SF Silent Film Festival’s Annual Winter Event

Saturday, February 16

The SF Silent Film Festival once again presents its one day Winter Festival, presenting the best in silent film, with live musical accompaniment, on Saturday, February 16 at the Castro Theater. Get a taste of what’s in store for the big Festival in July. See www.silentfilm.org for more info and tickets.

Snow White (US, 1916) 10am.

Walt Disney was a 16-year-old newsboy when he attended a free event at the Kansas City Convention Center in 1917 to see Marguerite Clark, Dorothy Cumming, and Creighton Hale on screen in a live-action rendition of the fairy tale, Snow White. It was one of the first features he’d ever seen and he was hooked. “I thought it was the perfect story… It had the sympathetic dwarfs…the heavy…the prince and the girl. The romance…the perfect story.” This rare film is being shown as part of the Walt Disney Family Museum celebration of Snow White. Directed by J. Searle Dawley with Marguerite Clark in the lead role, the film was thought lost until materials were discovered in the Netherlands, and a print was preserved at George Eastman House. Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano. Copresented by the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Act Slow, Think Fast: Short Films of Buster Keaton (12 noon)

“Think slow, act fast” is a quote attributed to Buster Keaton, and perfectly exemplifies his movies. Keaton is a true comic genius and a great filmmaker. Repeated viewing of any Keaton will reveal the thoughtful filmmaking, the elegant structure and beautifully expressive camera, and deepen your amazement at the gravity-defying stunts. Our program features three early Keaton shorts, made shortly after Keaton left Fatty Arbuckle to work on his own—three of the funniest, most innovative comedies ever put on film! One Week (1920, with Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts) The Scarecrow (1920, 18 m., with Keaton, Joe Roberts, Sybil Seely, Luke the Dog), The Play House (1921, 23 m., with Keaton, Virginia Fox). Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano.

The Thief of Bagdad (US, 1924)  2:30pm

Douglas Fairbanks’s personal favorite, The Thief of Bagdad shows him at the top of his charming, acrobatic game. Directed by Raoul Walsh and adapted from One Thousand and One Nights, the story revolves around a thief (Fairbanks) who falls in love with the daughter (Julanne Johnston) of the Caliph of Bagdad. So overcome with love that he refuses to be deceptive about his true identity, Fairbanks’s thief still has the chance to win the fair maiden by bringing back the world’s rarest treasures. Thus begins a rousing fantasy replete with flying carpets, winged horses, and underwater sea monsters. Lavish sets and cinematography support early special effects to make Thief a wildly entertaining spectacle. Inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996 and voted one of AFI’s top 10 classics in 2008, Thief has recently received a crisp 2K restoration. Live music by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

My Best Girl (US, 1927) 7pm

Mary Pickford’s last silent film is a comedy so warm and ebullient, it is a fitting adieu to America’s Sweetheart. Although she would make four more films—all talkies—My Best Girl (1927) is the pinnacle, the exemplary illustration of what made Pickford the most loved movie star in the world. Directed by Sam Taylor (famous for his work with Harold Lloyd), Girl is the story of Five & Dime store stock girl, Maggie Johnson (Pickford), who falls for the owner’s son, Joe Merrill (Buddy Rogers), who’s masquerading as a new employee that Mary has to train. Of course, Joe’s parents have other ideas about the kind of girl Joe should marry. Pickford and Rogers (in his first role after the hugely successful Wings, 1927) are wonderful together.  Pickford would divorce Douglas Fairbanks and marry Rogers—a marriage that lasted her lifetime. Copresented by the Pacific Film Archive. Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano.

Faust (Germany, 1926) 9pm

F.W. Murnau’s Faust is the greatest movie version of the old legend, immortalized by Goethe, of the learned man who sells his soul to the devil. Magnificent in its surreal depictions of heaven and hell and a nightmarish otherworld, Faust is masterpiece of German Expressionism, as distinctive as Murnau’s other horror masterpiece, Nosferatu. When Mephisto (Emil Jannings) shows up to tempt Faust (Gösta Ekmann), a man of books and learning, with the ability to cure the plague and a 24-hour return to his youthful body, it seems God may have lost his wager with the devil over Faust’s immortal soul. Or has he? Murnau’s use of chiaroscuro effect beautifully contrasts light and dark, life and death; and evil is chillingly limned by Jannings’s brilliantly nuanced, subtly comic performance. Musical accompaniment by Christian Elliott on the mighty Wurlitzer.

February 2013

Dickens Fair Honors Author’s 200th Birthday

This year is very special to the cast and crew of the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair because 2012 marks the 200th Birthday of author Charles Dickens. Special celebrations like the Afternoon High Tea hosted by “Mr. Chas. Dickens” for members of the press on the opening weekend the day after Thanksgiving highlighted this year’s fair in particular.

Born in 1812, Charles Dickens was the second of eight children. His father was an office clerk. With so many to feed, and his father’s over-spending, Dickens was forced to leave school at age 12 and work in a factory. His parents and younger siblings were sent to debtor’s pris™on, while the lad Dickens helped to pay off his father’s debts.

This and other hardships were the basis for many of Dickens’ novels. Most scholars and historians agree Dickens was among the most prolific writers of the Victorian Era. And it is because of the many works he produced the annual Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace is filled with over 700 characters. “We believe we have more Dickens characters brought to life here at the Cow Palace, more so than any other place in the world,” said the fair’s producer and CEO, Kevin Patterson.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Patterson strives to uphold the fair as a local holiday tradition. For over 30 years the Patterson family has been bringing this “living Victorian Christmas card” to audiences even when “there were times we did not think the fair would be able to go on,” said Patterson’s mother Phyllis. She talked with this reporter some time ago about the origins of the Great Dickens Fair, and mentioned that it all basically started as a theme for a holiday party for family and friends. That little family party at home grew into an annual event.

Yet what helped the event to carry on was the dedication and commitment of hundreds of people volunteering their time to ensure the fair would continue. Even with new additions of other Victorian novel characters, like Alice in Wonderland or Captain Nemo from 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the Pattersons consider everyone who contributes, participates, and attends the fair to be part of one large extended family.

Local actor Robert Young has been with the Dickens Fair since 1990. Over the past two decades, Young has devoted much of his acting and study to a deeper understanding of Dickens and his times. He entertained the press on opening weekend at the Afternoon High Tea. This reporter asked him if, after so many years, the role gets tired. “Putting together a production like this can be stressful. What we have here is ‘immersion theater,’ there is nothing else like it. There is no curtain and no ‘fourth wall’ between us and the audience,” said Young. But, he quickly noted how much the effort is all worth it when he sees visitors “spark up and take in the experience.”

Both Young and Patterson mentioned one of the reasons why the Christmas Fair endures is because much of what we Americans appreciate about Christmas is due in large part to the work of Dickens. The greeting card, the Christmas tree, and the visit from Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) were all promoted in large part by Dickens’ work on A Christmas Carol. When Dickens went on speaking tours, audiences loved to watch him read and perform his works. And, when his works were brought to stage, screen and television, this greatly enhanced America’s appreciation of Christmas.

Young and Patterson likened Dickens to the greatness of Shakespeare, especially regarding the portrayal of various characters for their “universal aspects that all people can recognize.”

Professor Rosemary Ashton of University College in London contacted this reporter from “across-the-pond” to clarify that what Dickens created with his energy of writing was the “archetype figure,” such as Scrooge, who comes to represent a certain aspect of human nature, “not in a tired or clichéd way, that’s a stereotype,” she said, “but in such a vital way that such figures come to be exactly what we mean when we think of a miser,” said Professor Ashton. When it is said that man is “a Scrooge, everyone knows what we mean.” Recently retired from her position as Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at UCL, Ashton noted that the characters Dickens created speak to a “deep, fundamental human concern or fear, and so become the mythic embodiment of such a deep concern. This is why works like A Christmas Carol live on,” she said. She credits the recent renditions of Dickens works produced by the BBC as helping to foster an even more expanded appreciation of his works for contemporary audiences.

The Great Dickens Fair continues each weekend until Dec. 23 at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave. Doors open at 10 AM and close at 7 PM. Info: www.dickensfair.com or call 800-510-1558, Ext. 114

December 2012

Cinema by the Bay

Festival sponsored by SF Film Society

The San Francisco Film Society presents the fourth annual Cinema by the Bay festival, from November 9 to 11 at New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street in San Francisco.

The Cinema by the Bay festival celebrates Bay Area filmmaking, the spirit of local directors, and the depth of America’s film and media frontier. The three-day festival features new film work produced in or about the San Francisco Bay Area and provides a look into Bay Area creativity at its finest.

The fourth annual Cinema by the Bay opens with Jason Wolos’ debut feature film Trattoria, includes screenings of new films by leading filmmakers, and is highlighted with the Film Society’s annual celebration of Bay Area innovators, Essential SF.

Cinema by the Bay is part of the Film Society’s year-round programs of Bay Area film culture. SFFS inaugurated a dedicated Cinema by the Bay designation six years ago, within the San Francisco International Film Festival. With its fall festival, the SFFS continues the work of the Film Arts Foundation, which from 1984 to 2005 programmed the Bay Area’s best local independent filmmaking.

Friday, November 9 OPENING NIGHT

7:00 pm: Trattoria

Jason Wolos, Director Expected.

Set in the world of the SF competitive restaurant culture, Trattoria serves up family drama and foodie delights. Chef Sal Sartini and his second wife Cecilia have just opened a new restaurant and are trying to generate the reviews and buzz that are critical to success. Sal’s estranged son Vince comes to visit and help out in the restaurant, leading to family tensions. (USA 2012. 82 min. Written by Jason Wolos, Dawn Rich. Photographed by Frazer Bradshaw. With Tony Denison, John Patrick Amedori, Lisa Rotondi, Kandis Erickson. Fine Dining Productions.)

9:00 pm: Opening Night Party: Celebrate CBTB at Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore (at Eddy) with Japanese-inspired hors d’oeuvres and sponsored wine.

Saturday, November 10

2:30 pm: Casablanca Mon Amour

John Slattery, Director Expected.

This fiction/nonfiction hybrid features two humorous Moroccan college students, Hassan and Abdel, as they journey from Casablanca over the Atlas mountains to the Sahara desert. Hassan, in the midst of creating a media project, uses the trip to investigate how Morocco has been depicted in popular culture and used in Hollywood staples such as Casablanca (of course) and The Jewel of the Nile, among others. The film shows us how the country has been figured in film, while also showing us the country itself and how Moroccans view their own nation through the lens of Hollywood. (USA/Morocco 2012. 79 min. In French, Arabic and English with English subtitles. Written by John Slattery. Photographed by Fara Akrami. With Abdel Alidrissi, Hassan Ouazzani, Amin Chadati, Fraida Bouazzaoui. Zween Works.)

5:00 pm: Essential SF

Essential SF is an ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community’s most vital figures and institutions. H.P. Mendoza, Judy Stone, Wholphin, Terry Zwigoff and others yet to be announced will be feted at this short ceremony. Past Essential SF honorees include Les Blank, Canyon Cinema, Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Rick Prelinger and Marlon Riggs, among others. Free admission.

7:00 pm: Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

Jesse Vile, Subject Expected.

In 1980, guitarist Jason Becker was on the road to international stardom when he joined David Lee Roth’s band at the age of 20. That same year, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and was given 3–5 years to live. Now, more than 20 years since his diagnosis, Jason’s story continues. Through home movies, photographs, and concert footage, this documentary presents an affectionate portrait of a gifted teenager who realized his wildest dreams at an early age and is still creating with the care and love of his devoted family and fans. (USA 2012. 90 min. Photographed by Carl Burke. Edited by Gideon Gold.)

9:30 pm: Amity, World Premiere

Alejandro Adams, Director Expected.

A divorced Air Force sergeant rents a limousine to celebrate his daughter’s high school graduation. However, his daughter refuses to celebrate with him, and he decides to spend the evening with the limo driver. Amity unflinchingly presents a version of masculinity that is insecure, cruel, and ultimately powerless. (USA 2012. 80 min. Written and photographed by Alejandro Adams. With Greg Cala.)

Sunday, November 11

2:00 pm: Moving Image at the End of the World: Shorts from Headlands Center for the Arts.

Presented by Brian Karl, Program Director, Headlands Center for the Arts.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Headlands Center for the Arts, who’s mission is to provide the environment for artists to produce innovative work and to connect them to audiences of all sorts, and their residencies are among the most sought-after around the world. Ranging from the humorous to the beautiful, this program of short films consists of works that have been made at Headlands.

4:15 pm: A Conversation With Lucy Gray

San Francisco–based artist Lucy Gray will appear for a rare talk about her work. While Gray is recognized for her compelling photographs—including the “Big Tilda” exhibition at the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival—her art is not limited to photography. This event will feature a screening of her short film Genevieve Goes Boating, followed by readings from her latest venture. Writer and theater critic Steven Winn will moderate the discussion.

6:00 pm: The Revolutionary Optimists, Work-in-progress screening

Maren Grainger-Monsen, Nicole Newnham, Directors Expected.

Lawyer turned social advocate Amlan Ganguly doesn’t just rescue children, he empowers them through education and activism to battle poverty and transform their lives. The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and the children he works with—Shika, Salim, Kajal and Priyanka—as they staunchly fight against the forces that oppress them. (USA 2012. 83 min. Photographed by Jon Shenk, Ranu Ghosh, Ranjan Palit. Edited by Andrew Gersh, Mary Lampson. Helianthus Media.)

8:30 pm: CXL , World Premiere

Sean Gillane, Director Expected.

Nolan, an aspiring writer, feels stuck: he is frustrated with his career, his relationships, the world and ultimately with himself. When he meets the stunning and unpredictable Cassie, but just as he begins to change his perspective, circumstances conspire to throw his spirit into turmoil in this darkly comedic debut feature. (USA 2012. 90 min. Written by Theo Miller, Katherine Bruens. Photographed by Sean Gillane. With Cole Smith, Lisa Greyson. Briana Eason, Amir Motlagh.)

Tickets are $11 for SFFS members; $13 general; $12 seniors, students and persons with disabilities. Opening Night film and party $20 for SFFS members, $25 general. For more info, go to sffs.org.

November 2012