Archive for November, 2008

Express Busses &

This is how it works: you submit an idea, either a story you want reported, or one you want to report, and people vote or Digg it *before* the work is done. Crowd-sourced journalism.

Check out this pitch: “Why doesn’t Muni run more express buses?” and journalist 39 here will do the leg work to deliver the all of the juicy details we’re all interested in.
– thanks to Jeremy Toeman for the headsup

In other news, I was abandoned on my bus for 5 minutes while the driver went into a liquor store. Me, on the 49 articulated bus, while it’s running. I like the level of trust they have in me, ( I was engrossed in a Sudoku game) but this is pushing it a little far. Especially since the drive then goes one stop and yells “end of the line!”

Film: A Christmas Tale Opens Tonight at the Bridge


It’s hard to know where to start with a film as rich as A Christmas Tale (trailer), which opens tonight, November 21st at the Bridge Theater for an exclusive one-week run. It’s under consideration for one of France’s top film honors, the Louis Delluc prize, and no wonder: in two and a half hours that never drag or bore, director Arnaud Desplechin explores every aspect of a crazy dysfunctional family, and takes us on a journey that, for all its length, almost feels a bit too short.

The heart of the story is Junon (Catherine Deneuve) and Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon), whose three adult children have been locked for years into a state of passive-aggressive feuding. Overshadowing their lives is the fate of their oldest child Joseph, who died of leukemia forty years earlier at the age of seven. When Junon develops the same disease — and there is a chance that one of her children may be able to donate marrow to save her life — they all return to the family home to be tested, and for the holidays. Merry Christmas!

It sounds like a depressing film — as Desplechin himself said of it, everything “in the scenario should scare a producer half to death” — but in fact it’s often quite hilarious, and all the tragedy is treated with a light touch that somehow doesn’t trivialize it. But in the end that’s very true to life. Add in the wonderful cast — Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Devos, Hippolyte Girardot, and Chiara Mastroianni (the only actress I can’t stop thinking about and Deneuve’s real-life daughter) — and it’s a film you just can’t miss.

Desplechin visited San Francisco back in October to attend a screening of the film at the San Francisco Film Society’s French Cinema Now festival. We chatted in his hotel suite; his accommodations delighted him so much that he took us out onto the balcony to share the amazing view he had of downtown and the bay. We enjoyed a rich, wide-ranging discussion about this and his other films, about his process, his opinions about various films ranging from Fanny and Alexander to The Royal Tenenbaums to The Outsiders, his plans to make a film about the birth of hip-hop in France, and why he refuses to think about casting while working on a script — even if, as with the case of Catherine Deneuve in this film, there’s really nobody else who could do the role.

It’s a lengthy interview but well worth your time, if you’d like to get a glimpse into the mind of one of the finest directors working in France today. Full text after the jump.


Bill O’Reilly Smears SF & North Beach

He introduces it as a “where Obama is leading us,” in “traditional America vs. secular progressive America”. What is scary about SF? We’re so despicably tolerant. We get to know our homeless. We talk about sex, and we condone marijuana. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Bill O’Reilly Smear from Huffington Post.

Great quotes that have been getting attention on some discussion groups:

“You wouldn’t go to the Presidio at night, I wouldn’t” – Bill
“Every city has a tenderloin, and North Beach is San Francisco’s” – Bill
“Lots of dopes everywhere. Those clinics are everywhere.” – Bill

Film: SFFS New Italian Cinema Continues Through Nov. 23


[Image from Black Sea.]

Another one of the many, many film festivals of late November, the San Francisco Film Society’s New Italian Cinema series continues at the Embarcadero Cinema tonight through Sunday, November 23rd. If you haven’t been to any of the films since it started Sunday, don’t fret: you’ve only missed three out of the twelve features that comprise the festival. So don’t write it off!

There are a number of good-to-great films in the lineup, as KQED’s Michael Fox reports here. The films for this afternoon and evening include two that Fox reviews: A Night at 4:30, and Cover Boy: The Last Revolution at 6:15. (Each has another screening on the 22nd and the 23rd, respectively.) Don’t miss Black Sea, pictured above, which screens at 7:00 on Friday and Saturday night.

Above all, don’t miss the closing night reception on Sunday from 7:30 in the former Gallery One space of One Embarcadero. The reception offers “complimentary Peroni beer, wine from Siena Imports and delicious appetizers from Fuzio Universal Bistro,” and it will be followed by a screening at 8:45 by a film I’ve been advised no one should miss: Gomorrah, a “hyper-realistic drama” based on Robert Saviano’s groundbreaking expose by the same name: “far from the glamorized portrait of the Mafia common in American films, Gomorrah is grim, gritty, almost documentary-like cinema—an exposé of widespread corruption and an impassioned demand that something be done to halt its spread.”

In other words, if you are weak of stomach, don’t hit the Peroni too hard before viewing this one. But don’t skip it, either.

Full schedule here; all films screen at the Embarcadero Cinema, in Embarcadero One. Advance tix here.

Film: "Ghosts" at the Roxie, Nov 21-26

Ai Qin Lin

[Ai Qin Lin in Ghosts]

Nick Broomfield has directed 24 films, almost all of them investigative documentaries of one sort or another, some of them lightly fictionalized. Ghosts [trailer], which opens at the Roxie this Friday night, is in the latter group. It follows the story of Ai Qin, a young woman from Fujian province who pays a snakehead $25,000 to be smuggled into the UK. Once she finally gets there, she finds herself trapped in a situation where she has to do the worst jobs almost without respite. Her ordeal comes to a climax when she gets trapped by the rising tide with a crew of Chinese cocklers in Morecambe Bay, and nearly drowns there — as did twenty-three of her fellow workers. The film is based on Ai Qin’s actual journey, and all of the people who appear in it are non-actors who either were formerly, or currently still are, illegal immigrants. It’s a fascinating and moving film.

Last Friday we had a chance to sit down with Mr. Broomfield and talk about Ghosts a little bit. We discussed the undercover research he did, the unique challenges he faced in casting and working with non-actors, and the relief fund he has set up to aid the families of the victims at Morecambe Bay, since they are still liable to ruthless loan sharks for the huge debts the victims incurred in order to be smuggled to the UK. As Broomfield told me, “the family left behind in China, which is generally the very old and their children, are held as hostages, as a kind of surety for the loan. So if they default, they take it out on the family. It’s been known for them to get the kids and sell the kids, do awful stuff. So the people in England, they’re just literally working around the clock to fulfill these things, and they’ll do any job that comes along.”

The interview begins below and continues after the jump.

SF METBLOG: So, this film is something of a minor departure for you: it’s a narrative film, but it’s based on a great deal of hard research. How did you approach the research?

BROOMFIELD: Well, I personally worked undercover for a couple of weeks, living in a Chinese house. I was pretending to be an Afrikaner, because you get Afrikaners who do that kind of thing. Ai Qin and I paid some kind of introductory fee to these snakeheads, and they gave us the name of a gangmaster in Birmingham.

So we went up there and lived in this house for a couple of weeks. It was like ten people to a room, and we’d get up at 4:30 in the morning. It was very hard work. But I was able to at least get a basis to work from, first-hand knowledge of what the people were like and what the work was like, and to try and make something that was as real as possible.

[In addition] I had some Chinese students working for me. We’d go undercover and get statistics such as how much they were being paid per hour, how much tax they were having to pay the [recruitment agency], because they have all these recruitment agencies, these labor agencies, that are also very corrupt. [Certain individuals who worked there] would charge people some 42% tax, and they’d just pocket the money themselves. I wanted to document that kind of stuff as much as possible, and also to be able to name some of the people who were doing it, which we did in the film.

Really? I didn’t realize that. I assumed that all the individuals apart from Ai Qin were invented.


Exploding house in Sunnyside injures 5

Five people were hurt at a house on Congo St. (map) when an explosion ripped through the first floor of the house, pictured at right courtesy Google Street View.

Best detail in the Chronicle’s story: A 20-year-old cat, Paws, was saved by a 19-year-old man, a resident of the flat.

Breaking: BART to San Jose may pass after all

Update to the story below as of 1720h PST: The San Jose Mercury News is reporting that with 9800 ballots remaining, Measure B has passed the 66.67 percent mark.

The ballot initiative to fund a BART extension to San Jose may have squeaked by, KNTV was reporting this afternoon. Though initial balloting showed the measure falling short of the required two-thirds majority, mail-in ballots are turning the tide.

With 17,000 of 42,000 mail-in ballots still to be counted, the vote to fund the 22-mile BART extension with a 1/8-cent Santa Clara County sales tax was 66.61 percent yes; the measure, like any tax increase in California since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, requires at least a 66.67 percent yes vote.

If the Bart-to-San Jose tax passes, it would complete a surprising trifecta of voter support for mass transit projects at a time when local and state budgets are tight. Earlier this month, voters in Marin and Sonoma Counties passed a rail initiative, and statewide Proposition 1A also passed, kicking off the state’s bullet train project. shuts SF office, a financial news website, is shutting its San Francisco office, reported The announcement doesn’t say how many jobs that would mean, but surely not that many compared with the 5000 worldwide job cuts announced last week by Sun, which has its HQ in Silicon Valley. The announcement follows that of Six Apart last week, where 18 lost their jobs.

Meanwhile CNet links to who’s firing, who’s hiring.

I wonder if the folks at followed the advice they printed last month about layoff do’s and don’ts.

Fired Silicon Valley engineer kills boss, two others

Updated to clarify the suspect in this case was not laid off.

Friday a 47-year-old engineer who had been canned earlier in the week allegedly killed his company’s CEO, the operations VP, and the HR lady, before fleeing. Yesterday police arrested Jing Hua Wu, former test engineer at a semiconductor company called SiPort Inc. and were holding him in the Santa Clara County jail pending arraignment on three murder charges.

Update: An earlier version of this post implied that the alleged shooter might have snapped after being laid off. But a recent report on Valleywag states the suspect was fired, and that the company has never laid people off. A report on KCBS radio Monday morning said the suspect was fired for poor performance, though a profile on the station’s website still says he was laid off.

Film: 3rd I Festival Continues Tonight Thru Nov 16

Kissing Cousins

I think the second (okay, well, third) weekend in November should be officially declared San Francisco’s Too Damn Many Film Festivals All At Once Weekend. Like a complete chump, I forgot to post about one of them in time for the opening: 3rd I South Asian Film Festival, which is pretty much how it sounds. This is their sixth time out. Check out the schedule here, and get your tickets here.

Tonight’s feature, screening at 8:30 PM, is called Kissing Cousins, and if I didn’t have a prior engagement, I’d drive out to the Brava tonight just to gaze at Rebecca Hazlewood on screen (pictured above with Samrat Chakrabarti at left) for 99 minutes. Although such devotion might be a little weird, since she’ll be there, along with producer Manish Goyal and director Amyn Caderali, one of the Bay Area’s own. Here’s the story, as told by Christopher Au:

Amir (Chakrabarti) is a professional heartbreaker. Except, he hasn’t dated any of the unfortunate souls with whom he breaks up—he’s just the hired messenger who bears the bad news. And for an additional fee, he can even get your stuff back! As his friends begin to couple up, get married and settle into new homes, they wonder if bachelor Amir will ever let his hardened heart fall in love.

When Amir’s gorgeous British cousin Zara (Rebecca Hazlewood, ER) visits him in Los Angeles, she fools his friends into thinking that she’s his girlfriend. But as Amir spends more time with Zara, she opens him up to feelings that have lay dormant for far too long. How long can they keep up this ruse of faux-love? Or will they become more than “just cousins”?

The rest of the schedule is pretty great too: it includes a wide range of documentaries; a screening of Om Shanti Om; A Throw of Dice, which is a 1929 silent film involving eastern splendor and torrid passions (what else?); and most irresistably, Hell’s Ground, which is best described as a Pakistani zombie flick: “They should have listened to the warnings of the creepy old guy at the chai stand a few miles back.” Yesssssss.

Oh yeah, they’re also playing the totally ignored, poorly covered Slumdog Millionaire on Sunday night at the Castro Theatre. Tickets are a bargain at $9 a show.

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