Welcome to the old bait-and-switch, as there aren’t any movies about baseball on local screens this month. There might be a few that touch on practice, teamwork, new beginnings and the changing of the seasons, but you could say that about any month in the filmaholic Bay Area. You see, that’s the other lie in the title: Moviegoers hereabouts are always in midseason form, given the multitude of new, old, forgotten and rediscovered films to choose from. But if the words “spring training” awaken a latent spirit of rejuvenation in you, as they do in me, my transgression is forgiven. So let’s see what is, in fact, behind the curtain.
Camera 12 Cinemas, Hammer Theatre Center and the California Theatre, San Jose
March 1 - 13
The venerable South Bay film festival is an iconoclastic, hit-and-miss array of independent films from around the globe that (in many cases) will never be seen again in the Bay Area. There’s room in the wide-ranging program for everything from Penelope Cruz as a mother diagnosed with breast cancer in veteran Spanish director Julio Medem’s Ma Ma (March 6) to Eva Neymann’s Russian-language Sholem Aleichem adaptation Song of Songs (March 8, 9, 12). Rita Moreno plays a grandmother on the road to laughs and life lessons with two descendants in the world premiere of Remember Me (March 5), and pockets the festival’s Maverick Award in the bargain. A tip of the hat to another maverick, Bob Hawk, whose work at the Film Arts Foundation in S.F. in the '80s and '90s led to a brilliant career as a New York-based consigliere to independent filmmakers. Hawk collects his statue at a screening of the documentary about life, Film Hawk (March 4).
Exploratorium, San Francisco
Interactivity. Second screen. Virtual reality. Somebody’s always touting a new buzzword or consumer electronic that’s more immersive, more intense, more impactful than the (supposedly) passive experience of watching a projected movie. I get it, but I much prefer the experiments of artists to inventors. The Exploratorium’s annual Extended Cinemas program is a veritable smorgasbord of installations, dual-projector shows, shadow puppetry and workshops created by envelope-pushing filmmakers and image-and-light sculptors. Spring forward, indeed.
How to Smell a Rose: A Visit With Ricky Leacock in Normandy
Various Bay Area theaters
Beginning March 8
Les Blank, the laconic East Bay filmmaker who died in 2013, dropped in on fellow documentary icon Richard Leacock at his French country house many years ago and -- being an obsessive imagemaker -- wound up filming their casual chats about film, food and life. Blank’s filmmaking partner, Gina Leibrecht, interwove those conversations and clips of Leacock’s lovely films into a seductive portrait of creativity, beauty and friendship that premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2014 and opened in New York last August. It receives its Bay Area theatrical release March 8 at the New Parkway in Oakland, March 9 at the Roxie and March 10 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
Various Bay Area theaters
March 10 - 20
The 34th annual survey of Asian and Asian-American cinema is rife with tasty morsels like the opening night Hawaiian feast, Family Ingredients (March 10), and the thinking drinking person’s Kampai: For the Love of Sake (March 11 and 19). Royston Tan’s musical drama 3688 (March 13 and 19) transports us to Singapore while lifelong Cambodian chronicler Rithy Pan probes the past in France Is Our Mother Country (March 17). An unanticipated layer of controversy now accompanies the Manny Pacquiao doc, Kid Kulafu (March 11), thanks to the former boxer and current Filipino Senate candidate’s recent homophobic comments.
Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
March 11 - 13
What was Lou Gehrig’s nickname? (Answer at the end.) Few things are as much fun, honestly, as listening to erudite, articulate people talk about movies. The conversation glides from art to history to the peculiarities of human nature and the foibles of talented egomaniacs. Novelist and poet Ondaatje joins film critic and historian Thomson, a meeting of the minds playing out in six acts at the Smith Rafael Film Center. The series is set in motion by the great, gritty John Frankenheimer-Burt Lancaster-Paul Scofield wartime thriller The Train (1965). The lineup spotlights von Sternberg and Dietrich’s Shanghai Express, Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Konchalovksy’s Runaway Train, Lean’s Brief Encounter and, improbably, Tony Scott’s 2010 swan song Unstoppable. As for Big Lou, his moniker was the Iron Horse. Caught you looking, didn’t I?