The film festival in little Albany

The tiny town of Albany sits between Berkeley and El Cerrito – and in some places between Berkeley and Berkeley. I can walk across it in 15 minutes.

And yet it has its own film festival. The 10th annual Albany FilmFest runs this year from Saturday, March 21 to Sunday, March 29 – skipping Sunday 22nd and Saturday 28th. Most of the screenings will happen at the Albany Twin – the only commercial movie theater in town.

Final Destination

Instead of an opening night, the Fest starts with a Saturday afternoon Matinee of family-friendly shorts. Many of these shorts seem locally focused. One is called Little Point Richmond, and another, called Scooter Progression, is set in town. (Albany doesn’t really have a small-town atmosphere. It’s more like an appendage to Berkeley.)

Then it will run one feature a day on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Wednesday evening will offer a selection of shorts about the environment, indigenous people, and other themes you’d expect from an appendage to Berkeley.

Friday, there’s something different. In an event called Noirs & Noir at the Albany Community Center, the Fest will screen The Maltese Falcon with complementary wine, finger food, and “a few surprises.”

A Great Ride

For the closing day, the Albany Film Fest will act like a real film festival, with six separate programs. No features here; each program presents a selection of shorts.

As I write this, I’ve seen all four features in the Fest. Interestingly, three of them are documentaries. The other is a classic. Here’s what I think of them, in order from best to worst:

A The Maltese Falcon (1941), Friday, March 27, Albany Community Center

Dashiell Hammett’s novel had been filmed twice before, but screenwriter and first-time director John Huston did it right with the perfect cast and a screenplay (by Huston) that sticks almost word-for-word to the book. The ultimate Hammett motion picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important, early film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made. This movie is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

A- Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Albany Twin, Tuesday, March 24, 7:30
Max Lewcowicz’s documentary about Fiddler on the Roof argues that the 1964 Broadway hit was a feminist work well ahead of its time. But that’s just part of it. Clips from the 1971 movie and several stage productions (not all of them in English or Yiddish) show the many ways the characters can be interpreted. In telling the play’s story, Lewcowicz touches on everything from the Hollywood blacklist to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wedding. Read my full review.

A- Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly, Albany Twin, Monday, March 23, 7:30

This documentary, with its interviews with prisoners of conscience and their families, will leave you feeling guilty – and that’s a good thing. It’s not really about the Chinese artist and political agitator Ai Weiwei, but about the many peaceful dissidents imprisoned around the world. Much of the film concerns co-director Cheryl Haines’ 2014 collaboration with Weiwei to create an artistic installation on Alcatraz island about political prisoners. Weiwei couldn’t be there; he was not allowed out of China at that time. By the way, Weiwei now lives in the west and made the excellent but overlooked documentary Human Flow.

B Animation Outlaws: All About Spike & Mike, Albany Twin, Thursday, March 26, 7:30

This overly fawning documentary presents hippy entrepreneurs Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble as naughty gods that made all good things in animation better. They called their animation showcase programs Sick and Twisted, but they could also correctly by called weird, funny, and very much against the grain. And yet, much of the commercial animation you’ve seen in recent decades, from Beavis and Butthead to Pixar, come from artists whose work were first shown publicly on a Spike and Mike show. But watching the film, I wanted less interviews and more animation.