Now Playing! Film's Lush Past and the Middle East's Present

Still from 'Black Girl' (Courtesy of SFFS)

Close the laptop, drop that tablet, pause the smartphone and join your fellow humans in Bay Area theaters this week with recommendations from our film critic Michael Fox.

Modern Cinema

Oct. 7-23
Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA, San Francisco
Tickets: $12

Going back to the 1930s, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has showed films -- the newest and (often but not always) most modern of the arts -- as part of its constellation of exhibits and events. The newly reopened SFMOMA inaugurates its renovated Phyllis Wattis Theater this Friday, Oct. 7 with a three-weekend nod to the past by way of an open-ended collaboration with the S.F. Film Society.

Still from 'L'Avventura'
Still from 'L'Avventura' (Courtesy of SFFS)

Modern Cinema, as the thrice-annual—October, February and July—blowout is dubbed, makes its debut with a lush selection of postwar works from Europe and beyond. These films bear the high-toned imprimatur of Janus Films and laid the foundation for art houses. Bergman, Kurosawa and Antonioni are in the mix, along with Marker, Fassbinder, Akerman and Senegal’s late, great patriarch, Ousmane Sembène, represented by his debut short film, Borom Sarret (1963) and his breakthrough hour-long feature, Black Girl (1966). Highly recommended for film buffs and novices alike.

Also...

The Arab Film Festival, now in its 20th year, is more concerned with serving an audience of expatriates and everyone else with an interest in the extended Middle East (and its culture) than pushing back against the inflammatory rhetoric and acute paranoia that infects most American media where Arabs and Arab-Americans are concerned.

Still from 'Clash'
Still from 'Clash' (Courtesy of Arab Film Festival)

But because movies allow us to see each other, or rather to see “the other,” they can counter misinformation, stereotypes and prejudice. The festival, taking place Oct. 7-10, opens at the Castro with Mohamed Diab’s Clash, a parable of the 2013 political upheaval set inside a padded wagon that is Egypt’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film.

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Another title with a strong political undercurrent is Junction 48, radical Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni’s mean-streets tale of a going-nowhere Palestinian guy who, with his girlfriend, turns to writing and performing rap songs. Junction 48 won the Panorama Audience Award at Berlin and was named Best International Narrative Feature at Tribeca, and the buzz is only going to build leading up to its 2017 theatrical release.

Still from 'Junction 48'
Still from 'Junction 48' (Courtesy of Arab Film Festival)

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