The silly season is over. Children are back in school. It's fall, and the race for little gold statuettes is on (mostly for the better, but not entirely). At our more esoteric venues, the voices of experimental and iconoclastic filmmakers ring out, and film festivals reclaim their place on the calendar. Take your vitamins, your double espresso, or your chem-lab energy drink: From here to Christmas, it's pedal to the metal.
Kerry Laitala has the rare ability to summon the ghosts hiding between the frames. The internationally acclaimed San Francisco filmmaker (newly installed as interim chair of the San Francisco Art Institute's Film Department), rescues and reclaims old films, infusing artifacts with a bemused yet respectful sensibility. Laitala inaugurates Shapeshifters Cinema, a monthly live-cinema series created and curated by Gilbert Guerrero and Kathleen Quillian on the first Thursday at the Arbor Cafe in North Oakland, with two new pieces, Trip the Light Fantastic (a collaboration with Neal Johnson) and Velvet of Night (with musician John Davis) on Sept. 6. For more information, visit shapeshiftercinema.com.
Beauty Is Embarrassing
The artist's life consists of more than trading witticisms with one's muse. (Even if he/she is imaginary.) Wayne White is revered in certain circles for his multiple Emmy Award-winning work on Pee Wee's Playhouse, and his contributions to classic music videos such as Peter Gabriel's Big Time. But he also went through a blue period, and we're not talking Picasso or Redd Foxx. Neil Berkeley's wonderfully titled documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing blends biography and performance into an intimate and refreshingly real portrait. Beauty is Embarrassing plays Sept. 14-17 at the Roxie, with White in the house Sept. 15. For more information, visit roxie.com.
Now in its tenth year, the San Francisco South Asian Film Festival has become one of the liveliest stops on the Bay Area's famously crowded festival lineup. The fest, unspooling Sept. 19-23 at the Castro and Roxie in San Francisco and Sept. 30 at the Camera 12 in San Jose, screens the best new films from India and neighboring countries, which will surprise you with their frankness, sophistication and blazing color -- along with a rambunctious revival of a Bollywood classic. For more information, visit thirdi.org.
Live cinema is the next cool thing (see Kerry Laitala, above), because it represents an attempt to remove predictability and passivity from the moviegoing experience. Eve Sussman's recent film, whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, involves a scientist in remote Siberia who tries to unravel the mystery surrounding his new employer. At each screening, a computer live-edits the film from a vast slew of audio and video slivers, creating associations from which viewers distill clues, and meaning. See it more than once during its free, but brief SFMOMA run, Sept. 27-30. For more information, visit sfmoma.org.
Morality is a major theme of the San Francisco Latino Film Festival, year after year. The programmers have a particular fondness for filmmakers who challenge their characters with tough ethical dilemmas, then deny them an easy way out. This year's opening night film, Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos' Filly Brown, presents us with a street poet who has to choose between the financial (and artistic) lure of a record deal and quaint values such as loyalty and integrity. Like I said, the silly season is over. The S.F. Latino Film Festival screens Sept 13-28 in San Francisco, San Jose, Richmond and Oakland. For more information, visit sflatinofilmfestival.com.