Archive for January, 2009

Wenders tribute, appearance Tuesday at Castro Theatre

Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders

The highlight of the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, now playing through the 24th, has to be the Jan. 20 tribute to director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, The American Friend) which will include a new documentary about the German filmmaker, a live interview with him on stage, and a showing of his new film Palermo Shooting. Read an interview with Wenders from Sunday’s SF Chronicle.

Wenders’ connections to San Francisco are many. Francis Ford Coppola supported his work during the 1980s, even renaming the Zim’s Diner on the first level of the Zoetrope Building “Wim’s” (still owned by Coppola, it’s now the fancy Cafe Zoetrope) and producing Wenders’ 1982 film Hammet, which was shot here. Wenders also has connections to Bay Area actor and playwright Sam Shepard, collaborating with him on 1984’s Paris, Texas and 2005’s Don’t Come Knocking.

During the 1980s, Wenders often appeared for premieres of his films in San Francisco at the Castro, the Roxie and, I think, the old Surf Theatre.

Ferry terminal for South City’s Oyster Point

Oyster Point [map] in South San Francisco on a hazy Sunday morning. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has approved ferry service from Oakland to Oyster Point; service could begin as early as late 2010.

The new route is only one of several planned, using new, greener vessels, in an expansion of commute options in the next few years. (Did you know there was something called the Water Emergency Transportation Authority [WETA]?) See all the proposed routes.

Alan Lew, 1945-2009

Alan Lew, former rabbi of a San Francisco congregation and well known in Bay Area Zen Buddhist circles, died Monday on a trip to the East Coast.

Lew, the author of the spiritual memoir “One God Clapping” and two other books, was regarded as an innovator for bringing meditation practices into Jewish spirituality.

He was a spiritual seeker in California during the late 1960s and early 70s, when he was exposed to Zen meditation for the first time. He went on to practice for several years at the Berkeley and San Francisco Zen Centers, but while preparing for lay ordination as a Buddhist, he had a crisis that led him instead to become a rabbi. I really liked his book as a document of what it was like to live in the Bay Area during those unsteady years.

Sexerati gather for monthly reading

New in town? Made a New Year’s resolution to uncover the San Francisco sex underground but don’t know where the hellmouth is? Then get over to the Perverts Put Out reading on Friday, where you can hear and meet several leading lights of the scene, and their acolytes. MCs are Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard, and reading are Charlie Anders, Greta Christina, Stephen Elliot, Shar Rednour, Kirk Reed, Thomas Roche — and it wouldn’t be San Francisco without somebody with a made-up name — one “horehound stillpoint,” all lower case please.

The event’s at 7:30pm at CounterPulse, 1310 Mission Street, and costs $10-15.

Berlin & Beyond Festival: Recommended Weekend Films, 1/16-18


[Phillipe Graber as Emil in The Friend.]

Of the films playing in the Berlin and Beyond festival tonight and over the weekend, I’ve only had a chance to screen a few. But among them were a couple of genuine gems:

First, The Friend, which screens at 6:30 PM tonight, was an innovative and interesting film with a very unconventional premise: Emil (played by Phillipe Graber, pictured above) has a crush on Larissa, who sings in a local bar. Soon after they meet, Larissa asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend for her parents’ sake. He agrees, perhaps because he thinks it might lead somewhere. But after a few days of silence, he calls her number only to reach Larissa’s sister Nora. She tells him that Larissa has died. “Were you her boyfriend?” Nora asks. Emil gulps, and not knowing what to do, says yes, he was. Soon he is invited to meet the family and finds himself helping to plan the funeral and memorials for this girl he only met once — all the while pretending to everybody that he was Larissa’s boyfriend. That’s messy enough, but things get even messier when he begins to fall in love with Nora. It’s really pretty wonderful. The film was selected for the festival’s Maurice Kanbar Award for Best First Feature, and it’s easy to see why they chose it. It starts with a delightful, unpredictable story, and then that story is told with real subtlety and emotional range. All the actors are good, but Phillipe Graber is really good — he reminds me strongly of Michael Cera, and it was easy to imagine an English-language remake starring him. Let’s hope some indie producer picks it up and does it right.

The other great film I had a chance to see was Bird’s Nest, which screens at 4:15 PM on Saturday. It’s a documentary about the five-year process of the design and construction of Herzog & de Meuron’s beautiful Bejing National Stadium. (In case you didn’t know, the architects also designed the De Young in conjunction with Fong & Chan Architects.) It’s really a must-see for anybody with an interest in architecture, urban planning, China, or Herzog & de Meuron.

Actually, the title is a little misleading, because it’s not so much about the stadium as it is an exploration of all the things the firm was working on over this period (including an entire urban development near Shanghai), with the progress of the stadium serving as a narrative to pull you through the whole film. Along the way, we have a chance to become familiar with the architects as individuals and learn a great deal about their sensibilities, plus the film explores the nature of business and construction in China, the promise of urban planning, the vagaries of cross-cultural exchange, much about the artist Ai Weiwei (who advised the architects on cultural matters), and more.

Don’t expect an expose, though. Bird’s Nest largely avoids the dark side of this subject, addressing it only in asides and allusions, and stays positive, mostly exploring how the architects themselves made peace with the contradictions inherent in their position. “To tell them that they have to do their homework first,” Herzog says, alluding mostly to the PRC’s undemocratic nature, “and only then we will build for them, would be incredibly arrogant of us.” De Meuron seems to find a more aesthetic reconciliation: “We didn’t want to practice monumentalism, to glorify a system” with the stadium. Similar to the Eiffel Tower, which was built for a single event but has continued to function as public space and public sculpture ever since, they tried to make “a stadium that was anti-monumental, something for people, with a human dimension.”

But in the end, those are probably just rationalizations to cover their real motive: to create beauty in a prominent construction that will endure. At one point in the film, Herzog says to a television reporter: “What is beautiful? … I don’t speak of taste, but of something that attracts you. It has a magic that you cannot always explain. Some projects do have that, other projects do not have that. So in a very strange way, we do not always know what we do.” And then he goes on to cite the Forbidden City itself as a supreme example of architecture that has this mysterious beauty.

There are twelve other films playing this weekend (schedule here), and though I’m sure many of them are awesome as well, I’ve heard especially good things about A Hero’s Welcome, which plays at 9:00 tonight after The Friend, Cloud 9 (check out Nicole Gluckstern’s review of it in the SFBG) and Revanche on Saturday night, and Evet, I Do! on Sunday afternoon. The weekend rounds out on Sunday night with the Wim Wenders classic, Kings of the Road, which was a great inspiration for Jim Jarmusch.

[This post is second in a series about the Berlin and Beyond Festival. The next installment will be published Sunday.]

Hero pilot lives in Danville

Chesley "Sully" SullenbergerThe airline pilot who successfully ditched the disabled US Air flight in the Hudson River today, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, lives in the East Bay suburb of Danville. Read all about him in his hometown paper, the Danville Weekly.

Sullenberger, a former Air Force fighter pilot, is being widely acclaimed as a hero for steering the disabled plane away from residential areas and to a safe crash-landing in the river a few miles from its takeoff point at LaGuardia airport in Queens. One hundred and fifty passengers and crew escaped with no serious injuries.

Rally to Save the Market & Octavia Bike Lane

It seems that instead of adding bike lanes after a 2 year hiatus, the city wants to take one away. On January 22, the city plans to ask Judge Peter J. Busch permission to remove the Market & Octavia Bike Lane as an emergency safety improvement proposed by MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck.

Market and Octavia is a dangerous intersection for bicyclists and it’s confusing as to why they would remove it when the Upper Market Community Plan proposal from 2008 recommends safety improvements like raised bike lanes, colored pavement, and an extension of the concrete safety barrier.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and its supporters are holding a rally to save the bike lane on Friday, January 16th at 9am at Octavia and Market.

Readings Thursday: Dorothy Allison; Inside Story Time

Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison

Novelist Dorothy Allison will appear at the Distinguished Writers Series at Cal State East Bay in Hayward at 7:00 pm. Click for more info and the exact location.

If you’ve never heard Allison read, she’s a knockout every time. I heard Allison read a few years ago at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, where she is a regular workshop leader. She held the audience of 400 absolutely spellbound with her reading, and her other remarks were just as riveting, creating an intense, almost spiritual atmosphere.

The monthly Inside Story Time series hosted by James Warner also happens Thursday with Ayelet Waldman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits), Kirk Read (How I Learned to Snap), Thaisa Frank (A Brief History of Camouflage), Jimmy Chen, and Jeff Kirschner. That’s at 6:30 pm at at Cafe Royale, 800 Post St. [map]. The monthly theme is “Subtle versus obvious.”

Berlin & Beyond Film Festival at the Castro 1/15 – 21


[Above: Wim Wenders in One Who Set Forth.] 

The 14th Annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, which is a showcase for new films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland curated by the Goethe-Institut, opens at the Castro Theatre tomorrow night. Altogether, the festival features twenty-five full-length films and a program of ten shorts, along with several special events.

One of these events is the presentation of an award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing to Wim Wenders, right after the US Premiere of his latest film, Shooting Palermo, about which I’ll write more later in the week. Brief review: it’s not as crisp as it might have been, but good watching all the same. Wim Wenders is the acclaimed director of such films as Kings of the Road (which will be shown Sunday), Buena Vista Social Club, and Paris, Texas.

Another special event is an extraordinary screening of the Marlene Dietrich classic, The Blue Angel. Extraordinary, because this is not the film you know! It turns out that German directors in the early sound era made a practice of shooting in German for the home market, and then shooting the same scenes in English for the international market. This print is of the English-language version, which was recently discovered in the Berlin Archives and restored.

Opening night begins on January 15th at 6:30 with a party (special admission required) followed by an open screening at 8:00 of Cherry Blossoms, which is being co-presented with Frameline. The story follows a middle-aged German-Japanese couple. When the wife unexpectedly dies on a journey from Berlin to Tokyo, where they had planned to visit their son, the husband continues on and on the way “discovers a new understanding of both his late wife and himself.” The director, Doris Dörrie, says that she drew heavily upon Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story for inspiration. The lead actress, Hannelore Elsner, will be present at the screening.

There are too many great films and events to highlight in a single article, so this will be the first of many posts covering the festival. Check back here for daily updates; in the meantime, here is the full schedule and the tickets page.

Dept. of Weinershnitzel: GOP congressman takes on hate talker

weiner.gifKudos to local journalist Brad Kava for publishing this first on the website: Freshman GOP congressman Joseph Cao — who became the first-ever Vietnamese-American elected to Congress when he defeated corrupt Democratic Rep. William Jefferson in the Louisiana 2d district — has condemned the anti-immigrant comments of San Francisco radio talker Michael Weiner.

Weiner, the former Alan Ginsburg groupie whose “Michael Savage” broadcasts are ranked third nationally among right-wing talk shows, is well known for inflammatory statements about immigrants, the disabled, gays and other minorities. Cao called his statements in a 2007 program “repulsive” and added, “I hope that the GOP will not tolerate those kinds of views and will not take those positions.”

Also: In today’s Boston Phoenix, Adam Reilly looks at hateful anti-Barack Obama statements by Weiner and other foamers.

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