Arts + Culture

Heated moments

'Sunday Beauty Queen' screens at YBCA's New Filipino Cinema festival

SCREEN GRABS Filmmaking in the Philippines hit a first “golden age” in the years after World War II. That was followed by a 1960s boom in which quantity if not quality exploded—mostly thanks to a slew of exploitation-genre co-productions aimed at international drive-in and grindhouse markets that stretched well into the 1970s. The emergence of a few higher-minded directors like Lino Brocka (of Macho Dancer) brought hitherto elusive critical acclaim to Filipino cinema. But by the century’s end even the industry’s most commercial big-screen endeavors were ebbing, crowded out by the greater extravagance and promotional power of Hollywood features. 

In the middle of this crisis, however, the affordability of digital technology began reviving Filipino movies—albeit largely thanks to independent and regional talents operating well outside what was left of the studio mainstream. Though their political context, style and content are very different, today’s Filipino cinema constitutes a sort of renaissance not unlike that which attracted widespread festival and arthouse interest to Iran and Romania in recent years. 

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has been showcasing this particular SE Asian “New Wave” annually since 2012 with its New Filipino Cinema festival, whose sixth edition opens this Thursday and runs through September 3. This showcase of independent films from the Philippines, co-curated by YBCA’s own Joel Shepard and Manila-based critic Philbert Dy, takes place at a heated moment. While we’re dealing with our own runaway POTUS here, Rodrigo Duterte’s flagrant violation of human rights in his “war on drugs” has resulted in what’s estimated as close to 10,000 “extrajudicial” killings so far, bringing global condemnation to his regime. (Naturally, Trump has applauded Duterte as doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem.”) 

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Because it would be very difficult (even dangerous) for a Filipino film to directly address that issue head-on at present, this year’s NFC program instead addresses it via an August 20 Sunday afternoon presentation by photojournalist Raffy Lerma. However, many among the dozen feature presentations included in the series this year touch on pressing sociopolitical concerns in other ways. 

Several of the most forthright such statements come in documentary form. Opening night selection Sunday Beauty Queen is Baby Ruth Villarama’s portrait of a few among the enormous number of natives laboring abroad to sustain families back home. Here the focus is on some of the nearly 200,000 Filipinas employed as domestic workers in Hong Kong; these particular women make an elaborate ritual of gussying up for beauty competitions on their only day off each week. The islands’ past is scrutinized in Gutierrez Mangansakan II’s Forbidden Memory, about a massacre that occurred in the town of Malisbong, on Duterte’s native island Mindanao. As many as 1500 primarily Muslim residents were killed by Army troops amidst Ferdinand Marcos’ martial-law rule. 

Horror of a more escapist, fictive variety can be found in Erik Matti’s Seklusyon, which nonetheless dares to break a taboo—in a still-heavily Roman Catholic country, it combines religion and supernatural terror as a group of deacons on a retreat are confronted by all-too-literal demons. Also bordering on horror are two complex, ambitious features that scramble reality, fantasy and chronology. Keith Deligero’s striking puzzle Lily mixes elements of folk myth, social issues, melodrama and conventional faith in a visually poetical multi-strand chronicle of abused and avenging women. Jerrold Tarog’s slicker but even more baroque Bliss has Iza Calzado as a celebrity actress sidelined by a serious on-set accident. But as her recovery is complicated by medications, hallucinations, a seemingly evil nurse, two men claiming to be her husband, and more, our heroine’s grip on reality becomes increasingly questionable.

Also female-driven (like so many Filipino film narratives, though male directors remain the overwhelming norm) are two contrastingly lighter-hearted features. Jason Paul Lexamana’s Mercury Is Mine has Pokwang as a Mt. Arayat restaurant cook whose irascible personality is unpredictably softened by an American teenager’s arrival. In Victor Viullaneuva’s road comedy Jesus Is Dead, Jaclyn Jose plays a woman shlepping her children to the funeral of the father they hardly knew. 

Two of the Philippines’ leading current auteurs will be represented by their newest features at NFC. Frequent controversy magnet Brilliante Mendoza, who won a hotly debated Best Director prize at Cannes for 2008’s notorious Kinatay, is back with the gritty corruption drama Ma’Rose. It stars the aforementioned Jose as titular matriarch to a slum family that finds itself blackmailed by local police. Then there’s the latest mountain of moviemaking by Lav Diaz, whose A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery is a typically epic meditation on no less than the entirety of the Philippines’ 400-year colonial history. This B&W fantasia of historical fact and diverse fiction runs over eight hours—yes, you read that right—and will be presented with a one-hour dinner break at midpoint.

If that’s a bit more than you’re prepared to handle, there’s Mario Cornejo’s normally proportioned Apocalypse Child, an acclaimed drama about a surfer youth adrift in a beachside town where Francis Ford Coppola famously shot some of Apocalypse Now. Also arriving with critical praise attached is Ralson G. Jover’s Haze, which is about youth as well—in this case dramatizing the real-life nationwide plight of homeless kids who survive by stealing yet adhere to their own rigid moral code. 

Finally, this festival of new work allows for one archival gem: A restoration of late, great Filipino director Ishmael Bernal’s 1971 commercial first-feature At the Top aka Pagdating Sa Dulo. It stars the equally fabled Rita Gomez as a stripper who becomes a screen luminary under the tutelage of a major director (Eddie Garcia, the still-active industry legend who also really was a major director as well as actor), only to discover…well, it’s not all glamour at the top. A caustic commentary on the sexploitation and other woes that then dominated Filipino cinema, Bernal’s debut has been called “one of the best films about filmmaking ever made.” 

New Filipino Cinema 2017 runs Thurs/17-Sun/Sept. 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF. $8-10 (ticket packages also available). Tickets and more info here.

> Need a car to get there? Rent one in your neighborhood on Getaround. Sign up today, and enjoy $50 off your first trip:[Sponsored]

SF Carnaval: How it began and what it looks like 37 years later

SF Carnaval was lit from year one — here, a parade participant from 1979. Photo: Lou Dematteis

Carnaval in the Mission is next weekend (May 28-29). The yearly parade and street festival has been around long enough that it’s become an institution to younger generations in the neighborhood.

Born in 1979 out of a desire for more visible signs of various Afro Caribbean cultures, the yearly celebration continues to be a reflection of the priorities of its community. This year’s parade grand marshal is the United Farm Workers’ organizer Dolores Huerta, whose dedication to the fight for social justice mirrors that of this current crop of the Mission’s housing justice and anti-police brutality activists.

“Carnaval San Francisco is the only multicultural parade from around the world that has all the various traditions unified in the streets on one day,” Carnaval executive producer Roberto Hernández told 48 Hills. “It’s a reflection of the unique diversity of San Francisco.”

Carnaval itself is an ancient pagan cum Catholic rite, a pre-Lent ritual that invites the religious to over indulge in the very things they’ll swear off next week.

The tradition has morphed locally in many ways across the globe, and is now celebrated on six continents. Many United States cities have some kind of Carnaval celebrations — like Brooklyn, whose party happens in September and is also known as West Indian American Day — or Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday” in French), the Louisiana institution.

SF Carnaval founder Adela Chu in the debut year of the parade she built. Photo: Luis
SF Carnaval founder Adela Chu in the debut year of the parade she built. Photo: Lou Dematteis

But if you’re talking San Francisco Carnaval timeline, the conversation starts in 1979 when Adela Chu, a Panamanian dance teacher in the Mission, decided that the city was missing an important opportunity for a party.

“I told my students that we had to have one or I wasn’t staying and they agreed to help me,” wrote Chu, a Colón-born world dance instructor, in her account of how SF’s yearly Carnaval festival and parade was started.

The parade and festival, with its stages of music, vendors, and kids’ activities, has taken place every year since.

Chu experienced Carnaval first during her youth in Panama. She brought a Carnaval-like event to Big Sur’s Esalen resort and after attending some of the world’s biggest celebrations in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, came back to San Francisco with a mission to import that energy to a neighborhood that was full of residents from across Latin America.

She formed a planning committee, and organized a celebration that sent hundreds of performers down the streets of the Mission.

SF Carnaval executive producer Roberto Hernández has been working with the event since 1985, but has been attending since that first parade:

Over 300 dancers and drummers dressed in colorful traditional outfits, along with lowriders cruizin’ around Precita Park. It was amazing to see all the diverse revelers moving freely along the street, bringing life to the cold pavement in La Mission which at that time was a funky predominantly Latino/Chicano barrio!

San Franciscans aren’t known for orderliness during outdoor festivals and the first year of Carnaval was no different. “Perhaps for the uninformed passerby, it all seemed like a crazy, ‘hippie,’ let’s-dance-half-naked-in-the-park event,” said Willy Lizárraga of that first Carnaval in a Shaping SF interview.

SF Carnaval was lit from year one — here, a parade participant from 1979. Photo: Lou Dematteis
SF Carnaval, lit from year one. Photo: Lou Dematteis

But almost four decades later, people are still celebrating Carnaval in the Mission, even as the neighborhood changes rapidly.

At Hernández’s count, last year over 3,000 people participated in the parade (which was broadcast on KOFY TV20) and over 400,000 people came to the parade and two-day festival.

Perhaps the flux makes it even more important.

“Carnaval San Francisco is the only multicultural parade around that world that has all the various traditions unified in the streets on one day,” Hernández said. “It’s a reflection of the unique diversity of SF.”

Nowadays, the community that has grown up with Carnaval is dealing with a changing San Francisco, where residents fight the construction of expensive high rises and for young men of color who are gunned down by police.

Carnaval wanted a social activist to lead the parade this year. “This year I am super excited to have Dolores Huerta as our grand marshal at a time when we are struggling to save the heart, soul and spirit of our beloved city,” said Hernández.

In addition to her pivotal organizing achievements with the United Farmworkers in the 1960s and Presidential Medal of Freedom, Huerta has roots in Carnaval: her daughter Juanita has danced in the SF parade.

Huerta had a message about the state of San Francisco in a post announcing her grand marshaldom on the Carnaval website:

I’m really grateful the community has come out in force to protest these slayings. We just have to keep pressure on law enforcement to change their policies.” She said that the victims “are not animals, they’re people and they shouldn’t be just killing them the way they’re doing. I think the whole culture has to change when it comes to law enforcement. It’s an epidemic. Police aren’t honoring the sanctity of life.

First year revelers at SF Carnaval '78. Photo: Lou Mattheis
First year revelers at SF Carnaval ’78. Photo: Lou Dematteis

Last year, the SF Carnaval grand marshal was Bay Area native drummer Sheila E.

Carnaval organizers are also looking forward to the May 28, 4 p.m. festival performance by Oscar D’León, the singer who penned 1975 Venezuelan salsa classic “Llorarás.” The younger generation hasn’t been forgotten in the planning this year, either: Oakland Panamanian hip-hop duo Los Rakas will perform after D’León at 5 p.m.

This year, Carnaval parties kick off with a free event at the de Young on Fri/20, featuring music and dance troupes that will be marching in next week’s parade.

Parade: May 29, starts at 9:30am at 24th St. and Bryant, SF.
Festival: May 28-29, 10am-6pm, Harrison between 16th and 24th Sts., SF.


Design by Aaron Joseph

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A different kind of “femme fatale”

'The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears'

SCREEN GRABS As Election Day approaches, it is clear that to much of our nation’s citizenry, there is nothing more horrifying than a woman who is smarter than they are. (Not even a sociopathic nitwit with his finger potentially on the nuclear-option button.) Thus it seems an especially apt moment for the Roxie to host “Horrific Women: Female Directors Killin’ It” (Thu/27-Sun/30)a seven-feature retrospective of horror flicks by, and about, the alleged “gentler sex.” it’s programmed by Roxie newcomer (but longtime Bay Area film-scene familiar) Jennifer Junkyard Morris, who notes “Oozing blood and excruciating pain are a monthly experience for most women, so who better to direct horror films?” 

This is an idea whose time is overdue: While horror cinema is usually considered fanboy terrain, where the meeting of knives and boobs is tailored to the meaner sensibilities of the 13-year-old heterosexual boy within every 13-to-93-year-old heterosexual boy, marketing research has proven that girls actually like this stuff too. In fact, they constitute such a significant share of the genre audience that its fallback misogyny would appear to be highly misguided, if not (apparently) unforgivable.

However, the movies in “Horrific Women” are not stock slashers in which “taking a shower” = silicone bloodbath. They are all boundary-pushing exercises in their way, albeit to varying degrees of daring and artistic success. Each will only be shown once on the weekend just pre-Halloween, so get your act together and get down to the Roxie, or there will be sadistic, gory consequences. Well, maybe not. But who knows! 

Because we have no idea how to weave them into a coherent feature, here is a blow-by-blow account of “Horrific Women’s” selections. You can check out the entire schedule here.  

Near Dark
After making the most homoerotic biker movie ever with The Loveless, which nobody saw, future Hurt Locker Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow proved herself a commercial filmmaker after all with this terrific, unique 1987 white-trash take on vampirism. Adrian Pasdar and Bill Paxton are among the rural rubes with a taste for the red stuff in a truly startling mix of supernatural horror, action and road-movie Americana. 

The Babadook
One of the most acclaimed horror movies in recent years, Jennifer Kent’s feature writing-directing debut stars Essie Davis as a widow who increasingly believes her young son’s claims that he’s being terrorized by a monster sprung from a creepy children’s book. 

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears 
Co-written and directed by the Belgian duo of Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, this cryptic if ravishing feature abandons all substance to giddy celebration of style. It’s a lavish homage to the most fetishistic aesthetics of 1960s/70s giallo cinema, that Italian murder mystery-slash-horror genre which most famously boosted the careers of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Abandon all hope of coherent narrative logic, ye who enter here—this movie is as extravagant, elegant, and unnecessary as a mink glove. 

Jennifer’s Body
The brief cultural moment that was Megan Fox simultaneously peaked and began its steep decline with this box-office flop written by Juno’s Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama (who rebounded with clever recent thriller The Invitation). It’s not a good movie — but it is a cheesily entertaining one, as Fox’s high school succubus re-defines “mean girl” for bestie Amanda Seyfried. 

Barely over an hour’s length, Stewart Thorndike’s debut feature (never mind the name, she is not a man) is an intriguing queer spin on Rosemary’s Baby. Former child actor Gaby Hoffman plays a pregnant lesbian who begins to think bad thoughts about her lover (Ingrid Jungermann) and neighbors (Kim Allen, Rebecca Street) when tragedy makes their Manhattan flat seem haunted. This is not a satisfying movie, but it’s good enough to make you wish the filmmakers had taken its concept a few steps further.

Messiah of Evil
The same year that they experienced a huge success with their screenplay for George Lucas’ American Graffitti, creative and marital team Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck made their directorial bow with this extraordinary flop — which was actually shot two years earlier (in 1971), but never given a proper release. It’s still quite striking, a dislocating nightmare with the most memorable collision between hippie-chic supermarket shoppers and flesh-eating zombies ever. 

The late Antonia Bird (who died of thyroid cancer in 2013) was not the original director of this grotesque cannibal-themed black comedy. She was hired to replace Macedonian Oscar nominee Milcho Manchevski (Before the Rain), who was fired three weeks into shooting. She wasn’t happy with the final result, either. This flamboyant tale of merciless frontier hunger would be vastly reduced without Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman’s score. It’s one of the greatest original soundtracks ever composed in service of a film eventually hobbled by its producers.

‘Horrific Women’ plays Thu/27-Sun/30 at the Roxie Theater. Tickets and more info here

Recrowning the lost “Reigning Queens”

48 Hills:
Detail of "Ambi Sextrous" " (circa 1976). Vintage color print on Kodak paper. Photo by Roz Joseph.

Rediscovered photos of downtown 1970s drag balls displayed at GLBT Museum, beginning Fri/23.

48 Hills: "Reigning Queens"
Detail of “Ambi Sextrous” ” (circa 1976). Vintage color print on Kodak paper. Photo by Roz Joseph.

By Marke B.

ART LOOKS NYC’s drag vogue balls have been all the rage in pop culture, ever since Paris is Burning hit the scene 25 years ago. But ballroom drag events — the community coming together in grand (or not) dance palaces in ostentatious displays of choreographed pageantry, hard-fought contests of beauty and poise, and yes, sometimes spectacular catfights — have been essential gay institutions since the early 1900s, centering in Harlem, NYC. Ballroom culture reaching peaks in the ’20s, ’60s, and ’70s before breaking through to mainstream culture in the ’90s via the hyper-vivid vogueing scene (and Madonna’s pop appropriation of it, which even today continues to infiltrate America’s airwaves in very strange ways indeed).

SF’s own drag ball culture in the ’60s and ’70s was entwined with our incredible Imperial Court system, inaugurated in 1965 by its first ruler, Absolute Empress I, Jose Sarria, The Widow Norton, who passed away two years ago and was put to rest in a spectacular fashion, the closest SF can come to an official state funeral.

48 Hills "Reigning Qeens"
“Frieda IX, Ninth Empress de San Francisco, at Streetwalkers and Hookers Ball” by Roz Joseph.

Roz Joseph, an established photographer who had recently moved from New York, wandered these Imperial Court balls in the 1970s with her camera, shooting the eye-popping looks and candid moments of the queens who made up our downtown underground scene — queens like Ambi Sextrous and Frieda XI. She eventually hoped to publish a book of the stunning photos, but her interest moved on. (She made a name for herself as an architectural photographer).

So for almost 40 years, the photos languished in the now-90-year-old Joseph’s archives unseen, until this week. Beginning with an opening celebration Fri/23, the photos will be displayed at the GLBT History Museum in the Castro. (I am helping to host the party.)

15 years in, DocFest opens eyes and minds

'The Hollywood Shorties'

SCREEN GRABS When SF DocFest (running June 2-16 at various venues) launched 15 years ago, it didn’t seem all that sure a thing. Yes, impresario Jeff Ross & co. had already experienced success with SF Indiefest, and would soon again with another offshoot, Another Hole in the Head (the horror/fantasy genre fest named after the general sentiment that San Francisco needed another film festival like it needed…).

But a large part of what distinguished those events was that they were fun, in contrast to the often “worthy,” heavy-art-lifting, politically conscious tenor at many established local festivals. Weren’t documentaries inherently serious? Weren’t they all about pressing social issues, depressing environmental news, and chiding messages about past and/or present injustice?

Actually, other festivals had already pretty much cornered the market on programming those kinds of documentaries, and while SF DocFest didn’t strenuously avoid such films, it found plenty of others to fill an alternative kind of bill. Movies about weird Americana, punk rock, true crime, subterranean fan subcultures, eccentric sports errata, and internet cult phenoms — these were not the usual lineup of Oscar-qualifying Important Themes.

SF DocFest 15, which opens this Thursday at the Great Star in Chinatown (a venue joining longtime primary venue the Roxie, with the Vogue also hosting a final weekend of shows), does not lack for serious-issue cinema. Among its 45 features and 50 shorts, there are meditations on the aftermath of school shootings (Midsummer in Newtown), gentrification (East LA Interchange), abortion (both Jackson and Abortion: Stories Women Tell), animal rescue teams (SMART), deforestation (Daughters of the Forest), gang violence (South Bureau Homicide), Israel-Palestine relations (The Promised Band), low-end immigrant workers (The Summer Help), the fight against GMOs (Seed: The Untold Story), and one movie humbly called The Future of Work and Death.

But feeling somehow more typical of DocFest are such titles as Frank and the Wondercat, about an 80-year-old retiree and his famous “performing” cat Pudgie Wudgie, or The Hollywood Shorties, which profiles a short-lived basketball team on the opposite end of the height scale from the Harlem Globetrotters. There are films about competitive stamp design (The Million Dollar Duck), competitive stone-skipping (Skip Stones for Fudge), hippopotamus tchotchke collectors (The Pursuit of Hippo-Ness), a man with Asperger’s who can’t stop hijacking NYC public transit vehicles (Off the Rails), plus the self-explanatory likes of The Two Dollar Bill Documentary, Rocky Horror Saved My Life, and The Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs.

Balancing fun and weightier investigation are a number of Bay Area-centric documentaries, starting with Dayla Soul’s opening-night premiere It Ain’t Pretty, which profiles the wetsuited women who surf at SF’s Ocean Beach. Leading lights like Bianca Valenti also reflect on the continuing struggle to integrate a still stubbornly male-dominated sport where women are too often omitted outright from competitions and sponsorships. Other sports docs on tap include 14 Minutes from Earth, chronicling one Google executive’s top-secret, record-setting free fall from a height of 135,000 feet; and El Chivo, about an SF tech worker’s conquest of the brutal Copper Canyon Ultra-Marathon run. (If you want tech history without all the taxing athleticism, there’s Jason Cohen’s official closing-night feature Silicon Cowboys, which recalls the period when Texas startup Compaq pried control of the personal-computer market from mighty IBM’s clutches.)

Two local music docs premiere at the Great Star this Saturday night, with an all-star DJ dance party to follow. A Fat Wreck follows the quest of Fat Mike from NOFX to create a record label showcasing “the best quality punk rock that there is,” one that in its 25 years to date has supported bands like Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, and Propagandhi. Between the Beats celebrates San Francisco’s high status in the annals of rave culture, recalling now-legendary underground parties of the early 1990s.

A different kind of flashback is offered by Orange Sunshine, the remarkable story of how a handful of SoCal dropouts from the “rat race” became the greatest purveyors of psychedelic contraband to the Woodstock Generation. Taking place a half-century later, the excellent Los Punks: We Are All We Have profiles a very different LA underground of Latino punk bands and backyard-concert parties. Casting back even farther than Sunshine, Rick Prelinger’s Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles is his latest assembly of home movies and other errata memorializing that city’s faces of yesteryear.

One of the less classifiable features at DocFest this year is its Centerpiece selection on June 9. Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine is a docu-fiction hybrid with staple Amerindie actor Kate Lyn Sheil researching her role as Christine Chubbuck, the real-life Florida TV journalist whose 1974 on-air suicide inspired Peter Finch’s “Mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” character in Network. Likewise blurring the line between nonfiction and drama is Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side, whose presumably playing-themselves cast members both define and defy stereotypes of “white trash” bayou country ugly-Americanism.

Other miscellaneous highlights include two programs devoted to this year’s Non-Fiction Vanguard Award winner Sean Dunne, who’s accrued an online following for such DIY studies as Trump Rally, Florida Man, and his first feature Cam Girlz, about the surprisingly diverse and empowering world of self-employed female webcam sex workers. On the somber side, David Shapiro’s Missing People chronicles a prestigious gallery director’s lifelong obsession with her teenage brother’s unsolved murder decades ago, and her near-equal fixation on the works of a late New Orleans folk artist. For some lurid, Behind the Music-like thrills, there’s Bobby J. Brown’s Tear the Roof Off: The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic, whose funk mastermind subject George Clinton is not interviewed here — though one certainly wonders how he’d respond to the many former colleagues who accuse him of everything from forgery and stealing royalties to drug dealing and physical abuse.

Last and possibly least — save in the realm of guilty-pleasure fun — there’s the weirdest among a handful of “live” events on DocFest’s program. Saturday, June 11, Breaking Dumb: The Movie Roast Shines a Light on ‘The Principle’ will have TMR’s wisecracking trio riffing on the 2014 documentary whose thesis was that the sun really revolves around the Earth — several of whose participants (including some well-known scientists and narrator Kate Mulgrew) have since claimed they were misled into involvement with a movie with a “hidden” and “silly” agenda. If you’ve always felt like you were the center of the universe, well, finally, here is the scientific “proof” to validate that viewpoint.

June 2-16, various venues
Most movies $12-13 (some special events $15-25)
(415) 662-FEST

Party Radar: Lex closing parties, How Weird, Tornado Wallace, Omar S, International Order of Sodomites, more

Choice nightlife and dance floor affairs, April 23-26. 

Party Radar, SF Nightlife: Juanita More.
Drag goddess Juanita More celebrates our incredible city at Some Thing San Francisco, Fri/24. Picture by Cabure A Bonugli/Shot in the City

By Marke B.

PARTY RADAR Are you looking for something Weird? How about something in fuzzy leggings, dancing to that old school SF funky techno vibe? Don’t miss out on the huge How Weird Street Faire Sun/26, noon-8pm, the official kick off of our summer street fair season. There’s like 1 million stages full of music and mirth. There has been an influx of boring lookie-loos lately, so put on something strange and let ’em have it with your freakishness, please. (Oh and then head to the East Bay for one of my very favorite patio dance parties, Afternoon Delight).

Next, the Lex The Mission’s iconic Lexington Club, which announced it was closing last year, moves into its final round of Lex celebratory farewell parties this weekend, and some very sweet tributes have popped up.

Party Radar, SF Nightlife, El Rio, Lexington Club
El Rio posted this lovely tribute to the Lexington Club

This includes a drive to put an official commemorative plaque on the corner of 19th and Lexington to mark the site of The Lexington Club, which would be really cool.

“When the Lexington announced it was closing, a few of us in the community who ‘grew up’ at The Lex got together to figure out how to do this,” plaque promoter Rana Freedman wrote me. “We contacted Sup. David Campos’ office, which was excited by the idea, and a plan was put into motion.”

The Doormat Division: The worst of the NFL

49ERS 10, COWBOYS 40

On a beautiful day for getting shellacked on your home field, the Red and Gold finally put together a complete game and stayed even with Cleveland at 0-7. Fumbled punts, failed 4th down attempts, followed up with 72 yard TDs the other way, five sacks, a field goal early, and then shut it down until a touchdown late in the 4th, wow…None of this ‘almost’ winning yesterday, they just flat out got whipped.  And what better day to do it than when you retire ol’ Dwight Clark’s #87, with Joe Montana and the rest of the crew in attendance?  Clearly, a homage to Joe and Dwight’s first year with the 49ers, when they finished 2-12.  

Now, we don’t usually single out too many players (except QBs, it’s their job), as Doormat excellence is a true team effort. But: One of the brightest Doormat stars of this outfit is #33, DB Rashard Robinson — The Human Penalty Machine. This guy can extend any drive for any team, and usually on third down in his own territory. Just tee up your best receiver, the Whiners will comply with single coverage (they gave up communicating weeks ago, anyway), and Rashard will be there to use said receiver as his personal pull-up bar anywhere on the field, as long as it’s five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. To lead the league in penalties, as the Whiners do, is of course a team effort, but we have to give credit where due. 

Otherwise, an offensive line that looks more like road kill, a rookie QB who tends to hold onto the ball (nice combo), and …QB CJ Beathard (who got sacked 60 times in his last 2 years at Iowa) has a very curious way of ‘avoiding’ the rush, which is, apparently done by turning left or right and running right into a huge lineman.  It’s new, I’ll give it that.

Wow, with this new level of commitment to losing, it’s only 2 more weeks and they will be the 0-fer-Niners. 



This was, we are certain, the Game That Wouldn’t End. Seven field goals, no touchdowns. And they took it all the way to 1:44 left in OT to put the Brown-out fans out of their miser- wait, that’s not right. The misery is a constant in Brownie land. They are neither in or out of the misery. It does not matter if the ball is in or out of the end zone. It is of no consequence.

The Browns DID have two drives of 10 plays that did not result in a turnover, so the suspense must have been insane. Luckily, the pressure was relieved with a field goal, and not a touchdown.

Blank Helmet Football prevailed over an inspired effort by the Titanics to hand the Pumpkin Heads their first victory and spoil a Perfect Season. The Browns worked the 2-QB tandem to perfection yesterday, with both Cody Kessler and Deshone Kizer sprinkling in interceptions when it got hypnotic with every possession ending with some kind of kick.  Browns 0-7 and look like 0-16 to us.  Don’t fire Hue, don’t fire Hue…



The Gnats led 7-3 at halftime, got a great pep talk, made some adjustments, took a nap, and returned to the field for the second half ready to get run over.  Now 1-6 and right on the 49ers heels.  The NFC Doormat crown is up for grabs. 177 total yards for the Flailing Giants, the team that is a living experiment in stasis.



10 first downs, 25 yards rushing, couple turnovers, 10 penalties, letting the Rams convert 13 of 19 third downs (!!!), give up 425 yards…the Crudinals may have 3 victories, but I think they can make that stand up and finish 5-11, easy. I mean, they DO have to play the Whiners next week, so even with Drew Stanton filling it at QB for Palmer, they are going to have to really tank it to lose that one.  Watch them try.



Good GOD, the Bills are 4-2.  Here come the Raiders, who pulled their feet out of the grill on the patio last Thursday.  Bucs are really interesting how they make futile comebacks, and then give it right back to the other team in the 4th quarter.  It’s new and creative.  The fumble at their own 33 with 2:20 left in the game, tie game, handing the Bills the victory (with chip-shot FG), was brilliant.  Bucs 2-4 and looking ready to come back to the Basement.  It’s scary and exhausting out there.



Colts keep their lead league in punting, racking up 7 more (not a ton, but respectable), and dialing up 10 sacks of their own QB.  Hey, when a play is working, keep running it.  Drive of the day: sack, fumble-sack, dropped pass, 4th and 23.  Punt.  Clots now 2-5, and really challenged to stay with Cleveland.  Good luck there. 



Welcome back Nyets!  Getting back under .500, and doing it against the completely improbable Dolphins, was magic. Leading 28-14, the Jets collapse against the great NFL secret weapon:  A BACKUP QUARTERBACK. Fins QB Matt Moore replaces injured starter, and fan boo favorite, Jay Cutler (cracked rib), Jets don’t pay any attention, and Moore whips two TDs out of his hat.   With the score tied 28-28, and :49 seconds left on the clock, the Jets take possession at their own 15 and smartly throw an interception on 1st down, alleviating the suspense, and lining the Flops up for a field goal even THEY can’t miss. Miami now 4-2 and….is that a mirage?  By the way, neither team stopped either team in the red zone yesterday 3-3 conversion for both sides.





Try as they might, the Bears just could not lose this game.  Geez, you get 5 first downs, throw only 7 passes, amass 153 total yards…and you win. You just gotta shake your head and move on.  Watch the video on Monday and see what you did wrong. Here’s what beat them: Pansies QB Cam Newton throws a pick-six, drops a fumble-six and engineers 4 arduous clock-eating drives that totaled 3 points (really minus-4, as one resulted in the fumble return for TD).  SORRY BEARS, you are going to have to try harder.  3-4 and getting ready for their Parity Division photo-op!



In a game that ended 14 times, the officials gave the Raiders one more try, and they WON.

And, just like that, the Raiders exit the Basement and are out on the patio, heating up a ‘dog. And just when we’d gotten the Barcalounger adjusted just like they like it. Oh well, it’s like having old lovers come around again- it just isn’t the same.  Let’s hope they STAY out there. 

Apologies for not writing about the Bungles.  So much ineptitude out there.

aaaAAAAAnd That’s the View from the BASEMENT!!!!!!!!!!





At the CROSSROADS in 2016

Presenting more than 70 artists’ films in nine programs over three days in 16mm, 35mm, and digital video, SF Cinematheque‘s annual experimental film festival CROSSROADS 2016, may feel a bit intimidating at first glance. So here are a handful of must-see screenings this weekend (April 1-3) at the Mission District’s Victoria Theatre.

Michael Betancourt’s ‘The Dark Rift,’ playing at CROSSROADS 2016

Opening night’s program 1 on Friday, April 1 at 7pm is most definitely the program not to be missed. Kicking things off is a beautiful, 10-minute, 16mm-projected, superimposed collage The Liquid Casket / Wilderness Of Mirrors by Bay Area filmmaker Paul Clipson.


Similar to his glorious feature film Hypnosis Display, which premiered at last year’s CROSSROADS with live accompaniment by Portland-based musician Grouper, this spinning little ditty psychedelically flips and flops its way through abstractions of London, Leeds, Glasgow, and San Francisco. With an eerie score by Australian musician Lawrence English, you’ll be left wanting more, often a rare feat in experimental cinema. The filmmaker will be attending in person.

‘Harbour City’

Part of the same program on April 1 at 7pm is the Bay Area premiere of Simon Liu’s breathtaking new 14-minute film, Harbour City. Presented with a live soundtrack by Warren Ng of Somnambulists, this kaleidoscope showpiece is a dual-projected 16mm pilgrimage through the vibrant streets of Hong Kong. As it inverts and superimposes its comforting and colorful images of family dinners and massage parlors, one may find some similarities with the quietest moments of Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien reverberating through their blood.

‘Engram of Returning’

CROSSROADS Programmer Steve Polta correctly mirrored the Toronto Film Festival Wavelengths’ curator Andréa Picard by placing Daïchi Saïto’s 19-minute hallucinogenic, mind-melter Engram of Returning as the final film of its best program. Projected in widescreen 35mm cinemascope, this amalgamation of fluctuating flashes of the “forces of nature” are combined with a throbbing, guttural score by Montreal-based musician Jason Sharp. Do whatever it takes to see this on a big, loud screen. Also screens as part of the opening night program 1 at 7pm.

'Field Niggas'
‘Field Niggas’

Easily one of the most viscerally affecting documentaries of last year, filmmaker Khalik Allah’s Field Niggas masterfully documents his Harlem neighborhood of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue with penetrating honesty. Similar to Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1978), this immersive documentary places its audience among a group of humans struggling to survive in America. These heartbreaking first hand experiences are accompanied with an asynchronous soundtrack, often while the subjects drown themselves in K2 (a devastating synthetic marijuana), giving the film an otherly world feeling. Allah’s haunting cinematic style makes this gloriously shot 60-minute digital video odyssey the most important film of the entire festival. Screens in opening night’s program 2, Friday, April 1 at 9pm.

‘In the Street’

Preceding Field Niggas is the 16-minute revelatory documentary In the Street (1948). It’s co-directed by the now-legendary street photographer Helen Leavitt along with Janice Loeb and James Agee, who would later write the screenplay for Charles Laughton’s landmark surreal horror-noir The Night of the Hunter (1955). This truly soft and humble account of Harlem residents’ daily life not only feels like the inspiration for Shirley Clarke’s Cool World (1963) and David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000), it is the actual film that inspired filmmakers Ken Jacobs and the Safdie Brothers’ entire careers. This rare 16mm silent screening will undoubtedly raise the notion that it perhaps should be ranked alongside the most important cinéma vérité films ever made. Screens in Opening night’s program 2, Friday, April 1 at 9pm.

‘Le Pays Dévasté ‘

Sporting the most horrific soundtrack of the festival is Emmanuel Lefrant’s monolithic 12-minute film Le Pays Dévasté (The Devastated Land). Presenting inverted imagery of our natural world, screened in widescreen 35mm cinemascope, and perfectly contrasting it with psychotically strobing footage of our geo-illogical manufactured landscapes, one hopes that this Paris-based filmmaker finds a way to construct an even longer voyage through our devastated yet fantastic planet. Screens in program 3, Saturday, April 2 at 1:00pm.

What would an experimental film festival be without a Ben Rivers extravaganza? While his latest feature film (shot in the depths of Morocco) is unfortunately not being presented at this year’s CROSSROADS, his surreal 20-minute “making of” Oliver Laxe’s sci-fi epic The Mimosas is screening and is entitled A Distant Episode.

‘A Distant Episode’

If more filmmakers would realize that they could capture ”behind the scenes” footage in hypnotic, cinéma vérité fashion and combine it with a supernatural soundtrack, perhaps the sequences would not be relegated to unnecessary bonus features on outdated media. A truly, enticing appetizer that will make you salivate for Rivers’ fascinating feature The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, which will hopefully screen in San Francisco soon. A Distant Episode screens as part of Program 3, on Saturday, April 2 at 1pm.

April 1-3, 2016
Victoria Theatre, SF.

San Francisco Cinematheque CROSSROADS 2016 Film Festival Trailer from San Francisco Cinematheque.

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and curates/hosts the MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS series at the Castro Movie Theatre. The series emphasizes 16mm and 35mm prints around North America exploring underrated and overlooked cinema in a neo-sincere manner.

Ficks’ Picks: Favorite films (spoiler-free!) of 2016

'Rahman Raghav 2.0'

SCREEN GRABS Our esteemed film critic Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, who attended Sundance, SFiFF, Crossroads, Frameline, and Mill Valley Film Festival this year, picks the cream 2016’s cinematic crop. Bookmark this page for the coming year. One of these films might just make everything a little bit better.

1. Café Society (Woody Allen, USA)

'Cafe Society'
‘Cafe Society’

Woody Allen’s 47th feature is as crisp and shot as gorgeously as anything he has ever made. Interweaving five sets of relationships within the 1930s and using the classic rivalry of living in New York vs Los Angeles, Allen has made the most underrated and overlooked film of 2016. Showcasing Vittorio Storaro’s luminous (digital) cinematography and Santo Loquasto’s Oscar-worthy set design, this extremely personal familial frenzy has endless layers to unearth. Multiple viewings are necessary here to dig deep into the Dorfman family, led by gut wrenching performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Not to ignore the show stopping supporting cast of Steve Carrell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, and Jeannie Berlin, whose characters have so many high hopes and broken dreams that you won’t know what hit you when the magically unexpected conclusion dawns. 

2. Elle (Paul Verhoeven, France)


Like Woody Allen, Paul Verhoeven (at the age of 78) has made one of his greatest films in the twilight of his career. Clearly this is Isabelle Huppert’s world and we’re all just visiting. Combining the ironic humor of Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) and the exploitative delight of Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (1981), this graphic exploration of the life and times of a female video game designer has audience members aghast from the opening sequence. American studios were too afraid to produce this transgressive dive into characters who refuse to be victimized in this mean-spirited world — and sadly, the Oscars probably will ignore it as well. But then again, that’s the story of Paul Verhoeven’s career.  

3. The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer, USA) + Le Pays Dévasté (The Devastated Land, Emmanuel Lefrant, France) 

'The Fits'
‘The Fits’

Not only does Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature combine the rigid silence and physical exertion of Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956) with Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (1999), the eerie off-center camerawork by Paul Yee evokes the foggy locker rooms in Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976) and the abandoned buildings in Paul Lynch’s Prom Night (1980). What is so unique about The Fits is its power to hypnotize its viewers into a full-blown transcendental journey.

'Le Pays Dévasté'
‘Le Pays Dévasté’

Sporting the most horrific soundtrack of the year is Emmanuel Lefrant’s monolithic 12-minute film Le Pays Dévasté. Presenting inverted imagery of our natural world, screened in widescreen 35mm cinemascope, and perfectly contrasted with psychotically strobing footage of our “geo-illogical” manufactured landscapes, one hopes that this Paris-based filmmaker finds a way to construct an even longer voyage through our devastated yet fantastic planet.

4. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, USA) + Ixcanul (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala/France)


Amy Adams carries the weight of the manmade world on her shoulders in the intellectual sci-fi masterpiece Arrival. Capturing the awe, fears, wonder, and hope of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), this examination of communication works on many levels, practicing what its linguist protagonist preaches. Like the greatest science fiction films, Arrival culminates in both a humanistic lesson and an otherly-world excursion.  


The debut feature film by Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante, Ixcanul, similarly places the world on the back of its female protagonist, an indigenous young woman named Maria (played devastatingly by newcomer María Mercedes Coroy). The title Ixcanul isn’t just the direct translation of “volcano” but (as the director stated) can also be read as “an internal force of the mountain which boils, looking for eruption.” Shot entirely in the indigenous (Mayan) language of Kaqchikel, the cast of non-professional actors, the quiet camerawork, and powerful sound design (reminiscent of Lucrecia Martel’s films) helps make this ode to the plight of women and young girls the most viscerally affecting film of 2017.

5. The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, France/Denmark/USA) + Rahman Raghav 2.0 (Anurag Kashyap, India)

'The Neon Demon'
‘The Neon Demon’

Nicolas Winding Refn has finally made his defining film with The Neon Demon. Channeling the hyperbolic tone of Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls and collaborating on both, the script with lead actress Elle Fanning and the soundtrack with musician Cliff Martinez, Refn has flawlessly captured the dog-eat-dog world of maudlin Los Angeles. 

'Rahman Raghav 2.0'
‘Raman Raghav 2.0’

Anurag Kashyap was unable to raise the budget to make the biopic about the real-life 1960s Mumbai serial killer Raman Raghav. So he made Raman Raghav 2.0, a low-budget genre flick updating the story to present times. Showcasing the almighty Nawazuddin Siddiqui of the director’s Gangs of Wasseypur (easily one of the greatest Hindi films of all time), Kashyap brought “the power and the gory” to this hyperkinetic thriller. The precise cat-and-mouse structure produces one of the most unnerving films of the year and will hopefully grace Bay Area big screens in 2017 as part of a retrospective of the director’s career.

6. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, USA) + Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, USA)

'Certain Women'
‘Certain Women’

These two films not only have similar (omnibus-type) structural patterns but both are rare occasions in which characters achieve inevitable outcomes with subtle storytelling. There is no one actor that rises above the other in either film: masterful ensemble connections showed completely developed and realized visions.


Unfortunately, both Certain Women and Moonlight have been relegated to niche, social issue, art-film audiences often by well-meaning critics who accidentally spoil major plot reveals. These films can change people’s lives. 

7. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, USA) + Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, USA)

'Hell or High Water'
‘Hell or High Water’

The Western is back and with a vengeance. These two classic throwbacks utilize the complicated past that this all-American genre was built on. David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water has the same sort of guts and gusto that Andrew Dominik’s neo-noir Killing Them Softly (2012) and the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men (2007) had in placing its obsolete characters amid the US’s financial and economic collapse. It also gave Jeff Bridges one the most memorable roles of his wonderful career: Sheriff Marcus Hamilton. Combining old-fashioned racism with an understanding of becoming a man out-of-place and out-of-time, the sheriff character could be one of the most relevant characters of the decade. Add to that Ben Foster’s Oscar-worthy performance and Comanche actor Gil Birmingham’s scene stealing “Al-ber-to” and you’ve got a brand new Western classic.  

'Nocturnal Animals'
‘Nocturnal Animals’

Tom Ford brilliantly gift-wrapped his revisionist Western/Noir, Nocturnal Animals, inside the bourgeoise modern-art world, creating two films in one. In fact, I would love to see feature length versions of both movies, a testament to the parallel structure. Yet again, Amy Adams carries enough emotional heartbreak to induce an ulcer while Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon (both delivering legendary roles) find the type of male bonding to alleviate a heart attack. If you can bear the continuous extreme violence, the revolutionary opening credits are worth the admission alone. 

8Moana (Ron Clements/John Musker, USA) + The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau, USA) + Zootopia (Byron Howard/Rich Moore/Jared Bush, USA) 


Walt Disney has found its sweet spot again. Picking up where Pixar was a few years back (Wall-e, Up, Toy Story 3) these three family friendly films feature some of the studio’s most subversive elementsto date.

'The Jungle Book'
‘The Jungle Book’

Director Jon Favreau has secretly adapted his crowd-pleaser Chef into a VFX jaw-dropper. The Jungle Book is not just a remake or reboot, it is a literal and defiant call to action towards respecting our environment and our wildlife. It also works metaphorically, as is the case with Zootopia, which creates a fascinating new gang of characters all stuck together in a metropolitan melting pot.


Gender and race studies programs should be studying these three brave thesis projects, which makes Moana perhaps the most important of all. Retracing its own missteps towards creating the Walt Disney Princess archetype, this Polynesian folk tale has a remarkable amount of feminine ideology that flew over not only my “Hey Hey” head, but the studio’s as well. When Walt Disney Pictures are at their best, they can help the young and old understand other cultures, communities, and civilizations.  

9. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece) + High Rise (Ben Wheatley, UK)

'The Lobster'
‘The Lobster’

There’s a sarcastic and mean-spirited attitude towards “the end of the world” in both of these films; I found myself returning to them multiple times over the year. While The Lobster works hilariously at face value (especially with Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly’s priceless comic delivery) Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) has concocted a Roman Polanski-type tale that works when brainstormed as an allegorical fable for political, sexual, and metaphysical ideas.

'High Rise'
‘High Rise’

Similar to the drug induced state-of-mind that Paul Thomas Anderson brought to his 2014 adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, High Rise, Ben Wheatley’s audacious reimagining of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 sci-fi satire, is definitely one of the most polarizing films of the year. This mind-melter thematically combines David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975) with Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and will either take you to a higher plane or spin you round and round. Early on, a character off-handedly states that the high-rise’s blueprint “looks like an unconscious diagram of some kind of psychic event.” With this as the perfect starting point for a descent into this frenzied, hypnotic kaleidoscope of upper-class orgies and blood-spurting fist-fights, I am first in line for the devoted cult following.

10. Fences (Denzel Washington, USA) + Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, Germany)


These two emotional powerhouse films go about things in opposite ways but reach the same cinematic transcendence. Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann looks and feels like a rambling, disjointed mess but in fact is a calculated pilgrimage through modern German society. Meanwhile, Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s 1983 play is a precise, theatrical, tour-de-force that not only teaches the history of the black family in the 20th Century, but will universally pinpoint most every audience member’s relationship with their parents.

'Toni Erdman'
‘Toni Erdman’

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are shoo-ins to sweep the Oscars while the remarkable father-daughter relationship portrayed by Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller will probably go overlooked. Fair warning: these two films will utterly exhaust you… in all the right ways.   

11. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea) + The Love Witch (Anna Biller, USA)

The Handmaiden'
The Handmaiden’
'The Love Witch'
‘The Love Witch’

12. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain) + Krisha (Trey Edward Shults, USA)


13. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Projected in 120fps (Ang Lee, USA) + Dark Night (Tim Sutton, USA)

'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk'
‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’
'Dark Night'
‘Dark Night’

14. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, USA)  + Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, USA)

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches Film History at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and curates/hosts the Midnites for Maniacs series in the Bay Area. He is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, writing film festival reviews for 48hills.