It was the time of glasnost and perestroika, the last chapter of Soviet history. Of over 140 films banned by authorities under the Communists, the 1967 film COMMISSAR, directed by Aleksandr Askoldov, was the last film waiting to be rehabilitated. At the 1987 Moscow Film Festival, in a public confrontation with authorities, filmmakers and delegates from the San Francisco International Film Festival demanded to free the film “from prison” after its 20 years on the shelf. Under pressure the officials relented and the film was finally screened to a standing ovation, hailed as a masterpiece, and went on to worldwide distribution and international acclaim.
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).
Despite the silver screen temptations of a Film Festival one must get outside, take a walk, breathe the air and see some related sights. Bring your jacket because it is, after all, the unpredictable summer in San Francisco. Mark Twain may not have really said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” but it is apt.
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.