San Francisco International Film Festival

Otar, Otar, how does your “Garden” grow?


The San Francisco International Film Festival is offering a rare treat this year with its presentation of Otar Iosseliani’s latest film, Gardens in Autumn, and Julie Bertuccelli’s documentary about Iosseliani, Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird. The director of 2003’s Since Otar Left, Bertuccelli has worked as Iosseliani’s assistant director, so her portrait goes well beyond a primer on his body of work, which began in Soviet Georgia in the late ’50s and continued through his relocation to France in 1982.

After a shaky beginning that has Iosseliani quoting Aleksandr Pushkin at length without translation, the doc moves quickly into the meat and potatoes of Gardens in Autumn‘s construction, such as a poetic demonstration of the transition from storyboarding to shooting. The sisterly abuse Iosseliani endures from his producer, though, is probably the best stuff in the film ("You took that idea from another screenplay"; "You’re not Rivette! Cut it down!"; "This ending is stupid"). Bertuccelli’s document of the bumpy road to a final product is a fascinating counterpoint to the sensuous languor of Iosseliani’s film.

Gardens in Autumn starts as unpromisingly as the doc, as a broadly Bunuelian satire of the bourgeoisie (a comic wife buys expensive junk, a bureaucrat quietly smokes a cigarette as a labor demonstration swells), but the story almost immediately makes a welcome 180-degree turn. As if our hero Vincent (Severin Blanchet) can sense the satire in progress, he abruptly resigns his post as a government minister and returns to the town of his youth, where his mother (Michel Piccoli, a fixture in Luis Bunuel’s French work, in convincing drag) holds court in an extravagant mansion and drunken clergymen with frat boy temperaments roam the streets. The film fans out into a thinly plotted waltz through the good life, where even the occasional bursts of violence look like they might be fun. It’s the type of film in which a man can shrug off the squatter inundation of his apartment and move into the secret back room behind the bookcase.

The critic J. Hoberman described one of Iosseliani’s recent ensemble films somewhat dismissively as a "genteel circus," but the tag can also serve as an affectionate characterization of his best work. His latest exercise in modulated hedonism may not have much to say on the politics of happiness, but sometimes that can be a blessing. (Jason Shamai)

GARDENS IN AUTUMN (Otar Iosseliani, France/Russia/Italy, 2006). Sun/29, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 6, 8 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki

OTAR IOSSELIANI, THE WHISTLING BLACKBIRD (Julie Bertuccelli, France, 2006). Fri/27, 4 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 3, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki

The four men in “The Iron Mask”


When The Iron Mask screens at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, four disparate cinematic personalities will merge – three in spirit and one in the flesh.

Now 68, Kevin Brownlow made his first feature film, 1966’s It Happened Here, while in his 20s and subsequently published two books, one (How It Happened Here) on the making of that movie and another (The Parade’s Gone By) featuring interviews with silent-era filmmakers and stars. At that time, the silent era was almost like a technical glitch to be overcome and forgotten. But Brownlow would soon help immortalize great early works through his interviews and his pioneering skills as a restorer.

At the Castro Theatre, Brownlow (the recipient of the SF Film Society’s Mel Novikoff Award, whose latest movie, Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic, also screens at this year’s festival) will present 1929’s The Iron Mask. That movie’s star, Douglas Fairbanks, had an effortlessly cheery, energetic onscreen persona, performing his own, Jackie Chan-like stunts. He also ran a tight ship offscreen, controlling nearly every aspect of his business empire. When Fairbanks began planning his extravagant 1922 film Robin Hood, with its record million-dollar budget, director Allan Dwan landed in the driver’s seat. A crackerjack action man, Dwan could keep up with Fairbanks and move things at a brisk pace; Dwan would go on to direct about 400 films, most of them considerably cheaper.

Fairbanks hired Dwan once again for The Iron Mask, a follow-up to 1921’s The Three Musketeers in which Fairbanks would reprise his role as D’Artagnan. The film is not without its breezy, exciting moments, but by this time Fairbanks was 46 and beginning to slow down. He seemed to understand that his antics no longer coincided with the times; his D’Artagnan is a bit long in the tooth and meets a less heroic ending than does the typical Fairbanks hero. Concurrently, talkies had begun to draw the curtain on silent pictures. Fairbanks recorded two talking interludes for the film, which only add to its heartbreaking, elegiac nature. When The Iron Mask was restored, the great modern composer Carl Davis, whose work currently graces a number of silent movies on DVD, recorded a 42-piece orchestral score worthy of the film’s energy and its melancholy. Fortunately, as Brownlow will no doubt demonstrate, it’s possible to see the film with new eyes. In that, there’s no reason to be sad. (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

CECIL B. DEMILLE: AMERICAN EPIC Sat/28, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki



Do you remember your first time?


Of the hundreds of thousands of feature movies made in the past century, how many were spectacular debuts? Maybe 30? Reason decrees that we can’t expect the 11 first features that make up this year’s SKYY Prize nominees to be brilliant; frankly, they’re not. Yet it was little more than a handful of years ago that the San Francisco International Film Festival’s SKYY jury awarded its prize to Jia Zhang-ke’s Xiao Wu, a debut that marked the beginning of one of the most masterful filmmaking careers in the world today.

Two of this year’s nominees, Kim Rossi Stuart’s Along the Ridge, from Italy, and Pavel Giroud’s The Silly Age, from Cuba, owe a debt to one of the great debut films, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Truffaut’s look at boyhood gone awry has secured the template for a half century of coming-of-age films, but like the biopics that overtake screens and vie for awards at the end of each year, such efforts have become too familiar. Aren’t personal stories supposed to be one of a kind, like snowflakes? Perhaps if you’ve seen one snowflake, you’ve seen ’em all.

Nominating Horace Ahmad Shansab’s Zolykha’s Secret, from Afghanistan, was probably some big-hearted gesture of goodwill, but by Western standards, it’s a painfully clumsy affair. Similarly, Xiaolu Guo’s How Is Your Fish Today?, from China, and John Barker’s Bunny Chow, from South Africa, go nowhere fast.

Bay Area native and Golden Horse Award winner Daniel Wu has turned from acting to a comedic directing debut, The Heavenly Kings. Though he treads on sacred Spinal Tap territory with his phony rockumentary idea, he and his friends Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Andrew Lin, and Terence Yin actually went through with the indignity of being in a boy band called Alive, recording and performing to conjure up material for this film. Only one of them can sing, and none of them can dance, but that doesn’t matter in today’s music industry, which relies on stylists, choreographers, and hired fans – not to mention Internet scandals – for success. The Heavenly Kings is certainly scathing, even if it’s only sporadically funny. (The best line involves African rainforests.)

I suspect that Marwan Hamed’s The Yacoubian Building, from Egypt, is also trying to be funny, but it tries to be too many other things as well. Based on a beloved novel by Alaa’ al-Aswany and sprawling to almost three hours, it’s stuck between pleasing the novel’s fans and appealing to new audiences, an impasse that results in heavy exposition and a kind of middling pace that makes time crawl. But it’s also full of sweeping crane and dolly shots, and as with films such as The English Patient, its gargantuan scale will impress some viewers. Jean-Pascal Hattu’s 7 Years, from France, is a bit more daring in its depiction of a woman who falls in love with her incarcerated husband’s prison warden. But it dabbles in Bressonian artificiality without achieving a Bressonian sense of grace.

In surveying this year’s SKYY Prize nominees, perhaps it’s best to search for glimpses of genius or inspiration that could possibly lead to more interesting follow-ups. Joachim Trier’s Reprise, from Norway, has many such glimpses, thanks to frenetic flashbacks that recall everything from Run Lola Run to Snatch and Human Traffic and also due to its discriminating taste in vintage punk music. But when the film’s narrative returns to the present, it begins to wallow in a kind of maudlin, navel-gazing dopiness that kills the initial buzz. Tariq Teguia’s Rome Rather Than You, shot in Algeria, couples startling cinematic brilliance with highly irritating patches of indulgence. Its tale of an Algerian pizza chef who applies for a visa to move to Italy is like a tantalizing mystery house with long, winding passages that lead nowhere. Unfortunately, even Teguia appears to get confused from time to time.

Finally, on the very crest of the much-discussed Mexican new wave, Francisco Vargas outplays all first-time peers with his magnificent The Violin, set in the 1970s. Violinist Don Plutarco (Don Angel Tavira) can only play by strapping his bow to his handless stump. As his guerrilla son fights a secret battle against the ruling military regime, Plutarco winds up serenading a sensitive (but still sinister) captain. Vargas shoots in luscious black-and-white, switching between handheld camera for tense moments and static shots during rest periods that still manage to be breathtaking. In one amazing sequence, Plutarco sits by a campfire and explains the origin of war to his grandson while Vargas slowly, slowly tracks over smoldering coals. But it’s Tavira’s gaping, withered face that gives the movie its mileage. He’s 81, and it’s his first acting job. How’s that for a debut? (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

ALONG THE RIDGE (Kim Rossi Stuart, Italy, 2006). May 5, 4:15 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 9 p.m., Kabuki

BUNNY CHOW (John Barker, South Africa, 2006). Sat/28, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/29, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

THE HEAVENLY KINGS (Daniel Wu, Hong Kong, 2006). Fri/27, 9:45 p.m., Castro. Also Sun/29, 6 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 5 p.m., Kabuki

HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? (Xiaolu Guo, China/UK, 2007). Sun/29, 8:15 p.m., PFA. Also May 5, 12:30 p.m., SFMOMA; May 7, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki

REPRISE (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2006). Fri/27, 5 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 6, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 9 p.m., Clay; May 8, 9:30 p.m., Aquarius

ROME RATHER THAN YOU (Tariq Teguia, Algeria/France/Germany, 2006). Fri/27, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 5, 2 p.m., Kabuki; May 6, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 6:30 p.m., Aquarius

7 YEARS (Jean-Pascal Hattu, France, 2006). May 5, 9:30 p.m., Clay. Also May 7, 7 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 1 p.m., Kabuki

THE SILLY AGE (Pavel Giroud, Cuba/Spain/Venezuela, 2006). Sun/29, 8:15 p.m., SFMOMA. Also May 2, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 1 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki

THE VIOLIN (Francisco Vargas, Mexico, 2006). May 4, 3:15 p.m., Clay. Also May 6, 6 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING (Marwan Hamed, Egypt, 2006). May 6, 2 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 9, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 10, 7 p.m., Kabuki

ZOLYKHA’S SECRET (Horace Ahmad Shansab, Afghanistan, 2006). May 5, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 8, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki; May 6, 5 p.m., SFMOMA

The silver screen turns gold


The oldest film festival in the United States and Canada, the San Francisco International Film Festival reaches its golden anniversary this year. Click below for our picks and previews.

Choice words about image culture as the SF International Film Festival hits 50

Take 50: Our picks for the fest

A brief history of star wars and star awards at the SFIFF

This year’s debut fiction features

Better than sex, worse than violence: new French extremism

Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth digs up life amid the ruins

HK hottie Daniel Wu spoofs boy bands (and himself) in The Heavenly Kings

Kelly Sears’s animated shorts crystallize pop-cult preoccupations

The four men in The Iron Mask

Otar, Otar, how does your Garden grow?

50 great movies that have yet to hit the Bay

The 50th annual San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 26-May 10 at Sundance Cinemas Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, SF; Landmark’s Aquarius Theatre, 430 Emerson, Palo Alto; Landmark’s Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF; SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF; McBean Theater, Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, SF; and El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. For tickets (most regular programs $8-$12) and additional information, go to

Amen with a camera



Divine messages are tricky, particularly for true believers who have no choice but to obey whatever directive the big G passes down. "God told me to!" can lead to heroic or comical or tragic ends; really, it’s a convenient excuse to do just about anything. For Richard Gazowsky, pastor at San Francisco’s Voice of Pentecost Church, the Lord’s message was simple if extravagant: "I want you to be the Rolls Royce of filmmaking."

Given that Voice of Pentecost is situated in an old movie theater and that Gazowsky received his vision in 1994 — soon after the then-40-year-old saw his first movie, The Lion King — this decree was not as surprising as it sounds. But as Michael Jacobs’s documentary Audience of One reveals, the quixotic Gazowsky has hit endless snags in his quest to be the next Mel Gibson (or George Lucas) with his "Ten Commandments meets Star Wars" epic, Gravity: In the Shadow of Joseph. It seems unquestioning faith can only go so far before naïveté, technical inexperience, and long-overdue rent get in the way.

Intrigued by Lessley Anderson’s Jan. 5, 2005, SF Weekly article on the church’s cinematic aspirations, Jacobs (at the time a newly rooted San Franciscan by way of Colorado) headed out to Ocean Avenue to take in a service. Before long, he’d found the topic of his first feature-length documentary.

"I walked into Voice of Pentecost, and it was like stepping onto another planet. I’d never seen anything like it: singing, dancing, falling down, speaking in tongues. I was really floored," Jacobs told me over the phone from New York City, where Audience of One (which premiered at the 2007 South by Southwest film festival and is slated for the 2007 San Francisco International Film Festival) screened as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s "New Directors/New Films" series.

Though Gazowsky’s production company, Christian WYSIWYG Filmworks (yep, it stands for "what you see is what you get"), has about 30 employees, the charismatic preacher was the natural choice for Jacobs’s primary subject. "The pastor [came] out and [updated] his congregation on the trials and tribulations of making this independent Christian blockbuster," Jacobs remembers. "I was immediately fascinated."

Having received his own calling of sorts, Jacobs asked Gazowsky and his congregants to appear in his doc. "I was really candid. I told them I’m Jewish and had no intentions of being a part of their church but that I wanted to observe their creation. I talked to Pastor Gazowsky about my philosophical approach to documentary and how I wanted to make an observational film. I wasn’t gonna use narration or come at it from a liberal or conservative perspective. I wasn’t gonna put it into the context of Christianity. I just wanted to make it as much cinéma vérité as possible."

Voice of Pentecost agreed to give Jacobs fly-on-the-wall access. For the next few months he captured WYSIWYG’s casting calls, stunt rehearsals, set-design meetings, and other bustling preproduction activities for a fast-approaching Italian location shoot. The footage comprises Audience of One‘s decidedly optimistic first half; anticipation runs sky-high among the (nearly all-volunteer) cast and crew despite several hints of challenges ahead. Gravity‘s massive wardrobe, including an abundance of Jediesque hoods, remains many stitches from completion, and the camera and sound equipment — at Gazowsky’s insistence, entirely state-of-the-art — is still being tested.

Soon before WYSIWYG uproots to Italy, one of the few pros involved in the production, cinematographer Jens Klein, tells Gazowsky he’s concerned about Gravity‘s abbreviated prep time. Something always goes wrong on the set, the experienced Klein cautions — and of course, it does.

By then Jacobs was "an inside outsider," his camera-toting presence a familiar sight. He traveled to Italy and documented WYSIWYG’s problem-plagued shoot. "I really did sort of blend into the scene," he says. "That relationship continued to grow and strengthen for about six months. When we came back from Italy, things got a little stranger. The lines got very blurry at times between subject and reality and responsibility and professionalism."

At first the blurry lines stayed off camera, and Jacobs’s cinéma vérité goals remained intact. For example, he helped the exhausted crew move stones before one of Gravity‘s outdoor scenes. "I saw them working so hard, and they weren’t getting anything done. I couldn’t not help them," he recalls. "All of a sudden, I was, like, ‘Wait a minute, what am I doing?’ That’s not my professional responsibility, but I have this personal thing here where I want to help them."

After the Gravity crew returned to the United States, they set up shop on Treasure Island, leasing an enormous film studio from the city of San Francisco. To Jacobs, and by extension the Audience of One viewer, it’s quite clear that the funding Gazowsky expects from a mysterious German source will never materialize. At one point he’s counting on $200 million — a huge amount for a Hollywood film, let alone an independent production created by unproven first-timers. Gazowsky’s faith in the Lord may be strong, but the faith he has in his investors is positively breathtaking.

His faith in Jacobs, however, wavers a bit. Midway through Audience of One, the WYSIWYG gang becomes increasingly paranoid that someone — Hollywood spies, perhaps — will try to steal its creative thunder; as a result, new security measures are introduced and Jacobs’s on-set freedom is restricted.

"It’s not in the film, but we sort of had an argument about it," Jacobs recalls. "I said to [Gazowsky], ‘If my film is about your film, what am I supposed to do?’ I remember leaving that day thinking, ‘The film’s over. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve got all this footage, and the story’s not complete.’ I was feeling pretty low about that."

A few weeks later, though, he was reviewing his tapes and had a revelation. Though WYSIWYG’s financial woes and creative differences among the staff had grounded Gravity, all was not lost for Audience of One.

"I realized, ‘Wow, this isn’t a film about filmmaking. This is a film about these people and specifically this one character,’ " Jacobs says. "I came back to them saying, ‘I don’t really care about your film anymore. You guys are the heart of my story, and it’s really more about you.’ I figured it would be a good way to engineer this paranoia into the narrative of my documentary, because that’s what was really happening — that was the vérité. They were trying to push everybody away, particularly me. Why can’t that be a part of the story as opposed to an inhibitor of the story?"

The tone of Audience of One reflects Jacobs’s self-described "celebratory and exploitive" approach to his subjects, about whom he remained "deeply ambiguous." This proved difficult with Gazowsky, who can be charming (he’s an intensely likable guy whose dare-to-be-great moviemaking approach is nothing if not admirable) and off-putting (he’s incapable of addressing WYSIWYG’s practical problems). "What’s so fascinating about him — and so complex and so frustrating — is how quickly he can go back and forth between being completely self-aware and being this visionary dreamer who’s crazy, if you want to call him that."

Gazowsky may have irrational moments in the documentary, but if there’s ever been a zeitgeist moment for faith-based entertainment, it’s now. There’s the obvious example of Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), which grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Fox Faith has distributed at least three films (including 2006’s The Ultimate Gift) in the Bay Area in the last few months. And if you think San Francisco is too godless a city to support such releases, remember this: Voice of Pentecost is here, though its members hardly resemble the Harry Potter–hating evangelicals spotlighted in Jesus Camp, a 2006 Oscar nominee that shares Audience of One‘s secular-filmmaker-documents-Christians theme.

"Because this is San Francisco, these people are extremely creative," Jacobs says, referring to the Voice of Pentecost faithful. "A lot of them have been out in the world and experimented with drugs, and that’s why they’re trying to get back on God’s plan, as they call it. Most evangelicals see things in black-and-white, but in this group there’s a large gray area. I’ve never heard them say really harsh or judgmental things about others. They would much rather get out there and celebrate God and make a film."

With that in mind, Jacobs exercised restraint in the editing room. "That was by far the most challenging part of the film, because of that balance I wanted to create: Are we laughing with them, are we laughing at them? Is this funny because they’re naive or because they’re flawed like any human being? We definitely edited for laughs, but there are no cheap shots. The laughs are based around the folly of filmmaking, not based around laughing at their god. We have fun with the material and the people, but it’s not purely ridicule — it’s as much a celebration and an inspiration at the same time. More importantly, let’s let the audience make their own decision about how they feel."

So what does Gazowsky think of the film? As evenhanded as Jacobs tried to be, Gazowsky’s portrayal is not entirely flattering. From WYSIWYG HQ, Gazowsky — who’s still awaiting funding so he can finish Gravity, among other projects — said he found the film difficult to watch but appreciated its honesty. Seeing it was quite an experience, "because you’re watching the last few years of your life going up on the screen. And, of course, I don’t have control of anything — the way it’s edited is just the way it is. And I’m looking at it, going, ‘Boy, that is a crazy guy. Do I know him? Oh, it’s me!’ It’s hard to look at yourself, I would say."

Though Gazowsky has a healthy sense of humor, he’s 100 percent serious about his filmmaking aspirations. As Audience of One shows, he dreams big — maybe too big. (A firm believer that Hollywood has abandoned good storytelling, he cites Lawrence of Arabia as his favorite movie.)

"I feel Mike [Jacobs] was very sweet, but at the same time he did not fully understand what it is we’re doing. I don’t think anyone really looking on the outside understands it. And here’s the reason: it’s because everybody’s thinking there’s an angle somewhere and never realizes we really love movies," Gazowsky says.

Though WYSIWYG’s love of movies also includes a desire to make people "feel God — and what that means to you and me might be different," Gazowsky hopes he’ll complete a project that pleases not just the holy audience of one who set him on his cinematic path in the first place but also the masses. After all he’s been through — in Audience of One and beyond — he remains steadfast. "We really want to make the biggest film ever done." *


Screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival

May 3, 6:30 p.m.; May 7, 12:45 p.m.; $10–$12

Kabuki Cinema

1881 Post, SF

(925) 866-9559


Abandoned planet



Read Kimberly Chun’s interview with Werner Herzog here.

I thought for sure the next Werner Herzog movie I’d be writing about would be Rescue Dawn, a harrowing POW drama (and a remake of his 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly) due out in late March. But here’s a nugget of très Herzogian weirdness to tide you over: The Wild Blue Yonder, which first screened locally in conjunction with the director’s 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival appearance. Is there any other filmmaker so prolific and creatively diverse working today? Find me one, and I’ll tie on a bandana, retreat to the woods, and name foxes after myself. "Everything that has to do with movies, I love," Herzog imparted on that fateful day at the Castro Theatre amid a discussion that also included a reference to WrestleMania (which he brought up multiple times).

That tacky influence isn’t evident in Yonder, dubbed "a science fiction fantasy" onscreen. The pseudodoc plays like 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with What the Bleep Do We Know? (not to imply that it sucks as emphatically as the latter, but there are certain similarities). Unlike many experimental works, it has a narrative throughline, with Brad Dourif as an agitated refugee from another galaxy. Seems the "alien founding fathers" traveled to Earth when their home planet — a watery wonderworld with communicative wildlife — started dying. As it turns out, attempts to colonize Earth were less than successful. "We aliens all suck," Dourif’s unnamed pioneer laments, pacing in front of what was to be the alien version of Washington, DC (really some abandoned buildings huddled in a forgotten rural wasteland). "We’re failures!" Meanwhile, human astronauts strike out on their own exploratory mission, ironically earmarking Dourif’s homeland as a possible annex for our civilization.

The notions of a ruined planet and a population desperate to survive play both ways, of course — no matter who the native or the alien is. Herzog’s theme of environmental preservation is further underlined by the remarkable footage he uses to illustrate the abandoned planet, taken beneath ice caps in the Antarctic Ocean. This strange environment could be outer space, and indeed it offers a dreamier take on interstellar travel than the actual NASA footage Herzog uses, of shuttle astronauts in polo shirts and tube socks going about their zero-gravity business.

As Dourif’s voice-over grows more mournful and confrontational, a handful of real-life mathematicians step in for talking-head duty, explaining, among other things, the positive aspects of chaos, the concept of interplanetary superhighways, and theories about colonizing space. One PhD imagines the best way to help humans acclimate to outer limits would be to build a giant shopping mall in space — effectively obliterating anything resembling a fresh start for a population that has nearly ruined itself through overconsumption. Thing is, he’s probably right.

At the SFIFF, Herzog explained that he’s "too Bavarian" to make the Robert Johnson doc that’s been on his mind. But he’s not one to shy away from daring music choices; The Wild Blue Yonder‘s eerie, otherworldly mise-en-scène is heightened tenfold by Ernst Reijsiger’s haunting avant-garde score. If aliens ever do make it to Earth — if they’re not already here, that is — and they’re in the market for a documentarian, they need only see Yonder to know Herzog has the necessary cosmonautical chops. *


Sun/4–Tues/6, $5–$8.50

See Rep Clock for showtimes

Red Vic Movie House

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994


Grizzly spawn


First off, an embarrassing disclaimer: I’m not a Werner Herzog groupie — I just want him to be my grandpa. I’d like him to take me on long rambles over misty mountaintops, through the ice, snow, and sand; teach me about his ecstatic yet jeopardy-strewn path; and push me to jump into cacti, dance with chickens, and come out with poetry on the other side. And yet, as all good UFO films go, I suspect I’m not alone. Even if my cinematic family wish were fulfilled, I’d probably still be clamoring for my visionary gramps’s attention alongside all the other wannabe spiritual offspring — considering the rapturous reception of his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, and the many reverent audience members hanging on Herzog’s every utterance last year at the San Francisco International Film Festival screening of his 52nd directorial effort, The Wild Blue Yonder. I spoke to the 64-year-old Bavarian filmmaker (né W.H. Stipetic), who has lived in the Bay Area but is now based in Los Angeles, the day after his April 26 onstage interview — he hasn’t agreed to my little adoption fantasy yet, but green ants can dream, can’t they? (Kimberly Chun)

SFBG The music in The Wild Blue Yonder is so amazing. What came first, the soundtrack or the beautiful underwater footage by Henry Kaiser?

WERNER HERZOG In this case the music was created first to establish a rhythm, to establish a climate, to establish a mood, and to establish, also strangely enough, a vision — because listening to this music in particular led to a very clear vision.

Of course, there was a complicated story on how I entered into the project. It started out with some sort of a documentary about the space probe Galileo and the scientists, and I followed up with the space probe the Mars Rover, and I got very curious, and I witnessed it at Mission Control at Pasadena, and that was very fascinating, but I always felt there was more in it. I started to dig deeper into it, and I discovered footage that astronauts shot in 1989 on 16mm celluloid, and these astronauts actually deployed Galileo, and all of a sudden the entire documentary about Galileo was discarded, and I went straight for the visions and for the science fiction movie, which emerged very clearly, very rapidly.

SFBG What was it about the footage that drew you?

WH Well, we’ve seen quite a bit of footage sometimes on evening news on television, sometimes in special programs by Discovery or National Geographic, and you see astronauts in space, but you never see anything like what they filmed back on that mission — with such vision and beauty and such a strange intensity. And of course, neither Discovery nor National Geographic has the patience in their films to look at a shot that goes uncut and uninterrupted for two minutes, 40 seconds, which is an endless time on air. They show snippets of 15 seconds maximum, and that’s about it. The beauty only evolves when the take rolls on and on and you’re moving from the cargo bay into the command module and drifting by the weirdest sort of things.

People ask me, "Is this a science fiction film?" And I say, "Yes, it is. But do not expect a science fiction film like Star Trek — this is a science fiction fantasy. It’s more like a poem. Expect a poem or expect a space oratorio."

SFBG Where did you first hear music for the film?

WH I had not heard it. I created it. My idea was to put Sardinian singers together with a cello player from Holland [Ernst Reijseger] and add a singer from Senegal [Mola Sylla] who sings in his native language, Wolof. So no one has ever heard this music, and no one would have believed the combination of these three elements would work.

SFBG You talk about long shots being unheard of on TV. But in a lot of ways you’ve created a music video, though MTV might be considered the polar opposite of what you do. Or do you have an affinity for MTV?

WH I think MTV would love the film. Truly, they would love it. [Pauses] Er, I may be wrong. But I could imagine that the people who watch MTV would love the film.

SFBG At the [2006 SFIFF event] you mentioned liking a film about people in Mexico on spring break. Is that the Real World feature, The Real Cancun?

WH Yes, and I liked the film because it was so focused. There was no pretentiousness at all. The only question was who would get laid first. You see so many pretentious films and phony films, and I don’t like that.

SFBG Do you like reality TV?

WH No, but I do watch it. The poet must not avert his eyes. You have to see what is moving the hearts of people around you. You have to understand what’s going on. You have to understand the real world around you — and also the imaginary world around you. The collective dreams. The collective paranoia.

SFBG All of which is involved in getting laid, I suppose.

WH Oh no, when I spoke of collective paranoia I had in mind the fact that three million Americans claim that they had encountered aliens and 400,000 women have allegedly claimed to have been abducted and gang-raped by aliens. My question is, why are 90 percent of them over 300 pounds? The real question is more interesting, though: Why have we never heard of any report of an alien abduction and gang rape in Ethiopia? Why is that? And so now I’m opening the doors wide to your answers. [Chuckles]

SFBG One might believe, watching The Wild Blue Yonder, that you’re willing to entertain the idea that aliens exist.

WH No, I’m fascinated by it because it points to some very strange paranoia that is only possible in our kind of civilization. This is why it never happens in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. To understand our civilization, we have to understand collective paranoia, collective dreams, a world out there that’s completely artificial in both reality and in our collective perception of reality.

SFBG At the event many people brought up a recent New Yorker story on the shoot for Rescue Dawn [which will be released this spring]. Did you agree with that piece’s perspective on the contentiousness of your own film crew and how they fought you?

WH No, no, it always happens that you sometimes have to deal with adversity here and there. In this case, strangely, much of the crew had never worked with me, and there were more the kind of film school types, and of course, there was some sort of opposition. But it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I’ve always done the kind of film that I really wanted to do and that I’m capable of doing.

What was really bad, for example, was the set of Stroszek, because that was a team that had worked with me for more than a decade. They all hated the film! And they thought it was ridiculous and that I should stop doing this. It happens.

SFBG Perhaps it’s that collective paranoia …

WH No, you just have to ignore it and do your work and deliver. And [Stroszek] is one of my finest films. They all, at the end, understood it was right what I did. And when Rescue Dawn is completed — it has such a physical life in it and such intensity — they will all understand. *

For more of Herzog’s interview, go to

Songs of devotion


Accessible to anyone who might be interested in a deeper understanding of his or her own senses, Nathaniel Dorsky’s book, Devotional Cinema (Tuumba Press), explores the physical properties we share with the film medium. Within the book, Dorsky draws upon films by Roberto Rossellini, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yasujuro Ozu, and others to illustrate his insights on filmic language. But if another person were capable of writing Devotional Cinema, he or she could just as effectively draw upon Dorsky’s films, which connect intrinsic facets of cinema to intrinsic truths about human experience.
Capable of discovering at least half a dozen fields of vision (or planes of existence, or worlds) within a single shot, Dorsky’s films can fundamentally alter — and heighten — one’s own perception, and his editing skill, tapped by many local directors, is as fundamental to his work as his image making. Sam Mendes took American Beauty’s floating bag sequence from Dorsky’s Variations, which he read about during filming. (Dorsky has noted that the image isn’t a new one — and it isn’t necessarily the richest among his luminous, phantasmagoric visions.)
In conversation with filmmaker Michelle Silva of Canyon Cinema, Dorsky paraphrases the observation of his friend, anarchist writer Peter Lamborn Wilson (a.k.a. Hakim Bey), that we’re trapped in a “light age” of meaningless information. “In the dark ages, there were little areas of light, where there might be alchemical investigations,” Dorsky says. “Now we have to find little areas of darkness.” This week brings an opportunity to explore those little areas, at a San Francisco Cinematheque program that will present Dorsky’s three most recent films, Song and Solitude, Threnody, and The Visitation, in alphabetical and reverse chronological order. (Intro by Johnny Ray Huston)
SFBG I remember running into you last year when you might have been shooting Threnody. You were in Chinatown perched right over a parking meter, and you had your camera hidden underneath you. You were so still I almost didn’t notice you — you were blending in with the background. I started thinking about the rules of quantum physics and that it’s impossible to not affect the object that you’re observing. Yet you seem to manage to do just that in your films — you don’t disturb the environment.
NATHANIEL DORSKY If you’ve ever gone into the woods and sat very still for half an hour, all the animals will come back and gather around you. You have to be part of the inanimate world, so the animate world can feel relaxed and come around. Also, you can find these little psychic backwaters on the street — there are places where the energy doesn’t quite flow, and you can kind of tuck yourself [within those places]. It has to do with the angle of the light and so forth.
SFBG My interpretation of your film Song and Solitude is that it is like a silent odyssey through shadow words and the introverted psyche. There are several masks and layers of reality that you’ve collapsed into one. There’s a depth of field in many shots, and the different layers aren’t aware of themselves, while you’re aware of all of them. Could you talk about your visual language in the new film and your state of mind while making it?
ND There are a number of things involved. One is that I’d made a film right before [Song and Solitude], called Threnody, which was an offering to Stan Brakhage after his death. In that film I was trying to shoot images while I had a sense of Stan looking over his shoulder one last time while leaving the world, having one last glance at the fleeting phenomena of life.
Song and Solitude I made along with a friend, Susan Vigil, who was in the last year of her life with ovarian cancer. [She’s] a person who was extremely important to the San Francisco avant-garde film community and helped support the San Francisco Cinematheque throughout the ’70s and ’80s. She was a wonderful, wonderful friend. She came and looked at camera rolls every Friday when I’d get them back from the camera store. There was that atmosphere going on of being with someone so close who was also involved in a terminal illness. But also you might say that with Threnody the camera was placed somewhere back around the ears looking out of your head. In Song and Solitude I actually placed the camera in a sense behind my own head — for a feeling like looking through your own head out [at the world].
Most of my films are more about seeing or about using seeing as a way to express being. [Song and Solitude] is more about being, where seeing is an aspect of the being. The world is seen through the whole fabric of your own psyche as a foreground. Through that foreground exists the visual world, almost as a background.
I also wanted to see if I could photograph things which you’d traditionally call nature and things you’d call human nature with the same primordial sense, to see the slight rub of what human nature is and what nature is, where they are similar and where they feel different. How is muscular movement different from wind? I wanted the film to rest in a very primordial place in its visual essence.
SFBG One time I was questioning you about why we torment ourselves making films, and you said, “It’s to attract a mate.” Could you elaborate on that?
ND I myself met my friend Jerome, who I still live with, on the night that I premiered my first film, when I was 20. So in a way it happened right away for me. But I’ve worked for many people in the film industry as an editor, especially in the area of documentary, and at least three or four times I’ve worked for someone who was looking for a mate.
Once, a friend, Richard Lerner, was producing and directing a film on Jack Kerouac called What Happened to Kerouac?, which I edited. It came time to write out an enormous check to make a 35mm print from the video material. He was really hesitant, and he was single at the time. I said, “Don’t worry. There is no way you won’t get a permanent relationship from this film.” He got irritated, because it was something like the third time I’d said that to him. But a woman approached him after the film premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and they’ve been married ever since.
That has happened with at least four other filmmakers. I worked with Kelly Duane, who made a wonderful film [Monumental] about David Brower, the guy who radicalized the Sierra Club. She was single. She met someone when she showed the film in LA at an environmental film festival, and now she’s married and has a child.
SFBG Is that why you’ve earned the reputation of being the editing doctor of San Francisco?
ND Yes. I work for a lot of single women.
But to answer your question in a more simple way: birds sing, and every February or March a mockingbird always appears in my backyard and sings all night. If it’s a bad singer, there can be trouble. One bird three years ago was not a good singer. It sang from February until the first week of July before another bird sang along with it — then it disappeared. But sometimes they sing for four nights, and it’s over. They’ve gotten someone, because they’re really good singers.
SFBG I’d never thought of filmmaking as a mating call, but you’re right.
ND Many people don’t understand that, and they try to win their mate by making horrible and aggressive conceptually based films. No one is drawn to them, and then they get even more conceptual and aggressive. It can be a downward spiral.
It’s difficult, because you’d think anyone who’d want to make a so-called handmade film would do so to have complete control of the situation. It’s also a chance to make a film that isn’t based on socialized needs. When you make your own individual film, it’s generally an opportunity to be completely who you are and share the intimacy with someone else. In my experience, the more purely individual a film is, the more universal it is. The less successful attempts at filmmaking occur when people are trying to make something which functions within the context of current belief systems. It’s like trying to get a good grade in society, even if it’s alternative society, rather than actually taking the risk of letting the audience feel your heart and your clarity and [to] touch them with that.
SFBG We might be in a dark age in architecture, design, fashion, and everything that involves representing ourselves visually. Aesthetics are ignored, intellect isn’t challenged, nor is spirituality. In contrast, all of those things are at the foundation of your work. Does it bother you that the audience is small?
ND I’m not sure. I’m 63 now, and in the last few years while showing my films in Europe and Canada and the US, I’ve noticed that people in their 20s are really loving them. There’s some kind of interesting face-off between my own generation and people who are in their 20s now.
Within the avant-garde there’s the virgin syndrome, which is that every showcase will only show a film that’s never been screened before. Everyone wants a virgin for their temple. A good avant-garde film is made to be seen 10, 15, 20 times. But because of the virgin syndrome, because they only sacrifice virgins at the temple altar at this point, audiences rarely get to experience a film a number of times.
SFBG Lastly, I want to ask about the roles of silence and sound in your films. Do you prefer silent films?
ND The first time I saw a silent Brakhage film, it seemed quite odd. If you’re used to having sugar with your coffee and someone gives you coffee without sugar, you might find it strange. But you can also get used to it, so that when someone puts sugar in your coffee it seems sort of obnoxious.
It’s an acquired taste, silence, definitely an acquired taste. But once acquired, it has many deep rewards. For one thing, a sound film is more like sharing a socialized event, where to me a silent film is more like sharing the purity of your aloneness with the purity of someone else’s aloneness. The audience has to work a little harder, of course, to participate — everything isn’t just spoon-fed to them. But if they do work a little bit harder, they’re more than rewarded for that effort.<\!s>SFBG
Sun/10, 7:30 p.m. (sold out) and 9:30 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-2787
For a longer version of this interview, go to

Goldies Film winner James T. Hong


It’s rare when a filmmaker is able to match provocative themes with evocative imagery — and do it consistently. Addressing race and class issues in his arrestingly photographed works, James T. Hong is one such artist. His filmography includes Behold the Asian: How One Becomes What One Is (which won a Golden Gate Award at the 2000 San Francisco International Film Festival despite its labeling of dot-com-era San Francisco as “the white asshole paradise”) and Taipei 101: A Travelogue of Symptoms (Sensitive Version), an excoriation of white guy–Asian girl couples. (It’s a comedy, and a brutally funny one at that.)
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never thought anything I’ve ever done was very controversial,” Hong explains before allowing that the audience at the 2004 Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival, where Taipei 101 screened, included at least one person who threatened to fight him after the lights came up.
Not that Hong minds. One of his guiding principles as a filmmaker is “to make people think differently about a particular topic, whatever it’s about — to see it either in a new light or hear a voice that they themselves can’t express,” he says. “It’s not interesting to show movies to people who already agree with you. It’s better to show to a hostile audience.”
It’s certainly possible that his two newest works, The Denazification of MH and 731, might stir up the wrong (or right) kind of crowd. Both are technically different from films he’s made before: Denazification retains his signature narration-over-black-and-white-footage style but is entirely in German; 731 was shot on high-definition color video. Both were created using footage Hong captured while traveling earlier this year; both deal with questions of perspective in individuals and countries greatly affected by World War II.
“I’m just a war nerd,” he admits, but his interests extend far beyond those of the casual History Channel viewer. While the 2005 SFIFF featured his Iraq War parable, The Form of the Good, both of his latest efforts tie into his WWII fascination. The experimental 14-minute Denazification, which pays a visit to Martin Heidegger’s Black Forest cabin, explores the philosopher’s late-in-life struggle to come to terms with his wartime allegiance to the Nazi party.
Hong — who was born in the United States but says he’d jump at the chance to move to China permanently — calls 731 “a regular documentary — at least what I think is a regular documentary.” The 30-minute film features footage of an abandoned facility in northern China once used for biowarfare testing. The filmmaker’s narration grimly describes the Chinese view of the horrors that transpired there (“3,000 were killed in live-body experiments”) — before switching gears and offering the Japanese response (“war and atrocities go hand in hand”).
The point-counterpoint structure of 731 prefigures Hong’s most ambitious project to date, an in-progress film with the working title New History Zero. “It’s a feature-length documentary about the war and revisionism — the way the Japanese see it, the way the Chinese see it, and the way that America has had a huge influence on the way that the Japanese have dealt with the war, which is incompletely.”
After Denazification, Hong hopes to make more films in other tongues, to “force people to understand that English is not the only language.” But his overriding goal is as personal as it is political.
“My aim now is to communicate more with Asians. I realized that most of the Asian Americans I’ve encountered don’t like my work. Either it’s too nonnarrative — they’re more into the Hollywood type of movies — or it disturbs the kind of quietist attitude that they have,” he says. “They want to just fit in like everybody else. They don’t want to look like assholes. My aim is always to show that no, we are assholes — everybody is.” (Cheryl Eddy)

Embedded: A Q&A with Iraq in Fragments director James Longley


It only takes a few minutes of watching Iraq in Fragments to recognize that the film stands apart from the Iraqumentary pack: dazzling cinematography in place of the dull visuals of the evening news, slice-of-life narration instead of talking heads. Divided into three sections, director James Longley’s reportage shows us the everyday chaos in Baghdad and beyond with dramatic vividness — a vividness that, if nothing else, makes us realize how degraded most of the imagery we receive from Iraq is at the moment. Longley’s style owes as much to neorealism as it does to vérité documentary, with an emphasis on rhythm, ritual (school, shaving, washing feet), and — somewhat tiresomely — child perspectives. The director doesn’t explicate politics and often drops us into complex situations without explanation — he expects a lot from his audience but at the same time knows that the tangled human emotions cast before us will give the film meaning. It’s the kind of ambitious work one imagines a director like Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers) would have made if he’d had access to digital technology.
Though the film nabbed a couple of major awards at Sundance, it’s taken months for Iraq in Fragments to get a proper theatrical release here. Fortunately for Longley, the film’s material is evergreen, not tied to specific events, and still wholly relevant to the unfolding devastation. I spoke with the director during last spring’s San Francisco International Film Festival.
SFBG: How did you decide to make a documentary about Iraq?
JAMES LONGLEY: In 2002 I premiered Gaza Strip [his first feature-length documentary] up in Seattle, and someone asked me what I was going to do next. By then it was already clear that we were going to invade Iraq … and I just said I was going to make a film about Iraq. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, I didn’t know what to expect, but I just decided [to] dive in no matter what.
SFBG: After getting kicked out of the country in the immediate buildup to the US invasion, when and how did you return to Baghdad?
JL: I waited for [the war] to end in Cairo. The last two weeks in April, the war was running down, the statue fell, and I flew immediately from Cairo to Amman, Jordan, and then drove across the border, which was totally open. I just kind of settled in. I had my camera and found an apartment. I found people to work with as translators and started filming.
SFBG: It’s striking how comfortable the film’s subjects seem around your camera, especially since you’re an American. How do you go about getting embedded in this way?
JL: Mostly it’s just a matter of making friends with people and hanging out…. It was a conscious choice to have that feeling of being a fly on the wall. When you make that choice, you do whatever it takes … and really, what it takes is a lot of patience. I went through 12 different translators. The difficult thing for them was when I would go out to a farm or wherever I was filming and just stay there from morning until night, just hanging out. Most people demand some kind of action, but in this case the work was really in action, punctuated by really fast decision making. You’re going to be a fixture in this place. Everyone’s going to know who you are, and you’re going to have to say hi to everyone and drink tea with everyone day after day…. If you’re willing to do that, after a while people won’t think it’s such a big deal when you’re filming.
SFBG: Given the on-the-fly nature of the scenes, Iraq in Fragments is also a powerfully cinematic documentary. How does this level of film style factor into your direction?
JL: When I was shooting the film, I was definitely thinking of cinema, not of television. I grew up hating TV and never actually had one…. Conceptualizing the movie while shooting it, I was always thinking, “What’s this shot going to look like on the big screen?” Having that in your mind the whole time changes the way you imagine it, changes the way you shoot; it changes everything. I want to shoot the next film in high-def 3-D [laughs]. (Max Goldberg)
Opens Nov. 10 in Bay Area theaters

Steel Will


Inspired by Tad Friend’s 2003 New Yorker article “Jumpers,” filmmaker Eric Steel spent 2004 shooting the Golden Gate Bridge — intentionally capturing the plunges launched from the world’s most popular suicide spot. The resulting doc, The Bridge, studies mental illness by filling in the life stories of the deceased through interviews with friends and family members. After playing to packed houses at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, The Bridge opens for a theatrical run in the city that’s perhaps most sensitive to its controversial subject matter. I spoke with Steel during the New Yorker’s early October visit to San Francisco.
SFBG: When you contacted the families, did they know that you had footage of their loved ones committing suicide?
ERIC STEEL: The families didn’t know, for the same reason that the Golden Gate Bridge authority didn’t know. My biggest fear was that word would get out about what we were doing and someone that wasn’t thinking clearly would see it as an opportunity to immortalize themselves on film. My original plan was — when we finished shooting at the bridge, and when I’d completed all the interviews — that I was then gonna tell the families that I had the footage and review it with them if they wanted to see it. But in January of 2005, I went to the bridge authority and said, “I have all this footage, and I have these interviews with the families. I want to interview you, the highway patrolmen, and the people who came into contact with these people before they died.” They went to the San Francisco Chronicle and suddenly it was all over the front page. I spoke to most of the families that I’d already interviewed and explained, “You have to believe that I’m a sensitive person. We’re all doing this in order to save lives and not to exploit people.” Almost all of them felt that way, but [some] didn’t. Also, there were families that I had not yet contacted. Some said, “We don’t want to have anything to do with you,” but others said, “We think you’re doing this for the right reasons.”
SFBG: There aren’t any officials interviewed in the film. Why did they refuse to participate?
ES: I think it would be very hard for them to respond to some of the issues that we raise. We could easily have used interviews in the film that we didn’t, that were much more damning, of what the highway patrolmen and the bridge people did and didn’t do. There’s one man, the crystal meth addict — we called the bridge as soon as we saw him climb over. It took them four and a half minutes to [reach him]. From where my crew was sitting, I could have run to that spot faster than they got there.
SFBG: How many calls like that did you make?
ES: We probably called 20 times during the year. We didn’t call so much that they thought we were crying wolf. But for us, it was simple: as soon as someone made a move to climb up onto the rail, we made a phone call.
SFBG: Was there ever a point when you thought, “I’m filming people jump. Should I be doing this?”
ES: Because we had already determined that if we could intervene, we would, and that would be the priority, it didn’t feel like we were waiting to film them dying. We were out there because we knew it was coming. With 24 [suicides in an average year], it was like every 15 days you would expect someone to die. If 10 days had gone by and there hadn’t been an incident on the bridge, I know the [camera crew] who was working the next day got increasingly anxious. But not a day went by when you didn’t think you were watching somebody who might be preparing to die.
SFBG: Did you ever consider acknowledging your role within the context of the film, maybe via narration?
ES: I really wanted to be invisible, in a way. For me, there was something strange about explaining too much. I thought it would let the audience off the hook a little bit too easily.
SFBG: Have you been drawn into the debate over the suicide barrier?
ES: I believe that it’s ridiculous that they don’t have a barrier. At the same time, I recognize that the barrier’s really the final moment where you can make a difference. The lives stretch back in time, and there are all sorts of moments where people could have intervened. If we had a better health care system, better mental health services, we wouldn’t be in the same position. The burden is on the bridge to put up a barrier, but it’s also on all of us to take more responsibility for the people who need our help. (Cheryl Eddy)
Opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters
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Yay Area five-oh


“Before Vanishing: Syrian Short Cinema” A series devoted to films from Syria kicks off with a shorts program that includes work by Oussama Mohammed. (Sept. 7, PFA; see below)
The Mechanical Man The PFA’s vast and expansive series devoted to “The Mechanical Age” includes André Deed’s 1921 science fiction vision of a female crime leader and a robot run amok. The screening features live piano by Juliet Rosenberg. (Sept. 7, PFA)
“Cinemayaat, the Arab Film Festival” This year’s festival opens with the Lebanon-Sweden coproduction Zozo and also includes the US-Palestine documentary Occupation 101: Voices of the Silenced Majority, which looks at events before and after Israel’s 1948 occupation of Palestine.
Sept. 8–17. Various venues. (415) 863-1087,
“Global Lens” The traveling fest includes some highly lauded films, such as Stolen Life by Li Shaohong, one of the female directors within China’s Fifth Generation.
Sept. 8–Oct. 4. Various venues. (415) 221-8184,
“MadCat Women’s International Film Festival” MadCat turns 10 this year, and its programming and venues are even more varied. Not to mention deep — literally. 3-D filmmaking by Zoe Beloff and Viewmaster magic courtesy of Greta Snider are just some of the treats in store.
Sept. 12–27. Various venues. (415) 436-9523,
The Pirate The many forms and facets of piracy comprise another PFA fall series; this entry brings a swashbuckling Gene Kelly and Judy Garland as Manuela, directed by then-husband Vincente Minnelli. (Sept. 13, PFA)
“A Conversation with Ali Kazimi” and Shooting Indians Documentarian Kazimi discusses his work before a screening of his critical look at Edward S. Curtis’s photography. (Sept. 14, PFA)
“The Word and the Image: The Films of Peter Whitehead” The swinging ’60s hit the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as curator Joel Shepard presents the first-ever US retrospective dedicated to the director of Tonight Let’s All Make Love in London. Includes proto–music videos made for Nico, Jimi Hendrix, and others. Smashing! (Sept. 14–28, YBCA; see below)
Edmond Stuart Gordon of Re-Aminator infamy makes a jump from horror into drama — not so surprising, since he’s a friend of David Mamet. Willam H. Macy adds another sad sack to his résumé. (Sept. 15–21, Roxie; see below)
Anxious Animation Other Cinema hosts a celebration for the release of a DVD devoted to local animators Lewis Klahr, Janie Geiser, and others. Expect some work inspired by hellfire prognosticator Jack Chick!
Sept. 16. Other Cinema, 992 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-3890,
Kingdom of the Spiders Eight-legged freaks versus two-legged freak William Shatner. I will say no more.
Sept. 17. Dark Room, 2263 Mission, SF. (415) 401-7987,
Landscape Suicide No other living director looks at the American landscape with the direct intent of James Benning; here, he examines two murder cases. (Sept. 19, PFA)
La Promesse and Je Pense à Vous Tracking the brutal coming-of-age of scooter-riding Jérémie Renier, 1997’s La Promesse made the name of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, but Je Pense is a rarely screened earlier work. (Sept. 22, PFA)
Muddy Waters Can’t Be Satisfied Billed as the first authoritative doc about the man who invented electric blues, this plays with Always for Pleasure, a look at New Orleans by the one and only Les Blank. (Sept. 22–26, Roxie)
Rosetta and Falsch The Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta made a splash at Cannes in 1999; Falsch is their surprisingly experimental and nonnaturalistic 1987 debut feature. (Sept. 23, PFA)
loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies A reunion tour movie. (Sept. 29–Oct. 5, Roxie)
American Blackout Ian Inaba’s doc about voter fraud made waves and gathered praise at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival; it gets screened at various houses, followed by a Tosca after-party, in this SF360 citywide event.
Sept. 30. Tosca Café, 242 Columbus, SF. (415) 561-5000,
Them! “Film in the Fog” turns five, as the SF Film Society unleashes giant mutant ants in the Presidio.
Sept. 30. Main Post Theatre, 99 Moraga, SF. (415) 561-5500,
“Zombie-Rama” Before Bob Clark made Black Christmas, Porky’s, and A Christmas Story, he made Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. The ending is as scary as the title is funny.
Oct. 5. Parkway Speakeasy Theater, 1834 Park, Oakl. (510) 814-2400,
“Swinging Scandinavia: How Nordic Sex Cinema Conquered the World” Jack Stevenson presents a “Totally Uncensored” clip show about the scandalous impact of Scandinavian cinema on uptight US mores and also screens some rare cousins of I Am Curious (Yellow). (Oct. 5 and 7, YBCA)
“Mill Valley Film Festival” Why go to Toronto when many of the fall’s biggest Hollywood and international releases come to Mill Valley? The festival turns 29 this year.
Oct. 5–15, 2006. Various venues. (415) 383-5256,
“Fighting the Walking Dead” Jesse Ficks brings They Live to the Castro Theatre. Thank you, Jesse. (Oct. 6, Castro; see below)
Phantom of the Paradise Forget the buildup for director Brian de Palma’s Black Dahlia and get ready for a Paul Williams weekend. This is screening while Williams is performing at the Plush Room.
Oct. 6. Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-1124,
Calvaire Belgium makes horror movies too. This one is billed as a cross between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance — a crossbreeding combo that’s popular these days. (Oct. 6–12, Roxie)
Black Girl Tragic and so sharp-eyed that its images can cut you, Ousmane Sembene’s 1966 film is the masterpiece the white caps of the French new wave never thought to make. It kicks off a series devoted to the director. (Oct. 7, PFA)
“Animal Charm’s Golden Digest and Brian Boyce” Boyce is the genius behind America’s Biggest Dick, starring Dick Cheney as Scarface. Animal Charm have made some of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
Oct. 7. Other Cinema, 992 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-3890,
Madame X, an Absolute Ruler Feminist director Ulrike Ottinger envisions a Madame X much different from Lana Turner’s — hers is a pirate. (Oct. 11, PFA)
“The Horrifying 1980s … in 3-D” Molly Ringwald (in Spacehunter), a killer shark (in Jaws 3-D), and Jason (in Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D) vie for dominance in this “Midnites for Maniacs” three-dimensional triple bill. (Oct. 13, Castro)
“Dual System 3-D Series” This program leans toward creature features, from Creature from the Black Lagoon to the ape astronaut of Robot Monster to Cat-Women on the Moon. (Oct. 14–19, Castro)
“Early Baillie and the Canyon CinemaNews Years” This program calls attention to great looks at this city by Baillie (whom Apichatpong Weerasethakul cites as a major influence) and also highlights the importance of Canyon Cinema. (Oct. 15, YBCA)
“War and Video Games” NY-based film critic Ed Halter presents a lecture based on From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games, his new book. (Oct. 17, PFA)
Santo Domingo Blues The Red Vic premieres a doc about bachata and the form’s “supreme king of bitterness,” Luis Vargas.
Oct. 18–19. Red Vic, 1727 Haight, SF. (415) 668-3994,
“Monster-Rama” The Devil-ettes, live and in person, and Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women, on the screen, thanks to Will “the Thrill” Viharo.
Oct. 19. Parkway Speakeasy Theater, 1834 Park, Oakl. (510) 814-2400,
“Spinning Up, Slowing Down”: Industry Celebrates the Machine” Local film archivist Rick Prelinger presents six short films that epitomize the United States’ machine mania, including one in which mechanical puppets demonstrate free enterprise. (Oct. 19, PFA)
The Last Movie Hmmm, part two: OK, let’s see here, Dennis Hopper’s 1971 film gets a screening after he personally strikes a new print … (Oct. 20–21, YBCA)
What Is It? and “The Very First Crispin Glover Film Festival in the World” … and on the same weekend, Hopper’s River’s Edge costar Glover gets a freak hero’s welcome at the Castro. Sounds like they might cross paths. (Oct. 20–22, Castro)
I Like Killing Flies And I completely fucking love Matt Mahurin’s documentary about the Greenwich Village restaurant Shopsin’s, possibly the most characterful, funny, and poignant documentary I’ve seen in the last few years. (Oct. 20–26, Roxie)
“Miranda July Live” Want to be part of the process that will produce Miranda July’s next film? If so, you can collaborate with her in this multimedia presentation about love, obsession, and heartbreak.
Oct. 23–24. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. (415) 552-1990,
The Case of the Grinning Cat This 2004 film by Chris Marker receives a Bay Area premiere, screening with Junkopia, his 1981 look at a public art project in Emeryville. (Oct. 27, PFA)
The Monster Squad The folks (including Peaches Christ) behind the Late Night Picture Show say that this 1987 flick is the most underrated monster movie ever.
Oct. 27–28. Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-1124,
Neighborhood Watch Résumés don’t get any better than Graeme Whifler’s — after all, he helped write the screenplay to Dr. Giggles. His rancid directorial debut brings the grindhouse gag factor to the Pacific Film Archive. (Oct. 29, PFA)
“Grindhouse Double Feature” See The Beyond with an audience of Lucio Fulci maniacs. (Oct. 30, Castro)
“Hara Kazuo” Joel Shepard programs a series devoted to Kazuo, including his 1969 film tracing the protest efforts of Okuzaki Kenzó, who slung marbles at Emperor Hirohito. (November, YBCA)
“International Latino Film Festival” This growing fest reaches a decade and counting — expect some celebrations.
Nov. 3–19. Various venues. (415) 454-4039,
Vegas in Space Midnight Mass makes a rare fall appearance as Peaches Christ brings back Philip Ford’s 1991 local drag science fiction gem.
Nov. 11. Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-1124,
“As the Great Earth Rolls On: A Frank O’Hara Birthday Tribute” The birthday of the man who wrote “The Day Lady Died” is celebrated. Includes The Last Clean Shirt, O’Hara’s great collaboration with Alfred Leslie.
Nov. 17. California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St., SF. (415) 552-1990,
Sites and Silences A shout-out to A.C. Thompson for his work with Trevor Paglen on the well-titled Torture Taxi, which helped generate this multimedia presentation by Paglen. (Nov. 19, YBCA)
“Kihachiro Kawamoto” One of cinema’s ultimate puppet masters receives a retrospective. (December, YBCA)
“Silent Songs: Three Films by Nathaniel Dorsky” The SF-based poet of silent film (and essayist behind the excellent book Devotional Cinema) screens a trio of new works. (Dec. 10, YBCA)
429 Castro, SF
(415) 621-6120
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
(510) 642-5249
3317 16th St., SF
(415) 863-1087
Screening room, 701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-2787\ SFBG

Arctic vessels



The significance of a different numeral is noted near the finale, but the number in the title of Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9 makes it clear that the film is but one chapter within a gargantuan project that Barney has been working on for close to two decades, the first seven entries an array of vitrines and video installations predating and possibly even anticipating his Cremaster cycle. Barney has stated that this ninth chapter signals a shift away from the libidinal restraints and hypertrophy (a persistent muscular motif) of earlier installments, into a condition of atrophy. Got that?

A skeptic could view all of the above as a deflective shield used to ward off any criticism that is rooted in basic cinematic practice. How can Drawing Restraint 9‘s ponderously juxtaposed ceremonies and abundant array of symbols from the many variations of the artist’s signature bisected ovular "field emblem" to the multiple manifestations of whales and other sea creatures be analyzed if they are mere parts of a broader cosmology that the filmgoer isn’t taking into consideration? The worlds of Barney tend to be epically expansive in scope, making even Wagnerian opera seem smallish in terms of narrative configuration (though not in terms of emotional currency). Yet for all their majestic dives into goopy baths and slippery slides through lubricated passages, they remain clinically hermetic.

Perhaps the most expensive wedding video ever made, Drawing Restraint 9 isn’t short on spectacle. Origami-wrapped fossils, an "Ambergris March" street parade, women in white cooing as they dive for pearls, citrus-scented baths, and an enormous petroleum Jell-O mold are just a handful of the first half’s ingredients. Most of these somehow relate to the "Occidental Guests" (Barney and real-life mate Björk), who are bathed and shaved and, in Björk’s case, given hair extensions that incorporate objects from the ocean and forest floors before being adorned in furry variants of Shinto marriage garments. Ultimately, the couple meet, mute, at the end of one chilly hall in the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru before joining a tea master in a ceremony that gives way to an aquatic mating dance. Then out come the flensing knives.

Barney and Björk might be exploring a kinship between Japan’s and Iceland’s cultures. Is the result expensive indulgence? Yes. While the discourse around Barney’s museum exhibitions tends toward solemnity, his ventures into film have met with some irreverence that, however knee-jerk, might also be deserved. In a 2005 interview conducted by Glen Helfand for the local film publication Release Print, J. Hoberman clearly elucidated a film-focused critique of Barney, labeling his "big-budget avant-garde" movies "deeply uninteresting" in relation to the "crazy, quasi-narrative" (though usually more concise) works made in the ’60s and ’70s by underground filmmakers such as Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs, and Bruce Conner. Certainly, any spellbinding aspects of Barney’s visuals seem schematic in relation to Kenneth Anger’s or Maya Deren’s alchemy.

One could perhaps unfairly make a case that Drawing Restraint 9 is an act of class war against similar, barely funded efforts on film or video today, but more tellingly, it also comes up wanting in relation to similarly expensive efforts, whether they be "experimental" short works the stunning aerial photography in Olivo Barbieri’s San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award New Visions winner site specific_LAS VEGAS 05 makes Barney’s seem clumsy and unimaginative or the type of contemporary "art" film that lives primarily on the festival circuit. Both Tsai Ming-liang and Barney have created interlinked cinematic works that spotlight masculinity, but Tsai’s delve into the psyche more acutely than Barney’s phallic drag routines. Tsai’s work is also superior in cinematic terms: Both the editing and the mise-en-scène in his films deliver comic punch lines and emotional sucker punches. At the moment, at least, those are two things that Barney just can’t buy. SFBG


Opens Fri/12

Bridge Theatre

3010 Geary, SF

(415) 267-4893

Festival decompress


The last few days of the San Francisco International Film Festival usually have a calmer quality, perhaps even more so this year, in the wake of a second weekend “Super Saturday” that bounced from big events such as talks with Jean-Claude Carriere and Tilda Swinton to the wild ’round-midnight screening of the cave-expedition-gone-horribly-wrong nightmare The Descent. (Scariest movie I’ve seen in years, and the characterizations, such as Natalie Mendoza’s Juno, are evocative.)


Yet early on Monday the SFIFF intensity level was high, as The Bridge screened to a packed house at the Kabuki. While I haven’t sorted out the intense emotions and serious ethical issues triggered by Eric Steel’s controversial movie – aspects of the post-screening discussion and some of his decisions as a filmmaker really troubled me, for a start – I can say that there is no film quite like it. Jenni Olson’s The Joy of Life has other roots in relation to the subject, but a recent song on Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, much of the revived interest in the art and life of Golden Gate suicide Weldon Kees, and now Steel’s documentary all attest to the lingering potency of Tad Friend’s late 2003 New Yorker piece “Jumpers.”


Those with unmatched pain thresholds could have followed up an early Monday Bridge viewing with the second Descent screening. I saw A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) and was struck by the film’s daring and often exquisite shifts in tone, as well as a very particular approach to late 19th century Filipino history. An early diegetic sound scene brings across the experience of insomnia like no movie I’ve seen, before young director Raya Martin makes a sudden jump into a wholly different (or is it?) realm of black-and-white silent pictorial storytelling. I’m hoping to interview Martin here later this week.

Other SFIFF quick hits or misses…“I hated it!” was one local filmmaker’s immediate response to Deerhoof’s live score for Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic. But a few days later, a different SF moviemaker testified their eternal love for the band when that program was mentioned. I fell between those two responses, sometimes enjoying the band’s approach but just as often wondering if the sound was trapped in mannerism rather than the alchemical realm Smith deserves. As for Werner Herzog in interview the night previous, truer words about Anna Nicole and the “mainstream” have never been spoken.

San Francisco International Film Festival: Week two



*Art School Confidential (Terry Zwigoff, USA, 2005). Pulpy with a deep noirish cast, this second collabo between Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff and cartoonist Daniel Clowes jumps off the artist’s scathingly on-target Eightball strip of the same name, taking aim at misbegotten would-be genius Jerome (Max Minghella), on campus with a serial killer on the loose, and painting Clowes’s comic exposé even blacker. Jerome’s hilarious and progressively unsettling trajectory through the art school con is studded with such delicious characters as condescending, failed-artist instructor John Malkovich, haughty art history teacher Anjelica Huston, wiseacre friend Joel David Moore, and graduate burnout/washout "guru" Jim Broadbent. 6:30 p.m., Kabuki (Kimberly Chun)

*The Wild Blue Yonder (Werner Herzog, Germany/England/France, 2005). Herzog’s latest dispatch from the reaches of inner and outer space orbits around found footage from NASA, mesmerizing underwater-camera work by Bay Area Grizzly Man player Henry Kaiser, and supposed space oddity Brad Dourif, furrowing his brow with all his might and telling tales of aquatic constellations elsewhere and environmental devastation on his adopted planet Earth. This elegiac, doomsaying and at times pixieish riff on Herzogian themes of hell- and heaven-bent exploration, vision quests, survival, and a certain rootlessness finds the auteur delving further into his Grizzly technique of piecing together a compelling narrative from whatever he can find in his cupboard. 7:30 p.m., Castro (as part of "An Evening with Werner Herzog") (Chun)


See You in Space (J??zsef Pacskovsky, Hungary, 2005). Hungarian writer-director Pacskovsky’s latest is another whimsical contraption of crisscrossing multiple story lines that sigh and shrug over the human condition. An astronaut stuck in orbit grows desperate as (back on Earth) his wife leaves him for a suave magician; a macrobiologist stalks, woos, and wins a virginal African refugee; a young hairdresser edges toward romance with an elderly client; a criminal psychologist finds herself attracted to a jailed murder suspect. Sprawling cross the globe, these alternately sardonic, fantastical, and silly threads are united by a sense that obsessive love is as unavoidable as it is inevitably disappointing. 4 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 8:45 p.m., and May 4, 5:45 p.m., Kabuki (Dennis Harvey)

*The Shutka Book of Records (Aleksandar Manic, Czech Republic, 2005). A Roma town in Macedonia stuffed with self-proclaimed champions is the setting for this weirdly joyful film, which is far too bizarre to be anything but a doc. Here’s some of what you’ll see: the "most powerful dervish in the world"; Mondo Caneish interludes (one word: circumcisions!); a woman known as "The Terminator" whose stock-in-trade is exorcising evil genies; break-dancers and boxers; exceedingly competitive Turkish music fanatics; and a young butcher named Elvis. My head was about to explode after I saw this film … but in a good way. 1:45 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/30, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki (Cheryl Eddy)

The Sun (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Italy/France/Switzerland, 2005). Third in a planned quartet of features about figureheads of 20th-century totalitarianism earlier ones focused on Hitler and Lenin; the fourth is yet to be announced this latest by Sokurov (Mother and Son, Russian Ark) focuses on Emperor Hirohito (Issey Ogata) at World War II’s end. The first half is as claustrophobic and tedious as the emperor’s underground bunker. Things get more interesting when he emerges to meet with the occupying forces’ General MacArthur (Robert Dawson) and sheds his age-old status as a living god a move that lets the Japanese people off the hook while allowing a bookish, mild-mannered monarch to finally live like a human being. This is a fascinating situation as well as a key historic and cultural moment. But The Sun is heavy going; seldom has a subject generated so little of Sokurov’s trademark metaphysical poetry, despite some striking moments. 9:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sat/29, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; and May 3, 7 p.m., PFA (Harvey)


Executive Koala (Minoru Kawasaki, Japan, 2005). It all starts so promisingly: An overworked koala, who is a celebrated executive in a pickle company, spends his time away from the office in bed with his doting human girlfriend. When she turns up dead, the cops come after him, causing our marsupial hero to question his assumed gentleness and his past. But this ridiculous Japanese comedy fails to build upon its initial setup; once the novelty of a guy in a koala suit wears off, so does the enjoyment. 10:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki (Jonathan L. Knapp)


*The Descent (Neil Marshall, England, 2005). What’s worse than being trapped underground? How about being trapped underground with creepy cave dwellers creepy, hungry cave dwellers? And maybe, just maybe, losing your mind at the same time? Believe the hype: British import The Descent is the scariest movie since The Blair Witch Project, thanks to a killer premise, flawless pacing and casting, and Dog Soldiers writer-director Neil Marshall’s unconcealed love for the horror genre. 11:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also Mon/1, 4 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Stanley Nelson, USA, 2006). Nearly 30 years after the deaths of more than 900 people in the Guyanese jungle, Nelson’s deeply affecting documentary replays Jim Jones’s final, twisted address: "We didn’t commit suicide we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." That speech sets in motion what the doc tabs "the largest mass ‘suicide’ in modern history." Using a remarkable cache of vintage footage, as well as candid interviews with Peoples Temple survivors, relatives, and other eyewitnesses, Nelson examines the massacre with a journalist’s eye. Why the tragedy happened may never be explained, but seldom before has the how of Jonestown been so clearly delineated. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Sun/30, 7 p.m., Intersection for the Arts; Mon/1, 7 p.m., PFA; and Tues/2, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki (Eddy)

*Wide Awake (Alan Berliner, USA, 2005). Documentary filmmaker Berliner (Nobody’s Business, The Sweetest Sound) takes his celebrated self-scrutiny to dizzying heights in this portrait of the artist as an insomniac. The subject is specific, but it’s readily apparent how sleeplessness touches Berliner’s life and work. As his trademark virtuosic montage editing flashes by (like many heralded avant-garde filmmakers before him, Berliner meticulously constructs scenes and meaning from the detritus of film history), we realize the extent to which artistry can be tied to neurosis a message unusual in its candor and transparency. 5:45 p.m., PFA. Also Sun/30, 4:15 p.m., Aquarius; and Tues/2, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki (Max Goldberg)


Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, USA, 2005). Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is both an inspiring, idealistic teacher of history and a long-suffering addict of crack and cocaine in this challenging character study. Aside from a laughable reliance on stroking his scruff to convey existential angst, Gosling is largely up to the task of playing the bipolar lead, but the swaying narration of his character’s downward spiral feels shapeless. Still, the scenes in which Dan and a knowing student (Shareeka Epps) guardedly discuss immobility, race, and life in Brooklyn avoid the histrionics that mar typical teacher films, making Half Nelson a powerful, if overly ambitious first feature for writer-director Fleck and writer-producer Anna Boden. 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/2, 9 p.m., Kabuki (Goldberg)


*Backstage (Emmanuelle Bercot, France, 2005). Emmanuelle Seigner convincingly plays and sings as sexily imperious Euro-pop goddess Lauren in this headlong remix of All about Eve, Persona, and the psycho-stalker genre. She commands hysterical worship from her fans, few being more hysterical than suburban teenager Lucie (Isild Le Besco). Improbably, the latter manages to insinuate herself into the spoiled, neurotic, rather awful pop princess’s inner circle as new confidante, servant, and toy. But if Lauren is a mess, Lucie might well turn out to be the much sicker puppy. Nasty fun, smartly directed. 7 p.m., Kabuki (also with Zoom! party at Roe, 9:30 p.m.) (Harvey) SFBG

The 49er



All it took was one great glass elevator ride to know that the San Francisco International Film Festival had changed — a ride up to the top floor of a downtown hotel, where the press conference for the 49th SFIFF took place. In recent years, the nation’s oldest film festival put on conferences that had the stultifying air of the type of garden country club lecture presented as a grotesquerie in the original Manchurian Candidate. This year, new executive director Graham Leggat surveyed the room and a 360-degree view of the city while announcing the arrival of a new film-focused Web site, If the lofty heights of the setting and Leggat’s many ambitions could be said to induce vertigo, his pep talk showed he’s considerably more connected with the film community in San Francisco than those who’d recently come before him.

Landing just before Cannes on the calendar, SFIFF has long had to glean the best from the festivals of the previous 12-plus months. The 49th SFIFF has done a better than usual job of shopping for nonstodgy items at Toronto, Sundance, and other fests, landing films such as The Descent, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, James Longley’s unembedded doc Iraq in Fragments, and Half Nelson, which features a Ryan Gosling performance that will probably figure in the Oscars next spring. Recently snubbed by the Academy, the oft-brilliant Werner Herzog more than deserves the Film Society Directing Award, and it’s great to have Guy Maddin in town. Deerhoof and Heaven and Earth Magic seem like an inspired pairing. The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros and A Short Film about the Indio Nacional may be the tip of a fresh, unconventional wave of Filipino cinema, or they may be the wave itself. The Bridge and Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple are dialogue-sparking films about suicide that belong to the Bay Area, even if the rival Tribeca Film Festival seems to have swooped in and landed them as premieres just a few days earlier.

This year’s fest could be accused of being overly besotted with gadgetry. Only time will tell whether the festival’s Kinotek section, devoted to "new platforms, new work, new audiences" honors gimmicks over content. Yes, it’s great that Tilda Swinton is an actor with intelligence. But the idea of projecting a Big Tilda upon the city seems more than a bit silly. And I wonder about a selection of seven Japanese films that includes some painful conceits while leaving out the latest film by Akihiko Shiota, and Shunichi Nagasaki’s sequel to his own Heart, Beating in the Dark.

The SFIFF has gotten a bum rap lately — scrape away the public image of a fest like last year’s and you’d find an excellent, deep, if sometimes overly solemn, array of movies. San Francisco suffers from no shortage of film festivals, but it’s oldest still has a depth and breadth others can scarcely match, and Leggat’s arrival gives SFIFF a much-needed boost of energetic, idea-driven intelligence. Now, when it turns 50, perhaps it can go toe-to-toe with the near simultaneous Tribeca fest helmed by ex–SFIFF executive director Peter Scarlet. Programming wars ain’t pretty, but they’re sure to yield some drama. SFBG

Singin’ in the watermelon juice


› a&

Imagine being a moviegoer, say, 60 years ago. Then, as now, Hollywood prompted wiseguys and eggheads to complain that the average picture was made by idiots for idiots. In particular, what could be more brain-deadening than yet another 90 minutes spent enduring gaudy production numbers, rickety romance plots, stale patter, throwaway songs, and forced (as they used to put it) gaiety?

Now we are up to our necks in invasions from outer space, fantasy landscapes, mass destruction everything the average 13-year-old imagination and computer-generated imagery can devise. The barriers for physical depiction have collapsed, yet movies seem dumber than ever, with fewer actual ideas. It’s enough to make you wish for a return to relative realism, like say 100 chorus girls dancing around a giant cake. Really: Quit with the dragons. Bring back the musical.

Strangely, this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival does turn back the clock, in that several of the higher-profile features this year are honest-to-god musicals, and original ones too — there isn’t a boring Broadway transfer among them.

The first musical to open the festival in 20 years (1986 had Absolute Beginners) is Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s lavish Hong Kong confection Perhaps Love, a Jacques Demy<\d>meets<\d>Moulin Rouge exercise in decorative, sentimental self-consciousness. Too many bathetic ballads eventually slow things down, but as an exercise in pure stylistic excess, the result looks and feels like you hope the after-party will.

As idiosyncratic and personal as Love is, it seems conventional compared with the two other musicals from lands of the (Far) East. Eighty-four-year-old veteran Japanese wild man Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon is an anarchic anomaly based on a popular whimsy almost as old as he is, updated to be just as agelessly lunatic. The against-odds love between titular princess (Ziyi Zhang) and prince (Joe Odagiri) occurs amidst a nonstop camp parade of non sequitur delights, visual as well as aural. There’s song (Hawaiian to rap to prog rock), dance (tap to moonwalk), evil Catholicism, Kabuki theatricality, rampant CGI, giant penis sculptures, and a mystical Frog of Paradise. It’s suitable for unhinging viewers of all ages.

That cannot be said for Tsai Ming-liang’s already notorious Thai-French coproduction The Wayward Cloud. In this gorgeous, absurdist cipher, dizzy production numbers alternate with graphic sex scenes in a Taipei where a chronic water shortage has prompted mass consumption of watermelon juice. If Cloud ever finds a US distributor, multiple viewings will be in order — the first may leave you too gobsmacked to know what just befell you.

I’d like to say the home team is holding up its end in the all-singing, all-dancing department. But the two big guns at 2006 — slotted as "centerpiece" and "closing night feature," respectively — left me cold, even if you’ve got to hand their makers a nickel for trying something different. Actor-turned-director-cum-horrible-scenarist John Turturro’s Romance and Cigarettes is a karaoke musical set to a mix tape of his formative faves (Dusty, James Brown, even Engelbert). James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon play a working-class Queens couple who bust up, then meander amidst various wacky characters (Winslet, Walken, Buscemi, etc.) before the inevitable reconciliation and a somber finish the movie doesn’t have the emotional depth to pull off. While nicely designed, the film’s scatological humor and broad performances are painful in that same tone-deaf, infantile way as recent John Waters (A Dirty Shame); the production numbers are as shapeless as the screenplay.

Robert Altman’s take on A Prairie Home Companion may well please fans of the radio show. His woozy fallback style, which kicks in whenever the material doesn’t wake him up (last alert moment: Gosford Park), is apt enough for Garrison Keillor’s cozy, faintly ironic cornball humor and penchant for a fake "authenticity" borne of nostalgia for never-was Americana. Keillor is not, to put it kindly, a natural camera presence. But then Companion doesn’t do the professionals any favors either, rendering even Meryl Streep negligible and giving Virginia Madsen the worst role of her career (yes, worse than being Bobcat’s love interest in Hot to Trot). Everybody onscreen appears to be having a very good time. If you want to enjoy tepid, quasi-folksome chuckles and movie actors singing bluegrass and gospel songs poorly, then you will too.


(Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Hong Kong, 2005)


Thurs/20, 7 p.m., Castro

(Party 9:30 p.m., Regency Center)


(Robert Altman, USA, 2006)


May 4, 7 p.m.

(Party 9:30 p.m., Mezzanine)


(Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 2005)


April 26, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

April 28, 2:30 p.m., Castro

April 30, 8 p.m., PFA


(John Turturro, USA, 2005)


April 28, 8 p.m., Kabuki


(Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France, 2005)


Sun/23, 9:30 p.m., Castro

Tues/25, 10:15 p.m., Kabuki

April 26, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

April 28, 9:15 p.m., PFA


After the Revolution


› a&

If you have any interest in seeing Philippe Garrel’s latest feature on the big screen, its three San Francisco International Film Festival screenings may be your only chance. While Regular Lovers is a major film by an important director associated with the French new wave, it’s hard to fathom a distributor gambling on a three-hour foray into French history with more emphasis on philosophy than on plot. In its reconsideration of the chaos that was 1968, the film is, in part, a response to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers; there was a time when European art cinema mattered enough for this kind of exchange to turn heads, but such is not the case in today’s film culture.

If that seems too gloomy an opening, it should be said that Garrel’s disillusioned movie is all about things coming to an end. Whereas Bertolucci’s last film builds to epochal May ’68, Regular Lovers opens with fighting in the streets. Our protagonist, a young poet-radical named François (played by Louis Garrel, who also starred in The Dreamers and just happens to be Garrel’s son), skirts through the Latin Quarter as unorganized bands of freedom fighters overturn cars and toss Molotov cocktails. Garrel has said that this ghostly hour-long sequence attempts to re-create the documentary footage he himself shot during 1968, and, indeed, the perspective is almost journalistic in its distance. In one long shot, a man and woman embrace in the corner of the frame while cars burn a few meters away. If he had filmed the same scene, Bertolucci would have stylistically emphasized the kissing because, for him, this was a time when sex and politics were inextricably linked. Garrel’s vision is colder but makes more sense with 40 years of hindsight. For him, the romance and sexual liberation come after the revolution, or, more precisely, these elements (along with other distractions like opium and music) shift the revolution’s focus away from the political and toward the personal

And so it is that François falls in love with Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), a pensive girl-with-bangs who is a sculptor and goes to all the right parties. Young François trades his idealistic politics and poetry for romance and an increasingly nihilistic take on bohemianism, moving from the action of the Latin Quarter to the inertia of opium dens and artists’ lofts. By the film’s end, the events of May ’68 seem like more of a head trip (at one point François wonders whether it’s possible to "make the revolution for the working class despite the working class") than a true revolution.

Throughout Regular Lovers, there’s an obvious tension in the way Garrel uses ’60s-era new wave conventions (handheld camera, location shooting, etc.) to undercut that same decade’s mythos. But careful, the Paris of this film isn’t that of Breathless. Gone are the exhilarated long shots of boulevards and canals; Garrel pictures the city as a series of shadowy, bare interiors and geometric exteriors — more along the lines of Fritz Lang’s nightmarish visions of Berlin than, say, Cléo from 5 to 7.

Now that we’re seeing the return of the repressed in French culture and cinema (France’s postcolonial legacy haunts Michael Haneke’s Caché as well as at least three films playing at this year’s SFIFF: The Betrayal, I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed, and October 17, 1961), the entropy of Garrel’s narrative arc seems that much more dark and, as Paris burns once again, tragic. Although overlong and sometimes didactic, Regular Lovers reveals a filmmaker impressively responsive to change. SFBG


(Philippe Garrel, France, 2005)

Fri/21, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki

Sun/23, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki

April 29, 8:15 p.m., Pacific Film Archive

Tsai me up, Tsai me down


I could have sworn that the late Susan Sontag had labeled Tsai Ming-liang a fraud. I even looked up Sontag’s New York Times piece "The Decay of Cinema," as well as the longer essay "A Century of Cinema" that was published in the 2001 collection Where the Stress Falls, for proof. But no such dismissal was to be found. And here I had formed a whole argument: "How ironic," I thought, "that an essay by Sontag about the demise of cinema disapproved of Tsai, and that around the time of her own passing Tsai would unveil perhaps the greatest film about the decay of cinema to date, 2003’s Good Bye, Dragon Inn."


It turned out I misattributed the remark — in fact, it was a film historian who dismissed Tsai as "your archetypal pretentious festival fraud." Yet I wonder if Sontag cared as much for Tsai as she did, say, Hou Hsiao-hsien, since Tsai has participated in the very "internationalizing of financing" that she laments in A Century of Cinema, noting its destructive effect on her beloved Andrei Tarkovksy. Tsai’s Taiwan-France coproduction What Time Is It There? (2001) might be the weakest of his works, yet there’s still something to be loved about its presentation of Paris as a tourist’s hell, even if Sontag might not have cared for such a treatment of that city.

But enough of Craig Seligman<\d>style routines: I’ve come to praise Tsai, not to answer Sontag’s erudition with casual conversation. Creating a follow-up to the majestic loneliness of Good Bye Dragon Inn could not have been an easy task, and yet Tsai has done just that with another Taiwan-France coproduction, The Wayward Cloud, a work that is as glaringly vulgar as Dragon was cavernous and shadowy, as sexually graphic as Dragon was furtive, as contemporary as Dragon was nostalgic, as disturbing as Dragon was melancholic, and as hilarious as Dragon was … hilarious.

One of the first thoughts I had while watching The Wayward Cloud was this: Matthew Barney can eat Tsai’s shorts.

A few weeks ago, a Guardian writer fantasized about a DVD box issue devoted to a pair of contemporary directors, and I thought, "It really has come to this: A devoted young movie lover can’t even realistically imagine a rep house program devoted to the career of one of his current favorite filmmakers." The Wayward Cloud is about to play the palatial Castro — not the TV at the local video store or the flat-screen in someone’s apartment — and I can’t wait to be there. In fact, I will fantasize about a film series devoted to all of Tsai’s movies to date, the kind that places like the Castro used to give to directors like Fassbinder. The type of event where a certain breed of celluloid-loving maniac could meet up every night and become friends over shared dark laughter, drugs, you name it.

I can’t think of another contemporary director whose work would flourish so well with that type of presentation. Take Tsai’s relationship to his muse, Lee Kang-sheng, who has starred in every one of his features to date as the character Hsiao-kang. In The Wayward Cloud, Hsiao-kang is dissolute, and there is something really disturbing and honest about his look, and the way Tsai in turn looks at it. There is something deep — not fraudulent — in the way Tsai has tracked this young man through passages of his life, in the way What Time Is It There? was built from Lee’s grief and loss, for instance. There is something awesome I can’t yet pinpoint about the way The Wayward Cloud, with its jaw-dropping (anti-) climax, manages to rhyme off of the crying-jag final shot of Tsai’s Vive l’Amour (1994), the harsh porn appraisal of his follow-up The River (1997), and the musical, apocalyptic rains of the Tsai movie after that, 1998’s The Hole.

Tsai’s seven features may be a cup-and-ball game stretched over 12-plus hours. But you could say life is a cup-and-ball game too, and the harsh truth is that The Wayward Cloud, a major work by one of the best filmmakers on the planet today, does not have a distributor. It might not play anywhere in the Bay Area after it screens at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Tsai’s movies sell tickets at festivals, but in commercial runs they result in the kind of empty house that he explored so tellingly in Dragon. Yes, Tsai Ming-liang is "the quintessential festival" genius, all right. See his movies while you can.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>


(Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France, 2005)


Sun/23, 9:30 p.m., Castro

Tues/25, 10:15 p.m., Kabuki

April 26, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

April 28, 9:15 p.m., PFA

28 years later


If you live in or truly love San Francisco, you’ve seen The Times of Harvey Milk. Rob Epstein’s 1984 movie is one of the best nonfiction features ever made. It’s also one of the greatest movies about this city. Only time will tell whether Stanley Nelson’s new documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, is a work of similar importance, but the fact that I’m even mentioning it in the same context as Epstein’s movie says something about the reserved precision of its journalistic reasoning and the overwhelming emotional force of its finale.

Of course, there is another reason to connect Jonestown and The Times of Harvey Milk. The murder of Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone by Dan White took place 10 days after the deaths of Jim Jones, Congressman Leo Ryan, and more than 900 members of Jones’s Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. One tragedy claimed the life of a man who was already a civil rights hero, while the other led mainstream media and true crime sources to portray a human being as a monster. Just as Epstein’s movie profoundly humanizes Milk, Nelson’s movie digs beneath stereotypes of pure evil to reveal a different Jones than the one used to sell quickie television and paperback biographies.

Twenty-eight years later, the tragedy in Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders still have an effect on San Francisco politics: In very different ways, they represent the death of progressive, district-based local activism and its afterlife. (Garrett Scott, codirector of the superb documentaries Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story and Occupation: Dreamland, was in the early stages of making a movie about the two events and their relationship to SF politics when he died earlier this year.) It seemed appropriate to have New York native Nelson discuss his movie with a contemporary political figure whose knowledge of local history runs deep. On the eve of Jonestown’s screenings at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, former San Francisco mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez agreed to interview Nelson about the roads leading to the cataclysmic events of 1978 and the roads leading away from it.

MATT GONZALEZ I want to start by saying I had a typical impression of Jim Jones as a cult leader whose message was a hustle to get people into his church so he could take advantage of them when they were vulnerable. The thing that jumped out immediately to me in this film was that the fundamental part of his message throughout his ministry was this idea of racial integration and equality. The main component was there at the beginning, and in a place like Indiana, when Indianapolis was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold. It made me rethink and see him as someone who exhibited a certain genuineness and courage at that time.

Did that surprise you about him?

STANLEY NELSON The depth of his commitment surprised me. During one of the anniversaries of the deaths in Guyana, I heard some Peoples Temple members talking about it on [the radio]. I started thinking, “This involved over 900 people all these people weren’t crazy. So what was it that drove them to the church?”

Research made me realize that there was something much deeper going on and that this was a real political movement for a lot of the time the church was in existence.

MG Jones had been a member of a human rights commission out in Indiana. That also underscores a very self-conscious relationship between his church and what was happening in society.

SN Yes. [In the film] there’s that incredible audiotape when he’s giving his own history, where he talks about how his father didn’t want to let a black kid in his house. Jim Jones says, “I won’t come in either,” and he doesn’t see his father for years after that.

I don’t think it was a hustle at all, I think it was something he truly did believe in. Jim Jones was a very complicated individual. Everybody’s complicated there are no simple people but Jim Jones was much more complicated than most of us.

MG How hard was it to find folks in Indiana who knew Jones?

SN It was hard. But Lynn [Jones’s hometown] was very small, and we were able to find one person who could lead us to others. One thing that’s amazing when you do research is that you can go to high schools and grade schools, and they still have yearbooks. You find people’s names, use the phone book, and just start calling.

MG Over time, Peoples Temple gets a financial foundation because its members give their property to Jones. He’s then able to set up communal living arrangements. But when he’s in Indiana, if I’m to understand correctly, he’s selling monkeys door to door or something like that.

Was his message about communal living a part of the hustle, or do you think that was also a belief that he genuinely held?

SN I think he genuinely believed it. That component really came out of Ukiah, in Redwood Valley, where they [Peoples Temple] had this farm. People actually did travel with him from Indiana [in 1965], so how were they going to live when they’d sold their houses? They could live communally.

One thing that I found fascinating is that the older people who lived in these communal houses got better treatment than they ever could have gotten from the state or welfare or Social Security, because not only were they housed and fed, they were also loved. All of a sudden they had this family the old people were revered in Peoples Temple.

MG Would you say those two components racial integration and property held in common were the cornerstone of his preaching?

SN I think they were a big part, but it was also more than just racial integration. There was a sense that “we have this power that none of us has as individuals.” This was a time when a lot of people were smoking dope and dropping out, but Peoples Temple members were active. They saw themselves as activists; they saw themselves changing the world with the church as a tool.

MG In 1971 Richard Hongisto was elected sheriff of San Francisco, and it was a very liberal campaign. [George] Moscone was elected mayor in ’75, and we know Peoples Temple played a part in that. Hongisto’s election was an early sign of growing liberal strength in San Francisco, enough so that you can look at the Moscone victory and not simply say, “Peoples Temple caused this to happen.” But there’s no question given how close the election was that they played a major role. How do you see their political impact then?

SN Peoples Temple was part of the mainstream politics of the Bay Area. I’m from New York. I had no idea that Jim Jones was head of the Housing Commission in San Francisco or that politicians came to Peoples Temple events and gave incredible speeches praising Jim Jones. That was something I discovered while making the film.

It’s part of the history of Peoples Temple, but it was also like a birthday caketimes-12 to the politicians. The politicians didn’t look too far behind this gift horse, because [Peoples Temple] was highly organized. People did what Jim Jones said. At one point they had 13 buses. They’d fill up the buses and

MG a politician could have an instant press conference.

SN Just one phone call and Jim Jones could come with buses. You’d have 500 people at your march.

MG Do you get a sense that what happened in Jonestown reverberates politically today? The players then aren’t necessarily in politics. Jackie Speier still is, but Moscone, Willie Brown, and others are not holding political office. Still, do you see any aftereffects?

SN I’m not sure on a local level, but one thing I think it did was help kill the idea of communes in this country [at a time] when there was a strong movement saying, “Let’s live together; let’s live on the land; let’s pool our resources.” All of a sudden that was associated with “look at what happened in Guyana.”

MG As I understand it, there are about five survivors who were there when the massacre took place.

SN There were about five people actually there [who survived], and of those, there are, to my knowledge, three left alive. Two of them are in the film.

MG People closely associated with Peoples Temple spoke to you and revealed some, I would think, very difficult, personal stories about sexual assault or the use of authority to express dominance. Was it difficult to get people to talk honestly?

SN It was surprisingly easy for us to get people to talk honestly. Time has passed. Partly because of a play [Berkeley Rep’s The People’s Temple] that was produced here in the Bay Area, I think people understood that maybe we were ready to hear a different version of the story that was much deeper.

MG In the film you see that Jones is abusing prescription drugs and probably has a mounting paranoia that’s associated with some mental condition. Is there a sense that he changed while he was in San Francisco, or was Peoples Temple headed toward this sort of cultlike finality from its inception?

SN We interviewed people who knew Jim Jones when he was a kid, and they talk about the fact that he was not normal even as a six- or seven-year-old boy. But I think that his behavior did get more extreme as time went on. He had this incredible power within the church, and he was this warped individual, and the combination affected his behavior. In the end, when they [Peoples Temple members] are isolated in the jungle, that’s [a reflection of] who he is.

MG Tell me about the wealth of material you have. There is film footage of a healing that is rather dramatic and recordings of his various sermons.

SN Going in, I had no idea that there was so much film footage. But we found a guy in LA who had shot in Peoples Temple over two days using three cameras and 16-millimeter film and had lit the whole church. His footage is just incredibly beautiful. The healing service, Jim Jones preaching, and the congregation singing and dancing are all part of that. He’d sold off bits and pieces to places like NBC, but we came along at a time when he felt that the film he wanted to make would never get made, so he agreed to sell us some footage.

We found members of Peoples Temple who had footage that had never been seen before. There are actually shots from the plane of them going down [to Guyana] you can hear Jim Jones describing what he’s going to do and shots of Jones cutting through the jungle with machetes.

Also, we were working very closely with the California Historical Society library, which has a Peoples Temple collection.

MG There was a recent book [Dear People: Remembering Jonestown] that compiled some of that material.

SN Also, Jim Jones recorded himself and his sermons at Peoples Temple. They actually audio-recorded the night of the suicides. As the people are dying, Jim Jones is encouraging them to drink the poison. There are audiotapes of the children and the women and men screaming and dying.

MG As a filmmaker going into a project like this, are you trying to present the truth? Are you trying to present an alternative reading of what happened? Are you trying to warn people?

SN I’m not trying to warn people or tell an alternative history, although obviously what we did turns out to be an alternative history. I was just trying to tell this incredible story and tell it with as much honesty as I can. Everybody in the film had a part to play in Peoples Temple. We really wanted it to be a film told in the voices of the people who lived through it.

MG In my notes I have a reference to the various CIA-related theories [about what happened in Guyana]. You don’t pick that up in the film, and I wonder if you might say something about that.

SN There are different theories that Jim Jones was a CIA agent and this was all a scary mind-control experiment. You know, we found nothing to back that up, and it just didn’t make sense for us to go down that road.

MG As I understand it, a lot of these theories stem from [the fact] that the government withheld documents related to Jonestown. I guess Congressman [Leo] Ryan had a bill pending, the Hughes-Ryan amendment, that would have required that CIA covert operations be disclosed to Congress before those operations could be engaged in. You didn’t find anything related to that?

SN No, we didn’t find any hard evidence. I’m trying to operate as a filmmaker and also as a journalist.

MG So you had access to material

SN and we just didn’t find it [evidence].

MG I’d be interested in seeing what the original accounts were like in the local press in San Francisco during the time of Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders. There was probably a sense of how Moscone’s opponents might use his ties to the Peoples Temple for political purposes.

SN One reason for the article in [the magazine] New West that first exposed Jim Jones and called for an investigation of Peoples Temple was to discredit Moscone. Part of the media follow-up was that “here is someone that Moscone supported.” So that was already happening around a year before the deaths in Guyana.

MG There are folks who find objectionable the idea of referring to the deaths as mass suicides. Did you reach a conclusion about that?

SN The film has no narration, so we didn’t refer to that other than in a title card at the end that I think calls it the largest mass murder-suicide in history. It’s impossible to say exactly what went on that day, but it is very clear that the kids something like 250 people who were under 18 were all murdered.

It was something we struggled with: “What do we call it: suicide or murder?” I think by the end of the film you feel that it’s kind of both at the same time.

MG If Jim Jones had died in Guyana prior to Ryan’s visit, is your sense in talking to the survivors or those associated with the church that this is a project that would have sustained itself?

SN I just don’t know.

MG You don’t want to engage in a bit of speculative history?

SN I think they had a real problem in sustaining themselves. They were growing food, but they were bringing in food too. Financially there was a burden.

One fascinating thing about that day is that there weren’t a lot of people who left with Congressman Ryan less than 20 people. It was more Jim Jones’s insanity, him thinking that 20 people leaving is devastating [that led to the massacre].

MG Other than the sermons, are there other records of his thoughts? Are there tracts and manifestos?

SN There are some things that he wrote. He didn’t write a definitive book of his philosophies, but there is a piece in which he picks apart fallacies in the Bible.

MG On the one hand, Jones could be critical of the contradictions in the Bible, and on the other, he could pick out the parts that were useful to him.

SN One thing that everybody said was that Jim Jones knew the Bible he wasn’t just talking off of the top of his head. He was incredibly smart, prepared, and cunning.

MG What did you learn from making the film?

SN It’s a film I’m glad to be finished with. All films are hard to make, but it really took a lot out of me. We’ve only had two screenings, and both times afterward there was a kind of shocked silence. One was for the members of Peoples Temple and their friends to let them be the first to see it.

MG How it was received?

SN The Peoples Temple members loved the film. We screened the film in a small theater, and we had a reception outside. The Peoples Temple members who were there with their families just stayed in the theater for about 15 minutes talking among themselves. It made me a little nervous [laughs]. But when they came out they all said they loved the film and felt it was a powerful way of telling their story — a story that hadn’t been told that way at all.


April 29, 6:15 p.m.; April 30, 7 p.m.; May 1, 7 p.m.; May 2, 4:30 p.m.

Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival

Various venues

Call (925) 866-9559 for tickets and (415) 561-5000 for more information.

Deerhoof tracks…Harry Smith


This morning, I went to the press conference for the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 20-May 4) — wunderbar to hear the appreciation for the “avant-pop” Deerhoof, who have been enlisted to score beat filmmaker Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic for the fest, live, one time only (though that Yo La Tengo score a few years back took on a life of its own, didn’t it?).


You can hem and haw, huff and puff, kvetch and moan about how this fest isn’t up to that fest or how women, Latinos, Africans, and African Americans aren’t represented — and you can be satisfied that those concerns were definitely the focus of the questions at the press conference — but this Deerhoof event is guaranteed awesome. Innovative filmmaking — a band at the top of their freakin’ game. The SF-Oakland Runners Four are supposedly trying to utilize Castro Theatre’s impressive pipe organ, too. I’d get your tickets now for the April 27 performance. Visit or call (925) 866-9559. You’ve been warned.

Further music-related coolness at the fest: Brothers of the Head, Favela Rising, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, “Not so Quiet Silents with Alloy Orchestra” — not counting outright musicals like psych-noir-film legend Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon and actor John Turturro’s Centerpiece.


Guardian film intern Jonathan Knapp wants to wax positive about Noise Pop’s film program this year. Here’s what he wrote:

Bookended by a pair of docs about American musical icons both thriving (Flaming Lips-trailing The Fearless Freaks ) and enduring (Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley), the Noise Pop Film Festival, like the festival itself, spans the indie rock landscape. Of particular historical significance are Borderline: The Heavenly States and The M-80 Project.

The former finds local power-poppers the Heavenly States documenting their 2005 tour of Libya, the first by any Western band since Qadaffi came to power 35 years earlier. Long discussed in the sort of anxious whisper reserved for artifacts considered lost, the footage comprising The M-80 Project captures new wave culture before it became a marketable sound, fashion, and eventual retro touchstone. Minneapolis, 1979: future MTV darlings Devo meet no wave upstarts the Contortions and Judy Nylon and other post-punk experimentalists at a local art center. They play music, young Midwestern lives are changed, and, years later, the legendary video resurfaces.

For doc deets, visit