San Francisco International Film Festival Week 2 Roundup
For week two of the San Francisco International Film Fest, our writer Arlin Golden documented the films he was able to see and experience.
My first week at San Francisco International Film Festival was truncated by my absence from the Bay, and thus was focused largely on some of the biggest name documentaries of the year, featuring folks tasked with saving the world and films being released by the emergent media super-amoeba that is Netflix. In week two, I got to breathe a little more and thus was able to seek out some gems whose reach will be revealed later this year, but some of which may not find the audiences they rightfully deserve. This is really why film festivals exist, and I thank the programmers for offering both the films and myself the opportunity to meet in a theatrical atmosphere.
Unlike the films of last week, there were very few villains to generate hisses from the audience, and I tried to learn my lessons about what a marathon attending screenings can be and the short windows available for refueling, so I always made sure to eat appropriately. So unless otherwise noted, I won’t be including those aspects to the capsule reviews below, sorry if you wanted to see me starved for another week of world-class filmgoing. But I’ll still try and let you know how successful I’ve been thus far at wrapping my head around each film.
A look at a community processing tragedy through collective action, Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis‘ Whose Streets? takes us straight into the heart of Ferguson, MO in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder. Whose Streets? spends time with the grassroots activists of Black Lives Matter and their families, chronicling ground-zero of the protests for which the city has become internationally known. What quickly becomes apparent is the disconnect between the reality presented in the film and the prevailing media narratives about the movement, though that should come as no surprise. Sure to be one of the most talked about docs of the year, it’s absolutely a worthwhile experience.
This was another film I saw via a screener, so I didn’t get any audience reactions or the filmmaker Q & A, but Sabaah and Damon were kind enough to sit with me for an interview, which I’m excited to share with you when Magnolia puts the film into wide release later this year.
Am I still processing? Are you kidding? This country’s been processing these ideas for centuries and you expect me to have it all figured out in a week? Please.
In Loco Parentis
The documentary program at the fest, not to mention the contemporary documentary scene in general, is decidedly heavy, reflecting the disgusting reality which serves as the basis for non-fiction films. But Neasa Ní Chianáin‘s In Loco Parentis manages to find an idyllic pocket of Irish countryside where nothing bad ever happens, and everyone who watches it will consequently lead a better life. Its depiction of a married teaching duo and their students at Headfort boarding school is so full of sincere humanity, and I’m confident I won’t see a funnier film this year. I was dying, people, it was kind of embarrassing.
But I wasn’t the only one, the sell-out crowd at the YBCA theater was in stitches throughout. After the screening, Naesa fielded questions from an audience recovering their breath, where we learned that her and her husband/co-director David Rane spent 2 1/2 years shooting in the school, at which their children are students, and generated over 250 hrs of footage. THAT’s the cut I want to see! So good.
Also being distributed by Magnolia, coming off a hot year with films like Tickled, Lo & Behold and I Am Not Your Negro, I was lucky enough to interview Naesa, which will also find its way to you later this year upon the theatrical release.
Am I still processing? I actually watched this a second time via screener, it was so enjoyable, so I think I’ve more or less absorbed everything the film intended.
Brimstone & Glory
There are few documentaries that pack the exhilarating punch of a Hollywood action movie, but Brimstone & Glory proves the exception. In his intro, director Viktor Jakovleski prefaced the screening by stating that his is “not an intellectual film”, but that’s a humble overstatement. An experiential documentary about the fireworks festivals of Tultepec, Mexico, it’s more than just the adrenaline rush that comes from being immersed in a hail of sparks, though that’s a huge part of it. It’s also an exploration of rural malaise and the collective release of an entire community. Definitely a theater film, see it.
Aside from the laughter of In Loco Parentis, this was easily the most engaged audience at any of the screenings I attended, with frequent vocal reactions to the events on screen. Jokovleski remained to field a few questions, where he told us the film actually is a composite of 3 years of festivals, and how a chance drunken meeting led the film to be financed.
Though there was no hissing, there was another on-brand to the point of character moment from one audience member, who raised his hand not to ask a question, but to relate how he went to the festival in Tultepec this year, and what he thought the filmmakers should have included. The director was unnecessarily gracious at first, but the guy kept going on and on about how he would have done things different, all Jokovleski could do was end it with a simple “that’s great that you were there”.
Am I still processing? Not really; fire excites, fire burns. I absolutely loved it though.
Sometimes a documentary has the ability to just make you boil in your seat. Defender is definitely one of those cases. Jim Choi‘s profile of San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, the film explores the vital yet often underappreciated work of the public defender’s office through. This was a free sneak preview of a work in progress cut, so I don’t want to get too deep into it, but as such the filmmakers said they were welcoming criticism. If you guys are reading this for some reason, my only advice would be to intersperse the 2 cases rather than present them consecutively, which gave us a false climax.
The screening was followed by a panel moderated by former SF mayor Willie Brown (the mention of whose name DID generate one loud boo from the audience). Being a political crowd, there WAS a hiss during the film, and it was for Judge Anne-Christine Massullo, whose decisions as to what to allow in the Michael Smith case were as befuddling as they were infuriating.
Am I still processing? This film features cases that are still very much active, evolving and reacting to the toxic federal circumstances. As such, I think I’ll be returning to this film in my mind for some time to come.
I’m not exactly sure what I just watched here. California Dreams blends documentary and fiction with very little context, leaving it to the viewer to sort out, but I think I really liked it a lot. The first of his films director Mike Ott has called a “documentary”, it marks his fourth collaboration with subject/actor Cory Zacharia. Astute viewers might notice Carol Kraft of Steve Brule fame, as well as a blockbuster cameo I refuse to spoil (but IMDB will, so be careful), that recontextualizes everything that came before it. Hilarious, entrancing, opaque, untrustworthy, but above all else ceaselessly enjoyable.
There was no post-screening Q & A, but as I couldn’t help but let out a loud “whaaaaaattttt?!” at the reveal of the aforementioned cameo, the guy sitting next to me engaged in a brief conversation about what it meant and the thing for which the surprise guest is best known.
Am I still processing? Undoubtedly! The question of what’s real and what isn’t is the least of it.
Ever wanted to see a bunch of rich guys masturbate in the dessert? Well you should go watch that instead, cause it’d definitely be more interesting. Yuri Ancarani‘s The Challenge chronicles a large falconry competition in Qatar. But the high production value and deliberate compositions serve to reinforce the self-seriousness of an event rife for deeper exploration. At just over an hour, the pace would have you believe that the title refers to the experience of watching the film. There was a way to make this movie so that it’d be good, but it wasn’t to shoot it like a Puffy video.
I clearly wasn’t alone in this opinion, as this was the only film in the San Francisco International Film Festival where I witnessed walkouts before the film was over. I was tempted, but always try to see a film through to the end. Unless the film’s name is Hellboy or Open Water.
Am I still processing? Hell no. Out of sight, out of mind. Shoot, when it was in sight it was almost out of mind.
Wow. The latest film from cult-hero Alejandro Jodorowsky as a follow up to 2013’s Dance of Reality, Endless Poetry is the 2nd in a projected 5 part autobiographical series. Since he’s generating the funds for his series on Kickstarter, he is totally free of commercial restraints, allowing him to make whatever film he wants, and it definitely shows. People could lobby criticisms of masturbatory navel-gazing on the part of the legendary director, who in this film focuses on his awakening as an artist. Such a take might not be wholly unjustified, but it would have to ignore the striking and powerful filmmaking from one of the avant-garde’s most treasured figures. Celebrate, there’s new Jodorowsky in the world!
This screening at the Roxie, the last of the San Francisco International Film Festival, was absolutely packed. When I got there not only was the line around the block, but the RUSH line was as well! I don’t know what any of these people were thinking, I’d be surprised if even 1 person made it in from there. I did go with a friend, who chose to conceal in her jacket two open tall boys, one of which spilled everywhere once we took our seats. She was wet and smelled of pale ale throughout the film, but even still enjoyed the hell out of it.
Am I still processing? It’s Jodorowsky, what do you think?
And with that, my dreamlike experience on the 60th annual San Francisco International Film Fest came to an end. Even with my best efforts, I still missed out on a few highly anticipated docs; I Called Him Morgan, Donkeyote, Dolores and Step all eluded my grasp, which just speaks to the scope and quality of the San Francisco International Film Festival. And I only saw the one fiction film, and that’s most of what was programmed!
The films I saw covered such a wide range of human experience, a lot of them would be comparing apples to oranges. But in the end they’re both fruit, so if pressed to give my Film Inquiry Award for Best Documentary at the 60th annual San Francisco International Film Fest, it would have to go to In Loco Parentis, because it’s just such a joy, with Brimstone & Glory a close runner-up and an honorable mention for whatever the hell California Dreams is designated. It looks as though the San Francisco International Film Festival agrees with me, as Brimstone & Glory was the recipient of the McBaine Documentary Feature Award (and a cool $10,000) and In Loco Parentis earned the Special Jury Prize (The Force got the Bay Area Doc Award, rightfully so). I cannot congratulate Viktor, Naesa and Peter enough, as their films all deserve the widest recognition.
It was really a wonderful experience; if you’re a film lover in the Bay Area you should absolutely make it an annual ritual, as I intend to do. But if you’re like most people and don’t live in the Bay, you undoubtedly have a local film fest that you’ve always meant to attend but always found reasons not to. Well this year no excuses, GO! They’re the best; you, the filmmakers and those who spend all year organizing these week long cinematic outbursts will be all the better for your having done so. Thanks to SF Film for inviting me to cover the fest and can’t wait to do it all over again for 61!
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