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Black to the Promised Land, Short of Breath, The Last Waltz

Wednesday, Sep 1 1999
Black to the Promised Land
Central Marin may be the Bay Area's most privileged enclave, but the Mill Valley Film Festival can't be accused of pandering to the prosperous. This year's fest, slated for Oct. 7 through 17, features the world premiere of Christopher Brown's S.F.-set Metal, a gritty, ultra-low-budget black-and-white feature with an all African-American cast (including Robbie Robertson, a longtime employee of Marin's Sequioa Theater). Metal is that rarest of birds -- an inner-city film without guns. MVFF programming vet Zoe Elton, who spent the spring and summer wading through videotapes, remarks authoritatively (and disdainfully), "The gun has become the deus ex machina in American independents."

In other non-Merchant Ivory news, Congolese director Mweze Ngangura brings his latest, I.D., a comedy-romance about a tribal chieftain "whose identity gets challenged and eroded" while looking for his daughter in Brussels. (If you know your John Cale, you'll recall that the Congo once belonged to Belgium.) "All well and good," I hear you saying, "but isn't the festival showing anything for Marin's sensitive youngsters?" Yes, indeed: Sex, Death and Mascara, a documentary about the whole goth thing.

Short of Breath
The Viscount of Valencia -- found-footage maestro Craig Baldwin -- will debut his latest magnum opus, Spectres of the Spectrum, at the Vancouver Film Festival in early October, followed by a screening in the New York Film Festival's high-visibility "Views From the Avant-Garde" sidebar. Our first chance to see it? Early November in the Film Arts Festival. "It's very much a rough, noisy, handmade, totally appropriated artifact from the time-space continuum," says Baldwin, who's pretty flattered that the Roxie booked Spectres for four days in early December. ... Personal to filmmakers: S.F.'s annual International Feature Film Financing Conference (IFFCON) is setting aside a handful of its 60 slots specifically for films employing digital technology. "We want to acknowledge the 'revolution' in a way," IFFCON's Wendy Braitman explains. The intent of the so-called Digital Wave category is to identify projects for which digital production is an aesthetic decision rather than a financial one. Another first for the January schmoozefest: A very lucky one of the 60 projects will also get a free ride to CineMart, the annual Rotterdam co-production market that inspired IFFCON.

The Last Waltz
The spacious Manhattan loft was outfitted with a basketball hoop and hardwood floors, essential equipment for a hip commercial production company six years ago. I'd never interviewed a documentary filmmaker in such upscale surroundings and, frankly, it bugged me. I like scruffy filmmakers, and 29-year-old Jeff Feuerzeig was clearly a yuppie dilettante, making big money helming TV spots and hoping to use his splendidly droll rock doc Half Japanese: The Band Who Would Be King as a calling card to get into features.

Thing was, Feuerzeig readily copped to the charges. I kind of liked his "defense:" "A commercial doesn't pretend to be something it's not, unlike a music video." And he loved music. "If someone talks during a record, it's like talking in the middle of a movie -- I want to stop them," he said. Above all, his unique film about the endearing music of Maryland cult fave Jad Fair stood on its own as half tribute, half parody. "For an hour and a half, I'm trying to screw with your belief system," Feuerzeig said. As part of its "Sonic Visions" series of recent music docs, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is screening Half Japanese Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Nov. 7.

By Michael Fox

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Michael Fox


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