San Francisco's fall film menu includes festivals, special film series at its many repertory theaters, and several interesting-sounding movies shot here in the city including the biopic about late Supervisor Harvey Milk. Since there's a lot to talk about, let's get started with the previews so you can decide which film events will be your main features over the next few months.
Local distributor Roxie Releasing is opening Forbidden Lie$ on Sept. 19 at its homebase, the Mission District's Roxie. Roxie Releasing, whose past successes include Rivers and Tides and last month's Warchild, has rebooted since its film theater partner's separation from troubled New College of California. Anna Broinowski's documentary tells the tale of a woman claiming to be a Jordanian virgin fleeing a fatwa; in fact, she was a Chicago real estate agent dodging the FBI on fraud charges.
The Bay Area is always hospitable to film festivals and other special events. A CinemaLit series of Peter Sellers films continues every Friday through September at the Mechanics' Institute. SF Weekly's Michael Fox is the moderator. The election-themed Being There (screening Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m.) is one standout.
The 12th annual MadCat Women's International Film Festival, specializing in films by women directors from around the world, has two upcoming special events. On Sept. 19 at Artists' Television Access, "MadCat Looks Back" screens eight hits from festivals past, including Orbit by Kerry Laitala ("Candy-apple light emissions tickle the retinas in this playful pulsation of misregistered images created when a lab accidentally split the film") and Samara Halperin's Sorry, Brenda, which repurposes scenes from Beverly Hills 90210 shot on Super-8 from the TV to create an unlikely love affair. Sept. 23 marks the second phase of the fest, "Hear It to Believe It," in which silent films are screened with live musical accompaniment by local bands Silian Rail and Tartufi. They play "under the stars" at San Francisco's El Rio. Visit www.madcatfilmfestival.org.
Veteran San Francisco filmmaker Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing, The Joy Luck Club) has two features opening on Sept. 26 at the Embarcadero: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Princess of Nebraska. Both are adapted from short stories by Chinese émigré Yiyun Li, and cover three generations of émigrés from China. While not featuring the same characters, they both deal with the same themes — A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is about a father visiting his divorced, Americanized daughter, while The Princess of Nebraska tells of a foreign exchange student who finds herself pregnant.
The Presidio's annual "Film in the Fog" outdoor screening selection this year is the Gene Kelly classic An American in Paris, coming up on Saturday, Sept. 27 on the lawn of the Main Post Theatre. There's also a free concert and comedy show where you're invited to picnic in a program starting at 5 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will screen what's sure to be a very popular series, "The Superstars Next Door," a celebration of softcore sex films made in San Francisco in 1968. The series celebrates these end-of-censorship dam breakers, saluting "the spirited amateurism and glorious lack of professionalism that characterized these movies." A "Home Movie" program screens on Oct. 9 and 11: Titles include Cosmetics Saleslady Comes a-Callin', Gift for Santa, Pumpkin at the Halloween Party, and His Father's Call-Girl — which we guess gives away the plots! A bisexual "bizarre milestone of gay cinema," The Meatrack, plays on Oct. 9, with "Flaming Striptease, A History of Live Sex Performance" to follow on Oct. 11.
The seventh annual Documentary Film Festival (DocFest) will screen more than 60 nonfiction films and videos Oct. 17-30 at the Roxie and Oct. 31-Nov. 6 at the Shattuck in Berkeley. The final film program has not been set, but you can watch trailers at www.myspace.com/sfindie. Submissions are still being reviewed and selected as of this writing.
From Oct. 24-30, the San Francisco Film Society is sponsoring a weeklong screening of Secrecy at Opera Plaza Cinemas. The documentary by Robb Moss and Peter Galison examines government secrecy in the United States and, according to SFFS (the organization behind the San Francisco International Film Festival), raises simple but important questions such as, "If secrets are necessary, who gets to know?" A panel including Moss and local public-information experts will consider these questions and others on Oct. 25. Visit www.sffs.org.
The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley continues its always-impressive programming with Chinese director Ning Ying in person for five days in October, offering a master class and screening her work, which includes On the Beat (1995) and Perpetual Motion (2005). "Home Movie Day" on Oct. 18 offers a chance to screen your old private productions — probably not like the sex films screening at Yerba Buena. Cartoonist Daniel Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff are also at the PFA in person on October 26, presenting their excellent film Ghost World (2001), starring a then-unknown Scarlett Johannson.
For San Francisco moviegoers, Milk is arguably the most anticipated fall film. Many scenes for the biopic about assassinated gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot on location in the Castro and included lots of locals as extras. The Gus Van Sant–directed film boasts a great cast including Sean Penn as Milk, Josh Brolin as his buttoned-up assassin Dan White, Victor Garber as Mayor George Moscone, Denis O'Hare as antigay crusader John Briggs, and Tom Ammiano as himself.
Earlier this year, SF Weekly writer John Geluardi obtained a draft version of the Milk script, which made the provocative argument that White was a closet homosexual. We don't know whether that angle survived rewrites and the editing process, but San Franciscans will find out after Milk opens on Nov. 26 at the Castro Theatre.
Will Harper contributed to this article.
Fall Arts Guide