children, all packed into the Kansas City Convention Center.  The hall was arranged with four separate screens set in the center of the room and the children circled round.  Four projectors ran simultaneously and the film included live musical accompaniment.  “I thought it was the perfect story.  It had the sympathetic dwarfs, you see? It had the heavy. It had the prince and the girl. The romance.  I just thought it was a perfect story.” Walt Disney  

Film historian J.B. Kaufman who wrote both the catalogue and the definitive book, The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for the Disney museum’s retrospective, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic, which runs through April 14, 2013, will introduce the 1916 film and speak about its enduring impact on Walt Disney.  Following the screening, Kaufman will sign his books, which will be for sale, in the lobby of the Castro Theatre  (10 a.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano and Introduction by J.B. Kaufman)

THINK SLOW, ACT FAST: BUSTER KEATON SHORTS — A rare program of early Buster Keaton shorts from 1920-21, three of the funniest, most innovative comedies ever put on film featuring one of the great comic geniuses of all times.  The 70 minute program includes One Week (1920, 24 m., w/ Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts) The Scarecrow (1920, 18 m., w/ Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Sybil Seely, Luke the Dog), and The Play House (1921, 23 m., w/ Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox).  These films were made just after Keaton left Fatty Arbuckle to work on his own.  It’s virtually impossible to take your eyes off of Keaton whose physicality was so graceful and whose timing was perfect.   “I always want the audience to out-guess me, and then I double-cross them.” Buster Keaton  (noon with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano)

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD— There’s no swashbuckler more debonair than Douglas Fairbanks leaping lithely and imaginatively from one action-packed adventure to the next as he plays a prince trying to win the love of the princess in “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), directed by Raoul Walsh.  In this age-old story, Fairbanks, the thief posing as a prince, is so overcome with love for Julanne Johnston, the daughter of the Caliph of Bagdad, that he confesses his true identity to her father.  The Holy Man gives him a chance to win her and true happiness by embarking on a quest to bring back the world’s rarest treasures.  Thus begins a rousing fantasy replete with flying carpets, winged horses, and underwater sea monsters as Fairbanks overcomes tremendous obstacles to rescue Bagdad and the princess from the Mongols.  With William Cameron Menzies’ fabulous sets and Mitchell Leisen’s gorgeous costumes, the 1924 film was voted Best Film of 1924 by 400 film critics and catapulted Anna May Wong, the scantily-clad Mongol slave, to even greater popularity.  This was Fairbanks’ favorite role and he’s at the top of his game.  (2:30 p.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and Introduction by Jeffrey Vance and Tracey Goessel)

MY BEST GIRL—  Mary Pickford’s last silent film,  “My Best Girl,” (1927) by Sam Taylor, defines romantic comedy and is one of Pickford’s most enjoyable films to watch.  Girl is the story of Five & Dime store stock girl, Maggie Johnson (Pickford), who falls for the owner’s son, Joe Merrill (Buddy Rogers), who’s masquerading as a new employee that Mary has to train.  Of course, Joe’s parents have other ideas about the kind of girl Joe should marry.  Pickford and Rogers (in his first role after the hugely successful Wings, 1927) are magical.  In ten years Pickford would divorce Douglas Fairbanks and marry Rogers—a marriage that lasted her lifetime.   Film historian Jeanine Basinger said in a PBS interview  “…Women of working class who didn’t have much, came in and saw a role model, saw someone feisty, cheerful, upbeat about it, facing tragedy, doom — hilariously, and always with the attitude,  ‘Well, I can win this. I can get over this.’ She offered hope and humor, and she was an amazing figure.  She would also then perhaps turn out later in the movie looking perfectly feminine and beautiful.  So this is a real connecting point to the whole audience, but specifically to the women of the day.” (Approximately 90 minutes) (7 p.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano, Introduction by Jeffrey Vance)

FAUST— Magnificent in its surreal depictions of heaven and hell and a nightmarish otherworldly world, German director F.W. Murnau’s 1926 interpretation of the Faust legend is a hallmark of German Expressionism.  It is as boldly distinctive as his other horror masterpiece, Nosferatu.  Murnau’s “Faust” draws on Goethe’s classic tale as well as older literary versions to tell the story of a man willing to bargain his soul away to the Devil.  Knowledge, lust, power—they fascinate and entrap us all.   When Emil Jannings’ wily Mephisto shows up to tempt Faust (Gösta Ekmann), a man of books and learning, with the ability to cure the plague and a 24-hour return to his youthful body, it seems pious Faust has lost his immortal soul.  Or has he?  Murnau’s use of chiaroscuro effect beautifully contrasts light and dark, life and death; and evil is chillingly limned by Jannings’ brilliantly nuanced, subtly comic performance.  If you’ve seen Alexander Sokurov’s completely disturbing and eerie “Faust” (2011), winner of the 2011 Golden Lion at Venice, this silent masterpiece is the one to strike comparisons with.   (Approximately 116 minutes) (9:00 pm with Musical Accompaniment by Christian Elliott on the Mighty Wurlitzer) 

Silent films remind us of how rich and intense storytelling can be without words. With last year’s 5 Oscar success of Michel Hazanavicius’The Artist,” the joyful black and white tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age, the stage was set for a renewed interest in silent films. “That was definitely a boost,” said Anita Monga, “Hazanavicius set about to make a film that was set in that silent era about the making of a silent film and do it as a silent film. What was interesting was up until the very last moment, you weren’t really so aware that there wasn’t any dialogue.  Anytime we can dispel the myth that silent films are deadly boring, it’s a very good thing.  Once we get people in the door, we have no problem sharing the wonder of this experience but we’ve got to get them in the door.”

Silent films remind us of how rich and intense storytelling can be without words.  With last year’s 5 Oscar success of Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist,” the joyful black and white tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age, the stage was set for a renewed interest in silent films. “That was definitely a boost,” said Anita Monga, “Hazanavicius set about to make a film that was set in that silent era about the making of a silent film and do it as a silent film.  What was interesting was, up until the very last moment, you weren’t really so aware that there wasn’t any dialogue.  Anytime we can dispel the myth that silent films are deadly boring, it’s a very good thing.  Once we get people in the door, we have no problem sharing the wonder of this experience but we’ve got to get them in the door.”  

Details: “Silent Winter” is Saturday, February 16, 2012.  The Castro Theatre is located at 429 Castro Street, San Francisco.  Festival Pass: $70; $50 for San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) members.  Individual Tickets: $15.00 adults; $5 children.  Buy tickets online here.  For information about SFSFF membership, call 415.777.4908 or email .

February 5, 2013 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