Nothing elevates a film screening from the prosaic and routine like having the director, lead actor/actress or a key collaborator on hand to proffer insights and spin anecdotes. Admittedly, everyone isn't as articulate and witty as Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman (in marvelous form following a November preview of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at the Century 9) or as candid and disarming as Josh Radnor after the Sundance Film Festival USA screening of his brand new Liberal Arts at the Sundance Kabuki last month. It's a safe bet, though, that the eclectic contingent of colorful personalities visiting the Bay Area in the coming days and weeks will deliver the goods.
Mark Isham: For those with long memories, the gifted jazzman and composer will always be identified with the seductively lush melodies that cosseted Alan Rudolph's films in the '80s and '90s. (Coincidentally, one of those movies, The Moderns, plays the Castro on Wed., Feb. 1.) But did you know that Isham grew up in the Bay Area, and played trumpet with the San Francisco and Oakland Symphonies in his teens? A veritable prodigy whose brilliant career includes a breathtaking number of film scores spanning 30 years, Isham makes a rare appearance Saturday, February 4 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley to speak about the special challenges of making music for the movies. Expect his talk to provide moviegoers with fresh ears and eyes for the second part of the evening: Robert Redford's elegiac A River Runs Through It (1992), featuring one of Isham's sparest and most tender scores. For more information, visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman and Kathryn Altman: The late, great Robert Altman used music as well as any director ever has, in movie after movie after movie. SF Sketchfest's sweet-and-salty event on Saturday, February 4 at the Castro, however, focuses on his twisted gift for black comedy. M*A*S*H: Celebrating Robert Altman pairs his widow with two of the key actors from his 1970 youth-culture breakthrough for a recollection and resurrection of a high point in American political satire. Their no-holds-barred repartee provides the perfect lead-in for a sure-to-be-raucous screening of a risk-taking classic. For more information visit sfsketchfest.com.
Abel Ferrara and Shanyn Leigh: Only SF Indiefest would have the devil-may-care brio to program an end-of-the-world drama on Opening Night. Nothing like sending your devoted audience out on an upbeat note, eh? Actually, 4:44 Last Day on Earth (Thursday, February 9 at the Roxie) is more introspective than cautionary (or horrifying), with Leigh and Willem Dafoe as an artistic couple filling their (and the species') last doomed hours with painting, sex, music, Chinese take-out and the full spectrum of emotions. The Bad Lieutenant helmer and his lead actress will be on hand to jump-start the party, followed throughout the fest by numerous filmmakers and actors from around the country. Of special note: Local writer-director Maria Breaux presents the S.F. premiere of her road movie-cum-redemption parable, Mother Country, Feb. 11 and 12. S.F. Indiefest runs February 9-23, 2012 at the Roxie. For more information visit sfindie.virb.com.
Ali MacGraw: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Did you cringe, laugh or tear up? (Or smack your forehead in professional jealousy, in which case you are Nicholas Sparks.) The gut-punch line of Love Story (1970) was on the poster, in the trailer and even (if memory serves) on the cover of Erich Segal's best-selling novel. It's as hard to accept now as then that the flick received seven Academy Award nominations; much easier to believe that it was fodder for one of Mad magazine's best movie parodies. Ali MacGraw (who copped one of those nominations, for dying so beautifully) graces the Castro stage on Tuesday, February 14 for a boisterous Valentine's Day tribute produced by the indefatigable Marc Huestis, followed by the tragic rich guy/poor girl romance on the big screen. Bring a handkerchief, and your partner, and leave your jokes about the 1% at home. For more information visit castrotheatre.com.
Joshua Mellars and Alam Khan: The late Ali Akbar Khan was more than a brilliant musician, teacher and keeper of the flame of Indian music. He was an icon and an inspiration whose unwavering integrity and lacerating honesty put him on a pedestal to his students, fellow musicians and fans. Alam Khan, Ali's young American-born son and himself a devoted and talented musician, struggles to establish his own path while adhering to his father's legacy. The two men's sagas crisscross in East Bay filmmaker Joshua Mellars' mood- and spirit-raising Play Like a Lion, which screened last fall in the Mill Valley Film Festival and plays Sunday, Febrary 19 at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Mellars and Alam Khan (who gives a concert at the museum on February 26) will field questions and compliments after the screening, capping a blissful afternoon of tradition, music and love. For more information visit societyforasianart.org.