14 streaming & drive-in movies to see

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This year’s San Francisco International Film Festival celebrates, as always, the filmmaking talents from within its namesake city, but Oakland may be taking the lead role.

Consider:

  • That a marquee event finds Oakland-based Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito performing at the Fort Mason Drive-In and unveiling a new score to accompany a refurbished documentary highlighting Oakland landscapes.
  • That Oakland drag performer Freddie will be on hand for a drive-in screening of “Socks on Fire.”
  • And Oakland filmmaker Peter Nicks receives one of SFFILM’s highest honors while his documentary on Oakland High School students, “Homeroom,” gets screened.

Of course, the April 9-18 festival’s wide-ranging program touches on the entire Bay Area and beyond, serving up diverse, quality offerings from around the globe.

This year’s program arrives as movie theaters and other indoor venues are gradually reopening (or preparing) after a remaining mostly dark during the pandemic. But while S.F. Film Fest will deliver some of the energy and spark of a traditional film festival with a dozen live drive-in screenings at Fort Mason Flix, most of the fare — more than 100 films are offered — will be streaming.

The John Boyega thriller “Naked Singularity,” costarring Olivia Cooke and Bill Skarsgard, opens the fest April 9 with drive-in screenings at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., in its world premiere. On April 18, the fest wraps up with the Sundance documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.”

Folded in between are some real showstoppers, chief amongst them Negrito’s live score that will accompany alex cruise’s newly re-edited version of her collaboration with Rick Prelinger, “Lost Landscapes of Oakland.” That takes place at 7:30 p.m. April 15 at Fort Mason Flix. Some other highlights include a streaming April 17 tribute to actress Vanessa Kirby, and the Bay Area premiere of “We Are as Gods,” David Alvarado’s and Jason Sussberg’s documentary on Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Here are 14 features not to miss during the festival.

“Lily Topples the World”: It’s easy to see why Jeremy Workman’s upbeat documentary about YouTube domino sensation Lily Hevesh won best documentary at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. Lily’s true story epitomizes the idea of a crowd-pleaser. It’s about an underdog 9-year-old who wedged her way into the male-dominated arena of domino building. Through the years, Hevesh has amassed a staggering 1.9 million YouTube diehards. After watching just one of her dazzling videos you’ll understand why that happened. Details: Screening 6:30 p.m. April 11 at Fort Mason Flix.

“The Dry”: Jane Harper’s best-seller gets transformed into a strikingly photographed neo noir set in a parched rural Australian farming community. The story revolves around a savage tragedy (or is it a crime?) that leaves a husband, a wife and a baby dead. Eric Bana reaffirms his leading man status, delivering one of his best performances as an investigator who unearths tortured secrets from the present and his own past. Robert Connolly’s direction is equally amazing. Details: Available for streaming and screening 9:30 p.m. April 10 at Fort Mason Flix.

“Censor”: Director/co-screenwriter Prano Bailey-Bond creates a nightmarish dreamscape where emotional wounds from the past reopen once a British film censor (Niamh Alger) views a “video nasty” that features an actress eerily reminiscent of her long-missing sister. Bailey-Bond creates an unsettled 1980s mood from the start and catapults us into a claustrophobic, hypnotic snake pit that isn’t afraid to “go there” by its frightful end. Details: Available to stream and screening 10 p.m. April 15 at Fort Mason Flix.

“Cryptozoo”: Graphic novelist/filmmaker Dash Shaw is a creative tornado, churning out bizarre adult stories that make your brain synapses work overtime. His creative ingenuity appears on every frame of this Sundance award winner, a fantastical tour that lands us in a San Francisco zoo where the main attractions are cryptids, mythical creatures that humans can’t seem to leave alone. Shaw is the recipient of SFFILM’s Persistence of Vision Award, and will be joining in a free live talk at 4 p.m. April 16. I’ve got my calendar marked. Details: Film available for streaming.

“After Antarctica”: The daring exploits of 78-year-old explorer Will Steger serve a dual purpose in San Francisco filmmaker Tasha Van Knight’s gripping documentary. The film is partly a psychological study on what propels people into taking on death-defying feats — in this case traversing Antarctica in 1989 — and partly an alarming look at what climate change is doing to Earth. “Antarctica,” getting a world premiere, achieves both its ends with skill and thoughtfulness. Details: Available for streaming.

“Cuban Dancer”: Get ready for Alexis Valdes to dance away with your heart in Roberto Salinas’ captivating heart-warmer. The Cuban-born teen dancer’s warm smile and expressive eyes could charm any cynic as he juggles passions and commitments when he immigrates with his parents to Florida but never surrenders his dream of dancing with a professional ballet company. (Footnote: he’s now an apprentice with S.F. Ballet). Salinas’ film, which is being co-presented by the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, is the perfect way to pick your up your spirits.

“Overclockers”: Director/co-writer Michal Wnuk delivers a unique story about a brainiac young aviator (Maciej Musiałowski) overcoming a tragedy and numerous obstacles to create a contemporary zeppelin. What could have been deadly dull isn’t because Wnuk and Musialowski make this an invigorating character study of a confident and driven inventor and the personal and professional setbacks he overcomes. The presentation is part of the Sloan Science on Screen Program. Details: Available for streaming.

“The Whaler Boy”: From its titillating but appropriate opening to its unexpected ending, Philipp Yuryev’s feature debut is a stunner. Set in a Russian whaling village, “Whaler Boy” is a tonally perfect rite of passage comedy/drama, as hormonal teen Leshak (Vladimir Onokhov) discovers the internet and is held captive by the alluring, often semi-clad performer in a viral chat line. Yuryev’s debut feels so lived-in at times you’d swear you’re watching a documentary. An exceptional lead performance and a tender but realistic worldview make it one of the top films in the fest. Details: Available for streaming.

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It”: With remarkable candor and a spitfire spirit, the 89-year-old Berkeley actress spills all about her life, loves and career in Mariem Pérez Riera’s terrific documentary. While Riera’s effort doesn’t reinvent the celebrity documentary, it does leave you with an indelible impression of the radiant Moreno and demonstrates why she is an influential and remarkable person — who battled racism and sexism in Hollywood and is an inspiration to all. Details: Available for streaming.

“Seyran Ates: Sex, Revolution and Islam”: Nefise Ozkal Lorentzen’s conventional documentary does a commendable job of spotlighting the unconventional Ates, whose beliefs have challenged the patriarchy of Islam and led to a string of hate and death threats hurled at her. Ates, who is bisexual, wears many hats — feminist, lawyer, author and even imam — and opened the first non-gender specific mosque. Lorentzen celebrates her subject’s tireless commitment to break down barriers so that all can embrace their faith. Details: Available for streaming.

Peter Nicks, George Gund III Award, plus screening of “Homeroom”: The Oakland filmmaker’s expertise is taking viewers inside his city’s various public institutions — a hospital, the police force, a high school is challenging enough on its. But the award-winning Nicks’ last film came about during a personal tragedy, the death of his high school-aged daughter — just as filming was starting “Homeroom.” It’s the best film in his Oakland trilogy, a chronicle of the tumultuous year for 2020 Oakland High School graduates. Nicks is the recipient of the George Gund III Award, recognizing his distinguished service to cinema as an art form. Details: The award will be presented, with a Q&A, at 10 a.m. April 9; the film and a Q&A with students and Nicks will be available to stream during the festival; and “Homeroom” will screen 6:30 p.m. April 16 at Fort Mason Flix.

“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”: What an ideal closing night feature. The Sundance hit documentary from Marilyn Agrelo is a delight for young and old alike. It covers the PBS show’s inception and on to how it brought a diversity of representation to children’s programming and influenced others to do the same. Agrelo uses Michael Davis’ book of the same title as her nostalgic look at how Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie and others came about and entered a childhood lexicon that is handed down through the generations. Details: Screens 6 p.m. April 17 at Fort Mason Flix; Available to stream 6 p.m. April 17 to 6 p.m. April 18.

“Socks on Fire”: SFFILM’s Centerpiece selection offers a tempting gumbo of dysfunctional Southern family drama, courtesy of Alabama director Bo McGuire, who lived it. McGure tosses in colorful re-enactments, vintage family videos and telling interviews as he dishes on a bitter, spiteful inheritance feud between his drag queen uncle and his homophobic aunt. McGuire’s lively documentary captures how some relatives can be your best friends and others your worst enemies. Details: Screening 6:30 p.m. April 10 at Fort Mason Flix; event includes drag show with Rock M. Sakura (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) and Oakland-based performer FREDDIE.

“Writing With Fire”: You might not have heard of the online newspaper Khabar Lahariya. Heck, most journalists probably haven’t.  But no one will forget the news site after watching Rintu Thomas’ enlightening documentary. Thomas follows a team of female journalists from India’s lowest castes as they dare to report on the state pof Uttar Pradesh’s horrendous record of mistreating women, including rape. “Writing With Fire” burns with a passion for justice and truth, and is a remarkable documentary about fearless journalists.

Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]


SAN FRANCISCO FILM FESTIVAL

When: April 9-18

Where: Some films screened at Fort Mason Flix drive-in, San Francisco; others available for streaming.

Tickets: Most streaming films available for duration of festival, $12; drive-in films, $70 per car; sffilm.org

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