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Check Out All These Mini Film Fests in the Bay Area

Updated: Feb 18, 2019 12:10
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Guest post by Peter Wong

The San Francisco Bay Area is a wonderful place to be for those who know Hollywood does not offer the beginning or the end of cinema’s possibilities.  At certain weekends of the year, several differently-themed small festivals present their annual offerings simultaneously. This coming weekend is one of those convergences, which has festivals and film series offering among others, a Guillermo del Toro-like horror film from India, a VR animated short, and a 1960s era short celebrating the Black Panther Movement.

Shalom Bollywood from the 3rd i Film Festival

The biggest of the festivals landing this weekend is the 16th annual 3rd i Film Festival.  It screens films at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street, SF) and the New People Cinema (1746 Post Street, SF) November 1-4, 2018 before wrapping up at the Palo Alto Art Center (1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto) on November 17, 2018.  Presented at 3rd i will be independent film features and shorts coming from South Asia (e.g. India, Sri Lanka) and the South Asian Diaspora (e.g. Canada). Yes, there will be a Bollywood musical, Befikre, a romantic tale of two commitment-phobic friends in Paris.  But there’s also the documentary Shalom Bollywood, which reveals Jewish actors dominated Bollywood’s early years.

But aside from the Bollywood-related films, the following 3rd i offerings might interest young, broke, and beautiful readers:

What if you had rockstar dreams, but the only instruments you could afford were styrofoam duplicates?  And what if your village elders felt having such dreams was proof of your lack of femininity? Dhunu, the heroine of Rima Das’ Village Rockstars, has such dreams.  But she also has an ally in her mother, who has her back. (Screens at 7:30 PM on November 2, 2018 at the Castro Theatre)

What links together a long-forgotten god, the Indian independence movement, and a crumbling mansion?  The answer can be found in the gothic fantasy Tumbbad. Directors Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi and Adesh Prasad tell the story of a decrepit mansion which supposedly houses an immeasurable treasure.  But when does the price of obtaining that treasure outweigh the personal sacrifices made to obtain it? (Screens at 9:45 PM on November 3, 2018 at the New People Cinema)

Sabiha Sumar’s documentary Azmaish: A Journey Through The Subcontinent gives viewers a chance to see India and Pakistan without typical Western filters.  Accompanied by actress Kalki Koechlin (“Margarita With a Straw”), the director captures two countries involved in a complicated geopolitical dance, one worsened by the rise of religious nationalism. (Screens at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2018 at the New People Cinema)

At age 5, director Jude Ratnam became a refugee in the Sri Lanka civil war.  Now, in the documentary Demons In Paradise, he returns to Northern Sri Lanka with his uncle, a former Tamil fighter, to offer personal looks at the civil war’s long-lasting scars. (Screens at 1:00 PM on November 3, 2018 at the New People Cinema)

20 years ago, Attiya Khan was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Steve.  Now she persuades Steve to join her in talking about their relationship through therapist-mediated conversations.  Steve’s willingness to accept responsibility for his past abuses may well make him A Better Man captured on film by director Lawrence Jackman.  (Screens at 3:00 PM on November 3, 2018 at the New People Cinema)


United Skates from Doc Stories

A slightly smaller mini-festival that runs this same November 1 to 4, 2018 weekend is Doc Stories.  Put on by the folks at SFFILM (who recently put on the Hong Kong Cinema program), this festival offers screenings of documentary shorts and features plus panel discussions at the SFMOMA Theatre (151 Third Street, SF) and the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF).  Among this year’s offerings are the following:

Roller-skating rinks provide a safe space for young African-Americans to let their hair down. Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler’s feature film United Skates takes viewers inside this vibrant community.  However, real-estate speculators and discriminatory government regulations threaten the skating subculture’s continued existence. (Screens at 4:30 PM on November 4, 2018 at SFMOMA)

Once upon a time there was an amazing Silicon Valley startup. Its inventors conceived the first smartphone, a workable e-commerce system, and even emojis long before they caught on. Yet these brilliant ideas could not keep the startup’s doors open. General Magic from Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude tells the story of this amazing fountain of SV inventiveness. (Screens at 5:30 PM on November 3, 2018 at SFMOMA.  This screening is now at Rush.)

Filmmaker Talal Derki made the powerful documentary Of Fathers And Sons by posing as a pro-jihadi photojournalist.  This role allowed Derki to gain the trust of Al-Nusra founder Abu Osama as well as access to the jihadist leader’s family.  As this Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner uncomfortably shows, a loving family relationship can coexist with the passing of the parent’s hatreds to the next generation.  (Screens at 8:30 PM on November 3, 2018 at SFMOMA)


The Invisibles from Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase

Of the three returning festivals, Berlin & Beyond Autumn Showcase is the smallest with only half a dozen new German language films offered. This showcase starts out at the Roxie Theatre (3117 16th Street, SF) on November 1, 2018 before concluding November 2 & 3, 2018 at the Goethe-Institut (530 Bush Street #204, SF).

In the Christian Petzold thriller Transit, refugee Georg takes the identity of Wiedel, a writer who committed suicide.  He hopes to parlay his assumed identity into a letter of transit to leave the country. But during the interminable wait for a spot on a ship, he meets the mysterious Marie and starts reconsidering his plans. (Screens at 6:30 PM on November 1, 2018 at the Roxie Theatre)

Sorry Grant Morrison fans, but Claus Rafle’s film The Invisibles has nothing to do with Morrison’s comics saga.  It’s a docudrama about four German Jewish youths who hid in plain sight in “Jew-free” Berlin during the height of World War II.  Learn how these four Jews from different social classes managed to survive till Liberation when one wrong move would have gotten them sent to an extermination camp. (Screens at 7:30 PM on November 3, 2018 at the Goethe Institut)

In Thomas Stuber’s In The Aisles, shy reclusive Christian becomes a wholesale market’s new forklift driver.  HIs friendship with co-worker Marion (Sandra Huller of Toni Erdmann) leads to his becoming smitten with her. However, Marion’s already married, causing Christian to shrink inward again.  Can the other market co-workers help Christian step out of his reclusiveness? (Screens at 5:00 PM on November 3, 2018 at the Goethe Institut)


One Small Step from Animation Show of Shows

Despite offering fifteen films for screening, the 20th Animation Show of Shows definitely can’t be called a festival.  These fifteen films are shorts which collectively fit inside one trim 98-minute program. The countries these shorts hail from range from the United States to The Netherlands.

But open-minded viewers will forgive these technicalities.  These theatrical screenings allow ordinary people a chance to see the films that might very well fuel the imagination of professional animators at such firms as Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.

This year’s edition of the festival opens November 2, 2018 at San Francisco’s Vogue Theatre (3290 Sacramento, SF) and Oakland’s New Parkway Theatre (474 24th Street, Oakland).  There will also be a one-day screening at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco. This year’s selections include the following:

One Small Step is the Show’s heartbreaker.  Since Luna Chu was a little girl, her father has supported her dream of becoming an astronaut.  As the years pass for this San Francisco-based girl, Luna feels as if her dream’s become harder to reach.  Yet Mr. Chu quietly refuses to give up on his daughter or her dream.

Age Of Sail won’t leave you seasick since you won’t be watching it in VR.  But regardless of the animation medium, it’s still a gripping story of redemption.  Ian McShane plays Avery, a sailboat captain left embittered by the prevalence of steam ships.  But when Avery rescues a girl who’s fallen off an ocean liner, he slowly begins crawling out of his dark mental vortex.

The claymation short Love Me, Fear Me concerns a dancer whose desire for others’ attention leads her to constantly change her appearance.  But will this chameleon shifting come at the cost of losing herself?

You haven’t seen love triangles like the one in Eusong Lee’s My Moon. The participants in this triangle happen to be personifications of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon.

Weekends from Trevor Jimenez follows a young boy who shuttles back and forth between his divorced parents.  The boy struggles to navigate the adults’ very different lifestyles and his often ambivalent feelings towards each.


As Above So Below from 1968 And Global Cinema

Technically, the Pacific Film Archive’s 1968 And Global Cinema film series already began a couple of weeks ago.  But it truly starts ramping up in the first weekend of November. Connected with the new book of the same name, this series looks at how that titular year’s political upheavals got reflected in the work of contemporary independent filmmakers.

This weekend’s offerings at the PFA (2155 Center Street, Berkeley) are particularly tasty entries.

Out of the Vault: Radical Shorts features half-a-dozen experimental short films criticizing Western society’s hypocrisies including Black Panther (Off The Pig), Schmeerguntz (Gunvor Nelson and Dorothy Wiley’s raucous criticism of the alleged virtues of female domesticity) and Now! (one of Santiago Alvarez’ extraordinary collage shorts looking at American racism). (Screens at 4 PM on November 2, 2018)

WR: Mysteries Of The Organism sees director Dusan Makavejev comedically examining whether the revolutionary liberatory work of Wilhelm Reich is a possible tool for world liberation.  Within these very weird frames, the viewer will meet an urban terrorist who kills for peace, a free-love advocating beautician who gets undone by a repressed Russian ice-skating champion, and the inopportune appearances of Stalin’s ghost. (Screens at 5:30 PM on November 3, 2018)

After this weekend, there are a couple of later screenings that will interest readers:

The Mauritanian film Soleil O follows a West African laborer who hopes moving to Paris will improve his life.  Instead, he encounters such post-colonial joys as entrenched racism and casual police harassment. (Screens at 5:30 PM on November 17, 2018)

In Larry Clark’s As Above, So Below, the very woke Jita-Hadi returns from Vietnam to a post-Watts rebellion state of siege, which includes clashes with white authority figures.  Ultimately, a black underground movement’s efforts to plot revolution start sounding attractive to JIta-Hadi. (Screens at 7 PM on November 14, 2018)


So whether it’s a documentary about the African-American roller skating subculture or 1960s films that sadly remain relevant today, cinematic treasures await this weekend for those willing to step outside the mental prison of the multiplex.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.