I hope you noticed that I didn’t publish a San Francisco International Film Festival report yesterday. I took Tuesday off, so I had nothing to write about on Wednesday.
But what did I see on Wednesday? Unlike every other day at the SFFILM Festival, I did not see a single new feature. Instead, I saw a selection of shorts and a beloved masterpiece.
Watching a selection of shorts is an entirely different experience than watching a full-length feature. You can’t enjoy a complex plot or a deep character exploration. On the other hand, if the movie is lousy, just wait a minute. It will change.
There were seven films screened, ranging from six minutes to 24. Three of them could reasonably be called comedies, although of very different styles. Another three were documentaries. The remaining film was more of a visual poem. The films came from France, New Zealand, the Philippines, Colombia, India, Alabama, and even the Bay Area.
I Will Not Write Unless I Am Swaddled in Furs
I’ll just discuss my favorites.
The biggest laugh-getter was Wade Shotter’s six-minute I Will Not Write Unless I Am Swaddled in Furs. It captures an experience that all writers know: looking for a reason, any reason, to not write.
Aurelia Morali’s At Night I’m Lying was a less funny but more thoughtful and tender comedy. It’s about the disappointments of hooking up over the internet.
My favorite documentary was Crisanto Street. Filmmaker Paloma Martinez allowed homeless eight-year-old Geovany Cesario to take the camera and show his community as he sees it. Despite his family’s desperation, his youthful enthusiasm bubbles through.
Sebastián Pinzón Silva’s Palenque is a close second among the docs. It shows us the citizens of a small, impoverished town in Colombia at work and play. And sometimes, at work that looks like play. But there’s something historically special about the town of Palenque: It was created by escaped slaves, and the only such town that survives to this day.
I saw the last screening if Shorts 1 at the Roxie.
The directors of Crisanto Street and Palenque did a Q&A after the screening. Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:
- There’s something in this film that requires a lot of patience from the audience. You’re perhaps thinking more.
- We didn’t really plan any of this. We got lucky.
- You just have to let those moments unfold.
- I grew up in Columbia, but I didn’t know about this town. It wasn’t taught in school.
- I spent three or four months just getting to know Geovany and his mother. They made me feel I was family.
- Just a few minutes talking to Geovany and I knew I wanted to work with him.
- It’s crucial you see this film through the kid’s eyes.
- He was an active participant.
Blonde Redhead with I was Born, But…
Mixing a cult rock band with a silent movie is always a tricky proposition – and yet the Festival does it every year. Sometimes it works beautifully. Sometimes it flops. This year, pairing the band Blonde Redhead with Yasujiro Ozu’s charming masterpiece, I Was Born, But…, it landed in the middle.
I was Born, But…
It’s been more than a decade since this wonderful, warm, family comedy played on Bay Area screens (at least to my knowledge). This late silent film follows the adventures of two young brothers adjusting a new neighborhood and dealing with bullies. They also discover the class system through their father’s relationship with his boss. Like most Ozu films, it’s a story of everyday life, intelligently and entertainingly presented.
Unfortunately, this screening didn’t give the film its due. Most of the Blonde Redhead fans couldn’t care less about Ozu; for them, this wasn’t a movie, it was a concert. They applauded at the end of each song and cheered at the beginning of the next. The woman sitting in front of my wife waved her arms like she was on a dancefloor.
Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the band cared. Their score appeared to be a collection of songs in their repertoire, that sometimes but not always matched the actions on stage. For the first 15 or 20 minutes, I couldn’t find a connection between the loud, aggressive rock and the gentle story of a family adjusting to a new life. As the movie went on, the music seemed to fit the film better…at least half of the time.
I Was Born…But deserves better.