We frankly admit that we are partial to pioneers and outsiders hereabouts. So forgive us if we don’t get weak in the knees about this weekend’s mega-budget superhero sequel that launches Hollywood’s summer of special-effects silliness. (Even if The Avengers: Age of Ultron was written and directed by one-time maverick Joss Whedon.) Our attention is focused on the San Francisco International Film Festival, continuing through Thursday, May 7, and the weeklong tribute to the late, great documentary maker Albert Maysles (and his brother and frequent co-director David) at the Vogue Theatre starting May 8. Making films is an uphill struggle, a feat of persistence as much as creativity. Here’s to those who persevere for our enlightenment and entertainment.
Penelope Spheeris couldn’t get arrested in Hollywood, par for the course for women who want to be behind the camera. So she made a great documentary about L.A.’s punk-rock scene, The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), and got everyone’s attention. After the further success of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, she was handed the keys to Wayne’s World (1992). That trio of movies, collected by Midnites for Maniacs host Jesse Hawthorne Ficks for a May 8 show at the Castro entitled Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, summarizes Spheeris’ career: heartfelt docs driven by fierce integrity and broad studio comedies for the multiplex masses. Spheeris jets into town for this massively fun tribute highlighted by a sure-to-be-candid onstage interview. Visit castrotheatre.com for details.
The Warriors have galvanized the Bay Area -- we do love winners, don’t we? -- and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts keeps the ball in the air during Steph Curry & co.’s playoff run with Basketball Jones: Hoops on Screen (May 9–24). The doc series begins, of course, with Steve James’ wrenching epic Hoop Dreams (1994), then follows the thread two decades later with Brett Kashmere’s cultural history From Deep. Josh and Benny Safdie’s Lenny Cooke recounts the saga of a can’t-miss player who missed, reminding us that losers are often more interesting than champions. Visit ybca.org for details.
Even black-and-white movies are a bridge too far for most moviegoers under a certain age, so what do the younger generations make of silent-era cinema? One excursion to the vibrant San Francisco Silent Film Festival, spinning the reels on its 20th edition May 28 through Jun. 1, is usually enough to erase misconceptions. Arguably the most lovingly-produced festival in the Bay Area, the SFSFF imports pristine prints and premier musicians for every show, supplanting the condescension of nostalgia with the live act of creation. Experience it for yourself, and you’ll get the gestalt -- and the pleasure. This year’s riches span All Quiet On the Western Front (opening night) to pantheon comedian Harold Lloyd’s Speedy to William Gillette’s long-lost performance in Sherlock Holmes, and much more. Visit silentfilm.org for details.
As an extra treat, Robert Byrne, president of the SFSFF board and an ace restorer, recounts the reconstruction of another festival title, When the Earth Trembled (1913), inspired by the 1906 quake and fire, May 14 at the Presidio Officers Club. Visit presidioofficersclub.com for more information.
We are a stubborn, self-interested, shortsighted species. (Any dissenters?) Climate change, and the environment overall, should be Topic A all the time. (Well, after the Warriors, that is.) The San Francisco Green Film Festival (May 28-Jun. 3) focuses our attention with wit and enthusiasm, eschewing superficial provocation for a deeper, longer-lasting impact. The vibrant lineup of S.F. premieres starts with Bikes vs Cars, Swedish director Fredrik Gertten’s globetrotting survey of pedal-powered initiatives. Festival director Rachel Caplan maintains an unwavering emphasis on positive change, reflected by Jerry Rothwell’s griping history of Greenpeace’s beginnings, How to Change the World, and East Bay filmmaker Christopher Beaver’s irresistibly invigorating overview of San Francisco’s recycling and composting efforts, Racing to Zero. For more details, visit greenfilmfest.org.
Orson Welles was a master of theater, radio, film and (late night) television. He was a phenomenally gifted writer, actor and director. “Prodigy” is insufficient to cover his abilities and accomplishments, so I usually just go with “the greatest artist the United States has ever produced.” The Smith Rafael Film Center marks the centennial of the great man’s birth with Welles 100 Part One: 1941-1948, a series of his studio films screening on Sundays from May 31 through Jun. 28. The fall will bring Part Two, comprised of Welles’ independent films. The perennial outsider, Welles was a courageous artist who challenged racism, classism and anything else status quo, He was of his time and ahead of his time; indeed, we still haven’t caught up to him. For more information, visit rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.