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Now Playing! Festivals Go Out with a Bang and a Boo!

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Still from 'Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive.' (Courtesy of SF Jewish Film Festival)

In a normal year—won’t it be sweet when we can retire that phrase from our lexicon?—our screens would be chock-a-block with glittery trailers for holiday movies. Our local festival programmers, meanwhile, would be on hiatus except for the year-end fundraising email, mulling next year’s events.

But everything’s upside down in our ongoing Bizarro World. The only major studio films of the season, Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul, are delayed summer releases that will be viewed, overwhelmingly, on home streaming platforms (HBO Max and Disney+, respectively). Festival wizards, on the other hand, are plying us with rare December programs. And are we grateful.


SF Jewish Film Festival 40th Anniversary Hanukkah Celebration
Dec. 10–17

The SFJFF canceled its annual big summer bash on account of the pandemic, and this eight-day program (to correspond to the Festival of Lights) is the second online mini-fest assembled by the venerable organization this year. The lineup includes several familiar names, including preeminent Israeli director Eytan Fox’s big-screen return to romantic drama, Sublet. The remarkable Lynne Sachs continues her rewarding adventures in personal, poetic documentary with Film About a Father Who. If you missed the crowd-pleasers Oliver Sacks: His Own Life and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit during their previous Bay Area presentations, you have another chance.

As for new voices, Yossi Atia’s slight slacker comedy Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive expands on his short film of the same name. This debut feature accompanies underachieving 30-something tour guide Ronen (played by Atia) on his free daily walks to the sites of terrorist attacks of the 1990s and 2000s. The premise is subversive, if not taboo, but the movie doesn’t mine either its sociological or political implications. Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive suffers more than any other movie in the festival by not being seen in a theater with a crowd, where the minor-key absurdism and deadpan jokes would build to, if not a cascade, at least a steady trickle.

Still from ‘Padrenostro.’ (Courtesy of SIFF)

Cinema Italian Style 2020
Dec. 10–17

Since we can’t holiday abroad, the next best thing is a virtual trip to picturesque, cinematic Italy. Food, family, midlife messes, existential crises, criminal conflagrations—this survey of contemporary Italian film assembled by a host of organizations, including Luce Cinecittà and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco, brims with life.

Highlights include Claudio Noce’s 1970s-set, semi-autobiographical Padrenostro, a coming-of-age saga triggered by the near-murder of the lad’s father (Pierfrancesco Favino, Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival). Goddess of Fortune, directed by the renowned Ferzan Ozpetek and featuring Jasmine Trinca’s Donatello Award-winning performance, imagines the suffering of a longtime couple on the rocks interrupted by an old friend and his boisterous kids. In the spirit of the season, Francesco Bruni’s saga of a filmmaker in a downward spiral, Everything’s Going to Be Alright, kindles the hope and redemption promised by its title.

Still from ‘Andrea’s Fault.’ (Courtesy SF Indiefest)

Another Hole in the Head Film Festival
Dec. 11–27

The SF Indiefest family’s annual compendium of horror, paranoia, fantasy and freakiness bills itself as the last film festival of 2020. In the dying days of the Year of the Plague, I take that as a declaration of defiance and a proclamation of persistence—confronting our fears and coming out the other side, and all that. Surely after the last four years, er, 10 months, no one craves being terrified for its own sake, do they?

I direct you to the handiwork of Bay Area filmmakers, led by Murder Bury Win, Michael Lovan’s cunning and devious yarn about the unexpected need for the inventors of a board game—whose object is to get away with murder—to, um, evade attention in the wake of a fatal incident. Who among us hasn’t imagined him or herself in a similar predicament, at least in normal times when visiting family was a holiday ritual.

Local Shorts serves up nine unsettling celluloid dream-states by talents such as Noel Rafizadeh-Kabe, Ingrid Jung, Dustin B. Pearson, Vincent Cortez and Chad Saxelid, capped by D’arcy Leland’s 55-minute chiller Andrea’s Fault. Santa’s going to need something stronger than cookies and milk this year, and he’s not alone.

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