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Local Filmmakers Shine in Cinema By The Bay

Brother Billy (Joe Egender) goes toe-to-toe with a rattler in Mitchell Altieri's Holy Ghost People, the opening film of this year's Cinema By the Bay.

It's been a banner year for SF-based film productions--even my own usually quiet, Inner Richmond neighborhood has seen multiple crews filming in the past few months. 

"We've had a really really busy year, outside of the flurry of TV shows that have been filming this year, we've had portions of a lot of major productions, including Tim Burton's new film Big Eyes." The SF Film Commission's executive director Susannah Greason Robbins explained. "There has also been a huge complement of amazing work coming from our local filmmakers."

With such a strong showing to select from, it's makes sense that Film Society's annual spectacle of local and local-related work, Cinema By The Bay, is having one of its most exciting years in recent history. The 11 film program has a genuine hit on its hands with its opening film, Mitchell Altieri's thrilling SXSW standout Holy Ghost People, which has so far mysteriously avoided finding wide release in US theatres. Altieri is one half of American horror/grind revivalists The Butcher Brothers (The Violent Kind), and his heritage shows in the redolently creepy cult thriller, for which the Bay-bred director travelled to the Appalacians to film a fictional group of Christians centered around a serpent handling preacher, a practice that still goes on today.

International coproductions are the order of the day in contemporary film, and they make up the majority of the mini-fests' 11 Programs, including The Other Side of the Mountain, the first North Korean co-production (you read that right), written and produced by Pleasanton-based writer Joon Bai and filmed in North Korea. Serbian director Zoran Lisinac turns in an astonishingly local-feeling road flick Along the Roadside, an odd-couple road movie that stars Iman Crosson, noted Obama impersonator. Finn Susanna Helke's doc on homeless gay youths is the stand out here. From it's starry-eyed salvo "There it was: the gayest city in the world…" to it's sad close, it's a powerful and poigniant portrayal of what is, unfortunately, a rising phenomenon on SF streets. 

An intriguing pairing of two films about Alzheimer's also graces the lineup: Berry Minott's historical perspective The Illness and the Odyssey, and the highly personal The Genius of Marian, a documentary of the filmmaker's mother's battle with dementia and her efforts to chronicle the work of her own mother, artist Marian Williams Steele, who herself died with the disease. Both are excellent. A bit of much needed levity comes Saturday night in the form of Street Smarts, YAK Films' Dance Then and Now, a doc about the international production team who got their start documenting the Turf dancing phenomenon in Oakland. Members of YAK will appear to talk about their work, and local dancers will show off some of their moves.

Cinema By The Bay runs Nov 22-24 at the Roxie.

Free Event: On Sunday the mini-fest hosts Essential SF, an ongoing program honoring crucial members of the SF Film Community. This edition will include Castro organist David Hegarty, Silent FF programmer Anita Monga, sound designer Richard Beggs and others. Entry is free with rsvp.