Wide Array of Voices at Video and Film Festival: By BRIAN KLUEPFEL Special to the Planet

Tuesday October 12, 2004

Down at the end of Berkeley’s new Arts District on Addison Street, the East Bay Media Center has compiled a wide-ranging lineup of new talent for this weekend’s 11th Annual Berkeley Video and Film Festival.  

From small beginnings at Berkeley High in 1990, BVFF has morphed into a mini-Sundance, with 62 films in a dozen categories to be screened over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  

Although the festival has always maintained a little local flavor (included in this year’s schedule is Jennifer Ann Blaylock’s “Bowling,” a ‘shopumentary’ about the Berkeley Bowl), Festival director Mel Vapour, who along with Paul Kealoha Blake has run the EBMC for a quarter century, is quick to point out the breadth of entries. 

“We received over 200 entries from all over, from Canada to Brazil,” says Vapour. “Not only are we the biggest independent festival in Northern California, but the world is getting to know us.”  

Vapour is particularly proud to premier the Robert Greenwald Group’s “Unconstitutional: the War on our Civil Rights,” which was produced by Nonny De La Pena. “Unconstitutional” is an indictment of the USA PATRIOT Act, and makes its Bay Area premier on Saturday night. 

As always, BVFF is heavy on documentary work, but there’s a lot more. Here’s a brief overview of some of the festival’s highlights: 

On Friday night, the festival opens with Samm Style’s “Black August” (9:00 p.m.), a short trailer for the George Jackson-related film slated for next year, but the young Oakland filmmaker packs the tension and drama of San Quentin, 1971 into just three short minutes. Next, Mary Fridley and Fred Newman’s “Nothing Really Happens (Memories of Aging Strippers)” (Friday, 9:10 p.m.) is an introspective look at a lost New York: the co-owner of a Bronx candy store who, through her writing tells the tale of the Gun Hill Road neighborhood and its denizens.  

Friday wraps up in Stoners’ Paradise with Clifford Roth’s irreverent “The Stoned Channel” (10:40 p.m.). Roth takes a sideswipe at drug-testing, network television and the Reagan-era “Just Say No” policies in this hemp-fueled spoof.  

Saturday’s bill is rich with documentary winners. Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer’s “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea” is an interesting, disturbing and humorous look at the environmental disaster in the Imperial Valley, and the curious folks and fauna who still insist on living there. 

“Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator” (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.) chronicles Hughes’ ascent into the American imagination, setting distance and speed records in the air, romancing Hollywood beauties, before retreating into his final days in a Las Vegas hotel. “The Real Aviator” puts Hughes in the best light, before the freak show began and the tabloids told the lurid tale.  

“Unconstitutional: The War on our Civil Liberties” (8:00 p.m., Saturday) is a powerful critique of the Bush Administration’s ‘war on terror.’ Filtered through the experience of every day Americans, from immigrant grocers to champion athletes to ordinary librarians, “Unconstitutional” is timed for the November election. 

Much lighter fare is “My Friend Friedrich,” a fictional romp through New York City with Friedrich Nietzche and a Columbia graduate student. Directed and produced by Andrew Hasse, a graduate of both the East Bay Media Center’s summer camp and NYU film school, “Friedrich” is a romantic comedy with several funny scenes in 22 minutes 

Sunday’s “There’s Something About W” (7:30 p.m. Sunday) is a companion piece to “Unconstitutional” (get a two-day ticket and check out both), though more centered on the broader broken promises of the Bush Administration, including the “No Child Left Behind” Act. 

The excellent “Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege” shows the ongoing conflict between indigenous culture and science atop Hawaii’s most sacred peak. “Daughters of Everest,” made by El Cerrito’s own Sapana Sakya, chronicles the ascent of the famous mountain—for the first time, by an all-female, all-Tibetan team.  

“Mad Twin” (Sunday, 9:45 p.m.) is a goofy look at the consequences of a nose job on a fictional high-school pep squad, while “IPO” heckles the greed and insanity of the dot-com boom-and-bust through the story of a start-up that offers genetically processed babies-on-demand. 

The BVFF offers all these pieces, and more, for $8 a day ($5 for students). So put down thy NetFlix and get thee to Wheeler Hall, and check out the next generation of movie-makers. You won’t get stadium seating or super-sized sodas, but you won’t be disappointed, either.