Don’t go to sleep on the San Francisco International Film Festival, which continues to light up the Mission and Berkeley through May 5. And don’t pull a Rip Van Winkle when the SFIFF wraps either, or you’ll miss all sorts of one-of-a-kind events. The Bay Area’s outstanding corps of programmers and curators digs deep this month, and we are the fortunate beneficiaries.
Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
May 7 – June 11
Mexican cinema’s golden age was the 1940s and ’50s, when a deep bench of talented directors and actors produced polished, incisive dramas that traveled the Spanish-speaking world and beyond. The toughest-minded of those sagas explored the vices and vicissitudes of human nature with a style and attitude that we now call film noir. (You thought the Americans, French and British had the market cornered?) The Pacific Film Archive revives eight doozies, beginning with Another Dawn (1943), director Julio Braco and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa’s piercing tale of an unhappily married cabaret singer who runs into a politically active ex-boyfriend in trouble. The series continues with all manner of greed, lust and betrayal rendered in lustrous black and white.
Exploratorium, San Francisco
May 12 and 13
Sam (The Weather Underground) and Brent aren’t related, except as brothers in arms performing their individual and unique blends of personal cinema and music. The Green party commandeers the Exploratorium for four shows over one weekend that push the bounds of documentary, storytelling and film projection while provoking the kind of response from viewers that rarely happens in a routine movie screening. Of special note, Sam Green presents a couple pieces, The Last Person in the San Francisco Phone Book and Love Letter to the Fog, inspired by the many years he lived here.
May 12 and 13
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
The uncompromising independent filmmaker, cultural philosopher and professor Trinh T. Minh-Ha doesn’t just interrogate the past in her nonfiction essay films, but the grammar, assumptions and arrogance with which history is often presented in films. Her latest work, Forgetting Vietnam, revisits the country 40 years after the end of the U.S. war and ambitiously embraces such thorny subjects as colonialism, memory, power, identity, gender relations and the innate subjectivity of documentary filmmaking. Trinh will be at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to field questions after screenings co-presented by San Francisco Cinematheque.
May 13 – 16
Roxie, San Francisco
If you want to provoke a heated dialogue with a film lover, ask why a certain beloved movie (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, say, or To Kill a Mockingbird) is part of the canon when another, stronger film (Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm, for example) is utterly forgotten. Ever-restless programmer Don Malcolm would have quite a bit to say on the subject, I think, based on his passion for unearthing great films that many people have heard of but few have seen. He packs a dozen powerhouse titles into Midcentury Eclectic!, an immersive dive into the most visceral and soul-churning works of postwar international cinema. From Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados and Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games to The Bad Seed (with Patty McCormack in the house), the Roxie will be heaving and rocking.
Opens May 15
Castro, San Francisco
Abby Ginzberg gave up practicing law for making documentaries, figuring she’d influence more hearts and minds through film. (Did we say that judges and attorneys don’t have hearts? No, we did not.) The East Bay filmmaker’s revelatory new feature, Agents of Change, made with Los Angeles media veteran Frank Dawson, revisits the late-1960s black student protests at San Francisco State and Cornell (where the filmmakers were undergraduates) that were part of a nationwide call for black-studies curricula, departments and faculty. The doc explicitly evokes today’s Black Lives Matter movement, and implicitly reminds us that every advance in our society must be fought for — and continually defended lest it be rescinded. Agents of Change premieres in the Bay Area on May 15 with the filmmakers and many of the film’s activists appearing in person. For various reasons, perhaps it’s time to update the chant: Power to the people with the cameras.