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First there was “Carmageddon” in the Bay Area, a weekend when a confluence of events choked roadways and maxed out public transit. This October brings a different sort of gridlock with FilmFestivalPalooza descending — 10+ plus Bay Area film fests.
What spurred the film festival gridlock? Blame it on COVID-19, the pandemic that shuttered movie theater doors in March and unhinged the film fest calendar. San Jose’s Cinequest and San Francisco’s CAAMFest had to reconfigure annual salutes to indie filmmaking, by either delaying or cleaving programs in half. The San Francisco International Film Festival — slated weeks before the closures — wasn’t so lucky and had to cancel. Others — including the Mill Valley Film Festival — stuck to their original date.
High hopes that theaters might, just might, reopen in October, fueled festivals to reschedule later in the calendar. That’s resulted in a boon for indie film fans. Here’s an October film festival guide, to help give you a taste of what to expect and what to watch.
When: Oct. 1 to Oct. 14
Ticket info, lineup: https://www.creatics.org/cinejoy
Details: COVID-19 brought the curtain down right at the midway point this March, preventing eager filmmakers from showing their work while bumming out South Bay regulars. The largest Silicon Valley-based film fest — voted an audience favorite — has reinvented itself as the Cinejoy Showcase with many worthwhile titles from last March’s program landing there.
A recommendation: “Fox Hunt Drive” puts you in the hot seat as a ride-sharing driver picks up a shady character. First-time filmmaker Drew Walkup — who grew up in the Bay Area — takes a modest budget and puts his pedal to the metal. As the sketchy customer, Michael Olavson is a standout.
Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFest
When: Oct. 2 to Oct. 10
Ticket info, lineup: https://svapfilmfest.org/
Details: That other South Bay festival in October is quite the gem too. The theme couldn’t be more appropriate, “Re-Connect.” More than 70 films, many of which hope to “reconnect” viewers with their history so they can better understand the present, look tempting. The opening night feature is Lynn Chen’s highly regarded (it has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating) “I Will Make You Mine,” a drama centered around three strong women. Other highlights include the world premiere of the documentary “Challenged.”
A recommendation: The Bay Area-shot “Padmavyuha,” an ambitious mostly black-and-white, 39-minute thriller with Dan Brown-like religious intrigure leanings. As both writer and director, Bay Area filmmaker Raj Krishna makes wise, challenging choices as an agnostic professor (Nikhil Prakash) of religion delves into a conspiracy involving Hinduism. It draws you in from the start.
San Francisco Greek Film Festival
When: Oct. 3 to Oct. 10
Ticket info, lineup: https://grfilm.com/2020-virtual-film-festival/
Details: In its 17th year, this thoughtfully curated San Francisco staple unites the old and the new, the latter with an Oct. 4 drive-in screening in San Mateo of Jules Dassin’s entertaining 1964 crime caper “Topkapi” starring the incomparable Melina Mercouri. Also worth taking in: a slew of shorts and five features — two of which are documentaries.
A recommendation: “My Name is Eftihia,” a sweeping biopic on the Greek poet/songwriter Eftihia Papagianopoulou directed and acted to perfection. Keep tissues handy for this good cry.
Drunken Film Festival — the Oakland edition
When: Oct. 4 to Oct. 11
Ticket info, lineup: https://www.drunkenfilmfest.com/oakland
Details: What a crazy idea, keeping short attention spans in check by serving up a pint with shorts at Bay Area taverns. Undaunted since bars are closed, this thirrd edition goes virtual and with some screenings at one of Oakland’s venerable landmarks, the Tribune Tower. It’s free, but if you plan on going to the Tribune Tower parking lot, you must wear a mask and get your temperature checked. There will also be a cap on the number of attendees. Don’t want to bother with that? Go virtual via Twitch. You can even show your appreciation to individual filmmakers with a donation.
A recommendation: Too many to count. But San Francisco filmmaker Jarred Gregory-Grimes’ “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.” is a standout; a clever, confident narrative short set in the bathroom of a 20-something couple who learn more about each other; their quirks, insecurities and annoyances.
Mill Valley Film Festival
When: Oct. 8 to Oct. 18
Ticket info, lineup: https://www.mvff.com/
Details: With its star-studded tributes (Oakland’s Delroy Lindo, Viola Davis, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and so on, just this year!) and Oscar-caliber rep, this year’s virtual selection is a must. To capture that Marin County community spirit, the California Film Institute offers drive-in enchantment (“Blithe Spirit” is the opener) and drive-in thought provokers (the award-winning “Nomadland”). Meanwhile, the much-needed Mind the Gap program continues to expand each year, exceeding its 50% goal to showcase female filmmakers by this year. This year, the festival merges its DocLands program with the festival.
A recommendation: Is it possible for Anthony Hopkins to rival himself, and deliver his best performance yet? He does just that in the classically acted, written and directed “The Father.” Oscar winner Olivia Colman is divine playing the frustrated daughter of a man afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
San Francisco Independent Short Film Festival
When: Oct. 9 to Oct. 18
Ticket info, lineup: https://sfshorts2020.eventive.org/welcome
Details: More than 150 short indie features from around the globe and with Bay Area connections make this one likely to confound the indecisive. It features exciting new works from up-and-coming filmmakers.
A recommendation: Bay Area-based filmmaker Cassidy Friedman and Kerra Bolton bring their illuminating documentary series “Detroit Rising: How the Motor City Becomes a Restorative City” to the Bay Area. The documentary reflects on the restorative efforts and bringing more Black innovators to help.
When: Oct. 14 to Oct. 18
Ticket info, lineup: https://caamfest.com/forward/
Details: Normally slotted for May, CAAMFest shifted to an abbreviated program last May and then staked a claim for a more expansive program this month. The lineup is impressive with the U.S. premiere of San Francisco filmmaker Wayne Wang’s San Francisco-set “Coming Home Again” (only Bay Area residents will be able to stream). Well-known for their savvy Centerpiece choices, CAAMFest raises hopes with this year’s pick, Sujata Day’s “Definition Please.” The festival concludes with the timely documentary “76 Days” about residents and workers responding to the pandemic in Wuhan, China.
A recommendation: “Take Out Girl,” which received a world premiere at this year’s Cinequest festival, is an edgy family drama set in L.A. Co-writer and co-producer Hedy Wong stars as a feisty 20-year-old taking desperate measures to save the family biz. Former South Bay resident Hisonni Johnson co-wrote and directed.
“I Wake Up Streaming”
When: Oct. 13 to Nov. 15, every Tuesday except on Election Day
Ticket info, lineup: https://www.roxie.com/i-wake-up-streaming-2020/
Details: Film noir expert extraordinaire Elliot Lavine always ventures beyond the normal shadows and fog and digs up finds from that killer genre. Lavine teams up with the venerable Roxie for “I Wake Up Streaming,” a sly tinkering with his “I Wake Up Dreaming” program. It’s a perfect journey back to femme fatales and bad boys. Each Tuesday during the festival’s run, Lavine will emcee (virtually) a double bill composed of genre faves and hidden gems.
A recommendation: Every double-bill on those Tuesdays. But the Nov. 24 combo of “The Big Combo” and “Female Jungle” is mighty tempting.
United Nations Association Film Festival
When: Oct. 15 to Oct. 25
Ticket info, lineup: http://www.unaff.org/2020/films.html
Details: Want to feel more connected to our global community and gain better comprehension of others’ perspectives? Here’s an annual festival that raises awareness about others at a time we need it the most. “The Power of Empathy” is the theme for this documentary program, which includes U.S. and world premieres. More than 60 documentaries will be shown.
A recommendation: So many are worthwhile, but if you’re interested in an underdog story — and who isn’t? — book a ticket for “Cirque du Cambodia,” Joel Gershon’s feature about two teens in Cambodia trying to get into Cirque du Soleil. I’m so there.
* And, finally, another festival on the horizon: “SF Shorts,” a mix of short features and documentaries, slated to start Oct. 23. Details: http://www.sfshorts.com/