In most American cities, the annual film festival sucks up all the air for the month. The other venues for serious and/or alternative movies — the arthouse cinemas, indie/underground theaters and museums — scale back their programming in recognition that there simply isn’t sufficient audience or media coverage to sustain everyone. We extend our sympathies. April in the Bay Area, like the other 11 months, is crammed with special events, retrospectives and one-off oddities. The SF International Film Festival (opening April 25) isn’t so much a 600-pound gorilla hovering near the family china as a sundae-with-everything after a satisfying meal. So dig in, but save room for dessert.

San Francisco Cinematheque, the venerable keeper of the flame of experimental film and video, unveils Crossroads, its fourth annual immersion of new work from around the country, April 5-7 at the Victoria Theatre. Artistic Director Steve Polta has curated eight programs of visionary short films under such irresistible rubrics as “As if clinging could save us,” “On the beach (at night)” and “…in which the players in the great mystery vanish into spectacle!” Treat your senses, and imagination, to the visions of the amazing Janis Crystal Lipzin, Paul Clipson, Kelly Sears, Scott Stark (presenting the world premiere of The Realist at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 7), Malic Almaya and Michael Robinson, among others. For more information visit sfcinematheque.org.


Headshot

Joel Shepard’s globe-trotting expeditions have made the film programming at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts a crucial if underappreciated strand of the local tapestry. This month’s coup is an appearance by master mood-maker Pen-ek Ratanaruang in conjunction with the retrospective, Thai Dreams: The Films of Pen-ek Ratanaruang. The director will be on hand Thursday, April 4 with his latest work, Headshot (2011), winningly described as a “Buddhist neo-noir,” and Sunday, April 7 with the mysterious relationship/nature drama Nymph (2009). The six-film series, replete with confounding and mind-blowing scenes, continues through April 21. For more information visit ybca.org.


The Clock

How come no one ever thought of this before? They did, no doubt, but lacked the obsessiveness and fortitude to pull it off. The Clock is a miraculous 24-hour collection of a gazillion shots from only-God-knows-how-many films that serves as a real-time, running clock — and a study of time in the movies (and in our lives, by the by). Christian Marclay’s world-famed compilation, completed in 2010, unspools at SFMOMA between April 6 and June 2. Make a reservation, buy a ticket, and set your alarm. For more information visit sfmoma.org.


Hands on a Hard Body

One of the great “competition” documentaries of all time — make that one of the great documentaries, period — RJ Binder’s Hands on a Hard Body has been essentially unseen since its 1998 debut. Oh, there was a VHS release (old copies now command a small fortune), but the film was never made available on DVD or online. The doc is back in the spotlight thanks to the New York premiere a few weeks ago of a stage musical adapted from Binder’s portrait of a Texas dealer’s marathon endurance contest for a new pickup truck. In an example of the kind of uncommon treats that regularly dot the Roxie schedule, Hands on a Hard Body screens Monday and Tuesday, April 8 and 9 at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. The doc’s blend of rootsy Americana, economic desperation, and wackadoodle tragicomedy still hits the bulls-eye 15 years on. For more information visit roxie.com.

Countless filmmakers, from Bruce Conner to Chris Marker to Oliver Stone, have used found or archival footage as the basis for films that recontextualize and reconsider the past. French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot goes even further, constructing multilayered narratives (underscored by carefully-chosen sound effects and music) that propel the viewer to look at history, and the present, from a fresh perspective. Périot’s work is neither strictly documentary nor resolutely experimental but an invigorating hybrid; you can imagine how thrilling the blurring of fact, fiction, experience, and political passion can be in the hands of an ace filmmaker and top-drawer thinker. Artists Television Access hosts the director, making his first U.S. tour with a program of nine short works, “We Are Winning, Don’t Forget,” on Friday, April 19. Consider it the final appetite-whetter for the SFIFF. For more information visit atasite.org.

The Center Cannot Hold: 5 to Watch 8 September,2014Michael Fox

Author

Michael Fox

Michael Fox has written about film for a variety of publications since 1987. He is the curator and host of the long-running Friday night CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics’ Institute,  an instructor in the OLLI programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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