For the overwhelming majority of Americans, summer movies mean one thing: larger (and louder)-than-life escapades in air-conditioned multiplexes. While there’s no evidence that either Hollywood-style storytelling or Freon interferes with brain activity, there sure seems to be a correlation. (For the record, Freon is no longer used in new a/c equipment.) Even in our smart corner of the universe, the blockbusters draw big crowds. What’s unique about the Bay Area, though, is the audience for serious films about real-life situations doesn’t evaporate in the summer. Here are five options for stimulating your brain waves, and emotions.
Once upon a time, coffee was a no-status pick-me-up dispensed from percolators, vending machines and — in a great leap forward — home-brew machines hawked by North Beach’s favorite son. Nowadays, it’s the ultimate designer drug, packaged and peddled with pedigrees that would make Burgundy vintners blush. A Film About Coffee, local filmmaker Brandon Loper’s fresh-from-the-lab documentary, filters high-end appreciation through the insights of obsessive artisans. Full of luscious images of roasting, grinding, brewing and pouring the ultimate cup, and finished with a garnish of breathtaking aerial shots of faraway fields, the doc provides a vicarious caffeine kick. A Film About Coffee receives its San Francisco premier TONIGHT, Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at the Castro. For more information visit eventbrite.com.
Any doubts that nonfiction filmmaking is riding a wave of audience enthusiasm as well as booming output should be erased by SF Docfest staking out a summer slot. Founder Jeff Ross is a savvy festival veteran, while the addition of programmers Jennifer Morris (formerly of Frameline) and Chris Metzler (co-director of Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone) has produced a lineup with less goofiness and more gravitas than previous years. Kevin Gordon’s True Son, which follows 22-year-old Michael Tubbs’ 2012 campaign for city councilman of nearby Stockton, is emblematic of the fest’s street-level, social-issue orientation. Robert Greene, a New York filmmaker whose films mix doc and fictional elements, receives the inaugural Vanguard Award. SF Docfest runs June 5-19, 2014 primarily at the Roxie in San Francisco and the Oakland School For the Arts. For more information visit sfindie.com.
Joel Shepard, the eclectic and adventurous film curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts who has spotlighted international auteurs Lucrecia Martel, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ulrich Seidl and Carlos Reygadas (among many others), is all abuzz these days over the vibrant scene in the Philippines, of all places. Although the country has been making movies since the silent era, and has produced world-class directors like Lino Brocka, the lack of U.S. distribution for recent films has essentially rendered Filipino filmmaking invisible to the American public. The third annual edition of New Filipino Cinema (June 11-15, 2014) crams an incredible 24 features into just five days, ranging from neorealist dramas to metaphoric fables to arch satires and offering a fabulous opportunity to take a dip or fully immerse yourself in a society and a national cinema. Shepard has also scheduled multiple screenings for the latest films by two prominent Filipino directors, Lav Diaz’s epic Norte, The End of History (June 19-22, following its recent S.F. International Film Festival screening) and Brilliante Mendoza’s Thy Womb (June 15, 26, 28, 29). For more information visit ybca.org.
The 38th annual San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, otherwise known as Frameline38 (June 19-29), has a celebratory air about it this year, reflecting the national embrace of gay marriage. Eytan Fox’s transporting comedy Cupcakes tracks an unlikely team of Israeli Eurovision contestants, while Salome Breziner’s Helicopter Mom imagines Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as an absurdly, hysterically and overly helpful mother who takes a hands-on approach to her son’s college application. On the doc side, spirit-raising profiles of beloved icons Greg Louganis, former Congressman Barney Frank and the late Susan Sontag dot the program. Frameline acknowledges the darker hues of reality with a spotlight on gay rights in Putin’s Russia and a hefty helping of solid dramas about personal relationships from all corners of the globe. For more information visit ticketing.frameline.org.
Kenji Mizoguchi stands alongside Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa at the pinnacle of Japanese cinema. And yet his 1950s masterworks Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu, and Sansho the Bailiff, which regularly appeared on critics’ lists of the greatest films of all time, are largely unknown to moviegoers who came of age after the heyday of repertory cinema. The profound Pacific Film Archive retrospective Kenji Mizoguchi: A Cinema of Totality (June 19-August 29, 2014) reintroduces a director whose beautifully realized stories of women from previous eras exposed the rigidity and cruelty in Japanese society before and after World War II. On a summer’s day, you know, time palpably slows down. Mizoguchi’s patient, poetic sagas are the perfect accompaniment. For more information visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.