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Now Playing! Handmade, Homemade Gems at Crossroads

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Close-up view of one eye.
Still image from Alix Blevins' 'absolving the valve,' 2021. (SF Cinematheque)

Film, necessarily, is the most collaborative art form. A movie requires more people (and more money) to produce than any other form of art. But there is a province of cinema where an individual artist can conjure and create a finished work with just their two hands: experimental film.

San Francisco Cinematheque’s 12th annual Crossroads festival of new avant-garde films and videos is a stirring, smashing smorgasbord of styles, techniques and voices. Curated by Cinematheque director Steve Polta into seven programs livestreaming through Thursday, Sept. 23 (and continuing online through Oct. 21) and two more screening at the Roxie Oct. 16 and 17, Crossroads is a bracing antidote to the commercial professionalism and slick anonymity of mass-market moving images.

You can practically feel the breeze and taste the stew in Tres bocetos de casa/Three sketches of home, Azucena Losana’s lovingly tactile (and homesick) ode to living between her native Mexico and Argentina. (It screens in program one, “tendrils on a plane,” while Losana’s found-footage excavation of 50-year-old tourist promos, La cuarta plantación, is represented in program two, “a future so bright.”)

Still from Azucena Losana’s ‘La cuarta plantación,’ 2020. (SF Cinematheque)

Mapping the terrain of the psyche instead of a city’s streets and storefronts, local filmmaker Devin Jie Allen’s Blue Distance (also in “tendrils on a plane”) is an intergenerational musing on ancestry, place, responsibility, identity, memory and time that packs more cinematic ideas into seven minutes than most narrative features. Sri Lankan filmmaker Rajee Samarasinghe’s Misery Next Time (in program six, “this is called moving”) is a pre-dystopian document of a country on the verge (to paraphrase the artist’s note) whose pessimism is offset by its beautiful photography.

San Francisco filmmaker Anthony Buchanan’s frenetic (to say the least) Pilgrimage (also in “tendrils on a plane”), a frame-at-a-time tour of the town, was inspired by a hand-drawn sketch of S.F.’s contours by Craig Baldwin, the brilliant Mission District filmmaker and longtime curator and proprietor of Other Cinema. Bay Area-to-L.A.-filmmaker Alix Blevins takes the opposite approach, turning the camera around to map the landscape of the body, in absolving the valve in program four, “darkness provides protection.” A contemplation of genetic inheritance, this is (literal) navel-gazing without narcissism.

A child eats a piece of food.
Still from Rajee Samarasinghe’s ‘Misery Next Time,’ 2021. (SF Cinematheque)

Steve Polta carefully and intuitively placed the 61 works in Crossroads’ nine programs to play with and off each other, composing allusive titles (“ascent into now,” “no more carefree laugher,” “need falls away”) that give a bit of shape and context without limiting the viewer’s interpretation of each film. Each program in intended to be viewed in toto for the maximum effect.


But here’s the silver lining to a hybrid, pandemic-era festival, especially for curious yet cautious moviegoers who aren’t steeped in the elusive, non-narrative qualities of poetry and painting that make avant-garde film both rewarding and confounding, miraculous and impenetrable: You can dip into any of the online programs, sampling here and there, discovering approaches and films that touch you. If you haven’t experienced the mysterious magic of movies for a while, Crossroads is the way.

Crossroads livestreams through Thurs., Sept. 23 with programs available online through Oct. 21. Two additional programs screen at the Roxie Theater on Oct. 16 and 17. Details here.

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