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Still from Joe Talbot's 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco,' with Jonathan Majors and Jimmie Fails.
 Photo by Peter Prato; Courtesy of A24
Still from Joe Talbot's 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco,' with Jonathan Majors and Jimmie Fails.  (Photo by Peter Prato; Courtesy of A24)

Hot Summer Guide 2019: Bay Area Movies and Film Festivals to Beat the Blockbusters

Hot Summer Guide 2019: Bay Area Movies and Film Festivals to Beat the Blockbusters

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There’s plenty of summer movie releases sure to delight audiences in the months to come—some involving capes, others offering live action or CGI takes on beloved animated films (why?)—but c’mon, you could see most of these in any multiplex across the United States.

For programming you’ll catch only in the Bay Area (or in one example, a film with special resonance for local audiences), here’s our roundup of picks for the best film fare this summer.

SF DocFest

May 29-June 13
Brava and Roxie Theaters, San Francisco
More information

To quote our own resident film critic Michael Fox, “DocFest offers a zippy blend of politics, music, social issues and youth-oriented subcultures.” Most importantly, these movies have the ability to take audiences deep into real lives and worlds they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. See Factory of Lies, the story of Russian journalists fighting against their country’s “troll factories,” or 17 Blocks, a chronicle of a DC-based family told through their own videos, made over a span of 20 years.


‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’

Opens June 7
More information

After winning the directing award and a special jury prize for “creative collaboration” at Sundance, director Joe Talbot and his best friend/star Jimmie Fails return to the Bay Area with their long-awaited film The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Fails plays a character also named Jimmie Fails, who dreams of reclaiming the beautiful Victorian his grandfather built. In this tale of “skaters, squatters, street preachers, playwrights, and other locals on the margins,” Fails takes a heartfelt stand against the slowly grinding force of gentrification. This is one Bay Area audiences won’t want to miss.

Scott Stark, Still from 'Love and the Epiphanists (Part 1),' 2018.
Scott Stark, Still from ‘Love and the Epiphanists (Part 1),’ 2018. (Courtesy of SF Cinematheque)


June 7–9
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
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San Francisco Cinematheque’s annual celebration of avant-garde and experimental film, video and multimedia work turns 10 this year and shows no signs of slowing down. With an overwhelming 62 works by 56 artists (30 anticipated at the festival in person), I find it’s best to follow your impulses wherever they lead you, knowing you’re in the good hands of curator Steve Polta. I, for instance, will be lining up to see Program 4: yes yes yes no no no, dedicated to (and showing a 1971 piece by) the late, great artist Carolee Schneemann, and the closing event Program 10: i’ve returned to see how strange it feels, which includes Scott Stark’s Love and the Epiphanists, described as “a sprawling quasi-narrative sci-fi performance hybrid based on re-printed and re-purposed Hollywood film trailers.”

David Byrne in 'Stop Making Sense,' directed by Jonathan Demme.
David Byrne in ‘Stop Making Sense,’ directed by Jonathan Demme. (Palm Pictures)

It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll

June 13–Aug. 31
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
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If you find yourself jonesing for even more tunes amid the Bay Area’s bustling schedule of outdoor music concerts, look no further than BAMPFA’s summer-long slate of rock in cinema. Concert films, biopics, documentaries, narratives—this film series packs in a wide variety of mergers between the two art forms. Especially not to be missed is the June 13 free outdoor screening of Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s much-beloved 1984 depiction of a Talking Heads concert, and the June 22 illustrated lecture by David E. James, author of Rock ’n’ Film: Cinema’s Dance with Popular Music (the inspiration behind this series).

Hecho en Mexico

June 14–16
Roxie Theater, San Francisco
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For the second iteration of its “Hecho en Mexico” program, the Roxie hosts six documentaries described as “the nonfiction highlights of a very good year in Mexican cinema.” While a few of these films made the rounds at festivals, this will be a rare chance to glimpse offerings like El Sembrador (The Sower), Melissa Elizondo’s portrait of a singular teacher in the mountains of Chiapas, or Recuperando el Paraiso (Recovering Paradise), which follows the armed resistance of an indigenous community reclaiming their land from government-sanctioned organized crime.

Craig Baldwin, Still from 'The Nth Dimension,' 2013 (a previous version of 'The 10th Dimension').
Craig Baldwin, Still from ‘The Nth Dimension,’ 2013 (a previous version of ‘The 10th Dimension’). (Courtesy of the artist and Shapeshifters Cinema)

Shapeshifters Cinema: Craig Baldwin

7:30pm, June 15
Temescal Art Center, Oakland
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Local found-footage legend Craig Baldwin performs an ongoing double-projection expanded cinema experiment called The 10th Dimension. Pulling from educational and industrial films of the past, Baldwin creates what Shapeshifters dubs “an existential laboratory.” Audiences willing to be both witnesses to an experiment and experimented upon can step right up for what’s sure to be a mind-expanding trip. (And if this type of event is up your alley, don’t miss Shapeshifters’ July 14 program, with new work by Kerry Laitala and accompanying vocals by Kattt Atchley.)

Still form 'Gay Chorus Deep South.'
Still form ‘Gay Chorus Deep South.’ (Courtesy of Frameline)


June 20–30
Various theaters in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland
More information

The Bay Area’s rightfully popular festival of queer cinema brings 174 films from 38 countries—many of them first-time films—to our doorstep, giving local audiences the opportunity to say they saw it here first. The opening night film Vita & Virginia tells the story of “one of the great lesbian love affairs of the 20th century”: between novelists Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Book-ending this costume drama is the documentary Gay Chorus Deep South, about our very own San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus touring the southern United States in the wake of the 2016 elections.

Pat O’Neill, Still from 'Sleeping Dogs (Never Lie),' 1978.
Pat O’Neill, Still from ‘Sleeping Dogs (Never Lie),’ 1978. (Courtesy the artist; Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles; Mitchell-Innes and Nash, New York; and Monitor Gallery, Rome; © Lookout Mountain Studios)

Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis

2pm, June 22
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
More information

There’s film (the churning commercial industry) and then there’s film (the messy, experimental, expansive medium). In Los Angeles of the late 1970s, a group of experimental filmmakers carved out a space for alternative approaches to the celluloid stuff with the artist-run screening collective Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis. An afternoon selection of 16mm films made by the collective’s founding members complement the museum’s seventh-floor exhibition of Pat O’Neill’s original and reworked moving-image work.

James Whale, Still from 'Frankenstein,' 1931.
James Whale, Still from ‘Frankenstein,’ 1931. (Courtesy PHOTOFEST)

Modern Cinema: ‘Haunted! Gothic Tales by Women’

July 17–Aug. 31
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
More information

Tap into your inner darkness with a month and a half of gothic-tinged films, many of them based on tales by Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Mary Shelley, the Brontë sisters and Toni Morrison. Vampires, monsters, hauntings and terror of the more realistic variety (see the racially motivated violence of To Kill a Mockingbird) stalk the museum’s Phyllis Wattis Theater, providing the thrilling release gothic tales have offered audiences since The Castle of Otranto was published in 1764.

Still from 'Mothra vs. Godzilla,' 1964.
Still from ‘Mothra vs. Godzilla,’ 1964.

Godzilla Fest 2019

Aug. 23–25
Balboa Theatre, San Francisco
More information


A yearly celebration of all things Godzilla moves from its previous home at San Leandro’s Bal Theatre to San Francisco’s Balboa Theatre, devoting three days and both screens to the king of the monsters. Promising 11 classic Godzilla movies, vendors, artists, prizes and more, Godzilla Fest does not include the latest cinematic reimagining of the giant lizard, which you can see in Bay Area theaters on May 31. I have it on good advice that if you have to pick just one of the weekend’s offerings, let it be 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla.

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