Fall is for Film Festivals: There's Something for Everyone

Sarah Silverman and Josh Charles star in 'I Smile Back,' screening at this year's Mill Valley Film Festival (Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

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If there's anything the Bay Area is lacking, it certainly isn't diversity in its regional film festivals. From the smaller, DIY-style festivals to bigger, star-laden events, we really do have it all. Cinema lovers have hundreds of movies to choose from at festivals this year, including features, documentaries, shorts, foreign films and even music videos. There's something for everyone here screening at popular, long-standing institutions between September and November.

El Canto del Colibrí  / The Hummingbird Songscreens at the Latino Film Festival
El Canto del Colibrí / The Hummingbird Songscreens at the Latino Film Festival (Latino Film Festival)

San Francisco Latino Film Festival

Sept. 18 - 28
San Francisco
Tickets and Information

The 7th annual Latino Film Festival kicks off Sept. 18 at the Brava Theater Center and screens nearly 50 features, documentaries and shorts over the course of ten days. The films, by Latino filmmakers from Latin America, Spain, and the United States, include this year's opening night feature from Mexican director Alejandro Gerber Bicecci, Viento Aparte, about two children making a 2,500-kilometer trek to their grandmother's house after their mother gets sick. Another entry to note is El Canto del Colibrí /The Hummingbird Song, Marco Castro-Bojorquez's documentary about the complex realities of Latino fathers grappling with issues of immigration, faith, marriage equality, machismo, culture, and the process of their LGBTQ children coming out. The Latino Film Festival events take place at several locations around San Francisco, including the Brava Theater, the Roxie Theater, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Red Poppy Art House, and Brick and Mortar Music Hall.

Sembene! screens at the Mill Valley Film Festival
Sembene! screens at the Mill Valley Film Festival

Mill Valley Film Festival

Oct. 8 - 18
Marin County
Tickets and Information

Possibly the biggest film festival in Northern California, the Mill Valley Film Festival has premiered several Oscar contenders in recent years, including The Artist, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi and more. With roughly 200 filmmakers from 50 countries in attendance, this festival's 38th year features Sarah Silverman accepting an award and offering a Q&A after the screening of her new drama, I Smile Back. Screenings take place at venues around Marin County; the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, Cinema Corte Madera, CineArts Sequoia, and the Lark Theatre, and hosts fun opening and closing night parties where attendees can hobnob with the stars.

"Land Grabbing" screens at the UN Film Festival
"Land Grabbing" screens at the UN Film Festival (UN Film Festival)

United Nations Association Film Festival

Oct. 15 - 25
Palo Alto, Stanford, San Francisco
Tickets and Information

Dedicated to honoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 18th annual UN Film Festival screens 60 international documentaries over 11 days in several Bay Area locations (Palo Alto, Stanford University, East Palo Alto, San Francisco) this October. Working under this year's theme of "Running Out of Time," the festival highlights films that reveal the realities of issues around “human rights, the environment, protection of refugees, famine, homelessness, racism, disease control, women's issues, children, universal education, war and peace.”

Arab Film Festival: October 16-25 in San Francisco
Arab Film Festival: October 16-25 in San Francisco

Arab Film Festival

Oct. 16 - 25
San Francisco
Tickets and Information

After a rough summer of being evicted from its office in San Francisco's Mission District (rent increases anyone?), the largest independent Arab Film event in the nation is still on its toes and the festival remains scheduled for Oct. 16 - 25. The 19th annual Arab Film Festival features over 50 films from 20 countries and features the best in Arab Cinema outside the Middle East. An opening night premiere and kick-off party is set for Oct. 16 at The Castro Theater in San Francisco.

“Gulabi Gang,” screened at the 11th Annual San Francisco South Asian Film Festival
“Gulabi Gang,” screened at the 11th Annual San Francisco South Asian Film Festival (3rd i South Asian Film Festival)

International South Asian Film Festival

Oct. 22 - 25 and Nov. 1
San Francisco
Tickets and Information

Featuring films from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and the South Asian Diaspora, the 13th annual South Asian Film Festival's theme this October is “Focus on Freedoms.” The spotlight features issues around gender and sexual equality, and the historical and contemporary legacy of freedom for India and Pakistan. Films screen in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

40th Annual American Indian Film Festival Poster from 1975
40th Annual American Indian Film Festival Poster from 1975 (American Indian Film Institute)

40th Annual American Indian Film Festival

Nov. 6 - 14
San Francisco
Tickets and Information

The American Indian Film Institute has brought the best in American Indian cinema to audiences since 1975. Featuring award-winning films like Smoke Signals, Frozen River, Tiger Eyes, Horse Tribe and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the festival celebrates 40 years this November with a fantastic line-up of features, shorts, documentaries, animation, music videos and experimental films, along with the institute's commitment to working with and empowering marginalized American Indian youth. Closing night features an award ceremony for beast feature film, best actor/actress and more. Tickets on sale October 1. (To read more about American Indian events in the Bay Area coming this fall, check out our guide in our Fall Arts section.)

19th annual Transgender Film Festival: November 12-15 in San Francisco
19th annual Transgender Film Festival: November 12-15 in San Francisco

Transgender Film Festival

Nov. 12 - 15
San Francisco
Tickets and Information

The Transgender Film Festival planted its roots in 1997 with the hopes of creating positive representation of trans and genderqueer people through cinema. The first trans film festival in the country, the event features an array of films made by and for the international trans community, including narrative, documentary, experimental, animated films and music videos. This year, the event returns to the Roxie Theater for film screenings, which launch on Nov. 12.

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