This year's fest is especially jammed with nonfiction crowd-pleasers, from Fernando Velasquez and Herb Bennet's Burning Man: Where's the Fire? (what is it about Nevada that inspires so much aberrant behavior?) to Jon Else's Sing Faster, which goes behind the scenery with the S.F. Opera's carpenters. The documentary lineup also includes Barbara Sonneborn's Vietnam elegy Regret to Inform, Carol Chamberland's eulogy to the Fillmore's jazz heyday The Legend of Bop City, and Laura Plotkin's kinetic study of champion East Bay boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi Red Rain. Shimmering above them all is Cauleen Smith's nervy debut feature, Drylongso (Ordinary), the ambitious and textured Oakland-set tale of African-American life that opens the festival. Shredding genres and cliches at every turn, Drylongso delivers an unvarnished portrait of the vitality and constraints of urban black life in these United States. Like many filmmakers whose work is on view in this festival, you'll be hearing more from Smith.
-- Michael Fox
The Film Arts Festival runs Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 4-8, at the Castro and Roxie theaters, plus additional venues. Call 552-FILM for a complete schedule.