Now Playing! Toasts to Bay Area Legends James Ivory and Marlon Riggs

Still from James Ivory's 'Shakespear Wallah,' 1965. (Courtesy of BAMPFA)

Born in Berkeley 90 years ago, James Ivory’s brilliant career as a film director has taken him around the world. He remains closely identified with India, however, where he made his first documentaries as well as his first narrative features. Ivory’s longtime partner, Ismail Merchant, was born in Bombay and their favorite screenwriter, novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, wrote about and lived in India for almost a quarter century.

Ivory returns to Berkeley and BAMPFA this week to present three early films shot in India or with an Indian protagonist—1965’s Shakespeare Wallah (Feb. 22) and 1969’s The Guru (Feb. 23), along with a sold-out screening of 1975’s Autobiography of a Princess (Feb. 20). The director's perceptive and empathetic attitude regarding culture clash, geographical dislocation, the discomfort of looming change and the disruptive force of romantic love presages his entire career.

Still from Marlon Rigg's 'Tongues Untied,' 1989.
Still from Marlon Rigg's 'Tongues Untied,' 1989. (Courtesy of the Roxie Theater)

Marlon Riggs was born in Texas, but called the Bay Area home. After graduating from Harvard with honors, Riggs ventured west to do his graduate work in journalism at UC Berkeley (and stayed on as a professor). His first documentary, Ethnic Notions (1987), brilliantly delineated in 59 minutes the evolution of black stereotypes in mainstream American culture from the end of the Civil War onward. (Stream it for free on Kanopy. You will be astonished.)

The Roxie marks the 30th anniversary of Marlon’s most personal, poetic, sexy and brave film, Tongues Untied, with a screening on Feb. 20. At a time when homosexuality wasn’t acknowledged in the black community, Riggs did more than out himself: He celebrated every fiber of his being as an intellectual, an artist, a member of a community and a queer man. He died of AIDS in 1994, and his memory and his work inspire generations of Bay Area documentary makers to this day.

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