Light and Dark: 5 Film Events to Watch This May

Screen capture from the movie Damnation, which opens the 2014 San Francisco Green Film Festival

Screen capture from the movie Damnation, which opens the 2014 San Francisco Green Film Festival (Courtesy of San Francisco Green Film Festival)

Hollywood starts rolling out its mess o’ would-be summer blockbusters Friday night with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which prompts a question: If it/he isn’t as amazing as The Amazing Spider-Man, is Sony guilty of false advertising? Or simply petty theft?

Actually, there’s a related though much bigger issue that perturbs me around this time every year — what’s the film-going state of our relationship between fantasy and reality? The movies have always provided an escape, but it’s almost as if we’re required to shut our brains off when we walk in a theater during the summer. Herewith is a thinking person’s guide to the month’s top offerings.

Spirited Away
Scene from Spirited Away

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki

Thanks to that visionary autocrat Walt Disney, animation has long been the most eagerly anticipated mode of children’s movies. One of the most gifted practitioners in the field over the last 30 years has been the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who announced his retirement with last year’s The Wind Rises. Yerba Buena Center For the Arts’ delirious 15-film retrospective, Astonishing Animation: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (May 1-June 1) offers a fantastic opportunity to introduce your children to—or flat-out binge on—a master storyteller who’s also one of the greatest visual artists in the history of animation. Most titles will be presented in Japanese with subtitles, but English-language versions will be screened at the first show on Sunday to accommodate younger children. For more information, go to

Scene from <i>The Uprising</i>
Scene from The Uprising

The Uprising

The British journalist and filmmaker Peter Snowdon had many friends in Egypt that he made during his stint as a Cairo-based correspondent a decade before the revolution began in 2011. But after the upheaval began that year, he found he was only able to reach them through Twitter. That, in turn, led him to YouTube and a vast trove of citizen footage shot on the streets and in homes before being uploaded to the Internet and made available to the world. Snowdon diligently edited nearly a hundred amateur videos into a feature-length, found-footage narrative, The Uprising, which combines the immediacy and intimacy of cinema verité with the emotional power of morally freighted and skillfully shaped storytelling. The Uprising has its West Coast premiere Saturday, May 10 at the Other Cinema at ATA. For more information, visit

Poster for <i>Stranger On The Third Floor</i>
Poster for Stranger On The Third Floor

2014 ‘I Wake Up Dreaming’ film noir festival

Depending on your view of human nature and city living, film noir tilts more toward escapism or realism. One thing’s for sure, noir offers nostalgia—‘40s style has substance, at least in hindsight—with timeless themes. The 30-odd crime yarns and cautionary tales unearthed by programmer extraordinaire Elliot Lavine for I Wake Up Dreaming! Dark Treasures from the Warner Archive, his latest compilation of bantering bilkers and femme fatales of the last century, ranges from pre-Code revelations of 1932 through bruising dramas from 1965. The Roxie hosts this existential treasure hunt from May 16-25; visit for the schedule.

Scene from the movie Watershed, which was shown on Earth Day as part of San Francisco Green Film Festival
Scene from the movie Watershed, which was shown on Earth Day as part of San Francisco Green Film Festival (Courtesy of the Redford Center)

San Francisco Green Film Festival

From the very beginning, the San Francisco Green Film Festival has adamantly refused to dispense the guilt, fatalism, fury and victimization that plague so many environmental documentaries. Part celebration, part inspiration and part education, the festival aims to energize audiences through the good works that so many people are doing to preserve the beauty and health of our planet. That’s not to say that the festival traffics in escapism and denies reality, only that it seeks out films that empower audiences — rather than bum them out — while conveying the state of things. The fourth edition of the S.F. Green Film Festival runs May 29 through June 4 at the Roxie. For more information, visit



I mentioned Walt Disney at the outset and, like the old saw about mentioning a gun in the first act, he reenters the picture. If you (or your kids) have never seen Fantasia, his 1940 masterwork, there is arguably no better way to experience it than at Davies Symphony Hall in the company of the San Francisco Symphony. You’ll have to move fast for tickets to the May 31 and June 1 shows, available at

Light and Dark: 5 Film Events to Watch This May 26 July,2015Michael Fox


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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