Indie Theater Roundup: 14 Films To See at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival
Whether you’re in the mood to learn more about one of the most feared prizefighters of the modern era, two of Walt Disney’s most celebrated songwriters, or the inventive animated shorts of A Thousand Pictures, the next two weeks of America’s longest-running film festival, which kicked off last night and ends May 7, will feature roughly 200 films and plenty of associated merriment. Here’s a list of what we want to watch.
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story
Estranged siblings and frequent songwriting collaborators Robert and Richard Sherman, whose contributions to the Disney legacy include the scores for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, are the subjects of a new documentary by their sons, first cousins Gregory and Jeff Sherman. Both filmmakers will attend the world premiere, with a special reception to follow at the Disney Family Museum. At the Letterman Digital Arts Center on Saturday, April 25.
City of Borders
Yun Suh’s City of Borders shows how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being fought on the sexual frontline. Described by those on both sides, the story focuses on Shushan, the only queer-oriented bar in Jerusalem where patrons can safely be themselves. At the Palace of Fine Arts on Sunday, April 26; at the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Thursday, April 30; Monday, May 4; and Wednesday, May 6.
Pat Spurgeon, drummer for the Oakland-based indie-rock outfit Rogue Wave, has a failing kidney. Stuck on a six-year waiting list for a new organ, Pat undergoes dialysis. He wants to tour with his band, but dietary restrictions and his need for a sterile environment make it difficult. Undeterred, Spurgeon and company hit the road to raise money and awareness with the “D(ialysis) Tour,” captured for posterity in filmmaker Jim Granato’s remarkable new documentary. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Friday, May 1; Monday, May 4; and Thursday, May 7.
The Empress Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel in the Tenderloin, was built to house the recently homeless. Here, as portrayed by acclaimed local filmmaking duo Allie Light and Irving Saraf, its residents are seen in various states of struggle and squalor, and rarely are their stories sentimentalized. Among their most memorable subjects are an amateur boxer learning to control his violent urges; a woman with two master’s degrees and seriously hard luck; a former publisher who hears voices; and a recovering crack addict. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Saturday, April 25; Monday, April 27; Wednesday, April 29; and Thursday, May 7.
Everything Strange and New
Filmed in Oakland and introduced as an official selection at this year’s Sundance, this is the story of life in Wayne’s world – Wayne being a disgruntled carpenter played by Jerry McDaniel, not the mullet-sporting metal-head popularized by Mike Myers. Every day, Wayne toils away to pay for a house that will soon be worth less than its mortgage while his marriage crumbles under the pressure. Questioning what exactly the American dream is, Everything Strange and New portrays Wayne’s existential crisis delicately at times, unflinchingly at others. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Sunday, April 26; Tuesday, April 28; Saturday, May 2.
The life of poet, rebel and cofounder of City Lights Books Lawrence Ferlinghetti gets its cinematic due in this documentary film directed and produced by Christopher Felver. Ferlinghetti’s journey from disenchanted G.I. to philosophical anarchist is revealed through the words of Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Hopper, Amiri Baraka and Ferlinghetti himself. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Tuesday, April 28; Thursday, April 30; and at the Palace of Fine Arts on Wednesday, May 6.
(500) Days of Summer
The Lookout’s Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous) invigorate this “anti-romantic comedy” about a greeting-card writer and the sentimentally disinclined girl of his dreams. Together, they stumble through a hopelessly awkward but casually endearing courtship that even features a Hall and Oates dance number. What’s not to love? At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Saturday, May 2.
In Peter Bratt’s La Mission, brother Benjamin Bratt (TV’s Law & Order) plays Che, an ex-con determined to turn his life around. Shot on location and inspired at least partly by the once-popular low-rider culture, the film documents an entire community’s struggle through one family’s account. The moral of the piece? Violence is neither a necessary outcome of, nor a solution to, the disquieting conditions in the barrio. At the Castro Theatre on Thursday, April 23.
From Stanford graduate David Lee Miller comes My Suicide, a dark comedy about a high-school misfit (Gabriel Sunday) who becomes an overnight sensation after announcing his intention to kill himself on camera. Teen angst and frustration inspire his dubious bid for notoriety, but controversy quickly reaches a boiling point as people react to his proposed big-screen debut. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Friday, May 1; Tuesday, May 5; and Wednesday, May 6.
New Muslim Cool
Bay Area local Jennifer Maytorena Taylor presents New Muslim Cool, an American-style take on Islam. Nominated for the Golden Gate Award for best documentary feature, the film depicts the life of a single father, rapper and former gang member, Hamza Pérez. At the Palace of Fine Arts on Saturday, April 25; at the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Sunday, Apr 26, and Monday, May 4.
Rudo y Cursi
Y Tu Mamá También costars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna reunite with director Alfonso Cuarón and each other for this long-anticipated Mexican import about a pair of fútbol-obsessed brothers who live to guzzle beer and one-up each other. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Thursday, April 30, and Friday, May 1.
Speaking in Tongues
Set in the schools of San Francisco, the first city to mandate access to bilingual education, the heated debate over bilingual teaching in classrooms comes front and center in this offering from veteran documentarians Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider. Speaking in Tongues follows four elementary schoolchildren whose exposure to very different approaches to linguistics helps shape their education during the course of an academic year. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Sunday, April 26; Saturday, May 2; and Thursday, May 7.
In one of the festival's most fascinating entries, director James Toback (Two Girls and a Guy) spends 88 minutes trying to decipher the enigmatic former heavyweight champion once regarded as “the most frightening man on earth.” At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres on Sunday, May 2.
In this comedy from Bay Area director Jonathan Parker, two artist brothers, one a famous composer and the other a second-rate painter, compete for the affection of a fashionable art dealer. The plot: a love triangle between three narcissists in a world where self-obsession and pretense are the norms. At the Sundance Kabuki Theatres, on Friday, April 24; Saturday, April 25; and Monday, April 27.