From its cluttered, no-frills offices overlooking the grimy corner of Ninth Street and Market, California Newsreel single-handedly flies the flag(s) of African cinema in this country. Now in its 32nd year of "socially engaged film distribution" (to quote from its literature), in the last decade the nonprofit has carved a healthy, growing niche in the educational market for its Library of African Cinema. 1999 was a banner year, as Newsreel added a whopping 14 titles, expanding the collection to 55 films from 21 countries.
Newsreel recently racked up a few wins on the theatrical side as well, booking The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun, the last film by the late Senegalese master Djibril Diop Mambety, into Manhattan's Film Forum for a week at the end of April. "It's mainly for prestige and press, not money, since largely the market we cater to is educational institutions," Newsreel co-director Cornelius Moore explains. But reviews in the New York papers translate into national exposure, leading in turn to other theatrical engagements and increasing video sales to universities and libraries. (Check out Newsreel's lineup at www.newsreel.org.)
The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun, which screened at the Cannes and S.F. film festivals, also shows at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts throughout January; Mweze Ngangura's I.D., a hit at the Mill Valley fest, plays the same venerable institution for a week in February. Moore is busy lighting up the phones of our burg's art houses and museums, trying to procure a local exhibition. "I hope that the Bay Area responds in kind like our colleagues in Boston and New York," says Moore, who's also spearheading a terrifically ambitious (and long overdue) campaign to broadcast African feature films on PBS. Moore figures he needs just $200,000 to cover acquisition costs and promotion; Newsreel could then provide the movies to PBS affiliates at no cost. Free programming is all but impossible to resist for public television stations, who are operating under severe financial constraints despite the exploding economy.
Who says short films don't have a life? Consider Sam Ball's moody portrait of syndicated cartoonist Ben Katchor, Pleasures of Urban Decay. After premiering at the Jewish Film Festival and airing on KQED, Pleasures returns May 8 (along with Cheerful Ben) to Herbst Theater for a City Arts & Lectures event. Call 392-4400 if you need a gift for that lonely transplanted New Yorker in your life. ... I avoid multiplexes, especially on weekends, but foolishly ventured out one recent Saturday night to catch The Insider at the AMC 1000. (Never mind that their phones weren't picking up, so we were forced to read tarot cards to deduce show times.) In the thick of the Saturday night rush, two of the six ticket windows were closed. The moral: Buy your tickets in advance or arrive 45 minutes early. Another option: Avoid multiplexes altogether. ... Somehow I don't think that poster of St. Jodie as the pinched, bonneted Anna Leonowens of Anna and the King will be a popular Xmas gift among Castro colleagues and college roommates. Presumably Her Jodiness will be more desirable in Leni Riefenstahl drag.
Michael Fox is co-host ofIndependent View, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.
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