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Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Fests fete films from Greece, UK, Berlin...

Screen Grabs: Fests fete films from Greece, UK, Berlin & Beyond (and here at home)

Wayne Wang gets a retrospective, the SF Urban Film Fest comes panel-rich, and Dennis Hopper's critical comeback is restored.

There’s an unusual flurry of smaller-scale local festivals and other special film events this week, mostly targeting a particular geographic region of celluloid endeavor.

Closest to home, as well as longest in timespan, is BAMPFA’s Wayne Wang in Person (more info here), a partial retrospective of works by the Hong Kong-raised director who moved to the SF Bay Area for college and never left. The series (which, as billed, will have Wang present to discuss each film) begins this Fri/11 with the groundbreaking B&W 1982 Chan is Missing, set in our own burg’s historic Chinatown. It then includes other indie features (Dim Sum, the newly-restored Life is Cheap…But Toilet Paper Is Expensive), underrated 1997 Hong Kong drama Chinese Box with Jeremy Irons, all-star Paul Auster adaptation Blue in the Face, most-mainstream-Hollywood assignment Maid in Manhattan (a romcom for the very odd couple of J-Lo and Ralph Fiennes), and his most famous film, the excellent 1993 version of fellow Bay Arean Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. The series runs through April 17.

While Wang’s career and individual projects have straddled different continents, two established SF festivals returning to in-person screenings this annum specialize in new works from territories united by politics and/or language. The Mostly British Film Festival (more info here) spotlights newish work from the UK as well as former territories, including some that have already seen a US release (such as the Sapphic period romance Ammonite with Kate Winslet and last year’s Australian murder mystery The Dry), or soon will—the latter including a special preview this Tues/8 of the imminent Mothering Sunday, an adaptation of Graham Swift’s prize-winning novel that sees Glenda Jackson’s return to the big screen after 30 years. (She was busy in the interim being a Parliamentarian.)

Elsewhere, there are a lot of additional costume dramas, familiar faces, and other things moviegoers are typically drawn to in British cinema, starting with official Thurs/10 opener The Duke, an improbable real-life intrigue enacted by Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. Closing night on Thurs/17 brings self-explanatory documentary The Beatles and India. In between, there’s an “Irish Spotlight” encompassing everything from black comedy (Deadly Cuts) to brute realism (Herself, a strong domestic-violence drama); Aleem Khan’s After Love, which swept the British Independent Film Awards last year; and vehicles for old favorites including Sam Neill (Rams, an Aussie remake of an Icelandic seriocomedy), Timothy Spall (The Last Bus), Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley (Falling for Figaro), David Gulpilil (in nonfiction portrait My Name Is Gulpilil), James Cromwell and Jacki Weaver (Never Too Late). All screenings will be at SF’s Vogue Theatre.

Now in its 26th year, Berlin & Beyond (more info here) is doing a sort of Bay Area tour, running Fri/11-Sun/13 at SF’s Castro Theater, Mon/14 at the Aquarius in Palo Alto, Tues/15 at Shattuck Cinemas, then Wed/16 staying in Berkeley, albeit at BAMPFA. The opening night film is international star Daniel Bruhl’s directorial debut Next Door, in which he plays a none-too-flattering version of his own privileged self who locks horns with one pissed-off older resident in his Berlin neighborhood. The festival’s Centerpiece Film is Andreas Kleinert’s Dear Thomas, a long but vigorous B&W biographical essay/fantasia about East German writer-rebel Thomas Brasch, played with charisma to burn by Albrecht Schuch. It’s a portrait of familiar bohemian excesses made less so by taking place (mostly) behind the Iron Curtain, and considerably juiced by the inventiveness of both lead actor and filmmaker.

Those are both German features, but as usual B&B encompasses work from Switzerland and Austria as well. A particularly impressive Swiss title is Peter Luisi’s Princess, in which an extreme alcoholic recluse forced to live with his estranged half-sister unexpectedly bonds with her little four-year-old daughter. If that sounds like a recipe for rote sentimental redemption, hang onto your hats, because this is a tough drama that only gets tougher when its story leaps forward several decades. It is not without hope, however, and the performances are exceptional.

Among numerous highlights, one documentary feature of local interest is especially worth noting. Monika Treut’s Genderation revisits the subjects of her 1999 Gendernauts, who back then were “pioneers…on a journey of shifting identities” in “what was arguably the western hemisphere’s most creative city,” namely SF itself. Twenty-odd years of gentrification later, some have been forced out, while others struggle with housing and economic security like many a more conformist near-retiree. But they (whose number include Susan Stryker, Annie Sprinkle, and Max Wolf Valerio) are still very much involved in art and activism, still “adventuring and questioning.” The entire program and related info can be found at www.berlinbeyond.com

Moving further eastward, the SF Greek Film Festival (more info here) is hosting a special two-day program entitled “Motherland, I See You: The 20th Century of Greek Cinema,” showcasing classic movies being restored by the Hellenic Film Academy. The seven features being shown Sat/12-Sun/13 (UPDATE: The Greek Film Festival has been rescheduled to April 30 and May 1) at Delancey Street Screening room include titles by Never On Sunday’s Jules Dassin (1974’s more left-field The Rehearsal, also with his wife Melina Mercouri) and Michael Cacoyannis (1958’s A Matter of Dignity, made several years before his Zorba the Greek), as well as other gems (including 1960’s Madalena) from the nation’s celluloid “golden age” of the 1950s through ’70s. All shows are free, but require pass reservations. For complete program/schedule info, go here. The regular annual SFGFF, focusing on newer films, will take place April 8-16.

Then there’s the SF Urban Film Festival (more info here), whose organization has notably enjoyed the largess of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at a time when that institution otherwise seems to have little remaining involvement with film, local art, or artists at all. The Wed/9-Sun/13 event at YBCA and other SF locations offers a platform for discussing urban planning, and “urban futures,” in daily programs that appear as oriented towards panel discussions as film (and occasional performance) selections. Their umbrella titles include “Tell It Like Is Is: Conversations Between the Global North and South on Design and Community Life in Human Settlements,” “Through the Lens: Realizing Identity & Community Needs Through Filmmaking,” and “The City Is Alive: The Future of Cultural Districts Storytelling Workshops.” Programs will be available virtually as well as on-site.

Such density of grant-application-style linguistics calls for a palate cleanser, and mercifully there is one available this week in the form of 4K restoration Out of the Blue, the 1980 cult favorite that is probably Dennis Hopper’s finest moment as a director. Not that it was supposed to be: He was just supposed to act in it, but wound up taking the reins from screenwriter Leonard Yakir. It stars Days of Heaven’s Linda Manz as a punky, androgynous teen stuck in the middle of nowhere, caught between a drug-addicted mother (Sharon Farrell) and the father (Hopper) who’s just gotten out of prison.

An intense, singular vision that won scattered raves but little distribution at the time, this Vancouver-shot drama was made smack in the middle of the director’s “lost years” (after he’d blown his Easy Rider cred on experimental flop The Last Movie, before he regained the mainstream with Blue Velvet, Hoosier and Colors), but is perhaps the most fruitful artistic expression of the self-destructive mania he so often specialized in as an actor. It’s playing Oakland’s New Parkway on Thurs/10, and and opens April 1 at SF’s Balboa.

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