This is the heart of the serious filmgoing season, when a thoughtful (and glory-seeking) studio film opens every Friday. Buffeted by heart-pounding survival sagas (Gravity, All is Lost, Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club), we live in the adrenalized moment. (A pleasant side effect is we can pretend that the usual overblown, family-stalking Christmas releases aren't a mere seven weeks away.) November is the gluttonous month for movies as well as meals, so make room for an appetizing array of films from American indie directors, European auteurs, South Asian storytellers and genre enthusiasts of all stripes and nationalities. It's a smorgasbord of festivals.
The ongoing embarrassment over the nickname of the NFL team in the nation's capital is not necessarily good news for the 38th annual American Indian Film Festival (through November 9 at Delancey Street Theatre, wrapping Nov. 10 at the San Francisco Jazz Center with the American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show). If you mistakenly view the fest as a spotlight for social issues rather than a cultural event, the latest controversy over "Redskins" adds fuel to that fire. Although movies often have morals, a compelling story is the first priority -- and this year's AIFF brims with them. The Lesser Blessed (November 7), a moving coming-of-age saga of a Canadian teenager of First Nations ancestry, boasts a solid supporting turn by Benjamin Bratt. For more information visit festival.aifisf.com.
The Great Beauty
As a counterbalance of sorts to its S.F. International Film Festival in the spring, the S.F. Film Society rolls out a slew of series every fall that capture and reflect the state of cinema in several foreign locales. French Cinema Now (November 7-10 at the Clay) offers eye candy galore with Mads Mikkelsen (Michael Kohlhaas), actress-writer-director Valeria Bruno Tedeschi (A Castle in Italy), Chiara Mastroianni (Claire Denis' disturbing Bastards) and the latest by the marvelous documentary maker Nicolas Philibert (House of Radio). The Great Beauty, the latest work by that gifted original, Paolo Sorrentino, graces New Italian Cinema (November 13-17 at the Clay), along with his 2001 feature debut, One Man Up. For more information visit sffs.org. Across the bay, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley brings an oft-overlooked national cinema to our attention with Arrested History: New Portuguese Cinema (November 13-17). For more information visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
Shuddh Desi Romance
Psyched for your annual mood-lifting blast of Bollywood at the sold-out Castro? This year's selection by the 3rd I South Asian Film Festival is the new and comparatively svelte (a mere 140 minutes) comedy Shuddh Desi Romance. The lively festival (November 6-10 at New People Cinema except for Nov. 8 at the Castro; also Nov. 16 at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto) is rife with colorful, revelatory documentaries such as The Revolutionary Optimists, the Calcutta-set opening night film by Bay Area filmmakes Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham. Few places on Earth are as vibrant as India, and 3rd I is one of the most alive film festivals on the Bay Area calendar. For more information visit thirdi.org.
Tough Ain't Enough: Conversations with Albert S. Ruddy
The Roxie, perennial home to the most iconoclastic festivals and filmmakers, hosts the eclectic United Film Festival (November 15-17) and its unpredictable mix of narratives, documentaries and shorts. The docs profile crusaders like the trio of friends experiencing life in poverty on three continents in Give a Damn?, to one-of-a-kind characters like the producer of The Godfather and other movies in Tough Ain't Enough: Conversations with Albert S. Ruddy, to nonviolent felons doing hard time as a result of the "three strikes" law in Cruel and Unusual. The United Film Festival is a grab bag of provocations that aim to unite the audience in indignation or inspiration. For more information visit theunitedfest.com.
All Cheerleaders Die
You haven't returned your Halloween costume to its place of honor in your closet, and already another apocalypse of spooks and spectres is coming to haunt your dreams. I'm referring to the annual compendium of fevered fantasies, gory throwdowns and perverted pleasures known as Another Hole in the Head. Still in doubt as to the rampaging lust that this "international genre film festival" (November 29 - December 5 at the Balboa and December 6-19 at New People Theater) aims to sate? A sampling of titles: All Cheerleaders Die (the opening night film, courtesy of scaremeister extraordinaire Lucky McKee), Bath Salt Zombies, Bloodmarsh Krackoon, Cannibal Diner, Ghost Light, Septic Man, Slew Hampshire, The Cohasset Snuff Film, The Demon's Rook. If AHOH doesn't erase all memories of sweet potatoes, cranberries and Grandma's pumpkin pie, nothing will. For more information visit anotherholeinthehead.festivalgenius.com.