Though showing mostly fiction films, the San Francisco International Film Festival is a doc lovers dream. Featuring a wide selection of some of the year’s most anticipated documentaries, many of which premiered just a couple months ago at Sundance, one can make make the fest into a documentary marathon if they choose, which I did. I greatly enjoyed the new routine the festival afforded me, biking from my office off Mission St. to the festival press office on Mission, then biking to the theater, just off Mission, in the Mission. In seeing all these docs you might say I made it my…strong objective.
But Mission is a long street! One of the great things about the fest is it takes you all over a good portion of the city, hosting screenings in art houses, vaudeville theaters and museums alike. The Bay Area is a passionate film region, where local patron saints of film Lucas and Coppola are joined by documentary heavyweight Les Blank. It’s a town that has a strong appreciation for non-fiction filmmaking and continues to produce a steady stream of fresh documentarians; as such all the screenings I attended were packed.
Since all of these films have distribution deals in place, I’ll only be able to tell you a little bit about each of them until they go into wide release later this year. But to create a sense of really attending the San Francisco International Film Festival, at the end of each capsule review I’ll let you know how much I’m still processing the film, who received absolutely deserved but entirely on brand for San Francisco to point of caricature hisses from the crowd, and how hungry I was during the movie.
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Trials of the Free Press
I missed the first few days of the San Francisco International Film Festival due to a wedding (congrats Ashley & Dallas), but when I got back I went straight from the airport to the press office to pick up my pass, and the first movie I saw was Nobody Speak.
Undoubtedly affected by last year’s election, the film covers the salacious sex-tape trial that nearly brought down a web-journalism empire, the ramifications of which are still being acutely felt by the press. This is right up director Brian Knappenberger‘s alley, whose previous films similarly examined the darker intersections of the internet, life and politics. Nobody Speak is strongest when discussing the Hogan case, which takes up most of the films runtime. But the later portions feel like a major, though still thematic, departure in tone, and you sometimes wonder how much you’re being trusted to make connections on your own.
Am I still processing: Not really, I think I get it. They made damn sure of it.
Absolutely deserved but but entirely on brand for San Francisco to point of caricature hisses were directed at: Human pair of google glasses Peter Thiel. BONUS: following the hisses was the, again deserved but soooo on brand, utterance: “techie fascist!”
How hungry was I? Not at all! I had time to drop my things off at home and have some dinner before heading back into the city. Nothing special, just macaroni and cheese (shells and white cheddar) with a can of tuna and some sriracha. Ol’ reliable.
Bill Nye: Science Guy
A film that initially flew under my radar, Bill Nye: Science Guy is a surprisingly honest and deep examination of every millenial’s favorite de-facto substitute teacher. Directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg spent two years chronicling Nye as he came back to prominence defending science and rational thinking in an age where climate denial and creationism are taught to children. I did not expect to feel this many emotions watching a film about a man whose show once featured the hip-hop parody “Mr. Dino”. But Nye‘s reverence for one of my heroes, Carl Sagan, and his crusade against destructive ignorance had me fighting back tears throughout Science Guy.
Following the screening the filmmakers, Nye, and Eugenie Scott, also featured in the film, held court on the important scientific issues of the day. It was an energizing discussion, with some healthy disagreement on whether or not Nye‘s debate with Ken Ham at the creationism museum was an irresponsible elevation of a discredited theory. I think it left all in attendance with some hope for science in what seems like an uncertain future.
Am I still processing? I am, but not so much the film as to what really motivates folks like Ham and Joe Bastardi. Money? Of course. But surely there are other ways to make money without poisoning young minds and ensuring our doom as a species. No? Oh, alright.
Absolutely deserved but but entirely on brand for San Francisco to point of caricature hisses were directed at: Trump.
How hungry was I? So god damn hungry. Sometime during the middle of the movie I got a sudden desire for egg drop soup, which I don’t think I’ve had in at least a year. But the cosmos seemed to be working in my favor, because right across the street from the Victoria Theater was a Hunan restaurant with egg drop soup, though they called it egg flower soup, and it. Was. Perfect.
Following 2012’s The Waiting Room, The Force is the second installment in fellow Oaklander Peter Nicks‘ trilogy about the city’s institutions. A contender for heir apparent to Wiseman‘s verité throne, Nicks offers an inside look at the Oakland Police Department, historically one of the most embattled forces in the country, at a time were public perception of police is at an all time low. There’s no doubt that he envisioned a different film than what we all saw at the San Francisco International Film Festival, as scandal after scandal unfolded during production, taking the film along with it and threatening the humanization begun at its onset.
This was another screening followed by a panel discussion, featuring the filmmakers as well as a number of subjects featured in The Force who made the trip across the bay to be there. You could feel some tension between the police present and the community leaders as they stood on opposite sides of the stage, as the events of the film continue on into all of our lives. Consequently, the ending note was slightly less hopeful than the last night at the Victoria, but there was a longer discussion at a bar nearby I wasn’t able to attend, so hopefully things were a little less tense with some liquor flowing.
Am I still processing? Very much so. I followed the scandals closely when they were happening, so I didn’t expect to feel as rattled I did following the film.
Absolutely deserved but but entirely on brand for San Francisco to point of caricature hisses were directed at: Oakland Mayor and noted fire-breathing snail rider Libby Schaaf
How hungry was I? I learned a little bit from the prior day’s Bill Nye experience and thought to stop in at the San Francisco International Film Festival lounge, where I loaded up on jalapeño potato chips and dried apple chips, which were delicious. I ate a lot of those. But after an hour and a half of stress eating at the sight of the hopelessly defunct institution tasked with the safety of my community, I could’ve gone for something a little more substantial.
One of my more anticipated films this year, Casting JonBenet is a sort of provocateur documentary, creating a situation which allows the locals of Boulder, Colorado to have a frank discussion about the most traumatic event in their history. Auditioning for the roles of all the key players in the tragedy that took the nation’s attention in 96-97, the subjects of the film one by one offer their impressions to the viewer. Director Kitty Green employs a couple tricks from the Errol Morris playbook, most notable using the interrotron to force us to stare uncomfortably into our own judging eyes.
Am I Still Processing? Definitely. There’s a lot going on here and the least of it is the event at the center of all of this.
Absolutely deserved but but entirely on brand for San Francisco to point of caricature hisses were directed at: The film screened while I was out of town so I watched this one on my computer, but I can only assume there was some hissing at the stilted delivery at one of the little boys auditioning for the role of JonBenet‘s brother, Burke.
How hungry was I? Perfectly satiated, just after lunch 😊
That’s it for this week, but as far as I know I have no weddings to attend so next week I’ll be able to tell you about even more world-class documentaries, including In Loco Parentis and Defender, and one fiction feature which just might be my most anticipated film of the year.
Wonder what it could be…? Come back in a week for my next round-up of the San Francisco International Film Festival to find out!
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