Fall Film: A Bevy of Bay Area Festivals and Retrospectives

Aberdeen screens at the SF Film Society's Hong Kong Cinema series in November.

FAll arts preview 2014In addition to the flurry of high-minded, highly anticipated movies from the studios and arthouse distributors, the calendar flip into fall triggers an avalanche of buzzing festivals and carefully curated series. The diversity of the Bay Area, paired with a curious, adventurous and film-savvy populace, inspires programmers to bring us the whole wide world of movies. ‘Tis the season to break out of your comfort zone, broaden your tastes, and go in search of surprise, delight, knowledge and amazement. Here are some choice destinations where the unexpected is de rigueur.

Title of Film
Discovering Georgian Cinema

Discovering Georgian Cinema

Sept. 26, 2014 - April 19, 2015
Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Tickets and information

I’d prefer to start the proceedings with something more familiar, but fall is the traditional time of the year for new ideas and experiences, right? This retrospective of Georgian movies, the largest ever assembled in North America, takes a deep dive into a national cinema that traces its roots to the silent era. Humanist dramas, satires of Soviet shortcomings, pioneering experiments in storytelling, revelatory documentaries and contemporary sagas of identity and ambition fill the bill. The only period from the last century that’s essentially ignored is the Stalin era -- understandable given the reels of propaganda and paucity of art and innovation during his rule, but ironic given Joe’s Georgian origins.

<i>Difret</i>
Difret

Zeresenay Mehari in residence

Oct. 1-14
S.F. Film Society
Tickets and information

The Ethiopian-born, USC film school-educated director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari is having quite a year. His gripping feature debut, Difret, won audience awards at Sundance (where it premiered) and Berlin, and played the San Francisco International Film Festival in the spring. He returns for two weeks as the S.F. Film Society’s latest artist in residence, with a slate of speaking appearances at various schools, a meet-and-greet with local filmmakers and a public screening of Difret (Oct. 9 at Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco). The harrowing, fact-based drama exposes the long-standing Ethiopian tradition of telefa — the abduction (and rape) of adolescent girls for marriage — through a mid-‘90s kidnapping that provoked an act of self-defense and led to a controversial trial.

<i>Charlie's Country</i>
Charlie's Country

Mill Valley Film Festival

Oct. 2-12
Sequoia and Throckmorton Theaters, Mill Valley; Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
Tickets and information

Laid back yet socially conscious, the venerable Marin County bash smoothly blends character-driven dramas accompanied by glamorous stars with incisive documentaries introduced by the (often local) filmmakers. New Bay Area films with local subjects include Christopher Beaver’s Racing to Zero: In Pursuit of Zero Waste, William Farley’s Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Barrish and Helen Cohen and Mark Lipman’s State of Grace. Australia sends the acclaimed Aborigine saga Charlie’s Country, while African master Abderrahman Soudais presents his Cannes triumph Timbuktu. The Oscar hopefuls and movie stars that are a key part of the festival haven’t been announced yet, though you’ll find some likely candidates in my fall preview of Hollywood and independent films.

<i>Alcatraz Is Not An Island</i>
Alcatraz Is Not An Island

Lest We Forget: Remembering Radical San Francisco

Oct. 2-26
Yerba Buena Center For the Arts, 701 Mission Street, S.F.
Tickets and information

The Bay Area’s longstanding embrace of social activism and pursuit of justice recedes into history with every passing day and wave of young, apolitical arrivals. Joel Shepard aspires to light a fire under the tushes of keyboard-tapping techies -- and the rest of us -- with a collection of classics and forgotten artifacts of the numerous occasions San Franciscans fought the power. Whet your appetite with these titles, and know there is much more where they came from: Take This Hammer (1963), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Alcatraz Is Not an Island (2001) and Farmcore: The Punk Rock Years (1989).

<i>It's Better to Jump</i>
It's Better to Jump

Arab Film Festival

Oct. 10-23
Various Bay Area venues
Tickets and information

A celebration of culture, identity, tradition and modernity, the Arab Film Festival taps into the deeply felt emotions of living in the diaspora. The 18th annual edition will likely be the most impassioned in recent years, with the war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians still going on. Count on the festival to showcase a stereotype-busting array of character-oriented films from the Arab world, films that will see the light of a projector in only a handful of American cities. The Arab Film Festival is much more than a sure-fire antidote to cable news, but it is assuredly that.

<i>Wampler’s Ascent</i>
Wampler’s Ascent

ReelAbilities Bay Area Disabilities Film Festival

Oct. 15-19
New Parkway Theater, Oakland; New People Cinema and de Young Museum, S.F.
Tickets and information

In an innovative and exciting bi-coastal partnership, Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center has joined with ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival to debut a Bay Area edition of the respected event. The fest’s life-affirming slant is expressed in the opening night film, Wampler’s Ascent, which chronicles Steve Wampler’s attempt to be the first person with a disability to top Yosemite’s El Capitan. The majority of the films spotlight people with Down syndrome, autism and blindness, and provide visceral evidence that a disability is not a handicap.

Art & Resolution: Films of Afro-Cuban Life and History

Oct. 16 - Nov. 20
Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission Street, S.F.
Tickets and information

In conjunction with the touring exhibition Drapetomania: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba, MOAD illuminates the African presence and influence in Cuba via a weekly series of rare biopics, dramas, docs and shorts curated and introduced by Cornelius Moore. The longtime co-director of S.F.-based California Newsreel (the leading educational distributor of African and African American themed films) raises the curtain with El Benny (Oct. 16), the 2006 biopic of beloved Cuban singer Benny Moré. Another highlight is Cuba-based filmmaker Gloria Rolando’s appearance with Reembarque (Nov. 5), her vivid new documentary about Haitian migrant workers in Cuba during the 20th Century and their legacy in the 21st.

<i>Pelican Dreams</i>
Pelican Dreams

Pelican Dreams

Opens Oct. 24
Balboa Theater, S.F.; Rialto Cinema Elmwood, Berkeley; Rafael Film Center, San Rafael

San Francisco documentary filmmaker Judy Irving’s long-awaited follow-up to her endearing, profound and wholly unexpected hit, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, continues her fascination with our winged friends -- in this case, the California brown pelican. Starting with a misguided young bird’s traffic-snarling landing on the Golden Gate Bridge a few years ago, Irving gradually widens the perspective until the seductive film includes all of us who live on or near the ocean or bay and draw sustenance (of whatever kind) from the water.

Mary Woronov in <i>Chelsea Girls</i>
Mary Woronov in Chelsea Girls

Mary Woronov, Warhol Superstar

Nov. 6-7
Castro Theater and Yerba Buena Center For the Arts, S.F.
Tickets and information

The iconoclastic actress, writer and painter Mary Woronov has garnered admirers from every stage of her career. Introduced to the public by Andy Warhol, she went on to work with her late, great friend Paul Bartel on the cult hits Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul and Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Her immortality was assured by an iconic performance as Miss Togar (opposite Bartel and the Ramones) in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. S.F. Cinematheque brings Woronov to town to introduce a pair of Warhol films from 1966 in which she starred, Chelsea Girls (a double-screen projection Nov. 6 at the Castro) and Hedy (Nov. 7 at YBCA). Mark your calendar now.

name of film
UPAJ: IMPROVISE

3rd I’s South Asian International Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond

Nov. 6-9 and 15
Castro Theater and New People Cinema, S.F.; Aquarius Theater,Palo Alto
Tickets and information

3rd I’s success at selling out the Castro for the annual Bollywood blowout (not to downplay the attendance at all the other festival screenings) may have something to do with this year’s across-the-board emphasis on music and dance. A clear highlight is a performance by Indian master kathak dancer Chitresh Das and African American tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, whose collaboration to create a hybrid style they call India Jazz Suites is documented in Upaj: Improvise. There’s lots more, capped with a revival of the recently restored Kalpana (1948), a breathtaking biopic that emphasizes dance over dialogue.

<i>Misunderstood</i>
Misunderstood

France, Italy, Hong Kong

French Cinema Now: Nov. 6–9
Hong Kong Cinema: Nov. 14–16
New Italian Cinema: Nov. 19–23
Vogue Theatre, 3290 Sacramento Street, S.F.
Tickets and information

After immersing yourself in exotic locales and esoteric subjects, Europe and Hong Kong may feel downright familiar and comfortable. The San Francisco Film Society’s annual surveys of new movies from beloved filmmaking capitals encompass all types of entertainments -- romantic Parisian complications and comedy, displacement and alienation in Hong Kong (and maybe a dash of action, for old times’ sake) and youth on the move in Milan and Rome. The mix includes a few recognizable actresses and esteemed filmmakers, but these series primarily provide a showcase for new talent. If you somehow resist or suppress the restless spirit of discovery in September and October, here are three splendid ways to get your passport stamped. With movies, like everything else, too much comfort is the kiss of death.

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