Sunday, January 24, 2016

Secrets, Lies, and Evasions in Matt Sobel's Directorial Debut, Take Me to the River

Robin Weigert and Logan Miller in Take Me to the River.
It's a little
to find that
Matt Sobel's
directorial de-
but has noth-
ing to do with
the classic Al 
Green song--
or the great
Talking Heads
cover--but the
title makes sense by the end. The story revolves instead around a rather naïve California kid and his Oklahoma cousins.

In the prologue, 17-year-old Ryder (Logan Miller, a former Disney XD
star), his mother, Cindy (Robin Weigert, Jessica Jones), and his stepfather,
Don (Richard Schiff, who appeared in SIFF's thematically similar The Automatic Hate) travel to Nebraska for a family reunion. Because of his
yellow sunglasses and bright red shorts, his cousins treat him like an alien; they seem genuinely surprised that he refuses to dress like a hick (the prologue also reveals that he's gay, and they might be picking up on that). It's an overreaction on their part, but things soon go from bad to worse.

The trouble begins with his nine-year-old cousin, Molly (the preternaturally
poised Ursula Parker, from FX's Louie), who has a crush on him. She con-
vinces Ryder to come with her to the barn behind the main house to look at a bird's nest. Minutes later, she runs screaming from the structure, with blood on her dress. It's pretty clear that Ryder didn't do anything, and Molly calms down within an hour or two, but everyone looks at Ryder with suspicion (it doesn't help that he's such a passive, squirrely kid). His par-
ents offer their support, but his uncle, Keith (Josh Hamilton), with whom
Cindy has a strained relationship, is convinced he tried something.

In Molly's room.
Ryder spends
the night in an
house on the
property until
cooler heads
prevail, which
begs the ques-
tion: why did
his family
make this trip
in the first
place? (Other
than to provide a plot for the film, of course.) With the exception of his grandmother, the Okie relatives are small-minded creeps. It makes no sense why Cindy, who grew up on the farm, would want to spend a few hours in a place she was thrilled to leave--let alone several days. 

Fortunately, Keith eventually calms down and apologizes to Ryder, but then
things go from strange to stranger. Azura Skye's jittery performance as his
wife adds to the strangeness, since it's hard to tell if she's just nervous in
general or if she's genuinely scared of her gun-toting husband. After a
tense dinner, Keith suggests that Ryder and Molly return to their grand-
mother's house, where his parents are staying. They use horses to make the trek. On the way there, they pass a river. Ryder wants to keep going, but the strong-willed Molly insists they go for a swim, and so they do.  

On the way to grandmother's house.
Once again,
nothing un-
toward hap-
pens, but Ry-
der is dis-
quieted by
the exper-
ience. There's
a sense that
the flirtatious
Molly doesn't understand what she's doing, and is following her father’s orders, but why would he instruct his underage daughter to act seductively around her teenage cousin?

Not to give too much away, but Ryder proves to be more of a catalyst than
a character, since the film really concerns his mother, and that's to its ben-
efit, because Weigert, who first made her mark as Calamity Jane on
HBO's Deadwood, is a stronger actor than Miller, who spends too much time gazing blankly around him, though that may be exactly what Sobel instructed him to do. In any case, if Take Me to the River, which follows an appearance in last year's The Stanford Prison Experiment, represents part of Miller's attempt to shed his teen idol image, it's a good start. 

Only a few beats later, and it's over (though languorously paced, the film clocks in at a lean 84 minutes). Sobel never spells out what all the stress and tension was about. It certainly wasn't about the differences between California and Oklahoma, between the country and the city, or any other surface trappings. It is, instead, about a secret that no one dares to speak aloud, and becomes apparent more through inference than incident. Sobel found a circuitous path to get there, and the film might have worked better as a short, but the unusual journey marks him as a unique talent.

Take Me to the River is playing SIFF Film Center through April 7.   

Sunday, May 31, 2015

SIFF 2015 Guests Include Jemaine Clement, Star of People, Places, Things, and Marah Strauch, Director of Sunshine Superman

SIFF artistic director Carl Spence with Jemaine Clement. 
In my previous dispatch, I mentioned that I prioritize the Seattle International Film Festival selections that "look most interesting, especially if the director or subject will be in attendance," so I end up catching a lot of guest appearances. Here's a sampling from the past couple of weeks.

On the basis of his first feature, the affecting Grace Is Gone (2007), which features one of John Cusack's finest performances, I decided to catch writer-director James C. Strouse's third film, People, Places, Things.

Strouse isn't a big name and his work tends to be pretty low-key, so I was surprised to find a packed house at the Uptown (capacity: 500), but that's when I remembered that the film stars Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows). Based on the enthusiastic reaction to his introduction and the robust Q&A, Clement has a substantial Seattle fan base. The new film, which revolves around a New York graphic artist, is just as unassuming as Grace in its depiction of a father moving on after loss, but it's lighter on its feet. Clement noted that Strouse has two kids and draws from his own life for his scripts--in his IMDb portrait, the two even look a little alike. The depiction of Will's ex-wife could've been handled better, but Clement has a good rapport with the Gadsby twins, who play his daughters, and Regina Hall, who plays his love interest.

Marah Strauch spent eight years working on her first film. 
Sunshine Superman, a profile of engineer-turned-extreme athlete Carl Boenish, proves the power of effective marketing. I had heard of Marah Strauch's documentary debut, but it wasn't on my preliminary list until I caught the trailer and realized that I would have to see how her charismatic subject's story plays out (check it out below).

If a documentary about BASE jumping sounds like a project geared more
towards the sports fans who've made Warren Miller a very rich man,
Strauch finds appeal beyond the testing of physical limits--not that that
part of the film isn't a real thrill. Boenish wasn't just exhilarated by jump-
ing from great heights (buildings, antenna towers, spans, and cliffs), he found ways to document these stunts--like attaching cameras to jumpers' helmets--that makes for an especially visceral viewing experience. It's one thing to film a person jumping out of a plane; it's another thing entirely when that person films what they see as they plummet to the Earth, and there's a lot of that kind of vertiginous footage in the film.

Carl himself is an intriguing character. His widow, Jean, says he didn't have a death wish, and that he always took the necessary precautions before his jumps, but there's the sense that he felt impermeable, not due so much to an overinflated ego, but to the fact that the things that should've scared him didn't. It's a mystery Marah and Jean can't adequately solve, and I appreciate the fact that they don't try (something to do with his brain chemistry, perhaps). They just report the facts about his life--and death. Sometimes, it's better not to know exactly why people do the things they do, because that can lead to blame and judgment, and Carl comes across as a sunny character who didn't mean anyone harm. He took joy from what he did and wanted to share that joy with the world.

Director Colin Hanks and producing partner Sean Stuart.
In retrospect, I'm amazed that Werner Herzog didn't take on his biography first, since he can't resist single-minded risk-
takers who like to fly through the air--
whether by plane, ski, or balloon--but Strauch does it justice (in the Q&A, she acknowledged that producer Alex Gibney was a particularly helpful sounding board). I wasn't crazy about the reenactments, though she handles them well, and my misgivings diminished with repeated exposure. Still, I believe she could have done without them. Strauch also noted that she became attached to the songs on her temp track, and was gratified that she was able to get the rights to all of them, including Donovan's title track, which seems an appropriate choice on every level.

Some of the other guest appearances I've caught include: producer Alex Noyer (808), subject Ericka Huggins (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution), director Daniel Junge (Being Evel), and director Colin Hanks (All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records). If I can find the time, I plan to write about a few of them. Unfortunately, I've had to balance the festival with a move, because my downtown apartment building (built in 1909) is being torn down. It's an old story in Seattle, but this one is particularly unfortunate as it involves the destruction of an entire block, from Olive to Stewart, to make way for a 44-story luxury hotel--just what this city really needs. To bring things back to the matter at hand, I got to enjoy All Things Must Pass at the Harvard Exit, which will cease to function as a theater when the fest ends. SIFF gave it one last hurrah, and I'm truly grateful they were able to make that happen.

Sunshine Superman opens at the Egyptian on June 19. People, 
Places, Things is still making the festival rounds; release dates TBA.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Trip Back in Time

San Francisco Silent Film Festival
May 28-June 1, 2015
Castro Theatre

There's something for everyone, from the silent film novice to the die-hard fan, at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, celebrating its 20th Anniversary May 28 through Monday, June 1, 2015. Beyond the careful programming and outstanding selection of accompanists, what makes the festival special is its focus on film preservation and restoration. Friday morning’s programming opens with a free event that provides a unique insight to that world, Amazing Tales of the Archives. Tales serves as a marvelous jumping off point for the festival. It’s a chance to learn of the effort and hard work behind preserving the world’s cinematic history and to sample the diversity of that history. The always entertaining Serge Bromberg is first on the bill. The preservationist, and founder of Lobster Films, will present Jacques Tourneur’s 1914 short Figures de cire (House of Wax) and share the 15 year saga of finding the film.

The following afternoon, Bromberg will receive the 2015 SFSFF Award after a screening of Visages de enfants (1925). The award is given to “organizations and individuals for to honor distinguished contributions to the preservation and restoration of silent-era movies.” Bromberg will also appear on stage in conversation with the legendary silent film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow prior to a screening of the newly restored Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925, Dir. Fred Niblo) which closes the festival. Previous SFSFF Award recipient Photoplay (Brownlow is one of its directors) and TCM restored the film. The film will be presented with a soundtrack scored by Carl Davis, probably the highest regarded silent film composer working today.

Film restorer Robert Byrne will also take the stage during Tales to describe the technical, historical, and curatorial aspects of reconstructing and restoring Sherlock Holmes (1916), starring William Gillette. The SFSFF and the Cinémathèque Française joined forces to restore the film, presumed lost until a complete dupe negative was identified in the vaults of the Cinémathèque last year. The restored film will play on Sunday night. Gillette originated the role of Sherlock Holmes on stage and many of the traits we associate with Holmes today were created by the actor and not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. For example, Gillette originated the deer-stalker hat as Holmes’ preferred chapeau, so iconic that even Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern day Sherlock still feels compelled to wear at press conferences. Holmes fans should be ecstatic at the prospect of seeing what has been considered the definitive performance of the role for the first time in 100 years. The closest they’ve been able to come to it before, was Orson Welles’ recreation of Gillette’s play and performance on his anthology radio drama, The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

The British Film Institute’s senior curator of silent film, Bryony Dixon will also present at Tales. He will screen the BFI’s collection of footage documenting the 1915 torpedoing of the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat. The sinking of the passenger ship immediately caused an international outcry and the incident was invoked repeatedly in ongoing effort to enlist the United Sates in the alliance against Germany during World War I. Cecil B. De Mille exploited the incident two years later, for both commercial and propaganda purposes, in his film The Little American (1917) starring Mary Pickford.

The festival recently announced an addition to the Tales line-up, “2015 marks 100 years since the birth of the Technicolor Corporation. In recognition of this centennial, Movette Film Transfer's Jennifer Miko will offer a rare glimpse of a unique home movie shot on the grounds of La Cuesta Encantada, more commonly known as Hearst Castle. We will feast our eyes on a stunning tour--filmed in two-strip Tech--with the architect, Julia Morgan, and the Chief himself, W.R. Hearst.” Donald Sosin will provide the accompaniment for the entire program. Actor Paul McGann, best known for either Dr. Who or Withnail and I depending on the audience, will provide narration for the Lusitania footage. The program is co-presented by Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation

Attending the SFSFF is like traveling back in time.  Attendees see silent film the way they were meant to be seen, on the big screen of a movie palace with live accompaniment and a companionable audience. Some of the festival goers even wear clothes from the 20s which adds to the period feeling. Learn more about this year’s festival and buy tickets at

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SIFF 2015 Documentaries Take on Music Stores, Drum Machines, Dueling Pundits, and More!

This post was supposed to go up on The Stranger's Slog 
last week, but fell through the cracks, so it lives here now.

Gravitas Ventures

It may sound like a cliché to say that the Seattle International Film Festival offers a documentary to suit every taste, but with 70+ non-fiction films on offer, it's just plain true. That said, I'll always be more interested in documentaries about music, medicine, and politics than those about sports, food, and the environment. Lest it sound as if I'm limiting myself, in my off-hours, I review hundreds of documentaries a year. I try not to go overboard during SIFF, since I'll end up catching some via PBS's documentary series Independent Lens and P.O.V. and others via DVD, so I prioritize the ones that look most interesting, especially if the director or subject will be in attendance (this week's non-SIFF assignments include Mujeres con Pelotas, a film about women's soccer in Argentina).

No Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, aka 808, no "Sexual Healing."

Of this year's slate, so far I've seen Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock & Roll, The Glamour and the Squalor, For Grace, and Best of Enemies. The first two haven't finished playing yet, while there are no more screenings of Best of Enemies and For Grace (read Angela Garbes's interview with co-director and former local Kevin Pang here).

All are worthwhile, but I wanted to call out two that I haven't seen yet. First up: Colin Hanks's All Things Must Pass. Granted, it's the actor's first feature, but as a former record store clerk, I can't resist a film about a global record store chain—it doesn't hurt that the documentary has been winning fans wherever it goes. Even back in the late-1980s and early-1990s, when I was working at Cellophane Square on the Ave., I would drop by Tower Records from time to time. They carried memoirs, magazines, and other music-related items that our cramped space didn't (I would also drop by Peaches, but I guess that's a story for another day). Back then, it never would have occurred to me that the monolithic Tower Records wouldn't be around forever.

May 30 at the Harvard Exit and May 31 at the Uptown. Hanks and producer Sean Stuart are scheduled to attend both screenings.
Thats what Im talking about.
"Roland TR-808 drum machine" by Eriq at Dutch Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Next up: 808, a film about the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer drum machine. Without it, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" wouldn't exist—or they'd exist in forms that wouldn't have gone on to inspire so many other R&B, hip-hop, and electronic artists to take a walk on the wildly synthetic side. The Japanese trio Yellow Magic Orchestra (featuring future Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto) built their entire sound around it, Manchester duo 808 State took their name from it, and Kanye West squeezed an album title and a guiding aesthetic out of it (2008's 808s & Heartbreak). I love a good history-of-an-instrument documentary, so here's hoping this one's at least half as compelling as Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, which is pretty much the master of the form.  

Due to a snafu, this post didn't go up last week as planned, and there are no more screenings of 808, which played twice, but if you happen to be in England on June 7, it plays Sheffield Doc/Fest on that date.

As far as word of mouth goes—I rely on it heavily during SIFF—friends had good things to say about Tab Hunter Confidential, which screened with the actor, matinee idol, and John Waters favorite in attendance. I was unable to track down release dates for For Grace and Tab Hunter, but I'm sure these films will return to Seattle in some way, i.e. if not a theatrical run, then via streaming services.

As for Best of Enemies, which revisits the televised 1968 debates between liberal author Gore Vidal and conservative editor William F. Buckley, Jr., it's a production of ITVS, the engine that powers Independent Lens, so expect a PBS broadcast sometime after the theatrical release on July 31 (Seattle venue TBA). Co-directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (Oscar winner for 20 Feet from Stardom) do a great job at staying out of the way of their famously well spoken subjects, making for one of my favorite films of the fest so far.

Find more films, reviews, synopses, and other fest info in SIFF Notes.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Quasi-Fictional Documentary 20,000 Days on Earth Imagines 24 Hours in the Life of Nick Cave

Nick Cave and passenger Kylie Minogue had a left-field hit with the duet "Where the Wild Roses Grow" from his 1996 album Murder Ballads.
This is the full text of my Stranger review (find the short version here).

On the basis of his idiosyncratic discography, a conventional documentary
about Nick Cave would come as a surprise—and a disappointment. Fortun-
ately, co-directors Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard tossed the biographical in-
struction manual in the trash and started fresh. If anything, 20,000 Days on Earth—the figure represents Cave's age on the day depicted in the film—plays like a living scrapbook. Those expecting the filmmakers to check off the usual boxes on the way from birth to adulthood best get their kicks elsewhere, because they won't find much of that sort of thing here.

Cave narrates the entire thing as himself—or the glamorized version he chooses to present on screen (he never appears in jeans and t-
shirts, but rather black suits and extravagant gold jewelry). Since he worked closely with the London filmmakers, he's a collaborator as much
as a subject. In the film, which opens today at The Grand Illusion, he writes, records, and performs songs from 2013's Push the Sky Away with his band, the Bad Seeds, including multi-instrumentalist and magnificent beardo Warren Ellis. "Mostly I write," says Cave, an Australian who calls England home, "tapping and scratching away day and night sometimes."

Cave and Minogue reinvent Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra for the grunge era.

The directors blend observational material with staged conversations,
most of which take place in the confines of a car. That might not qualify
as fiction, but it isn't exactly non-fiction either—or it isn't the way direct-
cinema pioneers, like Albert and David Maysles or Frederick Wiseman, have defined that term through their work. These quasi-surrealistic se-
quences with psychoanalyst Darian Leader (unbilled), actor Ray Win-
stone, guitarist Blixa Bargeld, and Cave's one-time duet partner Kylie Minogue yield intriguing insights about his past (childhood in Wangaratta), present (life in Brighton), joys (performing) and fears (losing his memory).

The unconventional structure represents a major blessing and a minor curse. At times, Cave's narration becomes obtuse, but he tends to dial it back whenever the atmosphere starts to get too close. His humorous and heartfelt commentary about a collection of archival photographs, for in-
stance, highlights his skills as a raconteur (they include black-and-white snapshots of his pre-Bad Seeds outfits, the Boys Next Door and the Birth-
day Party). Erik Wilson's exquisite cinematography—marked by dramatic lighting and elegantly framed compositions—is the crowning touch.

My favorite part: Cave lounging on a couch with his twins (Earl and Arthur), eating pizza, bathed in the glow of a TV set. The staging suggests that they're watching a wacky comedy or a classic western, but this is a man who's written songs about dead babies ("The Firstborn Is Dead") and electrocutions ("The Mercy Seat"). When Al Pacino's immortal line arrives, the faces of father and sons light up as they speak along in unison, "Say hello to my little friend!" It's a quintessential Nick Cave moment.

20,000 Days opens today at the Grand Illusion. Image from Drafthouse Films.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Silent Sampler

San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents
Silent Autumn
Saturday, September 2014
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco

Buster Keaton in The General (1927) playing at SFSFF's Silent Autumn

This Saturday, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents Silent Autumn, a single day sampler of their epic four-day festival that runs each summer at the Castro Theater. This carefully curated day of programming is the perfect introduction to the silent period for the uninitiated, or those with just a few silent film experiences.  It will also delight seasoned fans of the Festival, a little something to keep them going till next year’s main event. The event distills what makes the Festival’s four-day event so remarkable: inclusive programming, the best accompanists in the world, and a chance to travel in time by presenting these films the way they were meant to be seen on the big screen of a movie palace like the Castro surrounded by an enthusiastic audience.

One of the highlights of the main festival each year is the traditional Sunday morning program of comedic shorts; Saturday’s event kicks off with a collection of Silent Laurel and Hardy shorts. The lads still remain the finest team in comedy and a wonderful introduction to silents for children as well as adults. Pianist Donald Sosin will accompany the lineup of miniatures. Sosin has composed over a thousand scores for both live performances for film festivals across the world like Italy’s annual Pordenone Silent Film Festival and for DVD releases such as his scores for the Criterion Collection’s release of Three Silent Classics by Josef Von Sternberg and Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies.

Rudolph Valentino overpowers co-star Vilma Bánky in Son of the Sheik (1926) 

The Saturday event continues with a late morning screening of a lush romantic adventure film epitomizing the apex of Hollywood’s golden age of silents, when their technicians and artists brought visual storytelling to an astonishing level of sophistication.  Son of the Sheik, starring the charismatic and unbelievably handsome screen idol Rudolph Valentino, perfectly fits the bill. Valentino plays the title character, having portrayed his father in the wildly popular precursor The Sheik. To convey Valentino’s star power is difficult; fittingly for a Silent film icon there are no words to describe him. The Alloy Orchestra, a trio with a distinctly modern but effective approach to Silent film accompaniment, will play their original score for the film. One of the trio Ken Winokur along with Jane Gillooly restored the film from excellent 35mm negative material.

A Night at the Cinema in 1914 recreates the British movie goer’s experience from the year that The Great War broke out and changed their country forever. The BritishFilm Institute curated this selection comprising travelogues, newsreels, animated, narrative and documentary shorts, and an episode of the legendary serial The Perils of Pauline. A comedic short by Charlie Chaplin, the biggest star of the time, tops it all off. This program serves both as diverting entertainment as well as giving an insight into the times from a historical and social context. Donald Sosin will provide the accompaniment.

Buster Keaton’s The General similarly combines the historic with absorbing entertainment. Keaton tells the true tale of a railroad conductor who ventured into enemy territory during the Civil War to recover his beloved train The General. The story is told with, of course, brilliant comedic embellishments. Interestingly, Keaton changed the engineer’s allegiance from the Union to the Confederacy, claiming “You can always make villains out of the Northerners, but you cannot make a villain out of the South.”  The resulting film provides the laughs and breathtaking stunts expected from Keaton as well an accurate and detailed recreation of the period, including the use of The General’s actual engine. Keaton’s underplayed wry style and stunning action direction make his films some of the most accessible silent films for novice viewers including children.

Expresionism as well as evil abounds in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The dreamlike German horror classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari caps off the day’s programming. This screening combines two beloved features of the SFSFF, a dedication to showing foreign films and a late night psychotronic screening. In this eerie masterpiece a carnival hypnotist puts a young man under his control and sends him out each night to commit a series of murders in his sleep.  Both the film’s pioneering use of Expressionism and the flashback structure became staples of Hollywood’s film noirs in the late 40s and 50s. This will be the U.S premier of the 4K restoration from the original camera negative. Accompaniment by the unfailing Donald Sosin.

There truly is something for everyone at Silent Autumn regardless of their degree of familiarity with silents, preference in genres or age. For show times, ticket information and more on the festival visit the SFSFF’s official website

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Noir's Murky Antecedents Surface in Silence

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014
May 29-June 2
The Castro Theatre

Two thirds of Undergroound's  Tube set love triangle

Film noir is a fluid genre, unlike the Western or the science fiction film, not everyone agrees on what a film noir is. Traditionally, noir has been defined as an exclusively American crime genre with certain stylistic and story elements: black and white high contrast cinematography, the femme fatale and the protagonist led to an inevitable doom.  However, many include Technicolor films like Leave Her to Heaven in the noir canon, and there has been a critical awakening to the fact that countries other the U.S. in the 40s and 50s produced film noirs. Similarly, noirs antecedents have been posited and reevaluated. Typically noir’s roots are traced back to the German Expressionism, the Hollywood gangster films of the 30s and the Hardboiled school of pulp fiction. The Film Noir Foundation has been trying to explore the question of what noir is with the international bent of this year’s NOIRCITY film festivals and expanded editorial outlook of its NOIR CITY e-magazine which includes a regular feature entitled “Silent Noir”.

Will the good guy finish last?
The FNF will be co-presenting two silent era proto-noirs at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, running May 29–June 1 at the historic Castro Theatre. Renowned British director Anthony Asquith's second feature Underground (1928) is a working-class love story and thriller set in and around the London Underground (subway system). The romantic triangle pits nice-guy Brian Aherne against sinister Cyril McLaglen for the affections of beautiful shopgirl Elissa Landi. The film's climax is a chase at a power station that rivals Hitchcock's chase scene at the British Museum in Blackmail. The incomparable Stephen Horne will accompany the film on piano. Horne is the house accompanist for the British Film Institute and has previously accompanied Asquith's A Cottage on Dartmoor for the SFSFF, as well as recording his own score for the BFI's DVD and Blu-ray release of the silent thriller. Underground will screen on Saturday, May 31 at 4:30PM.

Director Ozu proves a  deft hand with the gangster genre
The name Yasujiro Ozu brings to mind the graceful, self-contained family drama or comedy depicting everyday life in Japan. However, Ozu worked in a variety of genres early in his career as a studio director. In his 1933 gangster film Dragnet Girl (Hijosen no onna), a tough gangster (Joji Oka) finds himself embroiled in an unexpected love triangle with an innocent shop girl (Sumiko Mizukubo) and his own tough as nails moll (Kinuyo Tanaka) that causes him to reevaluate his criminal lifestyle. FNF president Eddie Muller will introduce this program, playing at noon on Sunday, June 1. The versatile Guenter Buchwald will accompany the film on piano. Buchwald is the director of the Silent Movie Music Company and conducts the Freiburg Filmharmonic Orchestra, which he founded in 1992.

Urban despair in 1929 Berlin
Also for the lovers of ‘the dark side of the screen’, the Goethe-Institut/Berlin & Beyond will co-present Leo Mittler's Harbor Drift (1929), an eloquent German film that prefigures film noir in its depiction of fated souls, with exquisite camerawork by Friedl Behn-Grund of the shadowy harbor, bridges, canals and alleyways of Hamburg. The German title Jenseits der Strasse’s subtitle: Eine Tragödie des Alltags—a tragedy of everyday life—is an apt description of Germany’s unemployment and destitution as personified in the film by an old beggar (Paul Rehkopf), a jobless young man (Fritz Genschow), and a prostitute (Lissy Arna). The film plays Sunday, June 1 at 7:00PM. Stephen Horne will accompany the film on piano with Frank Bockius joining him on percussion. Bockius’ musical background includes founding both a percussionist band and a jazz quintet. He also performs with the Silent Movie Music Company.

To buy tickets or find out more about the festival, visit