As we offer thanks this week, let’s extend some gratitude toward Bay Area independent movie theaters, the beacons for creative expression that have been weathering hard times of their own.
This week’s Pass the Remote encourages readers to pull up a seat for a virtual cinematic dinner where a delicious array of titles are on the menu. By screening a particular selection, movie fans not only support indie filmmaking, but also prop up Bay Area locations that offer innovative programming — including the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and the Roxie in San Francisco,
Here then are five features worth checking out on their programs.
Alex Winter — best known as Bill of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” with Keanu Reeves — gives the iconoclastic and highly influential musician Frank Zappa the first-rate documentary the late artist deserves. Thorough, inventive and absorbing, Winter’s exploration of Zappa’s well-lived life and bold career choices manages to warrant attention even from nonfans. Whereas many biopics collapse into a ho-hum amalgam of talking heads and performances, Winter’s depiction lives up to its bigger-than-life subject by showing how this complex, ingenious artist refused to sell out or compromise — at work, at home and while inspiring others to do the same. (Available to rent: https://roxievirtualcinema.com/main/zappa; https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/zappa/; https://bampfa.org/event/zappa; https://ondemand.drafthouse.com/; https://www.rialtocinemas.com/index.php?location=elmwood&film=2020_zappa_elm)
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate family and friends, even if we can’t be with them or, sadly, if they’re no longer amongst us. In this bittersweet video recollection of a beloved matriarch, Oakland filmmaker Veronica Selver — Irmi’s daughter — and Susan Fanshel reveal the many layers of a cherished Jewish woman who experienced great sorrow and joy, and left an indelible imprint on others’ lives. Through intimate family photos, home movies and even a memoir, a vivid portrait emerges of a woman who persevered through good times and bad. (Available to rent: https://bampfa.org/event/irmi;
The Twentieth Century
Now for something completely different. Prepare for your eyeballs to get a big workout from Matthew Rankin’s jaunty, devoutly undefinable and flashy dip into Canadian politics and Guy Maddin-like pop-art visuals and sets. With many female roles played by men and vice versa, Rankin’s melodrama on political climber Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne) and his pursuit to become Canada’s prime minister is like an extended episode of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” just with more avant-garde sets. King’s ascent and then descent due to sexual hijinks and kinks make for a show-stopping experience from a go-for-broke filmmaker. (Available to rent: https://www.roxie.com/the-twentieth-century/)
Born to Be
Director Tania Cypriano’s revelatory documentary invites us into the nation’s groundbreaking hospital center for transgender care, where we meet patients as well as the unassuming Dr. Jess Ting. The director of surgery at New York’s Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery took on his assignment even though he had no prior experience working with trans patients. As it turned out, no one else wanted the job. Cyripanio’s film illustrates how he was the perfect fit, showing care as he consults with members of the trans community and helps them affirm who they really are. The stories behind the surgeries are incredibly moving in this enlightening, essential documentary. (Available to rent: https://roxievirtualcinema.com/main/born-to-be)
In Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro’s outraged-at-the-system dystopian drama, religious notary Joana (Dira Paes) encourages unhappily married couples to stay together rather than consent to a divorce. Meanwhile, she and her husband (Julio Machado) regularly attend a trippy evangelical gathering wherein couples swap partners in the name of salvation. Sexually graphic and extraordinary in how ordinary he stages it, Mascaro’s film raises a rebel yell at hypocritical theological practitioners and those governments that kowtow to them. It thrums with a “1984” vibe, and offers an eyeful of writhing torsos. But there’s a jagged point to it all, and Mascaro draws blood. (Available to rent: https://roxievirtualcinema.com/main/divine-love)