October 2012

Neighborhood Filmmakers at 35th Mill Valley Film Festival

By Lori Higa

Celebrating 35 years, the Mill Valley Film Festival is renowned for presenting breakthrough independent cinema from down the block and across the globe. Thanks to its proximity to San Francisco, the festival can readily tap into the City’s rich wellspring of filmmakers, whose works span from the quirky to the divine. The latest crop of films from neighborhood makers of movie magic are exceptional in their creativity, messaging and technical prowess.

To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter by the Emmy-winning, Bernal Heights resident Emiko Omori, is a brilliantly composed love paean to the late great French new wave photographer-filmmaker. From its opening frames and mesmerizing soundtrack, Letter traces the enigmatic Marker — perhaps best known for his 28-minute 1962 science fiction featurette La jetée, which inspired director Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys — and an astounding body of profound, socially relevant work. Marker passed away at age 91 in July.

Troubled kids — largely low-income and of Latino, Asian- and African-American ancestries — at Marina Middle School are the stars of the impressive documentary Room to Breathe, directed by Marina resident Russell Long and shot by cinematographer and Bernal Heights denizen Herve Cohen. Topping the San Francisco school district in disciplinary suspensions, the school’s overwhelmed administrators seem to have few options in what’s initially portrayed as a hopeless and horrible situation. With overcrowded classrooms populated by unruly kids throwing things at each other and taunting their teachers, the school’s minders take what turns out to be a truly bold path: providing students mindfulness, conscious breathing and meditation training. The risky experiment works, inspiring the development of new social and emotional skills that change the lives of the kids and their families.

An ode to factory films of the 1920s, Manufactured Fortunes, by Mission District maven Kevin Gordon, is a smart, tight, breathtaking five-minute essay on humankind’s eternal quest for meaning. Humorous and thoughtful excerpts on fortune cookie forecasts by off-screen voices underpin fascinating and artistically shot footage of the making of these petite edible containers of random wisdom, guidance and advice.

Installation, by Potrero Hill director Laura Green, is a visual poem that explores the blurred lines between art, architecture and engineering as embodied in the work of minimalist artist Richard Serra. The film follows the construction of Serra’s massive 235-ton sculpture “Sequence.” A San Francisco native whose father worked as a pipe-fitter in the Hunters Point shipyard, Serra is known for his controversial, super-sized metal work, as well as the fatalities that accompanied two of his previous installations. Steel behemoth Sequence required 23 truckloads of concrete and a 6,000-square feet patio. Like the artist’s work, Installation provides moments of unexpected grace, as riggers, truckers and construction workers bring the building-sized piece into temporary environs at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center. The sculpture is destined for its permanent home at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art by 2016.

The Mill Valley Film Festival  runs from October 4 through the 14th. For information: mvff.com.


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