Berkeley Video and Film Festival showcases the indie spirit

By Justin DeFreitas

The Berkeley Film and Video Festivals marks its 19th year this weekend with another vast and varied program of independent productions. If there’s a theme to the annual festival, the theme is that there is no theme; it simply showcases independent film in all its unruly diversity, from the brilliant to the silly, from mainstream to left field, from documentaries and drama to comedy and cutting-edge avant garde.

The festival, put on annually by the East Bay Media Center, runs Friday through Sunday at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas in downtown Berkeley.

This year’s wide-ranging program features more than 60 works, from brief clips by budding filmmakers, running just a few minutes in length, to full-length features by established directors — all of them truly independent and all of them unlike anything showing at your local megaplex. 

Friday night spotlights the best work of USC’s films school with a series of short works, both live action and animation. Other highlights of the festival include:

Virtuoso: The Olga Samaroff Story, concerning the triumphs and travails of the great concert pianist, Julliard educator, feminist and New York Evening Post music critic. Samaroff comes to life in this documentary. In a time when Americans — especially women — weren’t taken seriously as classical musicians, an unknown 25-year-old San Antonio pianist, Lucy Jane Hickenlooper, changed her name, boldly staged an outrageously ambitious concert at Carnegie Hall, and virtually forced America and Europe to recognize her prodigious talent. She later used her powers of persuasion and media savvy to launch the career of her second husband, Leopold Stokowski, before becoming, in her later years, an inspirational teacher and mentor to a generation of American classical musicians.

Jesus Comes to Town, a noirish short feature in which the son of God, like a rock star slumming it among the great unwashed, drops in on a poker game and drives up the stakes.

How the Themersons Walked Backward, a film about avant garde artists Stefan and Franciszka Themerson that uses the couple’s own aesthetic — their words, cartoons and films — to create a documentary in their own image.

The Oak Park Story, a documentary about the residents of a decaying low-income housing complex in Oakland who took matters into their own hands and sued their negligent landlord, only to see the restored complex lose its its vibrant, communal spirit?
 
What if Cannibas Cured Cancer?, an eye-opening documentary narrated by Peter Coyote that challenges the conventional wisdom regarding marijuana’s alleged dangers and documented and potential medicinal properties.
 
Being in the World, in which director Tao Ruspoli interviews philosophers, jazz musicians, artists and craftsmen in an examination of the nature of self-expression, art, and the effort to find oneself in an increasingly fractured world. (Followed by a Q&A with Ruspoli.)
 
Modus Operandi, Frankie Latina’s sleazy retro tour of 1970s underworld blaxploitation chic by way of the back alleys, swimming pools and abandoned industrial wastelands of Milwaukee in a sort of post-modern James Blond flick.

A tribute screening of the late Loni Ding’s classic 1983 PBS documentary Nisei Soldier, which looks at the lives and sacrifices of Japanese Americans during World War II. After having been rounded up and sent to internment camps, young Japanese American men were compelled to demonstrate their loyalty to America by serving in the military, and did so emphatically, the 442 becoming the army’s most decorated regiment.
 
Across the Waves, a series of stirring portraits of Asian Americans explores the obstacles that they and generations of their families have overcome en route to successful lives in the western world.
 
Hawaii: A Voice for Sovereignty, a documentary about the growing sovereignty movement that seeks to restore the Hawaiian nation and to educate the world about the truth behind the unwanted absorption of the archipelago by the United States of America.
 
A spotlight on Berkeley filmmaker Waylon Bacon, with a screening of a selection of his disturbing short films, including Poster Boy, Bob, My Worst Nightmare, and his latest, Help Wanted, in which Jim gets a disturbing — and graphic — tour of his prospective workplace, a warehouse of human remains where employees are required to murder homeless, hookers and minorities in order to supply inventory. A grim and graphic satire of the dehumanizing aspects of the modern job market.
 
Kick Me Down, a Canadian feature about estranged stepbrothers who clash when a death in the family brings them back into each other’s lives. A love triangle only further complicates the twisted family dynamics.
 
Turbulence, an experimental interactive feature invites viewer participation in selecting narrative developments at dramatic crossroads in the story.

The Berkeley Video and Festival runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Shattuck Cinemas in downtown Berkeley. Tickets are $10-13 dollars and are good for an entire day.
For a complete schedule, see: The Berkeley Film and Video Festivals

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See Related: JUSTIN DeFREITAS MOVING PICTURES ARCHIVE

defreitas
Justin is a Bay Area writer, editor and cartoonist. More film reviews can be found at Moving Picture Review and Silent Film Review. His editorial cartoons can be seen at: jfdefreitas.blogspot.com

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