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S.F. Indie Fest Takes Over The Roxie Theater

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This October sees the coming of the U.N. Association Film Festival, the Drunken Film Festival, and of course that proverbial 800-pound gorilla of film festivals, the Mill Valley Film Festival.  The folks at S.F. Indie Fest have contributed to this month’s cinematic bounty by offering not one but two film festivals at the same time at the Roxie Theatre.  From October 6-13, viewers can choose to take in either short films and/or environmental films from around the world.  Or if they’re still understandably leery of being in an auditorium full of strangers with questionable degrees of health, they can take in the festival online between October 6-16.

Green And Environmental Film Festival Of San Francisco

Normally, environmental film festivals have screened around Earth Day in the spring.  However, given that spring saw various film festivals popping up like mushrooms, the decision was made to shift the next edition of the Green and Environmental Film Festival (hereafter “Green Film Festival”) to the fall.  The scheduling clash with the Mill Valley Film Festival, though, wasn’t deliberate.

The more than 50 short and feature films selected for this festival will expand what the viewer thinks environmental film is all about.  As Chris Meltzer and the other programmers show, the genre is a lot bigger than films that just say “look at this beautiful piece of Nature, humans must move Heaven and Earth to save it.”  In the Green Film Festival, there are also adventure films or even midnight movies with environmental themes.  Frankly, after screening “Slaxx” (the killer blue jeans movie), the Green Film Festival is entitled to get as crazy as it likes with its programming.

For example, visit an island off the coast of Nova Scotia whose ecosystems have been studied by a self-taught environmentalist for decades (Geographies Of Solitude).  Or watch a chunk of wood represent both a ubiquitous presence in our daily lives and a basis for criticizing consumerism (Of Wood).  Or spend time with two guys who want to make an Alaska-Russia Intercontinental Railroad a reality (The Strait Guys)?

For those who need some ideas for films to catch at the S.F. Green Film Festival, why not try these:

II Buco

3.5%–Want to see why ignoring the climate crisis is a suicidal option?  Take a look at this blend of live action and 3-D animation.  It takes actual footage of Lucerne, Switzerland and shows how this once picturesque city can easily become uninhabitable in the not too distant future thanks to the climate crisis.

Anti-Chevron Day–Did you know May 21 is ”celebrated” as Anti-Chevron Day?  Every year, activists come to Chevron’s Richmond, CA refinery to protest the oil company’s heinous corporate record.  The particular celebration recorded here is notable for the public support of human rights lawyer Steven Donziger.  He has been the victim of the U.S.’s “first corporate criminal prosecution” conducted by a private corporate law firm directly tied to Chevron.

The Grid–Are microgrids the answer to both delivering reliable power to peoples’ homes and allowing for deeper penetration into the grid by renewable energy sources?  This documentary illuminates the failures of PG&E-level power grids (e.g. wildfires in California, winter grid collapse in Texas) and shows how decentralized systems can help curb problems arising from forced electricity shutoffs.

Hasta La Ultima Gota–In early September 2022, the people of Chile voted against updating a constitution created in the Pinochet era.  What American news media reporting on the rejection probably didn’t mention was that one aspect of the old constitution delivered a Milton Friedman wet dream: the privatization of Chile’s entire national water supply.  This short, made before the vote happened, shows what the constitutional reformers were attempting to do…and why the beneficiaries of the current status quo didn’t want that change to happen.

Il Buco (The Hole)–In August 1961, the young members of the Piedmont Speleological Group went to Calabria to explore a previously unknown cave.  Their exploration would take them through the deepest cave in Europe.  This feature film fictionalizes that actual event to provide a meditative look at humanity’s relationship to nature.

Into The Weeds: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company—The Green Film Festival’s Closing Night Film will be welcomed by more than a few San Franciscans of the left of center persuasion.  Not only does central subject Johnson hail from the Bay Area, but his opponent happens to be a deeply despised agrochemical giant.  Johnson is a groundskeeper hoping to hold Monsanto accountable for not labeling its most widely used herbicide as carcinogenic.

The Long Game: How Robert Doyle Changed The East Bay–Enjoy the parks of the East Bay Regional Park District?  Then thank Robert Doyle for making them happen.  This Concord, California native’s efforts to protect and restore the East Bay’s natural places wound up preventing the area from degenerating into Los Angeles-style sprawl.

Make People Better–Did you know the first steps to make designer babies have already been taken?  In 2018, China’s Dr. He Jiankul successfully edited the genes of a pair of twin girls while they were in embryo.  The international blowback over this experiment resulted in the disappearance of Dr. He and the twin embryos.  Now this documentary tells the story behind that seminal (or disturbing, depending on your viewpoint) event in human evolution. 

Pleistocene Park

Pasang: In The Shadow Of Everest–The Green Film Festival’s Opening Night Film recounts the story of female Nepalese climber Pasang Lhamu Sherpa.  As a child, she may have been denied access to a formal education.  But that fact didn’t stop her from forming her own trekking company in Kathmandu.  Nor was she deterred from making four attempts in the early 1990s to summit Everest.

Pleistocene Park–Could restoring an Ice Age ecosystem mitigate further melting of the permafrost?  That’s what eccentric Russian geophysicist Sergey Zimov believes.  After all, back in the mid-1990s, he foresaw the disastrous feedback loop resulting from melting permafrost releasing CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere.  Yet the world as a whole moved far too slowly to act on his information.  So now Zimov has gone to the Siberan steppes to reverse engineer the Mammoth Steppes ecosystem, a grassland which once stretched from Spain to Canada, in hopes of stopping further permafrost loss.

Rust–Meet artist-welder Mariola Wawrzusiak-Borcz.  To find the scrap metal she needs to make her artwork, she roams post-industrial areas with her faithful dog.  The metallic sculptures she creates offer terrifying images of animals, androids, and even children affected by war.

Vesper–This year’s blend of ecological film and genre fiction is set on a future Earth that has suffered total ecosystem collapse.  The elites carry on as usual thanks to advanced biotechnology that they’ve kept to themselves.  Vesper is a very self-sufficient thirteen-year-old girl who’s managed to survive outside the elite enclaves.  Now she’s finding out her own skills and abilities in working with synthetic biology.  The girl’s meeting with a mysterious woman will lead her to the hidden secrets of this post-apocalyptic world.  Once Vesper learns the truth, how far will she go to fight for an alternative future?

San Francisco Short Film Festival

Think of short films as cinema’s version of dim sum.  They may take small forms, but they come in an incredible variety of flavors, textures, and styles.  Chris Marker’s “La Jetee,” for example, is not the same as Domee Shi’s Pixar short “Bao.”  And neither of these films are anything like Anna J. Takayama’s recent SXSW award-winning “The Voice Actress.”

This year’s festival brings more than 100 examples of this cinematic genre from around the world. The films for this year’s festival come from as close by as the San Francisco Bay Area (Ataraxia, Mr. Mayonnaise) and as far away as the Faroe Islands (Brother Troll) and India (The Peculiar Case Of The Bolted Canister).  The shorts’ subjects include, for example, fat shaming at the dry cleaners (Little Hurts), dealing with the first Groundhog Day cancellation in over 130 years (Groundhog Town), and a search for buffalo wings that leads to a mystical cemetery (Fire Hill). 

So here are a dozen ideas for shorts to check out at the festival:

amser/time–This dance/theater short takes viewers to three historical sites: the glacial moraine known as Sarn Gynfelyn, a previously submerged forest at Borth that’s literally thousands of years old, and the soon-to-be-decommissioned seaside town of Fairbourne.  Each of these sites is connected to the process that has resulted in today’s humanity-created climate crisis. 

Vesper

Flirting (With Possibilities)–Your eye’s caught by a cute guy in a coffee shop.  You want to bring your A game to your flirting with this possible hook up.  However, he’s a hearing guy and you can only communicate via American Sign Language.  What’s the best way to bring the two of you together?  

Going Away Party–The great news: Jimmy’s been picked to be one of the Mars colonizers.  The love of Jimmy’s life Alison decides to celebrate with a party at their local bar.  But when nobody shows up for the titular party, the silence of revelry winds up getting replaced by uncomfortable words about how Jimmy and Alison will deal with their extended separation.

In Search Of Boozers And Schmucks–You’ve probably heard of sports card collectors who spend millions of dollars looking for such Holy Grail cards as a Lebron James rookie card.  Now meet Joshua Morris, who collects cards of sports figures with funny names or amusing backstories.  Other collectors can keep their autographed Tom Brady card; Morris looks for such rarities as a card autographed by Dick Trickle.

Lead Change–Think polo is just a game played by snooty well-off white people who ride horses?  Oakland-based Dale Johnson and his horse Sunny are working every day to change that perception.  The film’s title is a metaphor for shifting the popular narrative and breaking down existing barriers.

Magnified City–Take a magnifying glass human who wants to see a beautiful city but can’t.  Add in a secret society of projector humans who want to recover a currently ruined city.  What role will the magnifying glass human play in realizing the projector humans’ plans?

Misfortune–This animated adaptation of a Polish folktale concerns two sisters with differing fortunes.  Elder Marta is very rich and lives in luxury.  Younger Zofia is very poor and constantly struggles to survive thanks to Misfortune, a being that lives on her stove and continually inflicts disasters on her.  One day, Zofia succeeds in ridding herself of Misfortune.  But the jealous Marta schemes to inflict Misfortune on her sister once again.

Pony Boys

One Shilling–This dance film is set during the London Blitz.  At a London underground bar, four strangers from different backgrounds escape the stresses of wartime existence for one night via drinking and dancing.

Pony Boys–Tony and Jeff Whittemore were two young Massachusetts brothers who wanted to visit the largest World’s Fair ever, Montreal’s Expo ‘67.  But their parents were unable to take them.  Then their mother had an idea: hitch the family pet King, a Shetland pony, to a cart and have the 9- and 11-year-old boys drive by themselves all 350 miles to Expo ‘67.  King’s usual speed, by the way, was 5 m.p.h.  More than a few adults today would treat Mrs. Whittemore’s idea as an act of reckless child endangerment.  But back in the summer of 1967, the two boys found this trip to be the journey of a lifetime.     

Rex Ray: A Portrait—Queer artist Rex Ray was a San Francisco cultural treasure.  He brought to fine and commercial art an innovative pop aesthetic, as can be seen in his design work for ACT UP–SF, City Lights Books covers, David Bowie, the Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival, and Apple (among others).  This short offers a picture of the man through considering the objects he collected during his lifetime.

Sproutland–This festival multi-award winner is a tale about dealing with loss.  Sproutman was a local health guru so revered that neighbors chanted yoga mantras and drank green juices in his honor.  Beth, Sproutman’s widow, has taken to dodging these constant reminders of her loss.  Her son’s interest in Sproutman’s legacy forces Beth to confront an uncomfortable question: who is she without her husband?  The answer will send her life in an unexpected direction.

Unknown Artists–Is graffiti and street art just a crime?  Or can there be beauty and self-expression in the creative work even if it’s not something commodified and hanging in a gallery?  These two conflicting attitudes get a workout in this story of two young Parisian street artists attempting to paint on a storefront. 

Roxie Theatre info & showtimes

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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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