SF Art & Film for Teenagers

Ronald Chase doesn’t complain about young people not knowing or caring about classic cinema. He does something about it. Through his non-profit organization, SF Art & Film for Teenagers, Chase presents classic films to teens (and even pre-teens) every Friday night during the school year.

“We have difficulty convincing kids that this is something they should be doing. But after a few times, they’re hooked,” Chase told me when I interviewed him back in June. His fall program starts this Friday with The Seven Samurai.

Who can attend? “Anyone who finds it interesting. We don’t ask any questions.” Age-wise, “Our youngest are around eight years old. We [once] had a seven-year-old who sat awake [all through] Barry Lyndon.”

Chase doesn’t worry too much about whether a film is child appropriate. “A lot of the movies we show are about young people. One of the ironies is that teenagers aren’t allowed to see [realistic] movies about teenagers; they’re usually NC-17.” Art & Film puts out a parental warning if the film might offend, but “In eight years we have never had a complaint. We always know that the parental warning films will be packed,” he adds

Chase is often surprised at what the students like most. “Early on, we asked [students] to vote [on the films]. Cries and Whispers came up as one of the best.” Their largest audience was for Apocalypse Now, although they also got big attendance for The Crowd. “One of my joys was introducing kids to silent films.” In addition to Seven Samurai, planned films for this year include Dr. Strangelove, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and The 400 Blows.

Most screenings are at the Randall Museum, with one screening a month at Dolby Labs. And yes, you’re invited, “as long as you realize that you should stay afterwards and take part in discussions.” About these discussions, “People say they’ve never heard young people talk about films so enthusiastically,” Chase enthuses.

Art & Film offers kids more than a movie-going experience. There’s also a film production workshop, Saturday daytime excursions to museums, current films, and other cultural destinations. And every three years, Chase tries to put together a trip to Europe for select students on a scholarship basis.

What can you do to help? Like all non-profits devoted to the arts, Art & Film needs money. You can send a tax-deductible check to

SF Art & Film program for teenagers
Ronald Chase
540 Alabama St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

And here are a few less expensive recommendations for the coming week.

Recommended: The Seven Samurai, Randall Museum, Friday evening. If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours and watch Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend it from bandits–has been retold many times since, but none of the remakes even came close. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain that will be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. Part of Art & Film’s Cineclub series, this DVD screening is actually intended for teenagers, but anyone willing to take part in the discussion afterwards is welcome.

Recommended: Au Revoir les Enfants, Pacific Film Archive, Friday night. Malle was one of the great directors of children–maybe as good as Spielberg but far more mature in his choice of stories. In this autobiographical tale, he tackles both the end of innocence and the Holocaust (without getting graphic). During the occupation, a young boy in a Catholic boarding school (Gaspard Manesse) begins to suspect that his new friend is Jewish and in danger. Part of the Archive’s Risk and Reinvention: The Films of Louis Malle series.

Recommended: Atlantic City, Pacific Film Archive, Friday night. Malle’s American masterpiece stars Burt Lancaster in his last great performance, as a mellowed, aging gangster who was probably never as dangerous as he likes people to believe, and a ravishingly beautiful Susan Sarandon as a croupier-in-training with a past that threatens her job. The story involves Sarandon’s jerk of a husband and a heroin deal gone wrong, but Atlantic City isn’t about the story. It’s about how time changes places and people’s dreams. Part of the Archive’s Risk and Reinvention: The Films of Louis Malle series.

Recommended: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Parkway, open run starts Friday. Who thought George Lucas still had it in him? After two humdrum Star Wars chapters, he finishes his prequel trilogy with a movie every bit as good as the ones that made him famous a generation ago. Dark, moody and character-driven, it also provides plenty of cool fights and special effects. Click here for more on this film.

Recommended: North By Northwest, Union Square, San Francisco, Saturday night. Alfred Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or Notorious but more entertaining than both of them combined. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman mistaken by evil foreign spies for a crack American agent, and by the police for a murderer. A great movie for introducing pre-teens to Hitchcock. Warning: This visually beautiful, VistaVision movie will be presented on DVD, not film.

Recommended: Citizen Kane, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. How does a movie survive a half-century reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made? By being really, really good. True, there are films more insightful about the human condition, pictures more dazzling in their technique, and movies that are more fun. But I’d be hard pressed to name many this insightful that are also this dazzling and fun. Now I’ll identify Rosebud: It’s a McGuffin. On a double-bill with All About Eve.

Recommended: The President’s Analyst, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday night. The 1960’s saw a lot of spy movies, and a lot of spy movie parodies, but few of the parodies were this good. When the President’s psychiatrist (James Coburn) can’t handle the pressure of the job and goes AWOL, every spy agency in the world is after him. Godfrey Cambridge and Severn Darden are particularly wonderful as American and Russian agents who would rather collaborate than fight. The denouement is way ahead of its time–from the vantage point of the 21st century it looks downright prophetic. Part of the Archive’s For Your Eyes Only: Operatives, Surveillants, and Saboteurs In Cinema series.