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September 1, 2015

San Francisco's Robust Fall Film Calendar

From Oscar-bound releases to local niche festivals catering to every conceivable taste, this fall’s film calendar promises variety and depth. 


“Vittorio De Sica: A Film Series”
This one-day marathon features a quartet of major works made between 1954 and 1970 by the handsome Italian movie star and renowned Neorealist director De Sica, who is best known for his 1948 post-war masterpiece, “The Bicycle Thief.” Three of the films shown here star his muse, Sophia Loren, who teamed up with sexy co-star Marcello Mastroianni for “Marriage Italian Style”; won an Oscar for “Two Women”; and appeared in the episodic comedy “The Gold of Naples.” The WWII drama, “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” about a wealthy Italian-Jewish family oblivious to the gathering storm, is also screened. Castro Theatre, Sept. 26. 

“Shakey Pictures: The Films of Neil Young”
Young, a rock star whose iconoclastic music has a loyal following, has also pursued a lesser-known second career as a filmmaker; he has directed movies for over 40 years under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey. This survey of his works includes his post-apocalyptic musical comedy “Human Highway” and other rare and unreleased films, as well as concert documentaries shot by admirers, such as Hal Ashby’s “Solo Trans” and Jonathan Demme’s “Neil Young Trunk Show,” which captured the band performing live in 2007. YBCA, Sept.10-27.

“3rd Annual Matatu Film Festival”
A relative newcomer to the scene, this Oakland-based festival of stories emphasizes films about Africa. It opens with a two-part evening showcasing the talents of musician, poet and spoken word artist Saul Williams; the program also includes “Asni,” an examination of the life of Asnaketch Worku, the Billie Holiday of Ethiopia; “Crumbs,” the first dystopian sci-fi feature from that country; and “Losing Ground,” Kathleen Collins’ dramedy about a faltering marriage—the film is one of the only 1980s movies directed by an African-American woman. Check website for venues, Sept. 23-26. 

The Architecture and the City Festival
This film series devotes a section to documentaries and animated shorts that relate to this year’s theme, “Play: Design in Action.” “Gehry’s Vertigo” takes to the rooftops to give viewers a dizzying perspective of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, while “My Playground” follows Danish parkour runners and architects as they get a workout courtesy of Copenhagen’s built environment. SF Main Library, Sept. 2-30.


“The United Nations Association Film Festival”
Founded in 1998 by Stanford University lecturer Jasmina Bojic, UNAFF has grown into a 60 film, 11-day fest with an impressive slate of international human rights documentaries. The films cover a range of topics, from climate change, racial prejudice and the ravages of war to women’s rights and biographical portraits of “The Color Purple” author Alice Walker and Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange. Palo Alto, Oct. 15-25; San Francisco, Oct. 19 (theaters TBA). 

“3rdi San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond”
This fest features a host of works by indie filmmakers from the region, a Bollywood night at the Castro Theatre with dancing in the aisles and “Jai Ho,” a documentary that chronicles the career and songs of legendary Indian composer A.R. Rahman, aka the Mozart of Madras, who collaborated with Mick Jagger and Andrew Lloyd Webber, among others. Two short docs, “Mardistan” and “Silence in the Courts,” address the subject of sexual violence. New People and Castro Theatres, San Francisco, Oct. 22-25; CineArts Theater, Palo Alto, Nov. 1. 

“San Francisco Dance Film Festival”
Programming for this festival encompasses a multitude of shorts and docs that explore the rigorous creative process of dancers and choreographers. It launches with a special kick-off screening (Oct. 5) of “Mia: A Dancer’s Journey,” a profile of Mia Slavenska, who died in 2002. Considered Croatia’s greatest ballerina and a successor to Anna Pavlova, Slavenska left her native country at 20 and became the toast of Europe before eventually emigrating to the U.S. Slavenska’s daughter, Maria Ramas, made the film to help keep her mother’s legacy alive. Kanbar Hall, JCCSF, Oct. 5; Brava Theater Center, Oct. 8-11.

“Food Day Film Day”
San Francisco’s twin passions, film and celluloid, are celebrated here. Among the food-themed films on tap are “In Defense of Food,” based on Michael Pollan’s bestseller about America’s unhealthy eating habits, and “Babette’s Feast,” a 1987 Danish art-house feature starring Stephane Audran as a French refugee who prepares an unforgettable meal. Roxie Theater (feature films) and The Exploratorium (shorts), Oct. 24.

“Orson Welles 100 Part 2”
Marking the centenary of the master director’s birth, this retrospective concentrates on films made during Welles’ period of “exile” in Europe, from the 1950s through the 1970s. The series opens with “Chimes at Midnight,” an adaptation of nine Shakespearean plays that centers on the character of Falstaff, lustily embodied by Welles; the film is regarded by its director and many critics as one of his finest works. “Othello,” with Welles in the lead role, and “The Trial,” based on Kafka’s novel and starring Anthony Perkins, are also screened. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, Oct. 25-Nov. 22.


The San Francisco Film Society Lineup
SFFS has consolidated into one month most of its fall lineup of boutique film festivals highlighting contemporary foreign cinema and documentaries. The SFFS Documentary Showcase (Nov. 5-8), a new series that focuses on high-profile, potentially award-winning docs dealing with social issues, is followed by New Italian Cinema (Nov. 11-15), a popular fest that consistently draws enthusiastic Italian-American crowds interested in up-and-coming young directors. Now in its fifth year, "Hong Kong Cinema" (Nov.15-18) is a mash-up of mostly indies by internationally known veterans and emerging talent from a region that has evolved into an important filmmaking hub, and “French Cinema Now” (Nov. 19-22) offers a fix for all those francophiles who miss the influx of French-language movies into the U.S. Vogue Theatre. 

SF Symphony Film Series: Disney in Concert”
Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is accompanied by the SFS orchestra performing the music of Danny Elfman. Davies Symphony Hall, Nov. 27 & 28.


“A Day of Silents: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival”
This offering of five special programs includes “The Grim Game,” the second of magician Harry Houdini’s silent movies. In this convoluted story, the escape artist extraordinaire portrays a newspaper reporter who fakes his uncle’s murder. But the plot is merely a pretext for Houdini’s daredevil, death-defying feats, including a prison break, a plane crash and his extrication from a straitjacket while suspended from a skyscraper. Douglas Fairbanks, who’s at his swashbuckling peak in “The Black Pirate,” provides more derring-do in one of the first films shot in color. In a quest to avenge the death of his father, he slides down the sail of a ship at knifepoint and commands a surreal underwater army to save a kidnapped princess. The film’s action is heightened by the live accompaniment of the Alloy Orchestra. Castro Theatre, Dec. 5. 

“San Francisco Symphony Film Series: Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’”
This film—a seasonal classic—is transformed into a different and even more uplifting holiday experience with the live performance of a newly restored score by Dimitri Tiomkin, the composer who also wrote the music for “High Noon,” “Dial M for Murder” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Davies Symphony Hall, Dec. 11 and 12.

“Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs”
French jazz singer and filmmaker Raquel Bitton pays tribute to and tells the life story of the late great French chanteuse Edith Piaf in this documentary/theatrical concert film, screened on Piaf’s 100th birthday. Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, Dec. 19.

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