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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: Black Film Festival lifts off—and other stratospheric...

Screen Grabs: Black Film Festival lifts off—and other stratospheric releases

The best of the new, from the surveilling of surveillance in 'All Light, Everywhere' to 'Les Norte' and its discomfiting coming-of-age twists

This Juneteenth weekend, relevant activities of the celluloid (well, OK, video) variety are led by the San Francisco Black Film Festival, running Thu/17-Sun/20 at venues including the Fillmore Heritage Center and AMC Metreon. Primarily consisting this year of programs of grouped shorts, it includes narrative works as well as documentaries on subjects like a Black-owned Texas adventure-outfitter shop (Slim Pickins), “the unfiltered truths of minority pregnancy” (High Risk), an Oakland boogaloo dance pioneer (Big Dubb), and an SF neighborhood’s storied past (They Can’t Take That Away: The Legacy of the Fillmore). Programming also includes panel discussions and other special events.

The 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre at the beginning of the month has already been observed by several new documentaries about that hitherto little-noted dark chapter in American history. Another one premiering this Fri/18 on the National Geographic Channel (and available for streaming on Hulu) is Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer, by the esteemed director-producer Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble, The Way I See It).

Also arriving that day is the John Legend-produced A Crime on the Bayou, which looks at a different instance of outrageous injustice 50-odd years ago that was similarly triggered by the innocent act of a young Black male simply touching a white person (in this case, while attempting to stop a fight.) Unlike the earlier Tulsa events, which wound up well-buried in collective memory for long decades, this case was publicly protested all the way to the Supreme Court. Nancy Buirski’s film opens Fri/18 in limited theaters.

Already in theaters is All Light, Everywhere, a sort of film essay on the general topic of surveillance by Theo Anthony, whose prior feature Rat Film had intriguingly exposed Baltimore’s long series of racist city policies through the peculiar window of that city’s rodent infestation problems. (Which were often used as an excuse for “redlining” minority neighborhoods as “undesirable,” even as policies ensured those communities could not get rid of the furry pests or otherwise improve themselves.) Similarly, here he addresses one set of seemingly neutral issues while seldom directly addressing the elephant in the room—police targeting and violence towards African-Americans—even as it becomes more and more apparent.

The film charts the history of photography, particularly as it intersects with that of police identification, and the often weaponized results (including cameras that look/are operated just like guns), right up to today’s omnipresence of surveillance in buildings, from drones and satellites. Much of this is ostensibly just to gather data and ensure public safety. But we see how such intel can be used, sometimes manipulated or otherwise abused, to incriminate—particularly in poor and minority-dominated communities.

Anthony intercuts this free-ranging survey with footage from a Baltimore Police Department class in which cops (many smirking, chatting to one another and/or barely paying attention) are trained in using the body cams they will shortly be required to wear. He also utilizes a corporate tour by a comically overzealous (and politically oblivious) spokesman of Axon, a company whose bizarre trade lies in the development/manufacture of both such bodycams and tasers.

All Light, Everywhere also makes room for consideration of eugenics’ queasy role in “predicting crime,” in today’s veiled digital forms as well as in the disgraced past. As a white outsider tries to gain consent for his sweeping surveillance program from Black Baltimore residents, their response makes it clear they no longer believe being spied upon benefits their community—experience has taught them it does not deter crime, but only results in more criminal charges. That salesman claims such cameras capture “the truth.” Yet interpretive leeway, perspective, and absent context can warp apparent evidence. Offering considerable food for thought, this intriguing documentary was playing Embarcadero at the time of writing, and was confirmed as being held over to next week at Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas.

Two new features being released this weekend are both French-language dramas in which the usual turbulence of adolescence is considerably heightened:

SUMMER OF ’85

This latest from prolific French director Francois Ozon (8 Women, Frantz, Swimming Pool, et al.) is based on a 1982 YA novel by British author Aidan Chambers called Dance On My Grave. It takes us a while to realize 16-year-old Alex (Felix Lefebvre) is at risk of being sent to juvenile lockup for doing just that, and that he feels responsible for the death of the person whose wishes he was carrying out with that act of seeming desecration.

Borrowing a friend’s boat in his seaside town some weeks before, he’d capsized, only to be rescued by the slightly older David (Benjamin Voisin), a rather dazzling new BFF. David is reckless, exciting, generous, sexy, from a wealthier family than Alex’s rather dreary working-class home, and won’t take no for an answer. Soon their relationship has escalated to something very intimate, with tacit approval from the senior boy’s mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). But we know from the start it will all end badly—though just how and why is a matter of some suspense.

Much of Summer is a wish-fulfillment fantasy of first love, duly intoxicating as staged by Ozon with these appealing actors. Yet some of the later melodrama is a bit much, making this rather like a weird homophilic after school special that won’r rank among the director’s best efforts. Still, it’s a pleasing diversion overall if not taken too seriously. It opens Fri/18 at area theaters, including the Embarcadero, Shattuck Cinemas, and Rafael Film Center.

LES NOTRES

Worth taking very seriously indeed is this under-radar Canadian drama from director Jeanne Leblanc. Her father having died in a tragic factory accident, 13-year-old Magalie (Emilie Bierre) may feel the lack of a paternal influence in her life with widowed mum Isabelle (Marianne Farley) and a younger brother in their Quebec small town. But the extent to which she’s sought substitutes out is not apparent until the day she faints in dance class, and is discovered to be well advanced in pregnancy.

She refuses to explain—though suspicion falls a little too quickly on the adoptive, non-white mayor’s son she’s friends with. We know long before anyone else does, however, that he is not at fault. Instead, it’s a much older man whose secretive hypocrisy could not be any more blatant, or abhorrent. As news of Magalie’s condition leaks out, rapidly becoming a subject for gossip and peer ostracizing, this town’s hidden biases come raging into the open.

Discomfiting in its refusal to offer any easy solutions (or moral justice), Les Notres is a movie whose impact quietly accumulates until you’re surprised by the force of its eerily quiet fadeout. The performances are first-rate, and the character writing astute—that Magalie at first deals with her plight in a bratty, stubborn way only underlines that she is still a child, while Farley is excellent as her alternately exasperated and anguished mother. While not at all preachy, this movie really would make a great after school special: As an argument against risking teenage pregnancy, it could hardly be more vividly persuasive. Oscilloscope Laboratories releases Les Noches Fri/18 and On Demand platforms and at Roxie Virtual Cinema.

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