Fortunately, the festival recognizes that commercial filmmaking is not the entire local ball of wax, and Mavericks is not typical of its "Cinema By the Bay" spotlight. "Carved Out of Pavement: The Work of Rob Nilsson" (7 p.m. April 28, Kabuki) salutes the indie icon who's been concocting gritty, no-nonsense tales of people on the edges for nearly three decades. Nilsson will screen chunks of several works-in-progress, and genially provoke the crowd with his in-your-face approach to acting and directing.
In his coolly fascinating Wonders Are Many, veteran East Bay doc maker Jon Else combines the subjects of two of his previous works the development of the atomic bomb in The Day After Trinity and the mounting of an opera in Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle. Working with ace editor Deborah Hoffmann, Else elegantly intertwines the rehearsal process for Doctor Atomic (composed by John Adams and directed by that endearing alien, Peter Sellars) with the story of the 2006 opera's main character, A-bomb team leader J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Local legend Les Blank spent 10 years laboring on All in This Tea, a lush travelogue that follows West Marin importer David Lee Hoffman on a crusade to buy the best leaf from individual farmers while avoiding pesticide-grown and factory-processed tea. The documentary takes us deep into China to breathtaking effect, but is a bit too adoring of the admittedly resourceful Hoffman.
Lynn Hershman Leeson puts politics front and center in Strange Culture, the disturbing saga of Dr. Steve Kurtz, an artist and professor who was busted by the feds under the most bizarre circumstances on suspicion of being a bio-terrorist. The director of the futuristic fables Conceiving Ada and Teknolust employs an unusual mix of re-creations and interviews, but out of necessity rather than creative restlessness. Leeson is more concerned with alerting audiences to the excesses of the Bush administration than the uncompromising pursuit of artistic ideas, and the result is her most accessible film. Michael Fox
Fog City Mavericks: Sunday, April 29, 7:30 p.m., Castro
Carved Out of Pavement: The Work of Rob Nilsson: Saturday, April 28, 7p.m., Kabuki
Wonders Are Many: Saturday, April 28, 9 p.m., Castro; Monday, April 30, 9:10 p.m., Pacific Film Archive (PFA); Thursday, May 3, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sunday, May 6, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Intersection for the Arts
All in This Tea: Saturday, April 28, 1:30 p.m. PFA; Sunday, April 29, 4:45 p.m., Kabuki; Wednesday, May 2, 4 p.m. Kabuki
Strange Culture: Saturday, April 28, 6 p.m. Castro; Friday, May 4, 8:45 p.m., SFMOMA; Tuesday, May 8, 7 p.m. PFA Documentaries