The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through May 7 and there are many exceptional films that will be screened in the final week. Among them are the following:
Tsui Hark’s “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” on April 30, a political thriller set at the end of World War II. In this narrative, the mission of People’s Liberation Army Captain Shao Jianbo (Lin Gengxin) is to take Tiger Mountain, once occupied by the Japanese and now the territory of a bandit king named Hawk (played by Tony Leung Ka-fai). The big budget film features 3D and CGI special effects-
A brilliant documentary “A German Youth” directed by Jean-Gabriel Periot, a French –German-Swiss co-production screens on May 2 and 5th at Sundance Kabuki. It chronicles the conditions in West Germany in the 60’s and 70’s and protests by German youth against the state. Such a time created the Red Army Faction and the Baader Meinhof Gang. Ulrike Meinhof was an established journalist who later became a spokesman for the left and participated in political violence against the state. She has claimed to have killed herself in a German Women’s Prison. This has since been disputed and is the subject of Uli Edel’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex “(2008).
The director uses archival footage extensively for this portrait of the resistance of German youth to an authoritarian state. He begins with showing the efforts of young film students who were accepted to the DFFB – The German Film and Television Academy in Berlin, which was founded in 1966 as the first film school in West Germany. Thirty students, selected from over 800 applicants were the first students and among them Holger Meins, one of the members of the Baader Meinhof group. Some of the initial student work at DFFB was produced in the spirit of the work of the Russian revolutionary filmmaker Dziga Vertov.
“A German Youth” shows the work of these filmmakers who used film as a political tool to chronicle their society, to protest again housing problems, the mass media, and in a particular instance, the visit of the Shah of Iran to Berlin when Iranian officials and the German police beat student protestors. It was this particular action that Ulrike Meinhof claimed had inspired her to later join up with Andreas Baader and Gudrun Esslin. “A German Youth” is a fascinating document and one of the best films at this festival.
“Murder in Pacot” by the renowned Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck will screen on May 2 at the Pacific Film Archives. Peck’s film is based on the screenplay by Pier Paolo Pasolini for “Theorem” from 1968. In the background of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a well off couple rents out their home and resigns themselves to living in the back of the house in a shed. Their tenant is a European aid worker who comes to Haiti to assist in earthquake rescue operations. He is soon visited by his vivacious girlfriend. His presence in the house can be likened to the role of Terence Stamp as ‘The Visitor’ in “Theorem”, a mysterious houseguest that involves everyone who lives under the roof of his host. Peck’s ambition is to show the matrix of race, class and sexuality and the vestiges of colonialism in Haiti in this intricate high quality narrative.
On April 25 the epic indie film “Wanda” by the late Barbara Loden was screened at the Castro Theater. The 16 mm film was restored into a 35mm print and is a cinema verité masterpiece– a film shot improvisationally and for Loden a semi biographical portrait of poverty and a woman’s survival. Then film is grainy yet vivid and chronicles the events of a housewife who has lost her husband and kids in a divorce case and becomes a drifter. Dependent on the generosity of anonymous men, she clings to each encounter for survival, including a robber who is going to pull a bank heist. Loden, who plays the main character Wanda, is brilliant and her ability to create such a realistic character is exceptional. The setting of the film is Scranton Pennsylvania and is mostly a road movie, forgotten for years in the US and neglected in film history.
The “Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award” will be awarded to British veteran and documentarian Kim Longinotto on May 2 along with the screening of her latest film “Dreamcatcher”, an investigation of Chicago’s sex workers. The award will be given in the presence of the filmmaker at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.