Pass the Remote: Dozens of intriguing true stories at Roxie, online in SF DocFest  

The fascinating "Art for Everybody" looks at the rise and fall of Thomas Kinkade, the "painter of light." (Courtesy SF IndieFest)

Everyone’s got a worthwhile story to tell; some intriguing ones will be shared at the 23rd San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, aka SF DocFest. 

This year’s hybrid program of 38 features and 35 shorts runs May 30 to June 9 in San Francisco with screenings at the Roxie Theatre and online.  

The opening night selection “The Donn of Tiki” at 5 p.m. May 30 profiles a character in every sense of the word. Donn Beach, known as the founding father of tiki culture, led a robust, large-sized life, but separating the truth from his bluster could prove difficult. Director Alex Lamb and Max Well’s film sifts through the adventurer’s colorful back story (including how he popularized commercial luaus on Hawaii) in this detailed portrait of a fascinating person who spun true tales into tall ones. 

Other recommendations:  

“Art for Everybody”: During the 1980s-90s, painter Thomas Kinkade exerted a grip on the art world to sneers and snickers of critics who dismissed his idealized, harmonic images, calling them dreck or kitsch. Miranda Yousef’s fascinating film ponders the public’s obsession with him and presents a complex portrait of the self-acclaimed Christian “painter of light” who became so insanely popular, even Kinkade communities of homes popped up in California, including in Vallejo. Yousef interviews willing-to-go-there family members, art critics, fans and journalist Susan Orlean, who wrote a frequently referenced New Yorker piece about him. Each provides candid insights into a deeply conflicted man who died at 54 after years of hard drinking and left a secret stash of adventurous paintings made during (mostly) his University of California, Berkeley years, when his aspirations differed from what characterized the phenom he turned out to be. DocFest deservedly makes “Art for Everybody”— which cops its title from the headline of Orlean’s article—its centerpiece. It screens at 5:30 p.m. June 1.  

Bay Area filmmaker Marlo McKenzie talks to three youngsters about their imaginary friends in “My Secret Country.” (Courtesy SF IndieFest) 

“My Secret County”: Bay Area filmmaker Marlo McKenzie (“Carol Doda Topless at the Condor”) whisks viewers onto a magical journey into the dreamy mindsets of three spirited kids and their alliance with imaginary friends. McKenzie’s experimental feature uses animation to bring the youngsters’ vibrant worlds to life and to encourage people of all ages to allow their imaginations free rein. “My Secret Country,” screening at 12:30 p.m. June 2, is as imaginative in its approach and style as the worlds its kids have dreamt up. University of Oregon psychology professor Marjorie Taylor provides insightful context, but McKenzie’s interviews with the kids make the film priceless. And really, who wouldn’t want to hang out for a bit in Kittietopia?  

“Narrow Path to Happiness”: The main subjects in Kata Olah’s naturalistic documentary, Gergo Gagyi and Lénárd Váradi, are Romani gay lovers committed to a mission: turn their lives and romance into a movie musical. They enlist the help of Olah, who documents their process. The duo leaves rural life behind for Budapest after Gergo’s not accepting parents (mostly his mother) abandon him after he comes out. Do they reach their goal? The musical remains a work in progress. While that might seem anticlimactic, “Narrow Path to Happiness,” screening at 4:30 p.m. June 2, accomplishes a lot as it shows Gergo wrestling with his own sexuality and the men dealing with Hungary’s hostile stance on LGBTQ rights. Hopefully, one day we’ll see that musical.  

Mitch McCabe’s experimental documentary “23 Mile” reveals sentiments of Michigan residents during the tumultuous year of 2020. (Courtesy SF IndieFest)

“23 Mile”: Mitch McCabe’s impressionistic verité documentary, the fest’s closing night selection at 6:15 p.m. June 6, takes the pulse of an on-edge Detroit and Southern Michigan during a volatile 2020. It’s an eye-opening, fascinating glimpse into a tumultuous, intense period that included a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. McCabe truly listens to comments from protesters and citizens (some are armed) he approaches. Ultimately, the movie debunks stereotypes and suggests nuance and complexity in politics and society. 

Other Bay Area-related films are worth a look.  

The Bridge Between Two Worlds,” a short by antwan williams, explores how williams and and Eric “Maserati-E” Abercrombie, both paroled from San Quentin State Prison, help younger people find their voices at the Branson School in Mill Valley. It’s on the Bay Area Stories program at 12:30 p.m. June 1. 

The short “The Bridge Between Two Worlds” looks at how two former San Quentin inmates are making a difference at a Marin County school. (Courtesy SF IndieFest)

Bryan Wiley and Jason Blalock’s short “Wake The Town,” about former Oakland residents revisiting their home turf, screens at 6:15 p.m. June 6; John Makens’ “Art and Life: The Story of Jim Phillips,” a feature-length portrait on the San Jose native, a graphic artist and Santa Cruz skateboard art trailblazer, is at 2 p.m. June 1; and Jen Gilomen’s “Born For This,” which looks at challenges of childbirth and the experience of a Black couple in the East Bay, screens at 6:15 p.m. June 5. Also, there’s “My Own Normal,” directed by Alexander Freeman, who has cerebral palsy. The film, showing at 5:30 p.m. June 2, follows his life with his girlfriend, raising their daughter, and efforts to convince his parents that he can have a family of his own.  

For a full program and tickets ($10-$18), visit 

The post Pass the Remote: Dozens of intriguing true stories at Roxie, online in SF DocFest   appeared first on Local News Matters.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *