Now Playing! April Dates Inspire Spring Streaming

Tilda Swinton and Thomas Jay Ryan in 'Strange Culture' (2007) directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson. (Courtesy the artist)

This week’s 4/20 and Earth Day celebrations summarily require the accompaniment of one of the 10 best San Francisco songs of all time. Fresh Air by Quicksilver Messenger Service, one of the 10 best San Francisco bands of all time, charted five months after the inaugural Earth Day in 1970 with the car-radio-friendly lyric, “Have another hit / of fresh air.” There are other events of note on the calendar as well, whose observation is complemented through the magic of motion pictures.

Happy Belated Birthday to Charlie Chaplin (April 16)
Charlie Chaplin would have turned 131 this year. The silent-era child actor True Boardman reminisces about his encounters with the immortal Chaplin in one of a series of videos presented by Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, the unwavering East Bay institution devoted to preserving the Bay Area’s place in early film history. The most popular video on the Niles YouTube channel, not surprisingly, is entitled “Moviegoing During the 1918 Influenza Outbreak.”

Holocaust Memorial Day (April 21)
A few years ago, long before COVID-19 forced the Jewish Film Institute to postpone this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival from July–August to November, the organization compiled a catalog of first-rate films available to stream. Some are free at JFI On Demand, while others require a visit (and perhaps a rental fee) to another platform.

Two can’t-miss picks: The remarkable 2017 black-and-white Hungarian drama 1945 (on Amazon Prime) imagines the dirt kicked up and dug up by the postwar return of a Jewish father and son to a village harboring guilty secrets. Fanny’s Journey (Kanopy), a French escape saga of wartime bravery and resilience released in 2016, is by turns heart-stopping and heart-warming.

Earth Day (April 22)
Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s oeuvre embodies a specifically European approach to documentary that is philosophical and exploratory rather than expository and declarative. His films’ theses gradually emerge via the accretion of breathtaking images. He filmed at seven locations around the globe for his latest, Earth, streaming now via the Roxie Virtual Cinema.

Ramadan (begins April 23)
The Arab Film and Media Institute has chosen a Jordanian romantic comedy from 2012, When Monaliza Smiled, to stream April 23 in the Arab Film Series Online. Click through for love, laughs, oddball supporting characters and a city—Amman—we never see on screen.

Timeless Subjects for a Limited Time Only
Back in 2007, the innovative San Francisco artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson made an atypically accessible documentary about the intersection of science, personal liberties and abusive government power. Strange Culture recounts and reenacts (with Tilda Swinton and Thomas Jay Ryan) the FBI’s persecution of Buffalo professor and artist Steve Kurtz as a bioterrorist. The McEvoy Foundation for the Arts streams Strange Culture April 23-26 with proceeds going to the Roxie.

Thirty years ago, Marin Country filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto pulled off something astonishing: They made a first-rate period Western on a micro-budget. The newly restored Thousand Pieces of Gold, starring then-unknowns Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper, had its theatrical re-release derailed by the virus. Following a recent screening and Q&A via Rafael@Home, the Smith Rafael Film Center is on board for an encore presentation culminating on April 26 in a livestream conversation with the creative team.

For filmmakers Only (April 30)
Register now for “Ideas into Action: From Concepts to Treatments to Fully Realized Documentaries,” a virtual workshop with local filmmaker and certified mensch Sam Ball of Citizen Film. Presented by the Berkeley Film Foundation, the seminar (Thursday, April 30, 1–2:30pm) uses Citizen’s docs as case studies in the art of productive, buzzy collaboration. Kind of like Quicksilver, in a way.

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