Mission: Possible One week can make all the difference in the world, if what happened to author Victor Martinez is any indication. Just six people showed up for his recent reading at Intersection for the Arts, in Martinez's own Mission neighborhood. But on Nov. 6, when Martinez won a National Book Award for his novel Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, he suddenly found himself reading to hundreds of people and being interviewed by National Public Radio. Parrot, the story of a young Mexican-American adolescent trying to be a vato firme, a respect-worthy guy, won in the young people's literature category, and is based on Martinez's own experiences as an immigrant kid in California's Central Valley. Fellow Missionite Peter Plate reads from Snitch Factory, a neighborhood-based tale of social work gone awry, in a joint presentation with Martinez beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia, S.F. Admission is free; call 282-9246.
Lust for Leaf As the children's book The Giving Tree makes clear, trees are more than just landmarks on the horizon; they're shelter, shade, fuel, and food sources, too. Trees have roots in art history as well; the exhibit "Trees of Life: Symbols of Fertility and Regeneration" traces their representation as fertility symbols from the ancient Middle East to Spain via the Moors to the Americas, where the Spanish emphasis on Trees of Life as emblems of the Garden of Eden met with indigenous traditions. Trees of Life became familiar motifs at weddings and funerals, and eventually a Tree of Death evolved and became part of the Day of the Dead ceremonies. Mexican folk traditions vary among regions, but most Trees of Life are made of clay and tend to be decorated with paradisiacal elements like angels, birds, blossoms, and serpents. The exhibit opens at noon at the Mexican Museum, Building D, Fort Mason, S.F. Admission is free-$3; call 441-0404.
Monk Crossing The long cultural history of an embattled nation shines through folk-, temple-, and palace-style performances by the Song and Dance Ensemble of Tibet. Monks from the Gyutoe Monastery, traveling the States for the first time under the auspices of the Dalai Lama, have crafted a program of mystical and sacred music, chanting, song, and dance done with traditional instruments and costuming. This year has already seen a number of Tibetan performances, but these particular monks are known for their ability to produce the lowest human vocal sounds possible; that, combined with long trumpets, acrobatic dances and ritual ceremonies, and jokes and stories, makes for intriguing possibilities. The performance begins at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $14-26; call (510) 642-9988.
Continental Divide If the situation in Rwanda and Zaire seems hopelessly confusing, the Annual African Studies Conference, with Africanist scholars and leaders and an expected international crowd of 1,500 people, may shed some light. A series of panel discussions will focus on this year's theme, "The Challenges of Renewal in Africa"; events especially geared to the public include film screenings, an art exhibit of work by Mbuti women, readings, a social dance reception, and a staging of Death and the King's Horseman, by Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka, slated for 7:30 p.m. (also Friday and Saturday) at the Black Box Theater, Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $2; call (510) 642-1677. The conference is held Saturday at 1 p.m. (also on Sunday through Tuesday at 8:45 a.m.) at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, 5 Embarcadero Center, S.F. Admission is $50-110; call (510) 642-8338.
See 'Em Like Survival Research Laboratories, the Seemen specialize in ingenious mechanical contraptions and fiery spectacle. The collective's new work, "A House of Oddities," offers a chaotic, side-show-inspired interactive performance/exhibit, where Klansmen and Jesus are the moving targets in a shooting gallery equipped with air guns, and viewers can feed Cerebus the three-headed dog. Like any carnival worth its admission charge, this one has peep-show booths, in this case involving hermaphrodites and a head-punching machine; robotics, paintings, film projection, and homemade instruments are what separates "Oddities" from the average traveling show. It all begins at 10 p.m. (also Friday and Saturday) at the LAB, 2948 16th St., S.F. Admission is $7-10; call 864-8855.
Why Stay Still? The black-and-white and full-color films of Robert Mapplethorpe, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and other artists famous mostly for their still photographs find a home at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The series is organized into seven programs ranging thematically from "Surrealistic Tendencies" to "Photojournalism," and the films, which illustrate links between still and moving pictures, run from less than a minute to feature length. Screenings are held at 1 and 3 p.m. Fridays and Sundays (through Dec. 15) at the SFMOMA, 151 Third St., S.F. Admission is free-$7; call 357-4000.
Far-Ranging Flicks They may not be as well-known around here as their more commercially successful counterpart Like Water for Chocolate, but the nine entries in Classics of Latin America: The 1996 Latin American Film Festival are recognized in their countries of origin for speaking to particular cultural experiences. Among these are Erendira, a tale of eroticism and evil based on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez screenplay, and Tangos, the Exile of Gardel, a musical tragicomedy about Argentine exiles in Paris. The festival begins with a reception and dance performance by Tango/Argentina Folk Ballet at 6:30 p.m.; a screening of Frida, a fictionalized account of painter Frida Kahlo's life, at 8 p.m.; and a post-show party at the Palace of Fine Arts, Bay & Lyon, S.F. Admission is $10-20. The fest continues at noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at the McKenna Theater, Creative Arts Building, 1600 Holloway, SFSU campus. Admission is $5-10; call 338-2467.