There is something about being in nature that instantly calms you. Being surrounded by majestic towering trees or open skies instead of austere concrete seems to turn off the chatty mind and widen the eyes and ears eager to take in all the colors and sounds, be they subtle or bold. Becoming attuned to the multitude of these details can make us feel both insignificant as individuals but also deeply connected and integral to the process as a whole.
Artist Todd McGrain‘s beautifully crafted and poetic documentary Elephant Path/Njaia Njoku starts out much the same way, as an invitation to slow down and enjoy the natural rhythm of Dzanga Bai (Village of Elephants) in the Central African Republic (CAR).
I have attended dozens of film festivals from the biggies like Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Venice, SXSW and Sundance to more intimate gatherings of movies and their makers from Telluride high in the Colorado Mountains, Morelia in Mexico’s Michoacán to Devour! In tiny Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Most screen new movies with occasional restorations while others focus exclusively on the classics. I like many of them though have burned out on the monster events. The San Francisco Bay Area hosts nearly one hundred film festivals a year including some of the best and most unique.
It is easy for me to claim that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is my favorite. Some might say, “But they only show old movies.” It is true that most of the films were made before 1930 and the only sound is that of the live music and enthusiastic audience reactions.
My parents took me to the 1956 roadshow engagement of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS at San Francisco’s Coronet Theater. This eight-year-old kid was introduced to the wonders of George Méliès’ A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) during the prelude introduced by trusted TV newsman Edward R. Murrow talking about Jules Verne in the movies.
It was the same year they Irving and Irma Levin (owners of the Coronet and other local cinemas) staged the Italian Film Week that would become the first film festival in the Americas in 1957, The San Francisco International Film Festival.
Dan Talbot with Alfred Hitchcock, January 13, 1965
The last week of December 2017 saw the passing of one of the giants in art film distribution and exhibition, Dan Talbot. In March, 1960 Dan and Toby Talbot took over the rundown –but with great decor– Yorktown Theater on New York’s Upper West Side and renamed it the New Yorker, reusing the “York” portion of the neon and starting a policy of repertory cinema mixing classics and more recent films in eclectic double features. The Talbots operated the New Yorker until 1973, often at a loss but with some surprise hits.
“The theater had a policy of no policy,” Toby Talbot wrote in The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes From a Life at the Movies. “We thought of it as our living room, playing movies we wanted to see on the screen.”” I’ll play new films, old films, foreign films, American films—whatever I think merits being shown.” Dan said. “And if the audience agreed with me, great. If they didn’t, too bad.”
For those who have heard about the excellence of Polish animation but haven’t seen much of it, the “Polish Animation 70 Years” series at Pacific Film Archive is a superb crash course in a remarkable body of work starting Sunday, December 3. Since the political thaw of 1956, Polish animation has been winning awards at film festivals all through the world.
Labor Day weekend, 2017. Once again, into the San Juan mountains for several days of sitting in the dark watching movies. The 44th Telluride Film Festival began with the usual excitement and buzz, mixed with the uncertainty of what was to come. Some folks already had the inside scoop about screenings, but I went into my first movie with no prior knowledge—just the anticipation that this would be an experience unlike any other, including previous festivals at Telluride.