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The Arab Film Festival is called off; plus details on the Castro Theatre's renovation

Wednesday, Sep 19 2001
The Day After Following the Sept. 11 terror attack, executive director and curator Khalil Benkirane canceled last weekend's lineup of Cinemayaat -- The Arab Film Festival at Berkeley's Fine Arts Cinema. "Who would feel relaxed enough to come and enjoy a film?" said Benkirane. He also noted that the withdrawal represented a lost opportunity for cross-cultural understanding, since 45 percent of attendees aren't Arab or Arab-American.

Holiday Even casual readers of the new Castro calendar couldn't miss the multiple references to upcoming renovations, which will be packed into two weeks in mid-December, with the theater closed during that time. Although the master plan has yet to be finalized, Nasser Bros. Theaters honcho Theodore Nasser and his cousin Don Nasser -- who took over the operation of the theater on Aug. 1 from Blumenfeld Theaters (Reel World, May 30) -- are exhibiting a big-time commitment to the movie palace. According to Don, the owners' spending will likely approach the low six figures.

The main floor will be outfitted with plush new seats made by the same company that provided the chairs for the renovated Rafael Film Center. While comfort is paramount -- you'll soon be able to enjoy a double feature without need of a chiropractor! -- traditionalists needn't worry about the Castro's unique aesthetic: According to theater manager Stacey Wisnia, the seats will be maroon, with wooden armrests and seat backs, to fit the deco atmosphere. (They'll also have wooden cup holders, which some nudniks may criticize as not historically accurate.) After the seats are in, artist/restorer David Boysel will clean and touch up the wall paintings; he'll also repaint the lower walls in a light color that should brighten the auditorium considerably. The Nassers plan to install a new curtain and improve the sound system, too.

The current scenario is to take the best existing seats, refurbish them, and place them in the lower balcony (or loge) section. The underutilized mezzanine will eventually boast new couches, a concession stand, and historical displays (an old projector, vintage photos and programs, and an original seat complete with built-in wire hat stand). That and a host of other projects -- renovating the bathrooms, painting the lobby, laying new carpet -- are on the Nassers' list, although it's unlikely that they can all be completed by Dec. 24, when the Castro reopens. More good news: Ticket prices will increase a mere 50 cents, to $8 ($5 for matinees), according to Wisnia.

Tongues Untied The San Francisco Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Film Festival, slated for Nov. 30-Dec. 2, is the latest shindig to stake a spot on the chockablock film calendar. The Black Coalition on AIDS' Man 2 Man program, which sponsors a gay-themed film every year at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, devised the idea of a fest dedicated to the black gay community -- a clear endorsement of movies as a force for social change. (The fest dates encompass World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.) Longtime local publicist and programmer Ave Montague has been retained to produce the event, with screenings to be held at small venues of 150 to 200 seats. The SFBLGBTFF now has the longest acronym of any film fest in town, for those who track that sort of thing.

Storm Warning A Sept. 12 reception in Washington, D.C., saluting the 10th anniversary of the S.F.-based Independent Television Service, hosted by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (with several of her colleagues scheduled to attend), was canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks of the previous day. ITVS, incidentally, is moving to new offices in October at Mariposa and York in the media corridor now housing KQED, BAVC, and ZDTV. ... Congrats to local filmmaker Elizabeth Thompson and her documentary, Blink, a portrait of a former white supremacist that recently won a national Emmy in the news and documentary competition for Outstanding Coverage of a Continuing News Story.

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Michael Fox


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