Lucy Walker's 'Waste Land' finds an artist recycling materials, but not ideas, in Brazil.

Sausalito Film Festival Views New Horizons

Adam Hartzell August 12, 2010

The Sausalito Film Festival at Cavallo Point offers an impressive natural/urban backdrop to complement the worlds on view inside its theaters. Situated in the less-crowded film festival calendar space of August, it offers residents of the Bay Area ample room for their eyes to roam, with gorgeous vistas to greet those coming and going from its two restored theaters, the Mission Blue and Callippe. (Cavallo Point, a backdrop for the 22nd century in Star Trek: Enterprise, also provides a view of the San Francisco that will never get old.)

You may also want to bus, bike, or ferry across the Bay if you want to avoid contributing to the issues detailed in the Centerpiece Film, the Bay Area premiere of director Michael Nash’s Climate Refugees, a film detailing how various peoples are feeling the direct effects of global warming as their islands submerge or their land becomes non-arable desert.

All the films screening the SFF will be Bay Area premieres, with the exception of a last-minute replacement, Amir Bar-Lev’s film, The Tillman Story, about the late football player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman. (The festival originally had the early John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy in that slot.) Among the highlights is The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi (directed by Andrew Thomas and Toby Gleason), which explores the life and impact of the jazz composer best known for his work on the animated television shows of the comic strip Peanuts. Guaraldi was born in San Francisco, attended Lincoln High and San Francisco State, and was a regular performer at Sausalito’s Trident and San Francisco’s Hungry I. Following the film will be an acoustic jazz session attempting to rebirth the cool with the Reverend Malcolm Bird.

Those who were recently impressed (and frightened) by Lucy Walker’s Countdown To Zero, which detailed how close we came and could still come to nuclear annihilation, now have a chance to see a different topic from the director. Waste Land, winner of the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance this year, follows one of Brazil’s most famous photographers, Vik Muñiz. Muñiz’s “Sugar Children” series was featured at the Yerba Center for the Arts last winter as part of their exhibit of the Tropicália artistic movement in Brazil. Waste Land fills us in on the importance of that work for Muñiz‘s career and it's gone since: which is back to Brazil to work with the pickers of recyclable materials in one of the world‘s largest garbage dumps, Jardim Gramacho. Waste Land confronts head-on the ethical questions of the successful ‘artist’ going into a poor community to make his art. The necessary context before and throughout the film demonstrates how such work can be implemented in a way that benefits all parties involved. Muñiz came from poverty and, like his active subjects, he does not finish this project without having his own life changed in ways he could not have imagined.

Although I’ve been hearing for months about all the films I’ve mentioned so far, one of the surprises for me was the German essay film about a boy with autism Wie Ich Bin ("How I Am"). Quite a few films and books about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have been produced in the past few years and, Wie Ich Bin seems like it could be a standout amongst them. Although directed by Ingrid Demetz and Caroline Leitner, their subject, high school student Patrick Wanker, plays a strong part in the direction as well. The dialogue features his thoughts, not those of the directors. His comments speak powerfully about his desire to communicate with others in a way others can understand. Yet he feels unable to speak in the forums and ways his non-autistic schoolmates and family require. The irony is that Wanker’s text, spread throughout this film as it is, demonstrates a strong ability to communicate the boy's thoughts, emotions, dreams, and worries. Wie Ich Bin is a film that leaves an impact well beyond its short running time of 49 minutes.

Docs I have yet to mention include two more environmental films, Terra Madre on the Slow Food Movement and Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home about generations of farmers, as well as political films Bhutto about former Pakistan Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, and What If Cannabis Cured Cancer?, about, well . . . .

And yes, the festival does feature a few fiction films. The opener is The Dry Land, a film about an Iraq War Veteran re-acclimating to small town life. The film features Ugly Betty star America Ferrera and is directed by her fiancée Ryan Piers Williams.

San Francisco Chronicle
film critic Mick LaSalle hosts the screening of the French film Mademoiselle Chambon by director Stéphane Brizé. This film follows a restless teacher who each year passes through one school to another. Yet at this newest school, she finds her self passing longing looks towards the married father of one of her students, a man who reciprocates these ambivalent advances. The tension built between these two is captivating. They clearly want a romance to happen but understand the consequences of consummation might be unbearable. The intensity we find onscreen between these two characters might have something to do with the fact that the actress Sandrine Kiberlain and actor Vincent Lindon are method-acting through something they’ve been through before. The are divorced in real life and share a child. A little extra-diegetic goes a long way in this compelling drama.

One of two films closing the festival, Adam Reid’s Hello Lonesome is a triptych of the disconnected connecting. The other closer is a film by an ‘acclaimed director’ and features an Oscar-winning actor, but that’s all the festival will tease us with for now, because what’s behind theater number two will not be announced until minutes before the screening. Buyer beware, or prudent investment? Given the quality of films I see on the docket, I'd go with the latter.

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