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San Francisco Film Festival Digest

 

By Maya, Return to SalsaCrazy.Com Features


FILM FEST DIGEST 

The SF International Film Festival starts April 15. Is there anything interesting for dancers to watch? Here are some preliminary thumbs-ups and downs.

The only Latin dance film presented so far is a documentary Dame la Mano from Holland, an account of the New York area’s Cuban community and their love of rumba. A dancer’s point of view: not enough dancing, but another viewer’s opinion – too much dancing. Oh well...Did you know rumba originated in Spain under the influence of Arabic drumming and had only percussions and voice?

Suite Havana is not a dance movie, but it’s a documentary about daily lives of ordinary Cubans, their dreams and aspirations.

Another documentary from Taiwan, Burning Dreams is a true dance movie shot in black and white with a spectacular background in its first opening dance number on the roofs of Shanghai skyscrapers. This is a story of an elderly Chinese man with no formal training who dedicated all his life to Broadway style dancing. Students in his school seem to have concerns and aspirations familiar to all dancers. (Be prepared to read fast: subtitles are often invisible and change too quickly)

Haunting Douglas (New Zealand) is a portrait of Douglas Wright, a dancer/choreographer who’s been living with HIV since 1990.

Fans of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse will enjoy “vintage” Silk Stockings shown at the festival as part of the tribute to the famed dancer with the best legs in the business. (Guess who).

Besides dance movies, there is a good selection of films where music plays the central role (no salsa though).

3 documentaries portray rock bands and their musicians: Metallica, Dig and Festival Express.  Brass Tacks is a jazz musician’s journey and Music of the World is self-explanatory.

“Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty. Father, why do these words sound so nasty? Masturbation can be fun, join in orgy Kama Sutra everyone”. Got your attention? This is a song 5 min. into Hair, a musical by Milos Forman. If you never heard of Hair here’s your chance to see what your parents were doing in the 70s. It will be screened at the festival as part of the tribute to the renowned director. Hair’s music and dancing are not nearly as impressive as in Jesus Christ Superstar, the first on-screen rock-opera and probably one of the best musicals ever made, but Hair is an important example of 70s cinema. Plus, it carries a message that unfortunately once again became urgent. In 1980 Hair was nominated for a Golden Globe and Cézar (French Oscar)

Saddest Music of the World from Canada has composers competing for a prize if they manage to write..- yeah, you guessed it, - the saddest music of the world.

If you’re interested in the world outside of dance and music there are a few worthy selections at the festival. For the politically and socially conscious the following documentaries are a must.

You may have heard about Al Jazeera, the most popular radio station in the Arab world. It was criticized by US officials AND Arab countries as biased and seditious. You’ve got to see Control Room to judge for yourself.

If you ever got a chance to see and liked The Century of the Self, a British documentary series shown at the last year’s festival, you will appreciate The Corporation, a new work from the Canadian filmmaker Mark Achbar whose previous work Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media became a staple of public television. Given the current crisis in the corporate world this informative and clever documentary is more important than ever.

There was one white woman who got killed in 1965 when she joined the civil rights movement. Ever heard of her? Home of the Brave tells the story of Viola Liuzzo, a housewife and a mother of 5 from Detroit who joined the march in Selma, Alabama and returned home in a casket. This is her children’s account of their attempts to find out the truth and rehabilitate their mother’s memory.

Neverland: the Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army presents past and present footage and interviews with former SLA members and their version of events surrounding the formation of the militant group and the kidnapping of the heiress Patti Hearst.

Checkpoint is another documentary about the humiliation of Palestinians passing through Israeli border patrols.  We see something similar at every SF festival: an Israeli filmmaker’s work about Palestinian suffering. How come we never see Palestinian films about Israeli suffering? Or at least, Israeli films about their own terror victims and the population living in fear 24/7?  What would happen if Israel followed America’s example in Afghanistan and Iraq? Just a few of many questions these films provoke.

El Alamein: the Line of Fire shows demoralized Italian troops left to die in Africa during the WWll. Haunting and serious film, but if you want a true anti-war movie that touches your very soul rent The Cuckoo, a Russian comedy/drama shown at the festival last year.

Silent Waters from Pakistan tells a story of an Indian/Pakistani woman who must deal with consequences of the conflict between the two countries and the oppression of women by both sides. A family torn apart by militant Muslims.

In God is Brazilian God, in the form of a middle-aged man, wants a vacation and is looking for a replacement. Guess who he chose – an atheist! It’s not as powerful as some films from Brazil presented last year. Several times it’s about to make an important statement, but every time the possible impact dissipates into the thin air.

German soccer team winning the World Cup in 1954 is a background for a decent drama The Miracle of Bern about a German family coping with their POW father’s return from Siberian labor camps.

After You is an entertaining and clever French comedy about a selfless maitre d’ who finds love by helping a suicidal man. If you miss the original, you’ll almost certainly have a chance to see an inferior Hollywood remake in the future. (Probable title: Good Samaritan with Birdcage - aka La Cage aux Folles – actors Robin Williams & Co.

Besides the above mentioned films, out of the ones I’ve seen so far, several others might be of interest to those of us who enjoy non-Hollywood fare: B-Happy, Cleopatra, Koktebel, The Man Who Copied, The Mother, The Newcomers, What the Eye Doesn’t See (unreadable subtitles) and Vodka-Lemon.

Thumbs down to the festival’s opening movie Coffee and Cigarettes by Jim Jarmusch. Not my cup of tea (or coffee in this case). It looked like a string of commercials for various brands of cigarettes. (Conversations were so uninspiring you had to look) You tell me if it got better at the end cause I had to leave before my brain went numb.

Don’t waste your money on the following fare either: Ana and the Others (boring), Back to Kotelnich (stretched beyond belief), Gate to Heaven (sappy and primitive), Magic Gloves and Three Step Dancing (boring).

Please, keep in mind though; you’ll have as many opinions as there are critics. If you like foreign cinema, if you like movies that make you think, if you dislike Hollywood action flicks then you’re pretty safe with these choices. No guarantee however, to each his own.

More reviews to come after the festival ends April 29.


Maya/Salsaloca

 

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