Highlights from the 9th SF DocFest
by David Lamble
Cancel your cable or Direct TV! Seriously, the San Francisco Documentary Festival (Roxie Theatre, Oct. 14-28) offers a variety and quality of reality TV that put the 500-channel universe to shame. Sometimes the titles alone provide hard clues: I'm into seeing Miss Landmine, focusing on an-only-in-Cambodia "Miss Landmine pageant" (10/16, 18), and OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie (10/16, 20) – how can this movie possibly disappoint? For those films whose titles don't sell them sight-unseen, here's a guide to some of my personal favorites. As is usually the case with the folks at SF IndieFest, there are special parties and after-film drink-a-thons galore. Info: www.sfindie.com.
May I Be Frank Brace yourselves for a "feel good" doc that earns its good vibrations. This is the hard-to-believe, heartfelt story of how a grotesquely overweight, multiple-addicted, divorced, 54-year-old, born-in-Brooklyn wreck of a guy finds salvation at a SF vegan restaurant under the watchful eyes of four 20something sweethearts: Conor Gaffney, Gregg Marks, Cary Mosier and Ryland Engelhart. This quartet of amigos operate the Cafe Gratitude, where, to their surprise and delight, Frank Ferrante stumbled in out of the sun, needing a total makeover. "The Boys" loved Frank for his hyper-profane, Sicilian-influenced wit. The Boys had an offer Frank didn't refuse: empty his fridge, toss out his microwave and eat all meals for 42 days at the cafe – plus agree to a daily 12-step-style affirmation that alone would have kicked in Frank's gag reflex if the morning glass of slimy green stuff didn't do the trick.
42 days later and 110 lbs. lighter, Frank, the brutally candid star of his own recovery, has kicked hepatitis C, undergone three colonics and found forgiveness from his long-suffering family. It's not all sunshine and lollypops, but May I Be Frank succeeds in portraying the vegan lifestyle as something beyond the punchline to a New Age joke. (10/17, 22, 25)
Coming Back for More Dutch doc-maker Willem Alkema achieves his dream: spotlighting the now-reclusive one-time Bay Area rock star Sly Stone, who agrees to his first interview in more than 20 years. (10/17, 28)
Adam Blank Gets a Vasectomy The doc-maker concludes that three kids is enough, and decides to treat his frau and us to the blow-by-blow account of getting his sperm ducts snipped. We're spared nothing, including a buddy's description of the turbo-charged orgasms he's experiencing after the change. From the All Kinds of Love program. (10/17, 20)
Family Affair Chico David Colvard turns a harsh light on the issues of molestation and pedophilia that have affected two generations of his family. This is a modern classic that's sure to be tough viewing for survivors of hardcore dysfunctional families. Colvard's family is an especially pertinent model because of its unique composition. It begins when an African-American GI weds a German woman an
Colvard finds a unique hook for his story in the most memorable moment from his childhood, when he accidentally shoots one of his sisters with one of his ex-soldier dad's guns. The resulting tumult reveals a shameful family secret: that dad has been serially molesting his three girls since each was about five. The ensuing scandal puts dad in jail for a year, but the fallout convinces mom that her daughters are bizarrely attached to her husband's dastardly affections. Mom abandons the family, and three decades later, Colvard returns home with his camera and a determination to track the story of his clan's downfall, however painful. It's a story that unflinchingly tackles race, abuse and family, in a manner that you'll appreciate once you've recovered from the queasy feelings evoked. (10/15, 18)
Eat the Sun This thorough study of the strange network of folks who live to gaze straight into the sun benefits from its cast of compelling oddballs. Doc-maker Peter Sorcher likes to tease us with possibly unreliable statements before catching some of his witnesses in the logical contradictions of their solar worship. Compellingly shot, but I wouldn't abandon conventional wisdom on this subject just yet. (10/14, 18, 20)
Dreamland The fall of Iceland – including the destruction by the Alcoa Co. of some of the world's most valuable natural spaces – due to homegrown greed and corruption is imaginatively and exhaustively explored in this lyrical doc from Thorfinnur Gudnason and Andri Snaer Magnason. (10/24, 27)
Requiem for Bobby Fischer Bobby, we hardly knew ye. Igor Stevanovic provides a Serbian spin on the late enfant terrible American chess champ, illustrated with newly uncovered archival footage of Fischer during his brief heyday. You may tire of the format as I did, but the sincerity of these aging Serb chess veterans is palpable. There's much to be said for their belief that Bobby Fischer was a victim of cold war politics whose legacy includes making chess the big-money world game it is today. (10/24, 25)
American: The Bill Hicks Story Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas' UK doc explores the late "outlaw" American comic with performance footage, animation and chats with friends and fans. (10/15, 19)
Bas! Beyond the Red Light Wendy Champagne probes the lives of 13 girls sharing a dorm after being removed from Mumbai brothels, in reputedly the world's largest red-light district. (10/23, 25)
Giants Jim Dever gets you closer than you may have wanted to get to those record-breaking pumpkins in Half Moon Bay. (10/21, 24, 27)