Election Section

Festival Showcases Experimental and Documentary Films: By KEN BULLOCK

Special to the Planet
Tuesday November 09, 2004

The 20th annual Film Arts Foundation Festival Of Independent Cinema screens this weekend, Friday through Sunday, at San Francisco’s Roxie Cinema and Castro Theater, following a Thursday night gala at The Mighty Nightclub in the Design District. The festival features narrative, art, experimental and documentary films from around the world—including several by Berkeley and other East Bay filmmakers. 

Race is the Place, a 90-minute documentary by Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles, both Emeryville residents whose film office is in Berkeley, shows at 10:15 p.m. Saturday at the Roxie. Race is the Place is an engrossing montage of old movie and cartoon footage with racial content (even grinning tourists learning to hula or cartoon animals playing Native America ns) intercut with interviews and performances featuring poets, performance artists and comedians whose art deals with this volatile theme, “the subject of the future,” as several of the artists put it. 

Included are African-American poet Amiri Baraka, who interprets poet John Keats’ “Truth is Beauty, Beauty is Truth” in light of activist and author W. E. B. DuBois: “To love Beauty, you must love the Truth”; Haunani Kay Trask, native Hawaiian poet and activist, saying white society “should be glad all this sorrow and anger is being channeled into art”; and Lalo Guerrero, “Father of Chicano Music,” doing Joyce Kilmer one better by singing, “I don’t think I will ever see/Many Chicanos on TV.” 

Many young performers and comedians of different ethnic backgroun ds also appear in the film, like San Francisco’s Shabaka, Northern California’s Culture Clash, Andy Bumatai (Filipino-Hawaiian-German: “In Hawaii, ethnic humor’s just called ‘humor’”), Kate Rigg (performing Asian-American ‘Trip-Hop’ on stage, intercut wit h the same rap on the street), Egyptian-American Ahmed Ahmed (“‘You’re a comedian? Say something funny’—‘Uh, I just graduated from flight school?’”)—and Danny Hoch (with his ludicrously funny tale of a cop, “and I’m whiter than he is,” trying to squeeze a n admission of ethnicity out of him to explain his “ghetto accent”). 

Literally a case of art holding up a mirror, Race is the Place documents those who would expose the fallacy articulated by author James Baldwin in an old interview clip: “White American s assume I live in a segregated society—they live in a segregated society but don’t know it, as I do.” 

Tina Naccache—a former Berkeley resident who for years hosted a weekly KPFA-FM Arabic music program—journeyed from Beirut to join her fellow filmmakers Erica Marcus and Hrabba Gunnarsdottir for the screening of their documentary, Alive in Limbo, which follows four Palestinian refugee children and one Lebanese child over a ten-year period, showing them coming of age in a camp near Beirut and near the Isr aeli-occupied zone in the south. Against the background of a rapidly-changing society, their world does not change very much. Alive in Limbo’s showing at the Castro 1:30 p.m. Sunday underscores the importance of the Festival to filmmakers: the level of at tendance will be the crucial factor deciding whether it will be screened on public television. It will also play at Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center in coming weeks.  

Berkeley resident Alfonso Alvarez—whose films “have screened in bars, backyards and B BQs around the world”—contributes his seven-minute Down on the Farm to Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. program Beyond Belief (“animated, experimental and narrative shorts”) at the Roxie. Shot and hand-processed at Phil Hoffman’s Film Farm near Toronto, Alvarez optic ally printed his edited black-and-white harvest footage onto color stock using color filters, displaying the range of techniques of the experimentalist—from lap dissolves to shifting film speeds, scratched emulsion to sunstrike and solarization and sunstrike to scratched emulsion, making a rhythmic equation between the rigors of farmwork and filmmaking. 

Other entries show faces and scenes familiar (if some only subliminally so) to Bay Area audiences: Adriano Bravo’s feature Tell It Like It Is, the music and struggle for recognition of Oakland blues singer-songwriter-organist Lady Margaret, 6 p. m. Sunday at the Castro; a feature drama on grafitti artists in The Mission (Quality of Life by Benjamin Morgan, 9:15 p. m. Friday, Roxie); Lexie Liban and Lidia Szajko’s documentary Girl Trouble of three female teenagers “entangled in the S.F. juvenile justice system”; the premiere of Clark Brigham’s feature tale of an artist’s secret return to San Francisco to solve the old mystery of his best friend’s murder—and the part played in it by his own father; or Liam Dalzell’s “post-911” Punjabi Cab, a glimpse at the city’s darker side through the eyes of Sikh taxi drivers (preceding Alive in Limbo, Castro, 1:30 p.m. Sunday). 

Film Arts Foundation has been supporting filmmaking and its distribution since 1976. From social-political documentary, through music films and narrative fiction to the personal art film, Film Arts Foundation has served as a bridge between general audiences and local artists, universal themes an d personal styles—getting it onto the screen.