Our Film Picks for the 2013 SF Docfest


Shifting its runtime from November to June this year, SF's Docfest has always been a festival that's willing to do whatever it damn well pleases, so it's a pleasant surprise find a selection of well-curated pairings on the docket for this year's fest.

Running through June 23, and intentional or not, the catalog this year is rife with them, appropriately starting with the opener, Spark: A Burning Man Story. We'll keep our notes short: It's a warts-and-all celebration of Burning Man's tough times in 2012 that paints a positive picture of BM as a wellspring for art, love and inspiration (for an interesting in-depth look at the film's politics check out the paper edition of this week's SF Bay Guardian).

Docfest's closer, Terms and Conditions May Apply takes a far more negative outlook, revealing the pitfalls of internet privacy (hint: there is none), one line of tiny print at a time. Despite a premise that can seem rather obvious to the tech savvy set, Cullen Hoback's film maintains interest throughout, mixing interviews and political footage with pop culture tidbits as it illuminates the sinister sidewinding of AOL, Facebook, and the Patriot Act, while showcasing the spooky amount of info marketers can access as a result of the new information economy.

Exploring the digital divide from another angle are Vivienne Roumani's concise but unresolved e-book analysis Out of Print, and The Pirate Bay doc TPB AFK. TPB mirrors its subject's premise, essentially providing free access to what is arguably the copyright trial of the century, between Sweden and the illegal file sharing site's founders and associates (accordingly, it can be watched in its entirety online for those too computer-bound to bother with the  theater). Out of Print poses a simple question: Is the book evolving, or is it dying? Various experts from Amazon's Jeff Bezos to Authors Guild President Scott Turow to EFF founder John Perry Barlowe weigh in, but the effect is more informational than instructional–it's an invitation to discussion.

Elsewhere, Peter Mettler's The End of Time aims decidedly highbrow, taking an ontological walkabout through CERN's particle accelerator, Hawaiian lava flows, and post-industrial Detroit in search of the meaning of time. Essentially a guided meditation on human existence, The End can be a little bit clunky, but pop-sci aficionados will marvel at CERN's vast, symmetrical interior and techno aficionados will enjoy moments alone with Detroit's default spokesman, Winnipeg-born techno pioneer Richie Hawtin.

Timo Novotny's more grounded Trains of Thoughts makes a similar, freewheeling exploration of the human condition, while remaining in constant motion through the subways of NYC, Hong Kong, LA, Tokyo and other population hubs. The film functions as a sort of music video for the acid jazz and trip-hop group Sofa Surfers, who Novotny has collaborated with in the past, but doesn't suffer any loss of potency as a result. Originally titled Life In Loops, it's ultimately more cohesive than The End of Time, and the premise holds more populist charm.

For the foodie set, Docfest offers another unlikely pair: Andrew Hasse's fresh, funky Edible City, which is largely instructive, using interviews to substantiate its gospel of sustainable urban agriculture, and Matt Anderson's beautiful, meditative Fall and Winter, which toes the line between new-age thought and conspiracy theory. Fall and Winter interviews a series of serene, informed modern day shamans about our global crisis and ties it back to an little-discussed source (spoiler alert!)–the invention of agriculture. 

Other Docfest highlights include the highly emotional Elena, Kink.com doc Public Sex, Private Lives, and one of the fest's few sports-related offerings, the nerve-jangling K2 yarn The Summit.

SF DocFest runs June 6-23 in the Bay area. In San Francisco, it shows at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street, for it's full run and June 6-20 at the Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa Street.


If you're not in the mood for a documentary there are plenty of diversions to be found this weekend at the multiplex–the nasty dystopian hack-em-up The Purge bloodies screens, Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) gets grimy in the incisive, precise Aussie thriller Wish You Were Here, Joss Wheaton spins Shakespeare with Much Ado About Nothing, and collaborators Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling (The Sound of My Voice) go undercover in a different kind of cult in The East.

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