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The Narrow Margin 

Foreign films find an unusual home in San Francisco this summer

Wednesday, Jul 17 2002
It's too early for Landmark Theatres to say exactly when and for how long, but sometime after Oct. 1 the Lumiere will close for earthquake retrofitting. Additional (and as-yet-unspecified) renovations will be done at the same time. The one thing that is certain is that after the current Lumiere calendar ends on Aug. 22, the Opera Plaza will take over as that program's interim home. Other first-run bookings will continue at the Lumiere, of course, until the retrofit work commences.

The loss of three art-house screens -- even for a few months -- is a major deal in this market. Consider that it's midsummer, when audiences are supposedly skipping art films in favor of Hollywood escapism, and yet there still aren't enough theaters to show all the specialized movies that distributors have primed to open. With Monsoon Wedding and Y Tu Mamá También still drawing well at the Embarcadero, Landmark declined to bump them to make room for new titles. So, in a highly unusual move, the UA Galaxy took up the slack, booking three foreign-language films: Late Marriage, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, and Baran. It'll take some creative marketing to make that strategy work, since moviegoers aren't used to seeking out top-flight foreign movies there -- as evidenced by the abysmal box office for nearly every title in the "Shooting Gallery" series of a few years ago.

Hotel Terminus The aunt she was visiting in Munich went ballistic when local director Heidi Schmidt Emberling said she wanted to see the concentration camp at nearby Dachau, so you can imagine the response when Emberling embarked on making a film about her roots. "There was that risk all along of alienating my family, of discovering something that they didn't want to be discovered," Emberling acknowledges. "Plus, seeing yourself and your family history on the big screen is much more difficult to take than if you were just to read it."

While Emberling's father is originally from Germany, her mother is a Southern California Jew. Tangled Roots probes that sticky wicket -- and uncovers the one fact her aunt feared most. After coming across a photo of her grandfather wearing a swastika armband, Emberling made an inquiry of the German government. "In our family mythology," Emberling explains, "he had never joined the Nazi Party -- and he had." Tangled Roots screens in the S.F. Jewish Film Festival (with East Bay filmmaker Kathryn Golden's Across Time and Space) on July 29 at 2 p.m. at the Castro and Aug. 3 at 1 p.m. at UC Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium. The Oxygen cable network, which put up finishing funds, will air the film down the road as part of its "As She Sees It" documentary series.

Sister, My Sister When I reached Laurie Koh on her cell phone, she was putting up fliers on Haight Street for the upcoming Ladyfest Bay Area Film & Video Festival. Thus, she had the ring of veracity when she said, "The structure of the entire film festival is non-hierarchical and cooperative." A committee of nine women put together the five-day program screening in the Mission; Koh's domain was public relations. (Fliers are a pleasantly hands-on form of publicity, aren't they?)

Koh moved here just last fall from Boston, a fact I found reassuring. Transplants bring idealism and energy -- crucial ingredients in mounting our extraordinary number of local film festivals -- and also contribute enormously to the vitality of the experimental and documentary filmmaking communities. It's good to know that San Francisco can still attract young cinema enthusiasts. The Ladyfest Bay Area Film & Video Festival runs July 24-28 at Artists' Television Access and the Victoria Theatre; peruse the schedule at

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Michael Fox


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