Friday, November 9


Film Festival Frenzy

It's common knowledge that Frisco Bay is home to a lot of film festivals. But this November is the busiest month for them in my memory. It's enough to make a body want to throw up its hands and stay away from even thinking about them all. Which, given the quietness here at Hell On Frisco Bay, may appear to be just what I've done. It's not true though. I have other excuses. But for now, let me just dive in and survey the festival scene to the best of my ability right now:

I'm excited by the return, after more than two years absence, of the SF Asian Film Festival, now in its tenth year at the Four Star Theatre. There are also screenings at the Castro: last night's opening film Genghis Khan: to the Ends of Earth and Sea and a closing day slate on Sunday, November 18th. Joining forces with the 10th SFAFF is the SF Korean American Film Festival, which, along with free DVD screenings of Korean films at SFSU's Coppola Theatre, will be presenting at the Four Star ten films programmed by Denise Hwang and Sun-young Moon of KOFIC as a nationally touring program. So far I've seen half of these ten films and can attest to the strength and diversity of a line-up including the jealousy-fueled road movie Driving With My Wife's Lover (which I saw at Sundance, pictured above), and Barking Dogs Never Bite, Grain in Ear, and the King and the Clown (which I saw thanks to various other Frisco festivals.)

But I'm most impressed with the rare selection of classic Korean films being presented in the line-up. There are a pair of Korean War films, 1963's Marines Who Never Returned and 1974's Wildflower in the Battlefield, and this afternoon I caught a screening of the 1958 a Flower in Hell. Not a war film, it nonetheless is set in the shadow of the American military presence on the peninsula, as it tracks the pathways of yang gongju prostitutes and black marketeers on a barb-wired army base. It's a somewhat similar, if inland, milieu to the Japanese coastal one Shohei Imamura depicted in Pigs and Battleships a few years later. The story of a fresh-faced outsider to this world becoming seduced by his scar-faced brother's femme fatale wife may seem familiar, but the particular details, as well as director Shin Sang-ok's stylistic touches, certainly won't. I was very intrigued by Shin's method of cross-cutting between simultaneous actions, temporally almost in the style of a flashback-and-return, though context makes clear that a flashback it is not, especially when we do get to see the film employ a flashback to a childhood memory, utilizing a technique I can't remember encountering before: the illusion of a single-shot pan from present to past. A Flower in Hell plays at the Four Star again tomorrow afternoon at 5:35 and is a rare opportunity to sample a classic that has stood the test of time in its native Korea. More information about the SFAFF and the SFKAFF can be found in Michael Guillen's interview with Adam Hartzell at the Evening Class.

On Wednesday I attended and mildly liked the Chilean improvisation-based film the Sacred Family at the Roxie Film Center. It's part of the Global Lens 2007 series of subtitled films, which plays at various Frisco Bay venues through November 15th. Unfortunately, I understand that Global Lens screenings at the Balboa are no longer planned despite the information on the festival website, and that all the remaining Frisco Bay screenings of these films will be video projections. More information on the Global Lens 2007 lineup is available here and here.

I haven't yet made it to this year's Latino Film Festival, running at various Frisco Bay venues through November 18th, but I hear that the laudable decision to screen on 35mm prints at the Castro was subverted by technical snags. I hope they don't deter future presentations in 35mm for this festival or others. More information about this festival can be found here and here.

This weekend marks the beginning of the SF Film Society's second-busiest season of the year (after the annual International Film Festival in the Spring, of course). Last night a documentary called the Pixar Story (on guess what Frisco Bay animation production company?) opened the 2nd Annual International Animation Festival, which is putting a trove of animated shorts and features on display at the Embarcadero over the next couple days. Here is a terrific interview with festival programmer Sean Uyehara. And as soon as the IAF is over, the Film Society's annual New Italian Cinema series begins, also at the Embarcadero. More here. After a breather for Thanksgiving, the Society resumes its year-round SF360 Movie Night November 29th with the French film Her Name is Sabine. Benefit screenings of Gus Van Sant's new Paranoid Park December 8th at the Letterman Digital Arts Center and the animated Persepolis December 12th at the Kabuki are also open to the paying public.

The 32nd American Indian Film Festival closes tomorrow at the Palace of Fine Arts with its awards show. Apologies for not having mentioned this festival in time to point to any of the film screenings. Hopefully you read this in time anyway.

The 3rd i South Asian Film Festival begins Friday, November 16 at the Victoria Theatre with a program of shorts made by Frisco Bay residents of South Asian descent, and then continues with the unconventional, quietly disquieting documentary John and Jane Toll-Free, a co-presentation with Konrad Steiner and Irinia Leimbacher's kino21. It's a peephole into the world of call centers staffed by the day-sleeping Mumbaikars who work long hours speaking to North Americans about things we'd rather not be bothered about, in language intended to keep us on the phone just a little bit longer than we otherwise would. First Aid Kits are sold as "Emergency Medical Systems" and the weather outside is "snowing" if anyone asks. But I'm not doing the depth of John and Jane Toll-Free's themes justice here. It's really something to see for yourself.

The next two days 3rd i moves into the Castro and then the Roxie. My most anticipated screening of the month (very narrowly beating out Jeanne Dielman next Tuesday at the PFA and the Phil Chambliss films at YBCA Thursday and Friday) is Guru Dutt's legendary Pyaasa, a fifty-year old film generally considered one of the great masterpieces of old Bollywood. I've never seen a single Dutt film, though I've wanted to for years. I'm thrilled I'm going to be able to see this one on the giant Castro screen on the morning of November 17th.

When November ends, festival season in Frisco does too, it seems. At least until January when Berlin and Beyond and Noir City arrive. But on December 1st, the Castro will host Frisco's last film festival hurrah for 2007, when the Silent Film Festival presents its third annual one-day Winter event. I must duly warn that I'm a volunteer for the festival, so I may be biased, but I think all three programs are must-sees. Flesh and the Devil is reputedly Greta Garbo's greatest Hollywood silent film, and the one that really confirmed her stardom here. The Vitaphone Vaudeville program contextualizes the technological developments of the late silent era, preserves the all-but-lost Vaudeville era into the modern era, and is certain to elicit laughter. And seeing the tinted Photoplay print of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance with Dennis James behind the organ seems like the ideal way to see this monument of cinema into the twenty-first century. But don't just take it from me, check out Anne M. Hockens' preview of the festival too!

Excellent summary as always, Brian, and a few nice surprises in here. I was thrilled to see Jeanne Dielman appear on the PFA schedule, and I'm glad to learn from your report that John and Jane Toll-Free is making another Bay Area appearance. I hadn't heard of Pyaasa -- sounds great.
Thanks Rob! I must confess I missed Vanaja again after all, even when it came to my neighborhood via the Balboa. So I'm glad for the chance to spend a little time with Indian cinema.

I did just realize that I forgot to mention one more November film festival though: the After Dark Horrofest, running through November 18th at theatres in Daly City, South San Francisco, Emeryville, Fremont, Pleasant Hill, Mountain View, Redwood City, Richmond, San Rafael, San Jose, and more Frisco Bay cities.
I'm envious. I would love to see Pyaasa on the big screen. Pyaasa, I think, is the most popular Dutt film. Kaagaz Ke Phool, on the other hand, is very flawed, but I often switch back and forth as to which is the better film. Dutt is simply an amazing filmmaker.
Would love to comment but must rush off to a festival screening.
Wish that _Paranoid Park_ screening was a little cheaper. Guess I'll have to wait a little longer for that one. I sure hope I can make it up to the PFA tomorrow night. (I committed to writing about _Beowulf_ for The Daily Cal a long time ago before I knew the Ackerman was scheduled. Now I'm doing my best to back out like the devoted critic I am.)
Very much liked your There Will Be Blood review, Ryland.

Looks like I'm going to have to miss Jeane Dielman myself. First Stalker, then Wavelength and Serene Velocity, now this. Fie on working Tuesday nights!

I'll be missing the Paranoid Park screening too. $15 (non-member) could be worse, especially for a peek inside Lucas's screening room. But I have a prior commitment.

I don't know if you noticed the comments section from my Oct. 22 post, in which upcoming screenings of Silent Light at YBCA Dec. 13 & 16 were mentioned. I'm waiting to bring it up "above the line" here until after I've bought my own ticket.

Oggs: thanks for stopping by. Your blog often makes me jealous of what I'm missing in Southeast Asia, so perhaps we're even?

Michael: touché!
I don't know who wil get to it first, but I MUST KNOW, or will share, views about PERSEPOLIS!!

ASIFA-Atlanta had promo handouts at the International Animation Day, so I am thinking they'll be previewing it... soon??
Have you read the book on which it's based, Jay? (I haven't.)

The stills from the film sure are striking, and I'm curious to see how they'll work as animation.
I got to see PERSEPOLIS at the Manila International Film Festival and found it a powerful story, one of my favorite films of the year.

The grandmother character was particularly striking for me, but in an interesting interview Satrapi had with Jian Ghomeshi on the CBC's show Q, Satrapi reminded me not to forget about the just as admirable other characters in the film such as her uncle.
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