The ninth annual San Francisco Documentary Festival, the "educational" offshoot of the taboo-taunting, date-crowd-pleasing San Francisco Independent Film Festival, has a soft spot for quirky snapshots of strange subcultures. Thirsting for maximum weirdness, I grabbed a handful of Bay Area-related titles, only to find myself pulled onto higher ground. Friends, enlightenment isn't for sissies.
"Eat the Sun"
Peter Sorcher's Eat the Sun (which premiered at last year's Mill Valley Film Festival) opts for neither blind adoration nor wide-eyed skepticism in surveying the growing population of everyday folks who stare into the sun for up to 44 minutes each day. Some sungazers, including the youthful Mason Dwinell, a Vermont native living in San Francisco whom we accompany on a curious cross-country journey, believe that the practice leads to enhanced personal energy and the complete loss of appetite for solid food. (That's considered a plus by these folks.) The filmmaker generally encourages us to respect, rather than laugh at, the various searchers Dwinell encounters, while contemplating the risks and price of philosophical and spiritual commitment.
Who can resist the allure of a spiritual, sexual shaman? Certainly not the women who trek to Sedona for a healing session or two with Baba Dez, the lithe, long-haired, fiftyish therapist profiled in Sex Magic. He's on the level, I say with some confidence based on the evidence here, but he's also a narcissist and a skilled manipulator. Filmmakers Jonathan Schell and Eric Liebman do a bit of manipulation themselves, shaping the doc around the polyamorous Dez's on-again, off-again relationship with his "beloved," Maya. Recommended for viewers with a high tolerance for jargon.
"May I Be Frank"
Straight talk is the trademark of Brooklyn-born Frank Ferrente, a former heroin addict and longtime San Francisco resident who's the subject and motor of May I Be Frank. Ferrente agrees to a 40-day raw-food discipline, to be supervised by the owners and staff of Cafe Gratitude, to drop some pounds and revitalize his physical core. He gets more than he expected, as the diet and a few colonics release pent-up loss, grief and anger. But our rooting interest in Frank's well-being flags as the doc drags on and on, and the focus wavers between his transformation and the program and philosophy of the Gratitude folks.
There's no shortage of philosophy in Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (also screening in the Mill Valley Film Festival and the S.F. Film Society's Cinema By the Bay program), but it's of the deal-and-get-on-with-it variety. The influential, genre-shattering African-American band from Los Angeles relates its own history with candidness, humor and palpable pain. Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler's brilliantly paced, roller-coaster doc is streetwise and street-smart, with plenty of social commentary sprinkled throughout. Founding members Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore achieved enlightenment the hard way -- through living.
The ninth S.F. Documentary Festival runs Thursday, October 14 through Thursday, October 28, 2010 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. For more information visit sfindie.com.