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Film Festival-Packed February Plus Cat Videos Too

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February may be the shortest month of the year.  But who would have expected it to be packed with film festivals?  Even if you don’t consider the S.F. Independent Film Festival, there are four other film festivals happening this month.  In those other festivals, you can see first-hand accounts of the Hong Kong democracy protests, a woman who dreams of opening a beer garden in Tehran, and even a new “Toy Story” short film.

That’s not to say February’s non-festival screenings are all filler.  A highly acclaimed historical lesbian romance debuts this month. You can either get introduced to or return to a great humanist classic of world cinema that’s part of the Federico Fellini centennial film series.  And there are three different places you can get your cat video fix with a roomful of like-minded folks.  

February 1

Jane B. Par Agnes V.

Jane B. Par Agnes V.–Jane B. is iconic French actress, singer, and model Jane Birkin.  Agnes V. is famed French New Wave director Agnes Varda. However, this documentary is not your typical celebrity portrait.  Varda draws from recreations of works by the old masters and photographs from Birkin’s own life to create a film that purports to show everything about 

Birkin yet also shows nothing.  Part of SFMOMA’s Modern Cinema: Agnes Varda film series.  (SFMOMA)

February 1 & 26

La Strada–The Pacific Film Archive celebrates the centennial of renowned filmmaker Federico Fellini’s birth with the retrospective film series In Focus: Federico Fellini.  This classic is a great place for newbies to start dipping into his work.  The clownish Gelsomina (the great Giulietta Masina) and the brutish strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) are part of a traveling circus sideshow.  Zampano continually treats Gelsomina as if she’s less than nothing. However, the young woman is slowly starting to realize her own self worth. The February 26 screening also features a lecture by film historian Russell Merritt. (Pacific Film Archive)   (NOTE:  Can’t make either PFA screening?  No worries.  “La Strada” also opens Cinema Italia San Francisco’s Fellini 100 homage at the Castro Theatre on March 7.) 

February 1-March 21

“Noosphere Motion Studies,” a previously shown Peephole Cinema short

Ritualized Days–Your most unusual Broke-Ass Free Screening of the month is this short video presented by Peephole Cinema.  For those who’ve never heard of this cinema collective, it shows free media-based works 24/7 through a dime-sized peephole located in a Mission District alley.  This new short looks at the habits, rituals, and routines that make up people’s cycles of life. (Peephole Cinema

February 2-9

6th San Francisco Urban Film Festival–This film festival screens films utilizing the power of storytelling to spark discussions about urban issues and civic engagement.  Included in the festival are Culture Of Resistance Versus Culture Vultures (Shorts program on the clash between using arts and culture to preserve communities versus the risks of commodifying culture), Be Water: Civil Disobedience and the Fight For Democracy In Hong Kong (evening of films, performances, and discussions regarding the Hong Kong democracy protests as seen through the viewpoints of the protesters themselves), and Urban Manufacturing: Nostalgia Or Necessity? (can maker spaces fill the vacuum left by the departure of a city’s manufacturing and maritime jobs?).  (Various venues including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

February 4

The Assistant–Your other Broke-Ass Free Screening of the month is this sneak preview of a #MeToo drama produced by James Schamus (“Brokeback Mountain”), who will take part in a post-film conversation.  Jane (Julia Garner) believes she’s had it made. She’s landed a dream job as personal assistant to a powerful film industry mogul in the Harvey Weinstein mold. But her workday routine soon becomes a mix of mundane tasks and increasingly degrading requests.  Jane’s decision to stand up and object to this treatment leads to her quickly discovering what sort of situation she’s really stepped into. Admission for this screening is First Come, First Served. (Pacific Film Archive)       

February 5

The Public Access Show With Adam Papagan–Public Access Television was the result of cable TV operators being ordered by the FCC to offer free production services and channel space to the community.  The resulting programs could be classified as endearingly amateurish TV made locally. Papagan presents for your viewing pleasure a collection of lo-fi gems featuring crappy puppets, really bad TV hosts, and call-ins that spectacularly go off the rails.  Some of these clips even come from Bay Area public access shows! (Alamo Drafthouse

February 7

The Traitor–Noted Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio dramatizes the real-life story of Tommaso Buscetta.  This high-ranking Mafia don decided to leave the Cosa Nostra behind after new Mafia boss Toto Riina and his Corleone clan ruthlessly murder women and children.  But when Buscetta gets extradited to Italy, he eventually decides to cooperate with Judge Salvatore Falcone and provides information for the prosecution of Mafia figures.  What eventually becomes known as the Maxt Trials does result in convictions, but Riina is still running around free… (Embarcadero Center Cinemas)  

February 7-13

In The Name Of Scheherazade, or The First Beer Garden In Tehran

24th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival–The Goethe-Institut San Francisco returns with the 24th edition of its annual celebration of the best of new German-language cinema.  Among this year’s offerings are: 100 Things (Roommates Paul and Toni learn about what they value in life thanks to a 100-day bet where they’ve each given up everything they own and will get back only one item a day), Berlin Bouncer (learn how Berlin went from a city divided by a wall to Clubbing Central through the stories of the bouncers of three popular Berlin nightclubs), #Female Pleasure (documentary portrait of five women from highly patriarchal societies and religions who seek sexual liberation and female autonomy), Cherry Blossoms And Demons (a man whose life has been trashed by his inner demons get a possible second chance thanks to a mysterious Japanese woman who knows a thing or two about facing personal ghosts), and In The Name Of Scheherazade Or The First Beer Garden In Tehran (four people who’ve obtained political asylum in Germany have their lives upended in this surreal mix of multiculturalism, documentary, and the tales of Scheherazade).  (Castro Theatre and other venues)

February 11

Blood And Black Lace–The ultra-violent thriller genre known as giallo had its first true masterpiece in this Mario Bava classic.  The Christiana Haute Couture fashion house is already a nest of backstabbing, blackmail, and cocaine use. Now a mysterious maniac has targeted the house’s models and their boyfriends for death.  Martin Scorsese called this film “an incredible moment for cinema.” (Alamo Drafthouse)  

February 13-20

Mostly British Film Festival–The annual celebration of new films from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa returns with its 2020 edition.  Here’s a taste of what the festival’s offering: Bait (In a declining Cornish fishing village that’s increasingly catering to the tourist trade, down on his luck fisherman Martin Ward hates with ultimately tragic results the changes his brother Stephen has embraced); Hampstead (In a posh London suburb, the path of a widow (Diane Keaton) who’s fallen on financial hard times and an Irish squatter (Brendan Gleeson) who lives in a really rancid shed cross with romantic results); Merata: How Mum Decolonized The Screen (the story of activist filmmaker Merata Mita, who became the first indigenous Maori woman to write and direct a feature film for the screen in the 1970s); Military Wives (To boost morale among a group of wives whose husbands have been sent to fight in Afghanistan, a colonel’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) assisted by an unaffected Irishwoman (Sharon Horgan, “Catastrophe”) forms a choral singing group with unexpected results); and Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach’s acerbic look at the human costs of the gig economy follows freelance delivery driver Ricky finding his family thrown into chaos by the heavy work schedules of him and his social worker wife).  (Vogue Theatre)

February 14

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire–Celine Sciamma’s highly acclaimed late 18th century lesbian romance finally makes its Bay Area theatrical debut.  To a remote island off the Brittany coast, painter Marianne has been brought for an unusual portrait commision. A countess has hired her to paint a portrait of her daughter Heloise so her marriage to a Milanese nobleman can proceed.  Unfortunately, the bride-to-be is not the sort to sit still for long hours for a portrait. To perform the job, Marianne will need to pose as Heloise’s companion and paint her from memory. But as the painter observes every behavioral intricacy of her subject so she can complete the commision, their covert professional relationship deepens into something more passionate.  (Embarcadero Center Cinemas)

What She Said:  The Art Of Pauline Kael–Depending on who you talked to, for many years Pauline Kael was either the most admired or the most feared movie critic in America.  Her reviews for The New Yorker showed her passionate pursuit of the answers to the questions of what made films good or bad. This documentary focuses on Kael’s work in the 1960s and 1970s as exemplars of the timelessness of her writing.  Sarah Jessica Parker performs Kael’s voiceover. (Opera Plaza Cinemas)

February 14 & 15

21st Annual Animation Show Of Shows–Curator Ron Diamond returns with this year’s edition of the cream of animated shorts he’s culled from film festivals around the world.  There’s a smaller collection of selected films this year, and not every selection is kid-friendly. This year’s selection includes: “Five Minutes To Sea” (young girl fantasizes while waiting impatiently to go back into the sea), “(Self-Narrative)” (autobiographical tale of a young girl’s embracing of gender nonconformity), and “Rubicon” (the old riddle about ferrying a wolf, a sheep, and a cabbage across a river becomes a metaphor for the Middle East peace process).  Get your tickets early, as all the Alamo Drafthouse screenings have already sold out. (The New Parkway Theater)

February 16

Mur Murs–Love the Clarion Alley murals?  Then check out Agnes Varda’s classic 1980 survey of Los Angeles’ wall art.  But her survey of such pieces as The Great Wall of Los Angeles is accompanied by a look at the city’s many subcultures, ranging from roller disco to evangelical Christianity.  Part of the ongoing Agnes Varda: An Irresistible Force film series.  (Pacific Film Archive

February 19

Streets Of Fire–Walter Hill’s rock and roll cult film gets a rare 70 mm screening.  In an unnamed American city having more than a few 1950s influences, soldier of fortune Tom Cody (Michael Pare) has arrived for a personal mission.  Ex-flame rock goddess Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Willem Dafoe and Fear’s Lee Ving. To rescue her, Cody will have to invade the really bad part of town accompanied by a crew that includes the tough as nails McCoy (Amy Madigan).  If you’ve ever heard “I Can Dream About You” or “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” this is the film these songs came from. (Alamo Drafthouse)

February 21

And Then We Danced

And Then We Danced–Merab has been trained in the art of traditional Georgian dance since birth.  The dance’s emphasis on hyper-masculinity has begun to grate on him, which threatens his chances of getting on the National Georgian Ensemble.  Enter new dancer Irakli, who’s a bit of a rule-breaker. The new dancer’s presence sends Merab on a personal journey to discover his own sensual desires.  (Theater TBA)

Beanpole–Iya and Masha fought together as anti-aircraft gunners during World War II.  Now in post-war Leningrad, Iya works as a nurse in a hospital for the shell-shocked…even as she suffers from her own PTSD-induced fits.  One such fit unfortunately results in the accidental death of Pashka, the son Masha had entrusted to her. Now Masha has finally returned home from the war, but her wartime experiences have made her more emotionally feral.  (Opera Plaza Cinemas)

Kamikaze Hearts–Take a semi-documentary trip back to 1980s X-rated pre-gentrification San Francisco.  Naive Tigr and imperious Sharon Mitchell work in San Francisco’s porn industry. In the midst of drug abuse and exploitation, the two women are engaged in a searingly toxic romance.   (Alamo Drafthouse)

Ride Your Wave–The new animated film from Masaaki Yuasa (“The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl”) tells a tale of romance and grief.  In a small seaside town, surf-loving college student Hinako meets handsome firefighter Minato, and they fall in love.  After Minato dies at sea, the grieving Hinako can no longer bring herself to look at the ocean. The student’s attitude changes when her singing their favorite song causes Minato to re-appear in any watery surface.  But can they really remain together as a couple? (Roxie Theatre)  

February 22-23

12th Annual Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival–This year’s theme “The Power Of Kids” is accompanied by over 60 films for children from countries ranging from Taiwan to Qatar to the Russian Federation to Brazil.  Offerings include How Do They Do That? Pixar’s Lamp Life (Short featuring the further adventures of “Toy Story”’s Bo Peep with director Valerie LaPointe offering behind the scenes details after the screening), Microplastic Madness (Brooklyn fifth-graders spend two years investigating the root causes of plastic pollution), and Child Of Nature (Follows the stories of children from such countries as Kenya and Syria as they overcome the odds to create community change). (Chabot Space & Science Center)

CatVideoFest 2020

CatVideoFest 2020–Want to watch fun cat videos with a roomful of friends and support a good cause at the same time?  Then you’re in luck with the 2020 edition of the CatVideoFest. Filmmaker Will Braden (creator of “Henri, Le Chat Noir”) brings together a collection of the year’s best cat video submissions, animations, and music videos.  Even shorts with Internet favorite cats will appear. Depending on which screening you attend, proceeds will benefit a specific cat-related charity. Note: The Roxie Theatre screening is for February 22 only.  (Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Smith Rafael Film Center)

February 23

J-Horror Bloodbath:  Demon Within and Biotherapy–Catch two cinematic splatterfests from Japan’s straight to video horror craze of the 1980s.  Since the films made during this craze were not quite feature-length, the emphasis was on getting quickly to the good stuff such as demonic gremlins and exploding skulls.  If you need to wash the cloying aftertaste of Valentine’s Day from your mind, here’s your answer. (Alamo Drafthouse)  

February 27

I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians

I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians–No, the film title is not a quote from the Orange Skull himself.  Rather, it’s the climax of the Pacific Film Archive film series Perspectives On History: Romanian Cinema Since 1989.  Contemporary theater director Adriana is putting together a live re-enactment about Ion Antonescu.  The notorious Romanian Nazi collaborator (who made the statement that gives the film its title) was responsible for ordering several thousand Jews to be murdered.  Adriana hopes her re-enactment will serve as a cautionary tale. But she soon has to deal with government obstruction, public indifference, and working with extras who are a little Too Eager to play Nazis.  Expect more than a little metafictional commentary in this dark comedy. (Pacific Film Archive)

Pocket-Size Cinema In Spain: Experiments In Super-8–Elena Duque, filmmaker/programmer for the [S8] Mostra Internacional de Cinema Periferico, presents a program of contemporary and historic Super 8 films made by Spanish filmmakers.  The Super 8 film format was the “underground of the underground” for Spain’s experimental filmmakers, a way to be creative in the hostile days of the Franco dictatorship and its aftermath.  This program presents a loose genealogy of how these filmmakers used Super 8 film. Presented by SF Cinematheque. (Yerba Buena Center For The Arts)

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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.

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