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There Are SO Many Film Festivals Coming to the Bay Area!

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RECAP:  A drunken film festival!  A twisted Takashi Miike crime comedy!  A San Francisco 1990s underground film series!  That’s just scratching the surface of what’s interesting and coming out this month.  So this month’s film preview is broken up into three parts.

In this installment, there are three film festivals whose joint existence is a rebuke to everything the Orange Skull stands for.  In a twisted sort of balance, there’s also a film about the notorious lawyer who mentored the Orange Skull.  There are also highly acclaimed films from Pedro Almodovar and Bong Joon-ho, as well as two programs of films from the current visiting Artist-In-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.


October 10

Fantastic Fungi–Can mushrooms and other fungi save the world?  Time-lapse photography pioneer Louis Schwartzberg directs this visual deep dive into the world of the fungal kingdom.  Besides an immersion in this underground world, Schwartzberg’s documentary features renowned scientists, mycologists, and even best-selling author Michael Pollan talking about how fungi could offer solutions to serious medical and environmental challenges.  Afterwards, Schwartzberg will have a post-film conversation with renowned mycologist Paul Stamets. (Castro Theatre

CEO pay compared to the rest of us chart from “Inequality For All”

Inequality For All–Another Broke-Ass Screening this month is Jacob Kornbluth’s documentary featuring economist Robert Reich talking about why economic inequality is widening in the US and its effects on American democracy.  Kornbluth appears in person along with Robin Fryday. (Note: This film was mistakenly listed on the wrong day in the previous installment.) (Pacific Film Archive)


October 11

The Cotton Club Encore–Famed director Francis Ford Coppola intended “The Cotton Club” to be the story of two families negotiating life in and around the famed 1930s Harlem hotspot for both entertainers and gangsters.  However, studio demands to trim the film’s running time removed a lot of backstory, particularly to the detriment of Gregory Hines’ black lead. Now Coppola has restored the removed footage, which adds back in the missing backstory, previously deleted performances and even Coppola’s intended ending.  Is it a coincidence that many of Hines’ scenes wound up on the cutting room floor the first time around? (Opera Plaza Cinemas)

The Dead Center–Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth, “Upstream Color”) has an interesting enigma of a new patient.  “John Doe” woke up in a body bag in the hospital morgue and walked over to the hospital psychiatric ward. Yet he has no memory of who he is, except the certainty that he died…and returned from the other side with something terrible.  Dr. Forrester’s attempts to break through to his patient soon turns into a sanity-testing battle against the forces of evil. (Roxie Theatre)

Hola Mexico Film Festival Tour 2019–The Hola Mexico Film Festival brings the best of new Mexican cinema to eager Los Angeles audiences.  For those of us who can’t get down to L.A. for the festival, this touring program presents four of the best films from this year’s event.  Presented here are: “The Good Girls” (When Mexico’s 1982 economic crisis hits the business of Sofia de Garay’s husband hard, Sofia’s forced to confront living with the collapse of her previous elegant lifestyle), “Guie’Dani’s Navel” (Zapotec housekeeper Guie’Dani endures mockery of her language and psychological subjugation from her upper middle class employers…until she befriends a rebellious teen), “If I Were You” (Thanks to a rare planetary alignment, a long-time married couple with communication problems have their consciousnesses switched into their partner’s body), and “Eight Out Of Ten” (In this award-winning drama, unjust separations from their children bring parents Aurelio and Citlali together for what unfortunately becomes quests for revenge). (Roxie Theatre)

Pain And Glory

Pain And Glory–The new and highly praised Pedro Almodovar film stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo (the Almodovar stand-in), a filmmaker who hasn’t recovered from either the death of his mother Jacinta or the back operation that’s still left him in pain.  Depressed, the director has given up on work. When a film festival wants to present a restoration of Mallo’s decades-old film “Sabor,” the preparations involve reuniting Mallo with actor Alberto. The actor had become estranged from the director since “Sabor.”  When Alberto discovers Mallo’s unpublished manuscript for “Addiction,” he insists on performing the director’s script as a solo performance piece. What happens next blurs the line between art and life. Then again, Jacinta often complained her son’s art often crossed that line without hesitation.  (Embarcadero Center Cinemas)


October 11-20

Gaza Fights For Freedom

23rd Arab Film Festival–Want a genuine look at the diversity and complexity of the Arab community without the mediation of Faux News or other equally clueless media outlets?   This festival is for you, whether you live in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, or Palo Alto. Offerings this year include the feature documentary “Gaza Fights For Freedom” (acclaimed journalist Abby Martin collaborates with Gaza journalists to produce this film on the history of Gaza’s protest movement, featuring footage from 2018’s Great March of Return protests), “Tlamess” (a young soldier serving in the Tunisian desert and a young pregnant woman escape from their old troubled lives into a possibly parallel world), “Divine Wind” (veteran Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache’s newest film deals with radicalization via the story of two strangers, Amine and Nour, who are asked by extremists to perform an armed action in the Algerian Sahara), “Erased______Ascent Of The Invisible” (Ghassan Halwani’s debut feature examines the deliberate erasure of thousands of people over the course of Lebanon’s 15-year conflict), and “Sofia” (young Moroccan Sofia seeks justice for her surprise pregnancy…while also evading the local authorities, who treat premarital sex as an imprisonment-worthy crime).  (Castro Theatre, Roxie Theatre, New Parkway Theatre, other venues)


October 15

Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero–Dayton, OH was once known for something besides being the recent site of a mass shooting.  Back in the 1990s, the town had an incredibly buzzworthy indie music scene which produced such bands as The Breeders and Guided By Voices.  The most innovative of these Dayton bands, though, was Brainiac. Charismatic and gifted frontman Tim Taylor led this group, which had started getting major label attention.  A freak auto accident which claimed Taylor’s life ended the band’s dreams of stardom. Now the remnants of Brainiac and the members’ friends and family attempt to pick up the pieces.  (Alamo Drafthouse)

October 17

7th Annual Food & Farm Film Fest–This short film festival is what you get from the collision of San Francisco’s food and art worlds.  In equal measure, attendees will have both fun and food for thought regarding how we obtain and make the stuff we eat.  Among the films to be shown are “The Ovens Of Cappoquin,” “What If Michael Bay Made Waffles,” and “Burkinabe Bounty.” The festival’s proceeds benefit the 18 Reasons Cooking Matters program, which annually teaches 3,000 low-income Bay Area families how to shop for and cook healthy food.  (Roxie Theatre)


October 17-27

Learning To Skateboard In A War Zone

United Nations Association Film Festival 2019–The 22nd edition of one of the oldest all-documentary film festivals returns with a new program of films celebrating the United Nations’ Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.  This year’s theme is “Scales Of Justice.” The shorts and feature-length films in this year’s program include “Citizen Clark…A Life Of Principle” (portrait of former U.S. Attorney General and Human Rights activist Ramsay Clark), “Lumpkin, GA” (what’s it like living in the small rural Georgia town that’s next door to the Stewart Detention Center aka one of America’s largest immigrant detention centers), “Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone” (follow a class of Afghan girls at Skateistan, where they learn to grow as people by being taught skateboarding skills), “Resistance Fighters – The Global Antibiotics Crisis” (who’s fighting back against the steady rise in the number of antibiotic resistant-microbes, superbugs which can kill as many as ten million people annually if left unchecked), and “Councilwoman” (meet Carmen Castillo, a Providence R.I. City Councilwoman who maintains her day job cleaning hotel rooms while fending off skeptics challenging her ability to govern).  (Various venues in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and elsewhere)


October 18


Parasite–Bong Joon-ho’s (The Host, Snowpiercer) Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or winner is a tale of class conflict between an utterly impoverished family and an utterly wealthy one.  When poor but enterprising son Ki-woo winds up being the tutor for a posh young woman, he realizes he can trick this rich clan into hiring the other members of his family to serve in various household roles.  Key to the plan is the poor family members pretending that they’re all unrelated strangers. Bong then takes this set-up in dazzlingly unpredictable directions. A must-see film. (Embarcadero Center Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse)


Where’s My Roy Cohn?–Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary offers the definitive cinematic biography of notorious New York lawyer Roy Cohn.  This power-loving attorney first came to public notice as Senator Joseph Mc Carthy’s right-hand man. But he would go on to represent Mafia capos, advise President Ronald Reagan, and even serve as mentor to one Donald Trump.  The Orange Skull certainly listened to Cohn’s signature piece of advice: Never apologize–just attack. (Clay Theatre)


October 19 & 24

Jodie Mack’s “Hoarders Without Borders 1.0”

Jodie Mack: The Grand Bizarre & Something Between Us: Films By Jodie Mack–SF Cinematheque presents two shows featuring the work of internationally recognized experimental animator Jodie Mack.  In the SFMOMA show “The Grand Bizarre,” Mack uses textiles from various countries, simple musical beats, and various landscapes to capture alienation in the global economy.  At the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts show “Something Between Us,” Mack presents a collection of short films made between 2010 and 2018.  These works include “Posthaste Perennial Pattern,” “Something Between Us,” and “Hoarders Without Borders 1.0.”  Mack appears in person for both shows. 

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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.