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Five to Watch: Trip the Light Fantastic

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Jon Satrom, 'Plugin BeachBall Success.' (Courtesy of San Francisco Cinematheque)

The San Francisco International Film Festival justifiably takes up most of the oxygen in the 415/510 screening rooms beginning April 21. But from April Fools’ Day on, Bay Area screens are hopping with motion pictures designed to transport you to far-off realms. Here’s a seductive sampling of spring itineraries.

Jon Satrom, 'Doc1.'
Jon Satrom, ‘Doc1.’ (Courtesy of San Francisco Cinematheque)


Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
April 1 – 3

The chemical reaction between light and celluloid — which used to be the only way to make a “film” — is essentially a thing of the past. Experimental filmmakers are just about the last practitioners, although film stock has become too scarce and pricey for all but a handful of them. Much of the thrill of S.F. Cinematheque’s annual compilation of the latest, greatest experimental filmmaking from around the world is savoring rare works on film while also reveling in the beauty and emotion that gifted artists can extract from digital media. If you’re a fan of live performance, and the mashup of image, music and voice, you don’t want to miss “Apparent Motion Electronic Cabaret: Popcorn Before The Crash” (Sat., April 2 at 8pm). Program #5, as it’s also known, spotlights a wealth of local artists including Tommy Becker, “The Freddy McGuire Show” (comprising Anne McGuire, Wobbly and Bill Thibault) and Kris T. Force.

Sonia Sanchez in still from 'BaddDDD'
Sonia Sanchez in still from ‘BaddDDD’
(Courtesy of Attie & Goldwater Productions)

Poetry in Motion Film Festival

Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael
April 3, 10 and 17

April is National Poetry Month, and one wonderful way to celebrate is by retrieving a forgotten volume from your bookshelf and cracking the cover. Another is to drop by the Smith Rafael Film Center over the course of three Sundays and immerse yourself in the wit and wisdom of Gary Snyder, the just-passed Jim Harrison and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (April 3), W.S. Merwin and Robert Bly (April 10) and Sonia Sanchez and Alice Walker (April 17). To be clear, the poets are represented by film portraits. They won’t be in the house, but several of the filmmakers will be present.

Jason Witt, the Olympic champion of recycling, hauls a shopping cart with his girlfriend, Heather Holloman, on top.
Jason Witt, the Olympic champion of recycling, hauls a shopping cart with his girlfriend, Heather Holloman, on top.
(Chihiro Wimbush/Courtesy 'Dogtown Redemption')

Dogtown Redemption

April 5 at the Roxie, San Francisco
April 7 at the Smith Rafael, San Rafael
April 9-10 at the New Parkway, Oakland

For a good long while, the West Oakland recycling center Alliance Metals was, in filmmaker Amir Soltani’s words, “the only place where homeless people could engage in a legitimate transaction.” While most documentaries about homeless people are content to humanize their subjects, Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush’s thoughtful and empathetic Dogtown Redemption gets into the larger economic, health and social ramifications of collecting cans and bottles to survive on the street. The recycling center’s exasperated neighbors get their say, and they certainly have a point. However, the film places their objections in the larger discussion, or lack of one, of poverty in America.

Centerpiece film 'An American Ascent.'
Centerpiece film ‘An American Ascent.’ (Courtesy of SF Green Film Festival)

San Francisco Green Film Festival

Castro Theatre, Roxie Theater, Koret Auditorium and several Berkeley venues
April 14 – 20

It may be too late — our children and grandchildren will be sure to tell us, in 10 or 20 years — but the campaign to slow climate change has a fresh kick after the Paris agreement. Local filmmaker Mark Decena’s kinetic portrait of those events, Not Without Us, finds its sustainable fuel in seven activists from around the globe who convene on the City of Light. By the time Not Without Us receives its world premiere on closing night (April 20) of the bigger-than-ever Green Film Festival, you’re apt to feel the momentum wherever you’re standing. A rare amalgam of elevation, activism, education and inspiration, the Green Film Festival is the kind of event where you can pick a film, any film, from the program and walk away thrilled. This year’s theme is a beaut: Keep It Wild.

Still from 'Dr. Strangelove.'
Still from ‘Dr. Strangelove.’

Sir Ken Adam (1921-2016)

Castro Theatre
April 17

Let’s go crazy! Not so much out of grief for the master set and production designer Sir Ken Adam, who lived 95 full years before exiting stage left on March 10. Rather, in a spirit of fraternity with the deranged protagonists and stalwart agents of frustration who battled the heroes of so many of the movies he collaborated on. The Castro pays tribute to the wildly imaginative film artist with a triple bill of Dr. Strangelove, The Spy Who Loved Me (one of seven James Bond movies Sir Ken designed) and the marvelous period piece, The Madness of King George, for which he received one of his two Oscars. His biographer memorialized Adam to the BBC as “a brilliant visualizer of worlds we will never be able to visit ourselves.” Movies are a trip, indeed.


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