Five to Watch: Haunted by Festivals

Still from 'Ghost Town to Havana.'

October is to the Bay Area film festival calendar as 5pm is to the Bay Bridge on-ramps. Well, not quite: You don’t subject yourself to the latter unless you have to, while the former is an enticing (and daunting, perhaps) invitation to an assortment and array of films from every corner of the planet. So here’s my periodic plea to venture to a venue and event you’ve never attended: Our film culture is one of the top three reasons to live in the Bay Area, along with the economy and the climate. Shameless, cheerleading hyperbole? Put down that pumpkin and take a gander at a mere sample of this month’s choices.

Still from 'Rams.' (Photo: Cohen Media Group/Mill Valley Film Festival)
Still from 'Rams.' (Photo: Cohen Media Group/Mill Valley Film Festival)

San Francisco transplants longing for a late summer will find it in Marin County in October. The feeling of fall approaching is enhanced by the Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 8-18), which previews a slew of thoughtful upcoming films (from Carol to Suffragette) with several name actors (Carey Mulligan, Brie Larson, Jena Malone) in attendance. The festival has long been a haven for local filmmakers, and this year’s world premieres include the intimate documentaries Dogtown Redemption (shot in Oakland) and Surviving Skokie. If European films are your cup of spiced latte, Italian auteur Nanni Moretti’s My Mother features John Turturro as a privileged, incompetent movie star, while the rural Icelandic comedy Rams boasts gorgeous cinematography. Visit The Do List for details.

Will Durst, Larry "Bubbles" Brown and Johnny Steele in '3 Still Standing.' (Photo: Beanfield Productions)
Will Durst, Larry "Bubbles" Brown and Johnny Steele in '3 Still Standing.' (Photo: Beanfield Productions)

Last year’s MVFF hosted the world premiere of 3 Still Standing, Robert A. Campos and Donna LoCicero’s S.F.-centered ode to career stand-up comedians. The feature documentary finally receives a theatrical run (Oct. 9-15 at the Roxie, Oct. 20 at the New Parkway in Oakland and Oct. 22 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael), taking us back a couple decades to the live comedy boom that was as all encompassing as it was short-lived. The Chronicle’s Pink Pages ran a feature on a different comic every week it seemed, and audiences were consistently large, enthusiastic and kind. (My memory may be less than sharp on that last point.) 3 Still Standing checks in with Will Durst, Johnny Steele and Larry “Bubbles” Brown, veteran local comedians who didn’t land sitcom deals or game-show hosting jobs during the fat years -- for better or worse -- and have made a go of their particular art form ever since. Visit The Do List for details.

A scene from Hou Hsiao-hsien's 'The Assassin.' (Photo: San Francisco Film Society)
A scene from Hou Hsiao-hsien's 'The Assassin.' (Photo: San Francisco Film Society)

Modern master Hou Hsiao-hsien is the rare director whose films capture the moment without reeking of showiness or trendiness. The S.F. Film Society salutes Hou, and launches its extensive fall program, at a scaled-back edition of Taiwan Film Days (Oct. 12-13 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema). The filmmaker will attend the opening night screening of his latest, The Assassin (also in MVFF and opening Oct. 23), but perhaps not the restoration of his 1983 triumph, The Boys from Fengkuie, the next day. Do not miss one of the great filmmakers of our time in person. Visit The Do List for details.

Still from 'PK.' (Photo: 3rd i South Asian International Film Festival)
Still from 'PK.' (Photo: 3rd i South Asian International Film Festival)

You won’t find a more colorful collection of movies than the selection curated for 3rd i’s S.F. International South Asian Film Festival (Oct. 22-25 at the Castro and New People Cinema and Nov. 1 at the CineArts in Palo Alto). Spiraling outward from India and Pakistan, the program begins with Mozart of Madras, a documentary about world-renowned composer A. R. Rahman. Vishal Bharadwaj's Haider reimagines Hamlet in Kashmir, while Danis Tanovic's fact-based Tigers re-enacts the saga of a Pakistani salesman who stood up to an amoral corporation. (A redundancy, admittedly.) Visit The Do List for details.

'Ghost Town to Havana.'
'Ghost Town to Havana.'

Local hero Eugene Corr has had one of the more interesting movie careers imaginable, from an Oscar nomination for the documentary Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey to the blue-jeans glory of the 1986 indie hit Desert Bloom (with a young Annabeth Gish, Jon Voight and JoBeth Williams), with gigs directing second unit crews on major movies like Bull Durham and TV shows such as Miami Vice. He’s devoted the last several years to a documentary about a baseball team of underprivileged local boys and their coach, and their remarkable -- and perhaps life-altering -- trip to Cuba. A genuine labor of love and near-absurd levels of persistence, Ghost Town to Havana has its Bay Area premiere Oct. 27 at the palatial Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. Filmmaking is a team sport, and that includes the audience. Visit The Do List for details.

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