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Now Playing! From Stockton to Lucknow, the World is Your Oyster

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Michael Tubbs, the youngest and first African American mayor in the history of Stockton, in 'Stockton on My Mind.' (Courtesy AFI Docs)

There are treats galore this week, especially for those with an ear for history and an appreciation for the written and spoken word. As that old bumper sticker might read today, “Think globally, watch locally.”

Stockton On My Mind, 2020
AFI Docs
Michael Tubbs was the first African American to be elected mayor of nearby Stockton, and its youngest: He was 26 on Election Day 2016. Marc Levin’s verité documentary of Tubbs’ first term was primed to premiere in April at the Tribeca Film Festival (with an HBO broadcast down the road) before the coronavirus canceled the NYC bash. Now anyone can buy a ticket to watch it online for just one day (Thursday, June 18), accompanied by an interview with the subject and director, as part of the virtual AFI Docs Film Festival in Washington, D.C.

I Am Not Your Negro, 2016
Kanopy, Amazon Prime Video
James Baldwin had as clear a view of his present and our future as anyone, but I don’t know if he imagined a 26-year-old black mayor of a U.S. city. If you still haven’t seen Raoul Peck’s brilliantly imagined mosaic of Baldwin’s unfinished book, Remember This House, it is essential viewing. And not just in the present moment, because the wisdom and wit of one of the greatest public intellectuals in American history will always be relevant.

Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life, 2018
In honor of Pride month, and in remembrance of the Tony Award-winning playwright of Love! Valour! Compassion! (and numerous other splendid works informed by the AIDS epidemic) who died of COVID-19, PBS is streaming this candid and affecting American Masters portrait through Aug. 31. Filmmaker Jeff Kaufman joins actors André De Shields, John Glover and Benjamin Hickey to talk about McNally’s gutsy career on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 5pm PDT on Ovee.

Mae West: Dirty Blonde, 2020
The immortal Brooklyn-born vaudevillian, playwright, actress, screenwriter, comedian and provocateur Mae West was revolutionary in her own right. She took on censors, critics, studio execs and men of every stripe in the course of a brilliant career that, not incidentally, was built on the belief that women could make their own choices in and out of bed. This new American Masters profile premieres Tuesday, June 16 at 8pm on KQED (and repeats Saturday, June 20 at 9pm on KQED World).


Albany Film Festival
The 10th annual showcase of local filmmakers and short films was going to be something special, until the pandemic slammed the door. The organizers rallied to convert to a free, online format, and just announced they’ll keep the main festival as well as the kids’ matinee spooling through Sunday, June 21.

In the Image: Palestinian Women Capture the Occupation, 2014
Judy Montell was already in her 50s when she gravitated to filmmaking. Her 1990 debut, Forever Activists: Stories from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (made with Connie Field), was an unabashedly political, Oscar-nominated oral history of the Spanish Civil War. The East Bay filmmaker’s last documentary, In the Image (made with Emmy Scharlatt), was a gritty look at the Israeli human rights organization that provides cameras to Palestinians to document—and deter—attacks by the army and settlers. (Sound familiar?) Montell died May 23 at age 89, and will be greatly missed.

Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish, 2014
Jewish Film Institute
For anyone who visited San Francisco’s Hall of Justice on Bryant Street—for jury duty or other reasons—over many decades, Barrish Bail Bonds was a landmark. Janis Plotkin and William Farley’s continually surprising profile of their longtime friend, whose claims to fame straddle and transcend the justice system, returns June 18–July 2 via the Jewish Film Institute’s online Cinegogue Sessions. Disclosure: Your correspondent taped an introduction and moderated a Zoom conversation with the three collaborators, segments that bookend the film.

UC Santa Cruz SocDoc Graduate Exhibition
Journalism may be in crisis, but nonfiction remains a calling for young people who want to apply their filmmaking chops to social justice issues. The nine graduate students in the Social Documentation MFA program at UC Santa Cruz chose urgent subjects like a Basque community in Bakersfield grappling with assimilation, a Watsonville group using soccer in pursuit of loftier goals, Northern California Latinx squeezed by gentrification and Iranian families suffering the effects of U.S. sanctions. Their master’s thesis documentaries screen online for free through Aug. 30.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Gulabo Sitabo.’ (Amazon Prime Video India)

Gulabo Sitabo, 2020
Amazon Prime Video
One of the consequences of the pandemic was the postponement of countless theatrical releases. Some of those films opted to premiere online, either via VOD (e.g., The Trip to Greece) or through a sale to a subscription service like Netflix (The Lovebirds). The April theatrical release of this piquant Hindi-language dramatic comedy was derailed by the virus, and launched June 12 on Amazon Prime Video. The movie is set in a rundown mansion in Lucknow, where the elderly landlord (Indian film icon Amitabh Bachchan) and a young resident (Bollywood star Ayushmann Khurrana) wage an ongoing war of words and micro-aggressions.

Each man enlists an outside agent to, respectively, make a fortune or maintain their residence, but there’s one small detail: The actual owner is the older man’s even older wife, who isn’t as frail as she seems. I was hoping for a Bollywood extravaganza with deliriously staged musical production numbers, but Gulabo Sitado is a rather straightforward depiction of an apocryphal, cautionary tale. It’s certainly worth a look, and the deeply pleasurable soundtrack is rife with unexpected instruments and top-notch songs.

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