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Cinequest 2019, Catvideofest 2019, And Other Upcoming Cinema Events

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As the San Francisco Bay Area slowly crawls out of winter, things are heating up on the art cinema front thanks to new editions of film festivals and some unique film screenings.

Ticket of No Return

The Pacific Film Archive (hereafter PFA) kicks things off with a month-long tribute to multi-talented German artist Ulrike Ottinger running from March 1 to April 7, 2019.  An artist, a professional photographer, an art gallery owner, a screenwriter, and a feature filmmaker who’s done both fiction films and documentaries, Ottinger boasts an impressive creative resume which has been accompanied by awards ranging from the German Film Critics Award to an honorary doctorate of fine arts.  

To introduce this amazing woman who’s been involved with the New German Cinema, feminism, and the ethnographic film movement, the PFA series kicks off with the biographical portrait Ulrike Ottinger: Nomad From The Lake.   The series then turns to presenting seven of Ottinger’s feature films.  They include Prater (Ottinger’s award-winning documentary about the famed Viennese amusement park draws parallels between carnival freak shows and the cinema of attractions), The Image Of Dorian Grey In The Yellow Press (a drama about media manipulation starring the legendary Delphine Seyrig as a ruthless Rupert Murdoch-like press baron), and Chamisso’s Shadow: A Journey To The Bering Sea In Three Chapters (an epic three-part documentary about Ottinger’s following the paths of several legendary expeditions to the Bering Sea).  Finally, Ottinger will appear in person to deliver a Mosse Lecture on how she visually designs and researches her films.

The Bering Sea In Three Chapters

Also happening at the PFA is the 2019 edition of the African Film Festival.  Running from March 2 to May 10, 2019, this festival celebrates both the best of new African cinema as well as films from the African diaspora.

Viewers who missed the amazing magical realist drama I Am Not A Witch during its Roxie Theater run can catch it at the festival.  If the recent Shudder documentary Horror Noire tickled your curiosity about black horror cinema, Bill Gunn’s classic vampire tale Ganja & Hess is being shown in a new restoration.  In addition, Gunn’s acclaimed meta-soap opera Personal Problems screens with writer Ishmael Reed in attendance.

Other offerings at the African Film Festival include: The Fruitless Tree (a personal documentary about the Nigerian taboo surrounding female infertility), Hyenas (Djibril Diop Mambety’s satirical tale of greed and the betrayal of African independence), and Borders (four women traveling by bus along several West African countries’ borders must band together in the face of such dangers as highway robbers and political corruption).

The Fruitless Tree Aïcha Macky Niger, France, 2016

March 3, 2019 at the Roxie Theatre sees the first installment of the restored edition of a TV documentary series from legendary film essayist Chris Marker.  Readers may best know Marker for his film essay Sans Soleil and his time-travel short La Jetee.  The series’ decades-long unavailability came out of funders The Onassis Foundation’s not appreciating Marker’s unflattering remarks about present-day Greece.

Marker’s series, “The Owl’s Legacy,” considers a baker’s dozen ideas from classical Greek civilization that still resonate in the present day.  These ideas range from democracy to nostalgia. The series screens in four separate weekly installments.

Enjoy cat videos and help out local cat charities on March 4, 2019 by attending Catvideofest 2019.  It’s a collection of the best in recent cat videos.  Music videos, animations, and Internet sensations all show up in this program.  Get your cinematic kitty fix on at the Opera Plaza Cinemas and the Shattuck Cinemas.

The biggest Bay Area cinema event coming up in the next couple of weeks is the San Jose-area film festival known as Cinequest.  Running from March 5-17, 2019 at locations in San Jose and Redwood City, the festival offers 132 feature films from 50 countries.  In addition, 2019 marks the first year of Cinequest’s re-branding as a film and creativity festival. That means attendees can see everything from stand up comics warming up the audience before a comedy film screening to a live concert performance to even a creativity summit.

Cinequest’s offerings appear tamer compared with what several San Francisco film festivals select.  But here are ten films that sound intriguing:

Behind The Bullet–What is it like to live with the consequences of fatally shooting another person?  Director Heidi Yewman introduces viewers to four people whose lives were forever altered by initiating gun violence.

The Dead Center–Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) produces and stars in this horror tale about a supposed corpse who comes back to life and claims he’s being controlled by a blackness inside him.  A psychiatrist and a medical examiner who try to unravel this mystery eventually discover that the answer may lie with something ancient and sinister.

The Edge Of Success–Why have nearly a dozen Palo Alto high school students committed suicide over the past decade?  The city has one of the richest and most achievement-oriented districts in the nation. Kathryn Basiji and Liza Meak’s documentary talks to everyone from students to community members in search of answers.

Little Histories–What is it like to try living normally in the midst of historic political turmoil?  Five ordinary Venezuelans find out during the 2002 coup which temporarily ousts Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Manto–Nandita Das directs a biopic about the life and fiction of the controversial Urdu writer Sadaat Hasan Manto.  Between recreations of scenes from Manto’s life and dramatizations of his stories, the viewer sees in practice Manto’s philosophy that “Either everyone’s life matters, or no one’s does.”

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote–The Terry Gilliam project that took literally decades to make and spawned a documentary (Lost In La Mancha) is finally completed and ready for viewers.  Ten years ago, artist Toby (Adam Driver) made a student film about Don Quixote in a small Spanish village.  A chance return to the village causes Toby to see how his small film changed the townspeople’s lives. In particular, the shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) thinks he actually is the knight he played in the student film.  Toby’s reunion with the shoemaker inspires the latter to embark on a quest while dragging the unwilling artist along.

The Public–Emilio Estevez stars in this drama about a library that becomes the site of a patron sit-in and a police standoff.  The ingredients: one of the coldest winters on record, homeless patrons with no place to sleep, and the warmth of the library facility.

Rich Kids–Matias and his friends are poor Latino and Afro-Latino teens.  A hot Labor Day and a currently unoccupied rich family’s mansion leads to the teenagers’ occupying the wealthy house and enjoying pleasures they could only dream of.

Ritoma–Veteran filmmaker Ruby Yang’s new documentary concerns the phenomenon of Tibetan yak herders becoming NBA fans.  The herders’ physical talents but lack of strategic savvy inspire a former American basketball coach with the crazy idea of creating a basketball tournament involving eight local Tibetan teams.

Shadow–Zhang Yimou (House Of Flying Daggers) returns with another Chinese historical actioner.  This one concerns a military commander who embarks on a complicated plan to capture a rival kingdom’s city and fend off his enemies.  Key to the commander’s plan is his “shadow,” a look-alike who’s good enough to fool his unstable and erratic king.

The final film festival coming up is the 23rd edition of Berlin and Beyond.  This festival showcases new cinema from the German-speaking countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  It runs March 8-14, 2019 at various venues including the Castro Theatre and the San Francisco branch of the Goethe Institut.

Some of the films that sound worth checking out include:

Berlin Excelsior–The inhabitants of the apartment block known as the Berlin Excelsior see their current surroundings as merely a way station on the way to a better life.  Yet as several residents engage in schemes ranging from peddling invisible make-up to a startup which promotes human happiness, their dreams may get smothered by the temptations of a success-oriented society.

Chris The Swiss–Why was Swiss journalist Chris found dead in the uniform of an international mercenary group during the Yugoslav War?  Cousin Anja Kolmel directs this cinematic investigation into the circumstances of Chris’ demise.

Exit–How do you leave the violent political extremist world once you’ve entered it?  Director Karen Winther, herself a neo-Nazi in her teen years, seeks answers by talking to ex-neo-Nazis, a former leftist extremist, and even an ex-jihadist.  

Gundermann–Gerhard Gundermann made a name for himself as a singer-songwriter in the former East Germany.  But this former digger driver also had a talent for rubbing a lot of people the wrong way..

The Silent Revolution–GDR high school friends Kurt and Theo are inspired by newsreel footage of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.  They get their class to hold a two-minute moment of silence for the people killed in the uprising. However, certain school authorities take a very dim view of “suspiciously anti-socialist activity.”

A final noteworthy film screens at the Roxie Theatre beginning March 8, 2019.  The restoration of famed French director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s long unavailable documentary The Mystery Of Picasso will astound a new generation of viewers.  Audience members will watch legendary painter Pablo Picasso create 20 original works of art on a semi-transparent surface.  All the Picasso drawings seen in the film were destroyed after Clouzot completed shooting, so this may be the only chance to see Picasso artwork which will never hang in a museum

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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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