February is the month of couples, romance, and intimate passions. Mood-killer alert: It’s also the month when the Academy Awards are handed out (Sunday, February 24, 2013) in a ceremony that often has the unintended effect of reminding us that filmmakers and actors of previous generations far exceeded the current crop. If you’re a movie lover, you’ve learned to embrace the long view: Great works stand the unforgiving test of time, and our favorite screen stars are blessedly immortal. In other words, memory is a function of love (and resentment, yes, but we’re taking the high road here), and films help us remember — and reflect.
Along with all the pink and red tributes to St. Valentine, February brings a celebration of black history. The African American Center of the San Francisco Public Library presents a trio of free Sunday afternoon screenings and discussions, beginning February 3 with contemporary Bay Area shorts and music videos curated and hosted by San Francisco documentary filmmaker Kevin Epps. Films about the visionary Marcus Garvey and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. anchor the February 10 program, with an adoring salute to the courageous and unyielding Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, among other black women, slated for February 17. (In related news, keep an eye out later this year for Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Shola Lynch’s documentary about Angela Davis’s arrest and trial in the early 1970s.) For more information visit sfpl.org.
If we view enthusiasm as a manifestation of love, the rabid audiences for the annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival (February 7-21, 2013 at the Roxie, Shattuck and other venues) are perennially smitten. Their appetite for adventurous date flicks is rewarded this year with a raft of offbeat yarns including a pair of edgy narratives about couples with strangely fierce loyalties. British wunderkind Ben Wheatley (Kill List) treats Bay Area filmgoers to the U.S. premiere of his eagerly anticipated and willfully discomfiting murder comedy Sightseers (February 9 and 11 at the Roxie, February 12 at the Shattuck). Actress and producer Amy Seimetz — note that name for future reference — makes her feature directorial debut with Sun Don’t Shine (February 15 and 16, Roxie), an intense road movie about Florida lovers on a mysterious mission. The world premiere of Gregory Hatanaka’s Blue Dream (February 16 and 20, Roxie), starring James Duval as an L.A. journalist discombobulated at the end of an era, is another hot ticket. For more information visit sfindie.com.
Michio Okake, Still from Kurejii Rabn (Crazy Love), 1968.
Japan is not as placid, or passive, a society as it’s represented in the U.S. media. For an invigorating introduction to little-known artistic restlessness, check out one or all four of the programs comprising “Fragments of Japanese Underground Cinema 1960-1974″ at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (February 14, 16, 21 and 28). The radical approaches and techniques on view are worlds away from Ozu’s calibrated deliberativeness and Kurosawa’s florid emotionalism, reflecting the artists’ roiling desire to forge new identities and voices. The Pacific Film Archive series, “Chronicles of Inferno: Japan’s Art Theatre Guild” (February 7-27), catalogs an even stronger rejection of Japan’s status quo during the same period. Highlights include lesser-known works by well-known rabble-rousers Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima (who died in January). For more information on the YBCA series visit ybca.org and for more information on the PFA series visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
Zackary Drucker, Still from At Least You Know You Exist, 2011.
Can you imagine a room big enough to hold Liberace, Peter Berlin, Flawless Sabrina, and Joe Brainard? These four iconic self-creations of gay identity somehow share the screen in “Yesterday Once More,” a diverse quartet of cinematic portraits playing February 14 at SFMOMA. Compiled by the queer New York film collective Dirty Looks, the program has the “good” taste to reference the sequined pianist’s 1979 Valentine’s Day special as well as The Queen, Frank Simon’s 1969 documentary about drag performer Sabrina. It’s a fair bet that the audience for this Valentine’s Night show will be a match for the entertainment. For more information visit sfmoma.org.
Michael Apted, Still from 56 Up, 2012.
Say what you will about sobering reality and invasion of privacy, Michael Apted’s Up series is a profound act of unsentimental love. Apted worked as a researcher on Seven Up!, a short documentary made for British television in 1964 that asked seven-year-olds from a range of backgrounds about their goals and dreams. He followed up with the kids seven years later and, incredibly, every seven years thereafter. (After they settled into the diminished expectations of adulthood, a few of the subjects chose not to re-up, so to speak, for the next installment in the series.) The eighth film in this multi-layered, one-of-a-kind record of a generation, 56 Up, opens February 15 at the Landmark theater and at the Smith Rafael Film Center. See it with someone who loves you, warts and all. For more information visit landmarktheatres.com.