Love Among the Tombstones

A collection of cutting-edge films, including one on S.F.'s cemeteries

Who knew that every strollable square foot of northwestern San Francisco once hid the remains of past citizens, going back to the Gold Rush? Hyperbole aside, that's the indelible impression left after viewing A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries, one of the terrific offerings in the ninth annual MadCat Women's International Film Festival.

Nearing the fest's first decade, MadCat's head curator, Ariella Ben-Dov, and company return with the stated mission of presenting "cutting-edge films from around the globe," including 16 countries, while retaining a funky local feel. Choose from documentaries, shorts, narratives (both conventional and experimental), and even animated docs, all by women filmmakers.

The Pacific Film Archive presents two eagerly awaited features. The Phantom of the Operator is a found-footage "speculative and revisionist history of women telephone operators," as described in the program.Carrying festival and critical awards from Berlin and Tribeca, Jennifer Todd Reeves' The Time We Killed explores personal and political isolation as a young writer confines herself to her apartment while witnessing the invasion of Iraq on TV.

Unsettled Souls: Trina Lopez's A Second 
Unsettled Souls: Trina Lopez's A Second Final Rest.


Unspools Sept. 20 at 8:30 p.m.

Admission is $7-20


The MadCat film festival continues through Sept. 27 at various venues around town; call 436-9523 or visit for a complete schedule

El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F.

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Among the short films, standouts include the Danish Between Rooms, a first-person account of a sex worker's bedside manner. Altitude Zero is a love letter to Amelia Earhart, featuring the words "Wait, take me with you," which plead for both a love life and oblivion. Threading the Needle impressionistically reminisces about a flood in a South Asian village that will resonate with viewers more intensely now that we have experienced our own catastrophe in New Orleans.

Closer to home, Tuesday's excellent "City Nights" program of six films reveals the secrets of a hidden Bay Area: One short focuses on the police blotters of two neighboring but contrasting communities, and another explores the workings of a cannabis club.

Highlighting the evening is Trina Lopez's superb A Second Final Rest, which is about far more than just five cemeteries, all immediately south of the Presidio, that no longer exist. It's a history of San Francisco dug up, by both the filmmakers and the mid-20th-century work crews that accomplished one of the largest relocations of human remains in history -- to Colma, "City of Souls" -- so that our metropolis could resume growth.

This film could have you exploring from Aquatic Park to Buena Vista Park, detecting carved marble and granite "debris" from the relocations. You would be following in the footsteps of San Francisco's children and lovers from the 1930s and '40s, who reminisce in the film about getting locked in crypts, slipping into the "ookie" muck of opened graves, and falling in love among the tombstones. After seeing this, you'll pause in your rambles and realize you're standing above the transient bed of a restless San Franciscan who could have been much like yourself.

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