Scientology & Cultural Clashes: Thursday at the SFFilm Festival

I saw two films yesterday at the SFFilm Festival. One was a disappointment. Both were followed by director Q&As.

Over the Rainbow

Jeffrey Peixoto takes a unique approach to Scientology in this documentary. Instead of an exposé showing us the corrupt underbelly of this extremely organized religion, he interviews true believers. While he does so, he keeps himself out of the picture; even when he asks a question, we don’t hear it, we see a subtitle. The best scenes involve one woman, Laura, who is clearly beginning to rethink the religion she was born into; one phone call with her father is spellbinding. But much of this film’s 71 minutes are just repetitive.

I give Over the Rainbow a C.

Director Peixoto answered questions after the screening. Some highlights, editing for brevity and clarity:

  • My family is very religious, but they’re not Scientologists.
  • I wanted to see people who are happy in Scientology.
  • Most of the time, it would take one to five years to get people to talk.
  • When I met Laura, she was still part of the church. She gradually came out of the religion during the years of filming.

You have two more chances to see Over the Rainbow at SFFilm: Saturday, April 20 at 9:00 at the Children’s Creativity Museum, and Monday, April 22, at 8:45 at the Victoria Theatre. It may be available later on PBS.

Centerpiece Film: The Farewell

The Centerpiece Film is always a big event at SFFilm. The Castro was crowded for this Chinese/American comedy.

Unfortunately, film festivals need corporate donations to survive, and that means being very nice to big benefactors. Last night, SFFilm stepped over the line. Before the movie, a First Republic Bank executive came on stage to introduce a short “documentary” (translation: commercial) about the wonderful advantages of student debt. I was tempted to cry out “Tuition-free education now!” but I held my tongue.

Anyway, onto the movie:

Lulu Wang’s comedy confrontation between the Chinese and Chinese-American sides of the same family provides a lot of laughs, held up by a serious structure built around mortality. Billi, a New Yorker of Chinese descent (Awkwafina), travels to China, along with the rest of her family, for a final goodbye to her beloved grandmother. But following Chinese custom, no one tells Grandma that she’s dying. Only Billi disapproves of the deception. The family goes as far as to create a sham wedding as an excuse for everyone coming to town. Funny and touching.

I give The Farewell a B+.

After the screening, Writer/director Wang answered questions. Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • On turning a family event into a fictitious movie: I always wanted to make this story as a film. I thought I’d do it as a short story. I did it as an episode of This American Life. But I wanted to tell the story on a bigger platform.
  • My father asked “Would anybody care.” He watches Die Hard movies.
  • On casting Awkwafina: I needed an English-speaking actress with a basic capability of Mandarin.
  • I don’t like rehearsals, but I want the actors to spend time together.
  • I never directed them towards the comedy. I told them not to try to be funny.

This was the only SFFilm screening of The Farewell. However, A24 Films has picked up the movie, and it will be released theatrically, probably in the summer.

I’m taking Friday and Saturday off from the Festival, for the more important festival of Passover. I’ll be back watching movies on Sunday.

2 thoughts on “Scientology & Cultural Clashes: Thursday at the SFFilm Festival

  1. I loved the film, The Farewell. I thought the banker said that this was a preview for a short documentary. But it felt like a commercial to me as well.

  2. Screening the First Republic Bank short sounds rather audacious. In general, I’m finding SF Film has entered a more mainstream period of programming, and I imagine this mainstreaming can be a slippery slope in terms of commercialism overtaking more enlightened attitudes toward programming.

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