Friday, November 28, 2008

Taking Inventory as of November 28

Cinema Japan Series at PFA

Enjo directed by Kon Ichikawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1958)
A Full-Up Train directed by Kon Ichikawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1957)
Ikiru starring Takashi Shimura; directed by Akira Kurosawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1952)
The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness directed by Yoji Yamada; Japanese with subtitles; (1977)
Vengeance is Mine directed by Shohei Imamura; Japanese with subtitles; (1979)

2008 San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (Third I)

A Throw of Dice Silent with intertitles; (1929)
Maqbool Hindi with subtitles; (2003)
Om Shanti Om Hindi with subtitles; (2007)
Flow: For Love of Water; (2007)
The Glow of White Women; (2007)

2008 San Francisco Chinese American Film Festival

Shanghai Red with Vivian Wu; Mandarin with subtitles; (2006)
Sparrow directed by Johnny To; Cantonese with subtitles; (2008)
Gun of Mercy English and Mandarin without subtitles; (2007)

2008 Korean American Film Festival

Secret Sunshine Korean with subtitles; (2007)

2008 Annual American Indian Film Festival

The Exiles; (1961) - Official Website
Second Stories: Honour Thy Father; (2008) - Official Website
Darkness Calls in Gitxsan; (2008)
The Creation

Dirty Dozen: The Films of Robert Aldrich at PFA

Vera Cruz with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster; (1954)
The Last Sunset with Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson; (1961)

The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney; Silent with intertitles and live accompaniment; (1925/1929)
The Passion of Joan of Arc directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer; Silent with intertitles and live accompaniment; (1928)
Lola Montès directed by Max Ophüls; French, German & English with subtitles; (1955)
Slumdog Millionaire directed by Danny Boyle; Hindi & English with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
The Times of Harvey Milk directed by Rob Epstein; (1984)
Appaloosa directed by and starring Ed Harris; costarring Viggo Mortensen; (2008) - Official Website


Takashi Shimura (star of Ikiru) is best known for another Kurosawa film he made. He was the leader in The Seven Samurai (1954). He, Mifune and Kurosawa teamed up 1949 for Stray Dog which is a compelling police procedural/portrait of occupied Japan.

Maqbool is a retelling of Shakespeare's MacBeth with Muslim gangsters in Mumbai. The film stars Irfan Khan who has a supporting role as the police detective in Slumdog Millionaire. Maqbool co-stars the beautiful Tabu who has a cameo appearance in Om Shanti Om.

Maqbool, Slumdog Millionaire and The Glow of White Women deal with Indians of Muslim faith. The first two films are set in Mumbai; the latter (a documentary) in South Africa. Slumdog Millionaire has a scene depicting a race riot in the Bombay slums where Hindus attack Muslims.

Adell Aldrich (Robert Aldrich's daughter) introduced Vera Cruz and The Last Sunset. Adell Aldrich has several credits as a script supervisor including Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, Pretty Woman and Wayne's World. She said her father would take the family on location for his films and she learned the industry that way.

Shanghai Red was written and directed by Cuban born director Oscar L. Costo who is Vivian Wu's husband.

The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness was recently remade as The Yellow Handkerchief with William Hurt and Maria Bello. The setting was changed to post-Katrina, Cajun Louisiana. The Yellow Handkerchief played at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. I hope I can catch it sometime to compare the two versions.

The Exiles prominently features Angels Flight on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles. Angels Flight was a well-known furnicular railway near downtown LA. It was shown in many films (typically noir films) set in LA during the 1940's and 50's. The Exiles is set on this block. I recall a scene in front of the liqour store in the lower right corner of the photo. The couple in The Exiles lived on the right side of the street, half way up the hill. The tunnel is Third St. and the cross street is Hill St.

Angels Flight was dismantled in 1969 but restored in 1996 to a nearby location on Hill St. betwen 3rd and 4th. The original gateway and trains were pulled from storage and used from 1996 to 2001. In 2001, there was an accident that caused a fatality. The cause of the accident was improper safety designs for the furnicular drive. Angels Flight has been closed since then. The gateway and rails still stand but there is no rail service.

Cuban Criminal Mastermind, the Olympics, Football, Leopold & Loeb, Dying of Cancer and Vulcan Love

Despite my overly ambitious film going schedule, I do try to squeeze in some other activities. I try to go to the gym as often as possible. I keep track of my gym visits too and I get there about 70% of the time which is about 20 days per month. November was horrible for me. I was/will be out of town for 10 days in November plus one day the gym closed early (unannounced) plus the movie schedule that did not allow for gym visits.

After movies and the gym, my main leisure activity is reading. I subscribe to the Wall St. Journal and I read the San Francisco Chronicle most days on my commute. I like to read the book reviews because it give me a guide to books that may interest me.

I've completed some very interesting books over the past few months.

The best was Storming Las Vegas by John Huddy. This book tells the true story of Jose Vigoa, a Cuban refugee who led a crew on a spree of armored car and casino robberies in Las Vegas from 1998 to 2000. Vigoa's robberies were extremely well planned which reflects Vigoa training in the Soviet military. The author even suggests that Vigoa was a spy who came over on the Mariel Boat Lift. The author posits that Vigoa was a sleeper agent who turned to drug dealing and armed robbery. This book would make a tremendous movie - think Heat meets Scarface.

I also read Rome 1960 by David Maraniss. This book chronicles the 1960 Olympics. While it focuses mostly on US athletes, it also provides information about foreign athletes, the geopolitical environment (Cold War, China vs. Taiwan, Italy's not so recent fascist past, South African apartheid, etc.) and the Olympic governance and hypocritical stances with respect to "amateurism." Cassius Clay, Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West are among the more well known athletes to win gold in Rome. There are some many vignettes about Ethiopean Abebe Bikila running the marathon in bare feet (because his sneakers didn't fit), a cyclist collapsing during a time trial and dying (ampethamines were the cause) and US swimmer Lance Larson winning the silver medal in the 100 M freestyle despite having a faster time than the gold medalist.

Another sports themed book I recently finished was The Best Game Ever by Mark Bowden. This book tells the story of the 1958 NFL Championship Game which was groundbreaking. It is considered the beginnng of the NFL's march to preeminence among US sports. It was an overtime game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. In hindsight, the teams were loaded with Hall of Famers. Frank Gifford led the Giants at halfback. Linebacker Sam Huff was the star defensive player in a new defensive scheme cooked up by Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry. It was called the "4-3" which is still the most widely played defensive alignment in the NFL. The Giants offensive coordinator was Vince Lombardi. The offense was so good that future HoF wide receiver Don Maynard was a backup. Giants QB Charlie Conerly would go on to become the Marlboro Man in print and TV ads. Giants kicker Pat Sumemrall is a Hall of Fame announcer.

The Colts were led by the greatest QB of his (all?) time - Johnny Unitas. Their star receiver was Raymond Berry who was ahead of his time in terms of training and watching game films in preparation. Their head coach was Weeb Ewbank who is probably more famous for coaching the New York Jets in Super Bowl III (the one where Joe Namath guaranteed victory).

The Colts also had the greatest NFL raconteur of all-time. His name is Art Donovan, he's still alive and telling stories. My favortie Art Donovan story involves a shower stall in a hotel. While on a road trip, Donovan, Unitas and another player were admiring the huge bathroom in Unitas' hotel room. They notice that the shower stall was water tight. Donovan stops the drain, starts the water and close the shower door. When the water gets high enough, they all climb over the top of the stall and start swimming. It was big enough for three NFL players to swim around in. While they are in there someone kicks the door handle, the door opens and water rushes out into the bathroom and beyond. The hotel room was split level so there was a sunken area where the water pooled. The weight of the water collapsed the floor and flooded the room underneath. The hotel demanded that they pay for the damages or they would call the cops. Donovan and the other guy were broke so Unitas had to pay the bill.

Anyway, The Best Game Ever is a short book filled with entertaining and insightful profiles of the players and coaches of both teams as well as the place the NFL occupied in the national consciousness.

I'm currently reading For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz. It's about the Leopold and Loeb murders in 1924 Chicago. This too is a fantastic but true story. Two gay lovers think they are supermen (in the Nietzschean sense of the word). They feel they are above the law and plan the perfect crime. The crime involves kidnapping and murdering Loeb's 14 year old cousin. Leopold and Loeb came from extremely wealthy families (Loeb's father was a vice president with Sears Roebuck). They hired famed trial lawyer Clarence Darrow for their defense. The year after the Leopold and Loeb trial, Darrow would try his most famous case, the Scopes Monkey Trial. I knew the basics of the case before starting the book but reading how sociopathic Leopold and Loeb were is chilling. As I was reading the pair's plan for recovering the ransom, I couldn't help but wonder if Akira Kurosawa's High and Low was inspired by Leopold and Loeb. I see that American crime writer Ed McBain wrote the novel (King's Ransom) that the film is based on.

I also caught the final performance of Quality of Life at the American Conservatory Theater. The play did not feature any of the ACT core acting company. The cast was rather well known. It included Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne), JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist), Steven Culp (Desperate Housewives), and Dennis Boutsikaris. The play was about two couples and their differing approaches to life and death. Metcalf & Williams play cousins; one from the Midwest and the other from Marin County). Metcalf's husband (Boutsikaris) is dying of cancer while Williams' daughter was murdered. Culp plays Williams' straight-laced husband. The play approaches death and the red state/blue state divide with humor and a deft touch. I could never quite figure out Metcalf's position which was to commit suicide with her husband. In the end, her character was talked out of it so that story line fell a little flat. Metcalf was a hoot in her spot on Berkeley inspired garb and ululating. I have seen women of her age wearing clothes like this...tie dye crossed with Indian sari.

As an aside, Culp starred in my all-time favorite Enterprise episode. I don't think I mentioned it on this blog but I am a Star Trek fan (I don't go to conventions or own a Star Fleet uniform). In particular, I was a fan of Enterprise; no doubt my interest was piqued by Jolene Blalock's portrayal of T'Pol in a tight bodysuit.

In the episode "Harbinger" (I had to look up the title), there are two plot lines that were fun to watch. Culp played a special forces type commander that is brought on board Enterprise to train its crew. I remember the unit is called MACO (the mako shark was their emblem). Culp and Dominic Keating, who played Enterprise Security Officer Malcolm Reed, butt heads (figuratively and literally) and eventually get into a knock-down, no holds barred fight. Later in that same episode, T'Pol and Trip (Connor Trinneer) banter like Dave and Maddie from Moonlighting before they engage in interspecies relations (photo below). There was also a great scene in the mess hall where Malcolm and Trip are teasing each other about his rumored relationship with T'Pol and his rivalry with Culp, respectively. I guess my inner Trekkie geek is showing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

On this day of thanks, I am thankful for all the great films I have been able to see this year.

Since my last post, I was able to see five films on my list and made one substitution.

The Exiles - American Indian Film Festival
Hounddog - at the Roxie
A Throw of Dice - Third I
Maqbool - Third I
Om Shanti Om - Third I
Hell's Ground - Third I
The Glow of White Women - Third I
Slumdog Millionaire - Third I
The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness - Cinema Japan
Vengeance Is Mine - Cinema Japan
The Passion of Joan of Arc - at the Castro
Shanghai Red - Chinese American Film Festival
Sparrow - Chinese American Film Festival
Gun of Mercy - Chinese American Film Festival
Ganglamedo - Chinese American Film Festival
Lola Montès - at the Castro
Vera Cruz - Robert Aldrich
The Last Sunset - Robert Aldrich
The Show Must Go On - Korean American Film Festival
Secret Sunshine - Korean American Film Festival

I saw Slumdog Millionaire at the Landmark Embarcadero yesterday.

I passed on The Show Must Go On because I had to get to the gym that day. I skipped the gym five days in a row (dinner one night and movies the other four). In addition, I realized I had a discount pass to the Roxie that is expiring on December 15. Last Saturday, I saw the Academy Award winning film The Times of Harvey Milk. This film won the Oscar in 1984 for Best Documentary.

The Times of Harvey Milk shouldn't be confused with Gus Van Sant's Milk (starring Sean Penn) which received an exclusive opening at the Castro Theater yesterday and opens nationally tomorrow.

Looking to 2009, The Blue Angel (1930) gets a revival screening at Berlin and Beyond. This classic film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and starred Marlene Dietrich). I've been a Dietrich fan for many years. One of my favorite films of all-time is Destry Rides Again with Dietrich (a German playing a character named Frenchy) and Jimmy Stewart. Dietrich sings a song called "Little Joe" that is great fun.

I'm inspired to list my five favorite Dietrich films:

1) Destry Rides Again

2) Shanghai Express co-starring Anna May Wong; there is a great scene on the train where a pious woman tries to save Dietrich and Wong from their wicked ways and they refuse her with some cutting comments.

3) The Scarlet Empress - I saw this film for the first time earlier this year at the Castro. Dietrich as Czarina Catherine the Great and directed by von Sternberg...need I say more?

4) A Touch of Evil - this film is called the greatest B film ever made and stars Orson Welles, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. Heston has black hair and a Mexican accent. Leigh gets drugged and gang raped by a gang of Mexican hoodlums while dykish Mercedes McCambridge watches. Welles chews up the scenery as a drunken, fat corrupt cop. Dietrich has a small role as gypsy fortune teller (in a black wig) that tells Welles to lay off the candy bars.

5) Rancho Notorious - directed by Fritz Lang. What I remember most about this film is that it has a God awful opening ballad. Most of the film takes place in a Western badlands called Chuck-a-Luck. I believe the ballad is called "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" - a story of rape, murder and revenge (actual lyrics). If you are good enough to write a catchy tune with the phrase Chuck-a-Luck then you are better songwriter than the one hired for Rancho Notorious.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Eleven Down

I am ten days into my 36 day movie marathon. I've already missed a few films.

The following list represents the portion of my list that have screened to date. I've seen the films not striked except Slumdog Millionaire.

The Exiles - American Indian Film Festival
Hounddog - at the Roxie
A Throw of Dice - Third I
Maqbool - Third I
Om Shanti Om - Third I
Hell's Ground - Third I
The Glow of White Women - Third I
Slumdog Millionaire - Third I
The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness - Cinema Japan
Vengeance Is Mine - Cinema Japan
The Passion of Joan of Arc - at the Castro
Shanghai Red - Chinese American Film Festival
Sparrow - Chinese American Film Festival
Gun of Mercy - Chinese American Film Festival
Ganglamedo - Chinese American Film Festival

I misread the Roxie schedule. Hounddog only had a two day run at the Roxie. I scanned the newspaper on November 13 looking for the start time only to discover it missing from the listing. It turns out, Hounddog only played November 7 and 8.

Hell's Ground started at 11 PM on Saturday, November 15 at the Third I Festival. I had already seen three films that day and was physically tired so I went home after the delightful Om Shanti Om.

Ganglamedo (Ganglande in the Chinese American Film Festival listing) shows at 4:20 today at the 4-Star but I won't be able to attend. I had planned on catching the 8:30 showing last night but I had a dinner meeting that ran long.

Slumdog Millionaire opened November 12 or 13 at the Landmark Embarcadero. I had planned on catching the November 16 showing at Third I but decided to watch Shanghai Red in that time slot. I plan on seeing Slumdog at the Embarcadero before November 26.

Speaking of Shanghai Red...I drove to the 4-Star on November 16 to catch the 9:55 PM showing. As I approached the ticket booth, I notice there was a sign saying the 9:55 showing was cancelled. So I took a half day of a vacation on November 19 to see Shanghai Red and Sparrow by Johnny To. Before the film, they announced that there were no English subtitles for the film. Most of the film was in Mandarin which is a language I am completely non-conversant. Having had a crush on Vivian Wu for many years (since The Last Emperor), I decided to stick it out. It turns out her character was an English translator and eventually married an American. About a fifth of the film was in English. I'm still not sure what happened. It turns out her husband was trying to kill her but he changed his mind and married her instead! Vivian kept putting on a tight red dress and sunglasses before killing men (her glasses must have been an homage to Dressed to Kill). Then it switched to Vivian in prison with a pixie haircut causing her lawyer to become flustered and discombobulated.

I also saw The Exiles at the San Francisco American Indian Film Festival. The film was great but the experience left a lot to be desired. First, the program consisted of five films with a total run time of approximately 3 hours. That is an unusally long program. The program started at 7 so I was hoping to be out just after 10 PM. Then the delays started. First, they were about 20 minutes late in starting. Next, they had the longest festival trailer/preview in history. They are usually 30 seconds or so. It seemed the SFAIFF one was 5 to 10 minutes. Then the festival director came out and talked for about 15 minutes. The worst part is that he basically thanked all the tribes, companies and individuals that were listed in the 5 minute trailer. Finally, the program started about 40 minutes late. After two or three short films totaling ~45 minutes, there was an intermission even though there was still over two hours of film left! I used the restroom at that point. When I came back the director of the first film (a 3 minute short called The Creation) was speaking. The director fielded questions for about 15 (5 times the length of his film). Finally, The Exiles screened for about 65 minutes. It ended after 10 PM. The final ~60 minute film in the program was A Shout into the Wind about indigenous people of Finland (Indians in Finland?). It looked interesting and the director was in the audience but I had to get up early the next morning so I left after the director made the introduction.

One of my pet peeves about film festivals is that they are notorious for starting late but this case was the most egregious disrepect for people's time. In this case, SFAIFF probably took more than 4.5 hours to screen 3 hours of film. SFAIFF - get your act together! Michael Smith (Festival Director and Founder) needs to bring the hammer down on his own soliloquy and get on with the show.

Monday, November 10, 2008

25 Gozinta 36

When I was a boy, I used to watch The Beverly Hillbillies on TV. Jethro was the educated one in the Clampett family. I think he made it through the 6th grade. He could do addition, subtraction, multiplication and gozintas. Gozintas? You know...2 gozinta 12 six times, 8 gozinta 64 eight times, etc.

Sometimes, I feel as confused as Jethro trying to attend all these fims that only have one or two screenings due to rep house or film festival schedules.

Starting on November 12, my goal is to attend movies on 25 out of next 36 days. That includes traveling for Thanksgiving. Among the festivals or retrospectives I will attempt to attend.

PFA's Cinema Japan
PFA's A Dirty Dozen: The Films of Robert Aldrich
2008 San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (aka Third I Film Festival)
2008 San Francisco Korean American Film Festival
2008 Chinese American Film Festival
2008 American Indian Film Festival

My stretch goal, listed by film, is:

The Exiles - American Indian Film Festival
Hounddog - at the Roxie
A Throw of Dice - Third I
Maqbool - Third I
Om Shanti Om - Third I
Hell's Ground - Third I
The Glow of White Women - Third I
Slumdog Millionaire - Third I
The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness - Cinema Japan
Vengeance Is Mine - Cinema Japan
The Passion of Joan of Arc - at the Castro
Shanghai Red - Chinese American Film Festival
Sparrow - Chinese American Film Festival
Gun of Mercy - Chinese American Film Festival
Ganglamedo - Chinese American Film Festival
Lola Montès - at the Castro
Vera Cruz - Robert Aldrich
The Last Sunset - Robert Aldrich
The Show Must Go On - Korean American Film Festival
Secret Sunshine - Korean American Film Festival
The Ceremony - Cinema Japan
The Big Knife - Robert Aldrich
Boy - Cinema Japan
Attack! - Robert Aldrich
Black Rain - Cinema Japan
Onibaba - Cinema Japan
The Garment Jungle - Robert Aldrich
The Killing of Sister George - Robert Aldrich
Tokyo Drifter - Cinema Japan
Violence at Noon - Cinema Japan
Ulzana’s Raid - Robert Aldrich
A Last Note - Cinema Japan
Where Spring Comes Late - Cinema Japan
Twilight’s Last Gleaming - Robert Aldrich
Intentions of Murder - Cinema Japan

I'm no Jethro Bodine but I count 35 films on my list. I'd like to see Quantum of Solace too. It has a run at the Balboa and I like to support them whenever I can. Make it an even 36 because even I can calculate 36 gozinta 36.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount Theater

I have to admit that I've never seen Phantom of the Opera. I haven't read the book by Gaston Leroux. I haven't seen the 1940's remake with Claude Rains. I haven't seen Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage adaptation. I haven't seen the 2004 film adaptation of Webber's musical.

When I saw that the 1925 silent version (starring Lon Chaney) was playing on Halloween at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone. I've never seen Phantom nor have I been in the Paramount.

After watching DocFest’s Bunnyland at the Shattuck in Berkeley, I took BART to Oakland. It was raining so I hoped that it wouldn’t be too crowded in the theater. It wasn’t crowded but there was good turnout. On the Paramount’s website, the seating capacity is listed at over 3000. I’m not good at estimating crowds but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were over 1,000 people in attendance.

Allow me to vent for a moment. I was sitting in the Orchestra Front Stage Right section. There was a woman in the Orchestra Front Center section. She was wearing earrings with blinking light. What the hell! Who wears blinking earrings to a movie theater? Prior to the show, I was wondering if she would turn them off when the film began. She kept the earrings blinking through the newsreel before the film! I was wondering what to do. They were in my line of sight and very distracting. Not an usher to be seen. I would have had to step over a dozen people to ask her to turn off her earrings. I could have yelled which is what I felt like doing but I was too meek. Thankfully, someone sitting in the row behind tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to turn them off. She politely obliged. I’ve never seen flashing earrings in a theater but a first cousin to them is cell phones. I hate when people check the time on the phone or even send text messages. The phone lights up like a beacon in a dark theater.

Back to the program…first was a newsreel about horses – trotting horse, fox hunts, female harness racers. I couldn’t get into it. That damn woman’s earrings! By the time she turned them off, the film was half over. The topic was not something that interested me though.

That was followed the cartoon which was Mysterious Mose, a Betty Boop/Bimbo film by the Fleischer Brothers. Bimbo was a cartoon dog that the Fleischers were trying to make a star out of. Indeed, Bimbo received above-the-title billing in this film even though Betty goes topless (she was scared out of her nightgown). Eventually, they found that Popeye and Betty Boop were more popular so Bimbo faded to the background.

The title may not be familiar but if you have watched films from or documentaries about the 1930’s, you may recognize the song. Like “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway, “Mysterious Mose” has a catchy refrain. You can view the cartoon on YouTube.

Then they brought the lights up and a man in a tuxedo and a woman (Bianca) in a tight gown rose from the orchestra pit on a mechanical platform. There was a roulette wheel between them. Bianca spun the wheel a few times and provided exaggerated spokesmodel gestures (imagine Barker’s Beauties from The Price is Right high on coke). Actually Bianca was quite entertaining. The numbers the wheel landed on corresponded to the last three digits of someone(s) ticket stubs. Winners received gift certificates to local restaurants.

Next up was organist Jim Riggs. He gave some historical notes about the film that I found interesting. The film was released three times in 1925. Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, produced the film. The original version didn’t test well so they re-shot parts of the film to include some comedic elements. That version (which premiered at the Geary Theater in San Francisco - current home of the American Conservatory Theater) didn’t test well either. So a third version was shot which was the “final” version. In 1929, talkies were becoming the rage so Laemmle decided to re-release Phantom with sound. He re-filmed 40% of the film with some color film and a soundtrack. By 1929, Chaney was no longer under contract to Universal so the new footage didn’t include him. In 1929, many theaters had not installed a sound system so the re-release had a sound version and silent version. The silent version was the film the screened at the Paramount.

I’m familiar with the general plot of Phantom - psychotic musical genius lives in the underground passages beneath the Paris Opera House. He becomes infatuated with Christine, an apprentice singer. He helps her become a star. She is disgusted by his facial deformity. She plots an escape with her lover. The phantom discovers her plans and kidnaps her. From there, I’m little unclear what happens.

In the introduction, Riggs said the original version followed the novel. The Phantom dies after kissing Christine. In the version the screened, an angry mob chases the Phantom from his underground lair. They chase him through the streets of Paris before he jumps (presumably to his death) into the Seine. It was a very abrupt ending. The formula ending would have been that Christine’s love/kindness/beauty reforms the Phantom and he gives permission to Christine to marry her lover. Either the Phantom lives in peace afterwards or tragically dies as a result of past transgressions or misunderstanding.

In this version, the Phantom kidnaps Christine to marry her but is separated from her by the angry mob. The mob chases him and jumps in the river. There is no redemption scene. Christine never feels remorse for spurning the Phantom. The Phantom never sacrifices his love for Christine by letting her go. As a result, the film seems to end prematurely. I was disappointed in the film. Given the number of re-shoots, I can’t help but think the essence of the film was lost in the process. As for Chaney, his make-up was still ghoulish after 80 years. I preferred Chaney in The Unknown and The Unholy Three which I saw at the 2008 and 2006 San Francisco Silent Film Festivals, respectively.

The Paramount Theater was magnificent. It has an art deco exterior and a huge lobby. Once in the theater, there are bas-relief carvings on the walls. The motif switches to ancient Greek in the theater. The restrooms are in the basement, which has a huge lounge.

I been past the Paramount many time but never been inside. They have guided tours at 10 AM on the first and third Saturdays of each month. I’m going to try to take the tour one day. The cost is $5. That reminds me, the ticket price for Phantom was only $5 also. That is the cheapest evening showing I’ve seen in many years.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Final Thoughts on 2008 DocFest

As I previously wrote, Operation Filmmaker was my favorite film from the festival. The film follows Muthana Mohmed, an Iraqi film student. Actor Liev Schreiber (best known as Cotton Weary from Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy) is about to make his directorial debut in Everything is Illuminated. While watching MTV, he sees a short film about a Baghdad film school that was bombed out directed by Muthana. Schreiber is so moved by the film that he decides to hire Muthana to work on Everything is Illuminated. Schreiber sets in motion a tremendous upheaval in Muthana’s life on little more than a whim. It would seem that getting someone out of war-torn Baghdad is a no-brainer but Muthana will show that problems can arise in the most surprising situations. I am reminded of a Muslin or maybe Chinese proverb. It states that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for that person for the rest of his life.

As a result of miscommunication, culture barriers, personality differences and geopolitics, Muthana trades one life of uncertainty for another. Let me count the ways – Schreiber and the producers of Everything is Illuminated don’t really have a defined job for Muthana so he is thrown from one task to another. Muthana comes from a privileged background so some of the tasks seem beneath him. My impression was that he thought he would do something akin to co-directing the film. Instead, he is making coffee, photocopying and editing the wrap party blooper reel. To be fair, Muthana doesn’t really seem to know what he wants. As the film progresses, Muthana sole desire seems to be to avoid returning to Iraq. He also makes the unpardonable faux pas of stating his admiration of George W. Bush to Hollywood based co-workers.

Everything is Illuminated was filmed near Prague in the Czech Republic. When the film wraps, he scrambles to get his Visa extended. His colleagues are flabbergasted that he has waited until the last minute to obtain a visa. By then, he has worn out his welcome with the crew of Everything is Illuminated. He comes off as opportunistic and lazy as well as strangely passive about his own decisions that have major impacts on his life. Through some luck and help, he gets his visa extended and lands a job on the crew of Doom (starring Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock).

The director of Operation Filmmaker is Nina Davenport who was hired by the producers of Everything is Illuminated to document Muthana’s experience. After the filming ends, Davenport stays in Prague to continue filming Muthana. As I mentioned in the previous post, this is where Davenport begins to enable Muthana’s questionable decisions by giving him money and other aid. In the context of normal existence, Muthana’s behavior is self-serving at best and borderline dishonesty. However, Muthana is receiving repeated messages from his family that under no circumstances is he to return home because it is too dangerous. What is one to do if returning home means death?

Muthana applies for film school in London and is accepted. Having no money, he asks The Rock to donate money for his tuition expenses. To Muthana’s credit, he has an upbeat personality and remains mostly congenial on the sets of Everything is Illuminated and Doom. Through an intermediary, The Rock turns him down. I thought this was very cruel prank to play on Muthana. In reality, The Rock will sponsor Muthana but it seems like he wants it to be a surprise or documented on film.

Muthana’s life continues its trajectory in London with Davenport there to film it all. Muthana is out of money, he isn’t doing so great in film school and he seems to prefer handouts to getting a job. By this point in the journey which must be 2 to 3 years after we first meet Muthana, he is becoming irritable at being followed around by a video camera, never having money and the deteriorating conditions in Iraq. He begins to lash out (even physically) at Davenport. By this point in the film, Davenport has moved beyond enabler and seems to have entered into a dysfunctional codependency with Muthana.

By this point, I was very ambivalent about Muthana. He had behaved in a way that would have frustrated me but I couldn’t bring myself to dislike him. I was always aware that his country was occupied and returning home could mean death. Still, Muthana didn’t seem to make his situation any easier on himself. It seems he didn’t have the life skills to succeed as a result of immaturity or cultural differences. Then again, he was plucked from Baghdad, dropped in Prague without a support system and made his way to London with barely a pound in his pocket. I can’t help but wonder what Muthana is doing now and how often Davenport is in touch with him or still supporting him.


DocFest screened two United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF) programs. Two of the worst films from DocFest were UNAFF films. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a big fan of the UN. I think it is one of the most ineffective organizations in the world. I’m not sure how UNAFF is affiliated with the UN but to put the UN brand in the festival name says something about the festival organizers. Belonging can be summarized as The Idiot’s Guide to An Inconvenient Truth. Like the UN, the film was a dollar short and a day late. I can’t fully criticize the film because I slept through the middle portion.

However bad belonging was, Megalopolis was even worse. Incoherent and lumbering are the adjectives I would use (for the film and the UN). The basic message was that large cities cause poverty and crime. I guess people in rural areas are wealthy and don’t break the law. The film skips around the globe to Japanese Goth girls, a Brazilian whore, Chinese nouveau riche , Los Angeles Sheriff Department employees, a Cairo garbageman, some people in Karachi and many more. This film set the 2008 record for most walkouts. I took a powder enduring over two hours of Megalopolis.

I beg DocFest to ban UNAFF programs from the festival in the future. I wrote a diatribe on the back of my ballot but there were no volunteers collecting them. Undoubtedly, they had assumed the film was over given mass exodus that occurred throughout the preceding two hours.


When viewing films in a theater, I frequently feel out of step with society (particularly San Francisco society). I felt this quite acutely after viewing Going on 13. The film follows four Bay Area girls from ages 9 to 13. The girls appear to come from lower socioeconomic levels and according to the copy, they were “urban girls of color.” Ariana was African American, Isha was Indian American, Esme was Latina and I guess Rosie was Latina too. I didn’t find their growing pains that painful. None of their families seemed to be hurting too much for money. They all had loving parents (I think Rosie came from a single parent home).

They had issues like any pre-teen. Rosie in particular seemed to be at risk. She was often truant from school and seemed to have trouble socializing. She spent a lot of time in solitude at the library reading dark poems (I think she recited an Emily Dickinson poem). However, she had a very patient mother and is clearly intelligent. Ariana was a tomboy whose father and stepfather were absent. She seemed to have trouble interacting with boys. Esme was overweight. Isha had American sensibilities but strict Indian parents.

The film was poignant but nothing life-changing happened over the course of the four years for the girls. It was entertaining peek into the tribulations of growing up. However, after the film, Esme and Ariana were in the audience and took questions along with directors Dawn Valadez and Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. I think the girls are 17 now. Both seemed more poised and mature which is what you would expect when comparing 17 year olds to 9-13 year olds.

People in the audience kept telling Esme and Ariana that they were inspirational and role models. Both girls said they didn’t feel like role models. I think Esme said “I just grew up.” Out of the mouth of babes… Children are very resilient and given a stable parent, I think most kids turn out fine. We all have our foibles and shortcomings but the act of growing up should not be cause of inspiration.

My criticism of the audience’s questions or nonchalance about growing up should not be interpreted negatively w.r.t. the film. The film provided an entertaining glimpse into four girls’ lives. There were funny moments, sad moments, happy moments, etc. – just like life itself.


Over My Dad’s Body was a fascinating mystery. Director Taliya Finkel’s father claims his brother (her uncle) is a Soviet spy. Shmuel Finkel emigrated from the Ukraine to Israel. His younger brother, Sterik, was in prison at the time. A few years later, Sterik immigrated to Israel also but Shmuel suspects the man claiming to be his brother is an imposter sent by the KGB to spy in Israel. Outlandish claim? Certainly but the KGB was known to do outlandish things. Wouldn’t a man recognize his own brother? Prison can change a man. Maybe there is some validity to Shmuel’s claim. It’s hard to believe him because he is a diagnosed schizophrenic. His ex-wife and three daughters are dubious although Taliya is the least dubious.

The film follows Taliya as she investigates her father’s claims in Israel and Ukraine. Proof is hard to come by in the Byzantine former Soviet state and Shmuel’s mental problem cloud opinions of him in Israel. Shmuel’s death adds a sense of urgency to her investigation. Sterik was the last person to see him alive. The cause of his death is strange. Sterik won’t speak on camera and his face is always blurred out. The capstone is the letter from the Israeli government stating that Shmuel had served his country but for security reasons, they could not disclose specifics.

The film leaves Shmuel’s claims open to interpretation but rather than being unsatisfying, it is in keeping with the man’s life and his family’s own unanswered questions.


Elvis in East Peoria - A petty, insecure woman hooks up with a shady, ex-minister cum Elvis impersonator and their pathetically funny but sad journey starts. The film is filled with Elvis songs so this film will probably not get distributed. Too bad, this was laugh, cry, shake your in disbelief film.

Chasing the Devil - This film was an expose on the ex-Gay movement. What does ex-Gay mean? There are reparative therapy programs to teach gay men to be straight. Some (many?) programs are run by charlatans and Christian fundamentalists. The most successful one (he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel) was a Moonie. One person involuntarily flicks his tongue throughout the film. That is a side effect of long-term use of psychiatric drugs.

Come on Down! - Who knew the lengths people will go to get on The Price is Right? Who knew Bob Barker had a gay following?

Enlighten Up! - This film is all about taking a yoga neophyte and transforming him via yoga. They visited master yogis in the US and India but no two people could explain yoga’s secrets the same way. There is something about “practice, practice, practice.” Also, it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it. I don’t think Nick Rosen understood yoga any better after the film and neither do I. It was fun to watch him try. For record, I am not a yoga practitioner. I think stretching and breathing train your body and mind. In particular, it focuses your mind on the body. By practicing repeatedly, the body movements are no longer fully controlled from the mind but rather from muscle memory. That allows the mind to seek or be receptive to other inputs which is the so-called transformation.

Sync or Swim at the 2008 DocFest

I was originally going to write about several films but I wrote so much about Sync or Swim, that I decided to give it a dedicated entry.

In a previous lifetime, I was a competitive swimmer. I swam from ages 7 to 19. The bible for competitive swimmers was Swimming World Magazine. I believe the issue I have in mind was from late 1984 or early 1985. Anyway, the year end issue of Swimming World bestows awards (e.g. Swimmer of the Year). For 1984, the synchronized swimming award went to a young woman named Tracie Ruiz. I had never seen a synchronized swimming event nor had I met a synchronized swimmer. In fact, it's 24 years later and I can claim near complete ignorance of synchronized swimming...except in 1984, Tracie Ruiz had a full page photo spread in Swimming World. I wish I could find that photo but take my word that she was very attractive. As for synchronized swimming, I didn't really think much about the sport before or after seeing Ms. Ruiz in Swimming World. Tracie Ruiz and that comedy skit with Martin Short about men's synchronized swimming are the only things I associate with the sport.

Another interest side note is that one of the top synchronized swim clubs in the nation is the Santa Clara Aquamaids. The Olympic coach and several of the swimmers were associated with Aquamaids and the team trained at the Santa Clara facility. Much of the film takes place in Santa Clara and the Bay Area.

I was somewhere between apathy and mild curiosity before I saw Sync or Swim. The main reason I saw the film was because it fit my schedule on a Tuesday night and it played in the Big Roxie. To be honest, Lucio was the film I preferred to see. Both films played at the same time but Lucio was playing at the Little Roxie. That venue plus sweet memories of Tracie Ruiz was enough to sway me. I'm glad that fate directed to me to Sync or Swim because it was engaging and entertaining movie.

Sync or Swim chronicles the 2004 US Synchronized Swim Team from just before the Olympic Trials to the Athens Olympics. The journey is filled with difficulties. The first thing I found odd was the selection process. At the Trials, each pair competes against each other. The top scoring pair gets a spot on the Olympic team as a duet. Then they select 13 or so individuals (from the losing pairs) on the second day. The selection is based on judged scores for a series of technical movements in the water. Those 13 are eventually whittled down to 8 (plus an alternate) that comprise the "team." Synchro swimming has two events - pairs or duet and team competition so the Olympic team consists of 2 in pairs plus 8 in team competition plus one alternate for a total of 11. In 2004, I think one swimmer competed in pairs and team events so there were only 10.

That method seems strange and cruel. I would think the best way to select an eight-woman team is to have teams of eight compete against each other and the top scoring team makes the Olympic squad. I suspect the reason they don't do that is because some (all?) private teams have difficulty getting eight Olympic caliber swimmers together. So the thinking is to select the eight best individuals and form a team with them. Rather than taking the top 8 scores, they take more swimmers and have two rounds of cuts in the ~20 months between the Trials and the Olympics. Woe are the 5 swimmers cut from the squad after several months of training.

That might elicit sympathy but one would think it makes for good drama in a film. Unfortunately, the swimmers were very friendly towards each other and didn't exhibit ultra-competitiveness that one would imagine or bitchy behavior that frequently occurs when women (or men) are forced to spend long and stressful hours together over a prolonged period. By the end of the film, I was dubious of this harmnony.

Don't think bitchy behavior was missing from the movie though. Head Coach Chris Carver supplied it in spades as she drove her team through a grueling training program and berated her swimmers for their mistakes with pointed comments and sarcasm. If that had been the entire movie, I probably would have enjoyed it...but there was more to come.

One swimmer, Tammy Crow was at the wheel of an SUV when it crashed and killed her boyfriend and a 12-year-old boy in the backseat. They were driving to a ski trip near Yosemite when she lost control and the vehicle crashed into two trees. The accident left Crow with a broken arm. She was subsequently charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter. She had consumed alcohol a few hours before at a late night party with the team. The first police officer on the accident scene smelled alcohol on her breath. She slept very little before taking the wheel to get her boyfriend and one of his players to a ski trip where the boy's parents were waiting. Witnesses said she was driving too fast for the slick road conditions. Her BAC test results were within legal limits although I found references on the internet to an earlier test that showed alcohol in her system. Crow claims alcohol was not a factor.

This crash occurred in February 2003; prior to the final cuts to establish the team. Putting myself in Crow's shoes, I think I would take myself out of consideration for the Olympics. She was grieving her boyfriend's (fiancée?) death, she was facing two counts of vehicular manslaughter and she had a broken arm, which meant she couldn’t train in the water. Crow decided to soldier on. This is where I started to take an emotional position in the film and I was decidedly against Ms. Crow.

I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt w.r.t. the car accident. She's entitled to it under the Constitution and I'm sure that causing the death of boyfriend and a 12-year-old will haunt her the rest of her life. It was what happened after that turned me against her. First, Coach Carver decided to give Crow an exemption from the first round of cuts. I thought that was incredibly unfair to the other swimmers. Crow's injury basically gave her a free pass.

By the time of final round of cuts, Crow had healed, rehabilitated her arm and trained with the team. She made it past the final round, which I suppose justifies Coach Carver's decision. In the months before the Olympics, media scrutiny on Crow was intense. She pled no contest to the manslaughter charges and the judge deferred sentencing until after the Olympics. Being convicted of felony charges would seem to disqualify someone from the Olympic team. Crow received a special ruling from the USOC or US Synchronized Swimming governing body that allowed her to compete.

So it is clear that Crow was someone the powers at large wanted on the team. The documentary showed Carver cautioning the team to keep their focus despite the media distractions - distractions due solely to media interest in Crow. At that point, I felt Crow was being selfish. I thought she should have resigned for the good of the team. She could have cited the distractions caused by her presence as being detrimental to the team. Instead she continued with the team. The team won a bronze medal so her presence could not have been completely negative. I wonder if the team could have finished higher if the alternate had competed and Crow's distraction was removed from their training process.

Frankly, I thought Crow did not show enough contrition for the deaths she caused and was a bad teammate for not resigning. Of course your teammates are going to support you publicly but you should not put them in that position to start with. One audience member asked Director Cheryl Furjanic why she didn't show any scenes of conflict between the teammates. Furjanic said she witnessed no arguments so she couldn't put any in the film. I can’t help but wonder if there was a confidential team policy to self-censor any arguments or negative comments about Crow when the cameras were rolling.

Although the film was about the team, I think Furjanic unintentionally cast Crow in a negative light. Of course, Crow had a lot to do with the way she was viewed. I don’t think she could have caused the death of two people and be viewed in a positively by most of society or at least by me.

Ultimately, Furjanic’s film succeeded. She kept me interested for the entire film and provoked a strong response. She flashed Tracie Ruiz’s photo in one montage sequence which was nostalgic for me. I just realized that the title of the film was not only a play on words but the homonym title could apply to the entire team or specifically to Crow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Considering Time, Trends and Objectivity in the Context of DocFest and the Mission District

The most striking feature of the 2008 San Francisco Interntional Documentary Film Festival was the length. It ran for three full weeks. When I saw the schedule, I knew I would be in town for the first 20 days of the festival. I naively thought that I could see one film per day and two or three films per day on the weekends.

The films started every 2 hour, 15 minutes. Travel to and from the Roxie is about 45 minutes for me. That knocks out a three hour chunk of time. Travel to and from the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley is about 90 minutes for me. One movie at Berkeley is a four hour commitment.

Obviously, I wanted to see more films at the Roxie than the Shattuck. Furthermore, one film would take three hours but two films would take 5 hours, 15 minutes and I could grab bite between films. Clearly, it was more time effective to see multiple films. I'm not like Jason though. I can't see four or five movies in one day. I get loopy or punch drunk. In general, I limit myself to three films per day but two is my preference.

I ended up seeing 28 programs over the first 16 days of the festival. I missed the last five days of the festival due to choice or travel. Looking at the histogram data of programs viewed over the 16 days -

0 programs - 1 day
1 program - 7 days
2 programs - 7 days
3 programs - 1 day

I saw 26 programs at the Roxie and 2 programs at the Shattuck.

Seeing 1 or 2 films/programs a day doesn't sound too bad but I quickly realized that it translates to 3 to 5 hours per day. As the days went by, I began to weary of the schedule. It felt like I had a second job.

Another idiosyncracy of the schedule was that I seemed that I saw most of the best films in the first week so the second week dragged on. When you see an enjoyable film the time goes quicker.


I read that Fay Dearborn and Bill Banning programmed the festival. I wish I knew which films each one programmed. From the Guardian article, it seems like I enjoyed Fay's selections more. Regardless, I congratulate Fay and Bill for programming a strong lineup at DocFest.

Also, Current TV was the co-sponsor of this year's DocFest. They provided some short films that ran before all the programs (except Bunnyland for some reason). I wish I could get a listing of Current TV shorts that ran before the programs. I can't remember any of the names but a few stood out. Before Bird's Nest, they showed one where a Chinese architechtural student drove around Beijing pointing out buildings with interesting designs. Before Operation Filmmaker, they showed an incredible film about American bloggers/stringers/photojournalist in Baghdad or Beirut. These were captured after encountering an road side bomb and being shot at. All this was captured on video although the quality wasn't great since they were hauling ass out of there. They were captured and even more incredibly, they were released. The third Current TV film I remember was before Disconnected. It was not a documentary per se. It was more of a social satire. A young man is visited by the animated icons of Facebook, Myspace, SecondLife and other social networking websites. He is being harangued about not logging in more often. I remember a great scene where Myspace Founder Tom Anderson appears (like God before Moses) and intones that Myspace was founded on three guiding principles - skanky chicks, crappy bands and I can't remember the third. I do remember laughing hard though.


The aforementioned Jason always seeks out a theme to the festivals he attends. I don't consciously look for themes but I noticed two at this year's DocFest. The first was that the line between documentary filmmaker and subject was blurred beyond the traditionally stated goal of objective distance. There was an obvious emotional bond between the director Nina Davenport and her subject Muthana Mohmed, in Operation Filmmaker. There is one scene where they quarrel like boyfriend/girlfriend. Davenport's objectivity and judgment are questionable in the film.

Similarly, director Kate Churchill and subject Nick Rosen almost seem to be courting each other as Churchill leads Rosen on a 9 month, global search for the transformative secrets of yoga.

Another type of objectivity was lost in several films. Most prominently, I Think We Are Alone Now was highly exploitive of its subjects. One audience member commented to the producer that he thought the protagonists' stories were told in a non-exploitive manner. My mouth was agape at that statement. In response, the producer said that the main criticism of the film was that it exploited its subjects. One subject has Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism). The other subject is a hermaphrodite or intersexual who spoke as if she was continually drunk or on drugs. Furthermore, she exhibited emotional imbalance & stalking behavior which made me feel like a rubber-necker at a traffic accident.

The line between documentary and exploitation is thin. The subjects agreed to be filmed and if they had editing control, the film would be nothing more than a hagiography. There were times when I felt uncomfortable viewing the emotional wreckage which were these peoples lives. I Think We Are Alone Now crossed the line and I felt ashamed of myself. It was as if I happened upon a vantage point of seeing a neighbor or acquaintance in some private/intimate moment. Rather than turning away, I kept watching because I couldn't help myself. That is how I felt after watching I Think We Are Alone Now. That feeling was intensified because Jeff Turner (the man with Asperger's was sitting two seats away from me). I felt self-conscious laughing at his antics up on the screen. To make matters worse, there was a heckler in the front row that mocked Jeff and Kelly (the intersexual) mercilessly until someone yelled at him to "Shut the fuck up!!"

Elvis in East Peoria, Chasing the Devil and to a lesser extent Over My Dad's Body seemed exploitive; particularly when considering that two of the films were made by family members.

The second trend I saw is not specific to DocFest but has revealed itself over the this year. The formula is to find young people in a fringe sport or activity, follow them to some competition, portray them in a largely positive light and leave the audience with a feel good ending. The first film I can recall that followed this formula was 2nd Verse : The Rebirth of Poetry (kids competing in Poetry Slams) at this year's IndieFest. Then at the SF International Asian American Film Festival, they showed Planet B-Boy (kids competing in Break Dancing tournaments). At this DocFest, they screened Jump! (kids competing in Jump Rope tournaments), Sync or Swim (2004 US Olympic Synchronized Swim Team) and Debate Team (college debate contests). Debate Team and Sync or Swim had more nuance than the other films (mainly due to oversized personalities or personal tragedy) but largely hewed to the formula. I'm too much of a cynic to not think filmmakers are copying each other. I'm certain this particular formula has not reached its saturation point (in terms of number of films following this formula or my enjoyment of these films).


A few other odds and ends.

I do not like the Little Roxie. The seats are not bolted to the ground so I'll lean forward or backward and the chair will rock as if it will tip over. Noise from the lobby filters into the theater. Also, there is a bar next door which shares the wall behind the screen. Sometimes, noise from there can filter over too. Light and noise from the projection can distract me as well.

Attendance seemed hit or miss. The screenings of Bird's Nest, Going on 13, Megalopolis, Come On Down!, Enlighten Up! and Operation Filmmaker were healthy but did not fill up the Big Roxie. I believe there were four people in the screening of Here, Kitty Kitty (Little Roxie) and Bunnyland (Shattuck).

Panhandling in the Mission seems more active as of late. Perhaps that is a consequence of the economy. I keep believing the Mission will gentrify but the 16th and Valencia area hasn't changed much since I started going to the Roxie more than 10 years ago.

Speaking of poetry slams, they seem to have one on Thursday nights in the 16th Street Mission BART southwest Plaza. I'm not sure if it is every Thursday. The difference between the southwest and northeast plazas at that BART station is incredible. They two plaza are catercorner but worlds apart. The SW plaza has bright lights and usually a portable food stand. People are milling about. I've seen rats or large rodents, gang bangers and drug dealers in the NE plaza. It's darker than the SW plaza and kind of scary at night. I wonder why BART doesn't do something about it. They spent a lot of time and money renovating the both plazas a few years ago. The SW plaza is more inviting (as inviting as plaza can be when there are drug addicts and other shady characters lurking). The NE plaza didn't really improve. The only time I take it is when I go the the Victoria Theater. For some reason, the NE escalator from the station level to street level is always going down and the SW escalator is always going up.

There is often some guy(s) with a grill on a pushcart in the SW plaza. I've seen him at various location in the Mission but he was set up several nights outside the Roxie. He sells sausage wrapped in bacon with grilled onions and green peppers. I think that is an English or Irish food tradition. I haven't been brave enough to try one yet. Instead of bacon wrapped sausages, there was a lunch truck selling Nicaraguan food in the SW plaza during most of DocFest's Roxie run. I wonder if it that spot is on a first come basis.

2008 San Francisco International Documentary Film Festival

I saw 28 programs at this year's DocFest. DocFest is affiliated with SF IndieFest and Hole in the Head. The festival ends today but I won't be able to attend tonight's programs. I have not been a big fan of documentaries in the past. Modestly speaking, I'm a history buff so I watch the History Channel alot but I don't seek out documentaries like I do other films.

I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the 2007 DocFest. That was the main factor influencing my decision to purchase a festival pass this year. I'm glad to report that I enjoyed this year's festival tremendously.

I'll list the films I saw in categories of enjoyment.

Favorite Film of the Festival
Operation Filmmaker; (2007) - Official Website

Highly Recommended Films from the Festival
Going on 13; (2008) - Official Website
Come On Down! The Road to 'The Price is Right'; (2008) - Official Site
Jump!; (2007) - Official Site
Debate Team; (2008) - Official Site
Sync or Swim; (2008) - Official Site
Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness; (2007) - Official Site
Toots; (2006) - Official Site
Over My Dad's Body - Hebrew with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
Elvis in East Peoria; (2007)
Enlighten Up!; (2008) - Official Site
Spirit of the Marathon; (2007) - Official Site

Enjoyed but Felt Ashamed Afterwards
I Think We're Alone Now; (2008) - Official Site

Not a Bad Way to Kill an Hour or Two
Chelsea on the Rocks directed by Abel Ferrara; (2008) - Official Site
Bird's Nest: Herzon & de Meuron in China - German and Mandarin with subtitles; (2008) - Official Site
Married at the Mall; (2002) - Official Site
Whole; (2003) - Official Site
Disconnected; (2008)
The People's Advocate: The Life & Times of Charles P. Garry; (2007) - Official Site
San Francisco: Still Wild at Heart; (2007) - Official Site
Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement; (2008) - Official Site

Did Not Enjoy/Cannot Recommend
Bigfoot: A Beast on the Run; (2008)
Brave New West; (2008) - Official Site
Bunnyland; (2007) - Official Site
Here, Kitty Kitty; (2007)
Neshoba; (2008)
This Dust of Words; (2008) - Official Site
When Clouds Clear - Spanish with subtitles; (2007)
Belonging; (2008?)
Megalopolis - Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and some Arabic languages with subtitles; (2008) - Official Site

Short Films that Preceded Certain Features
I'm Like This Every Day; (2008)
A Stiff Upper Lip; (2008)
Song of a Sperm Donor; (2007)
Why We Wax; (2007) - Official Site
Standard Deviation; (2008)
The Good Mother of Abangoh; (2008) - Official Site

Dust played at DocFest but I saw it previously at the 2008 SF International Film Festival. I didn't enjoy it the first time so I saw no reason to see it again.

Films I Regret Missing at the Festival
A Life Without Pain
A Hole in the Fence
Kassim the Dream
The Rich Have Their Own Photographers
Silhouette City