A Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

by Lincoln Spector

I love the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but it can wear a body down. Especially this year, with 21 programs and a party over the course of four days and five nights. For three of those days, the first screening starts at 10:00 a.m., and the last one starts at 9:30 p.m. The human body isn’t built for that much fun sitting down.

Aside from the lack of sleep and exercise, maintaining a healthy diet can be a challenge. This is especially true if you have any sort of restrictions on your diet. I have two: I’m a vegetarian (45 years and counting) and I try to keep sugar intake to a bare minimum (four months and, hopefully, still counting).

To get through the festival successfully, you must bring your own food, know where to buy more, get some exercise, and get some sleep. As a veteran who manages to see most of the films screened, I’ll give you advice on all of these.


It’s better to sleep in bed than in the theater. When considering your schedule, take a realistic look at how much downtime you really need, and plan accordingly.

This year, I’m skipping all three 9:30 p.m. screenings, along with the opening night party. That should give me a good night’s sleep before waking up in time to head back to the festival. Geography plays a role here. If I lived near the theater, I’d probably plan to see the entire festival. But I live in the East Bay, and it takes time to get to and from the Castro. While I tend to be an early riser, you may prefer staying up late and skipping the 10:00 a.m. screenings. Or you could take advantage of a long break (or skip a movie) and take a nap in your car.

Soviet sci-fi Cosmic Voyage at the 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Credit: Pamela Gentile/San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Soviet sci-fi Cosmic Voyage at the 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Credit: Pamela Gentile/San Francisco Silent Film Festival.


To best control what you eat, and to save money, bring your own food. These are the items I’ve found most portable:

  • Baked tofu.
  • Whole wheat bagel
  • String cheese
  • Toasted almonds, possibly mixed with raisins
  • Raw vegetables, such as carrots, snap peas, lettuce, and baby broccoli.
  • A small container of hummus for dipping those veggies.

If you take the vegetables, eat them only in the breaks between movies. The sound of crunchy food can annoy people. And bring your own water bottle.

Buffalo Whole Food and Grain Co. offers a wide variety of organic foods.

Buffalo Whole Food and Grain Co. offers a wide variety of organic foods.


You can only smuggle so much food into the Castro. So as your rations from home become thin (or tiring), take a break between films to buy more food.

The breaks between movies at this festival generally run about an hour—sometimes more, sometimes less. And you can never really know when a break will start.

I can recommend two health food stores in easy walking distance from the Castro:

Harvest Ranch on Market Street offers a salad bar just around the corner from the theater.

Harvest Ranch on Market Street offers a salad bar just around the corner from the theater.

Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co. (598 Castro Street) is a small, friendly market on the corner of Castro and 19th, about two blocks south of the theatre. There you’ll find fresh produce, pre-made sandwiches and wraps, and assorted snacks. Harvest Ranch (2285 Market St ) is also about two blocks away, only in the other direction, just past the corner of Market and 16th. Much larger than Buffalo, it offers considerably more. For instance, it has a salad bar. Eating a full salad before or after a movie can help get you through the day. Take the time, and spend the money, for a nice meal.

You just might want to skip a movie, or take advantage of a longer break between films, and enjoy being served while sitting at an actual table.

The Castro is surprisingly thin when it comes to vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Here are three that I recommend—all with caveats:

CafeMystiqueCafe Mystique (464 Castro Street) is almost right across the street from the Castro. It doesn’t have all that many vegetarian options, but what I’ve tried has always been delicious.

Frapez (4092 18th St) is basically a smoothie and fresh juice place, with a few solid food options, and it’s around the corner from the theater. It also has Wi-Fi. Or perhaps I should say had. Their website is up, but I called them while writing this article and got a disconnected signal.

LarkLark This place, around the corner from the Castro, opened recently. EatDrinkFilms publisher Gary Meyer ate there after opening night of SFIFF and says the food was superb and a vegetarian/gluten-free member of the party was very happy.

Ike’s Place (3489 16th St) is a quick sandwich place about a block east of Market. I must admit that I haven’t actually tried it yet. But it earned four stars at Happy Cow.

Speaking of which, if you want to find good vegetarian eats anywhere in the world, you need to get acquainted with Happy Cow. Either visit the website, or install the app on your smartphone.

Ikes2And what about the Castro’s own Concession stand? You won’t find much there that’s healthy. I use it primarily for occasional popcorn and far more frequent caffeine.


Don’t spend the whole day sitting down. You need to take any available option for exercise. If you have the time, work out before leaving home. If you don’t have the time, find it.

Skip the car, and walk or bike to the Castro. I bike to BART, take the train, then walk from the 16th St. BART station to the theater.

As soon as a movie ends and the house lights come up, stand up and stretch. Twist your body about. Bend your knees. Stretch your arms high and your legs wide.

Don’t worry about looking weird. You’re spending four and a half days watching silent movies. You are weird.Horizontal Rule

LincolnSpectorLincoln Spector is a life-long cinephile and an award-winning journalist who writes about entertainment, culture, and technology. His advice column and blog, Answer Line, appears in PCWorld. He’s also a frequent contributor to TechHive and Windows Secrets. His articles have appeared in  The New York Times, The Washington Post, Small Business Computing, Home Office Computing, Oakland City Magazine, Time MagazineTechnologizer, and InfoWorld. His local film blog, Bayflicks, contains a weekly newsletter covering speciality screenings throughout the Bay Area.

Horizontal RuleRead Meredith Brody’s eating suggestions in the neighborhood.

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