Saturday at SFFilm Festival

Weddings and music go together. They certainly did Saturday, as the topics of the two San Francisco International Film Festival screenings I attended.

 The Wedding Ring

The first film financed entirely with African money takes a look at women’s choices – specifically choices of whom one marries in a traditional, class-based, Muslim society. Tiyaa (Magaajyia Silberfeld), back home after studying in Europe, has a problem. She fell in love there, and is no longer a virgin. But she’s a headstrong young woman intent on getting what she wants. She argues, laughs, talks to other non-conventional women, and watches a friend happily marry in a ritual of mock two-way abduction. Joyful and largely upbeat, The Wedding Ring examines a culture that, despite some strict traditions, is basically humane.

I give it an A-.

After the movie, director Rahmatou Keïta and star Magaajyia Silberfeld stepped up for Q&A. Keïta, speaking in French, needed a translator Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

Keïta: In our tradition, women are supposed to be virgins when they marry. Tiyaa made a mistake and had to fix that mistake.

Silberfeld: I had to prepare, so I went to Niger to learn the culture. I was born and raised in Paris.

Silberfeld: I feel close to the character, but there are things she did that I wouldn’t personally do.

Keïta: I wanted to speak about an Africa that I know but that you don’t know. Our cities are thousands of years old. Occidentals destroyed many of them.

Keïta: The film was 100% financed by African money. We need to take control of our own images.

Long Strange Trip

The Grateful Dead played great music for nearly 30 years, building up the most devoted fanbase in rock history. Their concerts kept the counterculture alive through the years of Nixon, Reagan, and two Bushes. Amir Bar-Lev’s epic, four-hour documentary covers their story from Jerry Garcia’s first musical experiments to his fatal heart attack at the age of 53 (which surprised no one). The extensive interviews with the surviving band members, friends, and family tell the story, illustrated with archival images, both still and moving. Even clips from old Frankenstein movies pop up. The effect is both informative and appropriately hallucinogenic.

I give Long Strange Trip an A.

After the film, Bar-Lev and three of the people he interviewed in the movie came on stage for some Q&A. Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • I wanted to rescue Jerry Garcia from stardom.
  • There was always the question of Jerry’s survivability. What gets lost is that he was a whimsical person…a goof.
  • We tried to make the movie in a Grateful Dead style – a conversation between everyone involved.
  • Bar-Lev asked the audience to raise their hands if they saw someone they knew, or saw themselves, in the film. A few hands went up.

This was the only screening at the Festival. But it will screen at the DocLands Festival May 14, and will appear very briefly in theaters May 25. After that, it will be available on Amazon Prime.

I’m taking Sunday off from the Festival (and no, it’s not for Easter). But I’ll be back Monday.