News Column

San Francisco Chronicle Leah Garchik column

October 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 10--Monday night's Mill Valley Film Festival showing of Jan Troell's "The Last Sentence," with the Swedish filmmaker on hand, was a classic film festival experience: We'd known little about the movie before we arrived; we were engrossed (to put it mildly) five minutes into it; afterward, the renowned filmmaker and his daughter, Johanna Troell, who'd worked on the film and played the protagonist's daughter, were there for a generous Q&A; and Tuesday morning, as I write this, I'm still thinking about the film.

The hero is Torgny Segerstedt, a flawed man and a crusading journalist in Sweden at the time Hitler came to power and the Swedes were adamant about remaining neutral. (But if you're needing item-lite: The director revealed that two dogs in the movie, one succeeding the other as a pet of the protagonist, were played by one dog, wearing makeup for the second role.)

We saw a movie, we learned something about history and human behavior. The film is due to open in a few months, and we get to tell pals, oh yes, we've already seen it. And that's the classic film festival experience.

On Friday, we'd rushed over to Mill Valley in time for a 6 p.m. showing of "The Best Offer," the second Geoffrey Rush movie of the festival. Rush, an unannounced guest at the screening, introduced the movie himself. He's charming, the night was warm, at least one of us celebrated the Indian summer with a bowl of ice cream ... but the movie, which made good use of Rush, might have benefited from being a little more rushed.

And then at 9, we saw the "Hi De Ho Show," a Mill Valley Film Festival tradition. This is John Goddard's romp through musical clips, on one set theme per evening; this year's was the British rock 'n' roll invasion.

All the music was danceable and we were encouraged to sing along when the spirit moved us. Many of us were cherishing memories of parties in frat house basements. The musicians were fresh- and often pimply-faced teenagers. For the most part, they stuck to the beat -- which I guess is what made the songs so danceable -- their Anglo-Saxon faces set in looks of absolute determination.

The cavalcade of music was arranged alphabetically by group name, and we were only on the Dave Clark Five (playing "Bits and Pieces") when the wise L.M., sitting next to me, observed, "It's definite now. Black people are cooler than white people."

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As to cool, it's an understated description of Sunday night's performance by Miguel Zenon, MacArthur Fellowship winner and resident artist at SFJazz, at jazz fan Robert Mailer Anderson's house. Zenon had applied his MacArthur winnings to creating the Cultural Caravan project, bringing music to remote areas of his native Puerto Rico.

This gathering -- with daiquiris aplenty and Puerto Rican food cooked by Dan Wood and described by Orlando Cepeda as better than much of what he'd eaten in Puerto Rico -- included a heartfelt but softly made pitch. That was tucked into an all-out Latino-flavored performance by Zenon, drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Matt Penman and trumpeter Avishai Cohen. The pleasure of listening was visceral; having just watched clips of those newbie English rockers, I couldn't help compare and contrast.

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Another MacArthur winner, artist-photographer Carrie Mae Weems, will be speaking at the Cantor Museum at Stanford on Wednesday, opening day of its retrospective "Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video."

The exhibition will be at the Guggenheim Museum in New York beginning in January. So last week, after her award was announced, she talked with the national publication ArtNews. "I was floored," she said. The honor was "the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard." She's to receive a total of $625,000 over five years.

That may sound like a huge amount, but not enough to obliterate money worries. "At the end of the day," she said, "$100,000 a year is just kind of normal. You still need to raise money."

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At the Castro Street Fair, Strange de Jim was captivated by a booth for the Bay Area Intactivists, who oppose circumcision. "Remove the third letter of their name," he says, "and you have my own group."

Open for business in San Francisco, (415) 777-8426. E-mail: lgarchik@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @leahgarchik

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