The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) boasts films from nearly every genre, from art-house to indie to documentary – well, every genre besides “Avengers” movies, that is. If you had the chance to make it to the screenings, you would have been in an audience filled with film-lovers and makers. After most of the films, the audience heard from the filmmakers themselves, with questions from the moderator and movie-goers. Sometimes the audience asked – let’s just say – stupid questions. An audience member asked Oakland native and writer/director Boots Riley why he filmed in Oakland, rather than Los Angeles or New York, and the rest of the theater laughed and booed. SFIFF is not only about bringing in films from different genres, but it is also a reminder that the Bay’s film scene is alive and thriving. The festival has passed, but if you couldn’t make it, here are two feature films and a documentary coming out this year that you should keep an eye out for.
Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley’s directorial debut is like that friend who can put on any pair of jeans and make them look tailored to only them. “Sorry to Bother You” is about a telemarketer who sells slave labor to CEOs. The film seamlessly blends the battle of morals vs. money inside of the lead, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), with full blown comedy bits. The absurdity of the world has two men fight with compliments, late night shows hosted by “Jimmy” and garage doors swung open mid-pound town. All the while on the film’s main stage, average people are opting into lifelong work contracts to get by, and police officers beat protesters to protect the telemarketers selling that labor. With effortless dolly zooms, green, red and blue gelled lights and perfectly timed cutaways, every filmic value in this movie sets up the unexpected and makes the bed for these commentaries to be told at a breakneck pace. You can feel Riley’s hand in every visual of the film, from Cassius’s beat-up car lined with tapestry to Detroit’s (Tessa Thompson’s) giant earrings that read, “murder murder murder” and “kill kill kill.” “Sorry to Bother You” is going to be remembered for how strongly this film was directed, and unless something in our world drastically changes in the next 20 years, Riley’s script will be remembered for its display of how f*cked up corporate values are. Go to the theaters for this. It is a must see.
Yes, Bo Burnham made a movie. The comedian, songwriter and now writer/director shows a strong suit for story and tone. “Eighth Grade” follows an eighth grade girl Kayla (Elsie Fischer), looking at how she manages her way through her last year of middle school. Burnham is not a eighth grader, nor a girl, but he empathizes with the anxiety Kayla gets from the eighth grade. “Today’s video is about putting yourself out there… like where is there,” says Kayla in one of her video blogs that she makes in her room. Kayla is a new type of character to film, brought up on her phone. Throughout the movie, she manages her performances online (effectively giving advice to herself) and in real life (struggling to find who she is). Her mirror is surrounded with post it notes with little reminders like, “practice small talk,” and “go get ’em.” Burnham’s writing is not shaming the social skills of a phone-bred eighth grader. Instead, it relates to them, and that is what makes this movie so strong. We get bits here and there, like the zoom-out from a band teacher’s rat tail or seeing kids sniff markers and adjust their braces. But the movie is first and foremost a close look at its lead character, and second, a nice comedy. I wouldn’t chase to the theaters to see this movie, but its unique care for its characters make it a great film to watch on Netflix in bed with some ice cream.
This is an essential documentary for USF film students. As Andy Samberg once said, “Hey Wes Anderson! Hal Ashby called – he wants his establishing shots back.” Ashby was a prominent director in the ‘70s, with films such as “Harold and Maude,” “The Landlord,” “The Last Detail” and “Being There.” There are glimpses of Ashby’s influence on today’s film landscape, but they are easy to miss. These are important marks in film history that many of us, whether we are film lovers or students, may not be aware of, as they are sometimes skipped over in films studies or history classes. Sure, you may have seen Harold and Maude (the movie about a 20-year-old boy and an 80-year-old woman falling in love) making rounds in the Castro. Many of the scenes were filmed in the Bay Area, making it a gem for the SF film community. The documentary “Hal” focused on the character and life of the character that is Hal Ashby. What this documentary does is inject Ashby’s energy into its viewer. Recounts of smoky, skunk-smelling editing rooms and bouts with movie studios over creative integrity leaves the essential urge in my film student belly to light a joint and make a movie. I highly recommend watching “Hal” wherever you can see it. Go watch it with some friends, particularly if you’re a film student.