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San Francisco Film Festival Digest
FILM FEST DIGEST
The SF International Film Festival starts April 15. Is
there anything interesting for dancers to watch? Here are some preliminary
thumbs-ups and downs.
The only Latin dance film presented so far is a documentary
Dame la Mano from Holland, an account of the New York area’s Cuban
community and their love of rumba. A dancer’s point of view: not enough dancing,
but another viewer’s opinion – too much dancing. Oh well...Did you know rumba
originated in Spain under the influence of Arabic drumming and had only
percussions and voice?
Suite Havana is not a dance movie, but it’s a
documentary about daily lives of ordinary Cubans, their dreams and aspirations.
Another documentary from Taiwan,
Burning Dreams is a
true dance movie shot in black and white with a spectacular background in its
first opening dance number on the roofs of Shanghai skyscrapers. This is a story
of an elderly Chinese man with no formal training who dedicated all his life to
Broadway style dancing. Students in his school seem to have concerns and
aspirations familiar to all dancers. (Be prepared to read fast: subtitles are
often invisible and change too quickly)
Haunting Douglas (New Zealand) is a portrait of
Douglas Wright, a dancer/choreographer who’s been living with HIV since 1990.
Fans of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse will enjoy “vintage”
Silk Stockings shown at the festival as part of the tribute to the famed dancer
with the best legs in the business. (Guess who).
Besides dance movies, there is a good selection of films
where music plays the central role (no salsa though).
3 documentaries portray rock bands and their musicians:
Metallica, Dig and Festival Express. Brass Tacks is a jazz
musician’s journey and Music of the World is self-explanatory.
“Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty. Father, why do
these words sound so nasty? Masturbation can be fun, join in orgy Kama Sutra
everyone”. Got your attention? This is a song 5 min. into
Hair, a musical
by Milos Forman. If you never heard of Hair here’s your chance to see
what your parents were doing in the 70s. It will be screened at the festival as
part of the tribute to the renowned director. Hair’s music and dancing
are not nearly as impressive as in Jesus Christ Superstar, the first
on-screen rock-opera and probably one of the best musicals ever made, but
Hair is an important example of 70s cinema. Plus, it carries a message that
unfortunately once again became urgent. In 1980 Hair was nominated for a
Golden Globe and Cézar (French Oscar)
Saddest Music of the World from Canada has composers
competing for a prize if they manage to write..- yeah, you guessed it, - the
saddest music of the world.
If you’re interested in the world outside of dance and
music there are a few worthy selections at the festival. For the politically and
socially conscious the following documentaries are a must.
You may have heard about Al Jazeera, the most popular radio
station in the Arab world. It was criticized by US officials AND Arab countries
as biased and seditious. You’ve got to see Control Room to judge for
If you ever got a chance to see and liked
The Century of
the Self, a British documentary series shown at the last year’s festival,
you will appreciate The Corporation, a new work from the Canadian
filmmaker Mark Achbar whose previous work Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky
and the Media became a staple of public television. Given the current crisis
in the corporate world this informative and clever documentary is more important
There was one white woman who got killed in 1965 when she
joined the civil rights movement. Ever heard of her? Home of the Brave
tells the story of Viola Liuzzo, a housewife and a mother of 5 from Detroit who
joined the march in Selma, Alabama and returned home in a casket. This is her
children’s account of their attempts to find out
the truth and rehabilitate their mother’s memory.
Neverland: the Rise and Fall of the Symbionese
Liberation Army presents past and present
footage and interviews with former SLA members and their version of events
surrounding the formation of the militant group and the kidnapping of the
heiress Patti Hearst.
Checkpoint is another
documentary about the humiliation of Palestinians passing through Israeli border
patrols. We see something similar at every SF festival: an Israeli filmmaker’s
work about Palestinian suffering. How come we never see Palestinian films about
Israeli suffering? Or at least, Israeli films about their own terror victims and
the population living in fear 24/7? What would happen if Israel followed
America’s example in Afghanistan and Iraq? Just a few of many questions
these films provoke.
El Alamein: the Line of Fire shows demoralized
Italian troops left to die in Africa during the WWll. Haunting and serious film,
but if you want a true anti-war movie that touches your very soul rent
Cuckoo, a Russian comedy/drama shown at the festival last year.
Silent Waters from Pakistan tells a story of an
Indian/Pakistani woman who must deal with consequences of the conflict between
the two countries and the oppression of women by both sides. A family torn apart
by militant Muslims.
In God is Brazilian
God, in the form of a
middle-aged man, wants a vacation and is looking for a replacement. Guess who he
chose – an atheist! It’s not as powerful as some films from Brazil presented
last year. Several times it’s about to make an important statement, but every
time the possible impact dissipates into the thin air.
German soccer team winning the World Cup in 1954 is a
background for a decent drama The Miracle of Bern about a German family
coping with their POW father’s return from Siberian labor camps.
After You is an entertaining and clever French
comedy about a selfless maitre d’ who finds love by helping a suicidal man. If
you miss the original, you’ll almost certainly have a chance to see an inferior
Hollywood remake in the future. (Probable title: Good Samaritan with Birdcage -
aka La Cage aux Folles – actors Robin Williams & Co.
Besides the above mentioned films, out of the ones I’ve
seen so far, several others might be of interest to those of us who enjoy
non-Hollywood fare: B-Happy, Cleopatra, Koktebel, The Man Who Copied, The
Mother, The Newcomers, What the Eye Doesn’t See (unreadable subtitles)
Thumbs down to the festival’s opening movie
Cigarettes by Jim Jarmusch. Not my cup of tea (or coffee in this case). It
looked like a string of commercials for various brands of cigarettes.
(Conversations were so uninspiring you had to look) You tell me if it got better
at the end cause I had to leave before my brain went numb.
Don’t waste your money on the following fare either:
and the Others (boring), Back to Kotelnich (stretched beyond belief),
Gate to Heaven (sappy and primitive),
Magic Gloves and Three
Step Dancing (boring).
Please, keep in mind though; you’ll have as many opinions
as there are critics. If you like foreign cinema, if you like movies that make
you think, if you dislike Hollywood action flicks then you’re pretty safe with
these choices. No guarantee however, to each his own.
More reviews to come after the festival ends April 29.
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