May festivals: Docs, Silent, Asian, and Jean Gabin

The SFFilm Festival is over. By Thursday night, more festivals will open. I can’t cover every Bay Area film festival. But here are some quick views of what’s happening in the merry month of May:


May 5 – 11
This big documentary film festival opens Thursday and closes next Wednesday. The docs they will show cover such issues as Identity, Carbon, and Ethiopia’s history…as told by the great-granddaughter of the once king. So far, I’ve only seen one of the documentaries playing at DocLands.

Fire of Love

That one doc I saw was Fire of Love (it also played at SFFilm). How often do you see a documentary on volcanoes that’s also a romantic love story? Katia and Maurice Krafft – a very happily married couple – spent their lives studying the ash and lava that occasionally bubble up through the earth’s crust. They seem to have one of those rare perfect marriages; they worked together and loved it. Their job was dangerous – but also very important and beautiful. Throughout the film, you’re constantly reminded that the story will not end happily. They speak mostly in French with subtitles, with English narration spoken by Miranda July. I give it a B+. Fire of Love will screen at the Rafael on Saturday, May 7, at 11:30am.

SF Silent Film Festival

May 5 – 11
I’ve already written about this festival, but since then, I’ve seen two of the films that will screen. So let me tell you about The Divine Voyage. Outside of The Passion of Joan of Arc, this silent contains the most beautiful, and the most meaningful, closeups I have ever seen. A wealthy miser threatens every man in town to join a voyage on a no-longer seaworthy ship. The film contains mutiny, Christian piety, death, suspense, and glorious photography. Serge Bromberg did a beautiful restoration. I give this film an A.

The Divine Voyage

The Divine Voyage plays the Castro (as does the entire festival) Wednesday, May 11, at 4:30pm. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius.

You’ll find something far less serious in the Danish science fiction movie, A Trip to Mars. A group of scientists and explorers go to Mars and what do they discover? Other white people. But unlike the white people on Earth, these white people created a vegan utopia. The actors wave their arms to show emotion, as if they’re playing to the last row of an amphitheater. I gave this movie a C.

A Trip to Mars

A Trip to Mars plays Sunday, May 8, at 9:00pm. Wayne Barker provides the live musical accompany.


May 12 – 22
Every year, The Center for Asian American Media produces a large film festival focusing on one of the Bay Area’s oldest ethnicities – Asian immigrants and their offspring. As I write this, the CAMMFest website isn’t completed. But you can get a taste of the films. The festival opens with Free Chol Soo Lee, about a wrongful conviction. The Centerpiece Documentary is Bad Axe, a personal portrait of a Cambodian Mexican family struggling with racism.

Bad Axe

I’ve already seen Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres (this film played at 2021’s Mill Valley Fest). If you’re a baby boomer and love rock music, you’ve probably read articles by the great music journalist Ben Fong-Torres. This documentary catches the feel of exciting times (the ’60s and ’70s), talking to Elton John or Paul McCartney, and the story of this son of Chinese immigrants. I don’t know if this doc will be in theaters, streaming, or both.

Gabin 118

May 15 – 16
Jean Gabin was arguably the greatest French, male movie star. His films include such classics as Grand Illusion, Pépé le Moko, and French Cancan. But the seven films in this short festival aren’t among his masterpieces. But that means you’ll likely find something new. All of these films will screen at the Roxie.


But I have seen Moontide, and while it’s no masterpiece, it’s well worth watching. In Gabin’s first American film, he’s a horrible drunkard who saves a suicidal woman (Ida Lupino). They fall in love, but a no-good “friend” (Thomas Mitchell) sets out to ruin their lives. Claude Rains plays the true friend. The San Pablo waterfront setting provides fogged-shrouded atmosphere. The film also treats the Chinese well – a rare view in a Hollywood film made in 1942. I give it a B+.