News Column

Oakland Underground Film Festival: Keeping it real

September 26, 2013


Sept. 26--The Oakland Underground Film festival turns five this year, and organizers are keeping it real. Although the approximately 50 films are from many parts of the United States, there's an emphasis not just on Bay Area filmmakers, but specifically East Bay filmmakers.

"We have somewhere between a quarter and a third of local content every year," festival founder and director Kahlil Karn said. "There's especially a strong showing this year among locals in features -- which is not always true. There's always a strong showing in shorts."

You can meet a few of these talents at the Filmmaker Mingle (8 p.m. Thursday), an intimate gathering at the B-Side BBQ in Oakland where the best of 2013 in local short films will be screened. (Space is limited; e-mail

The mixer is a new event this year; Karn said it is to meet audiences' demands to spend time talking shop. San Francisco filmmakers Spencer McCall (the documentary "The Institute," 9:15 p.m Saturday at the main venue, Humanist Hall in Oakland) and Eric Boadella (the comedy "Toastmaster," 2 p.m. Sunday) will attend.

"They have a cool courtyard at the side of the restaurant, and we're going to take over the space," Karn said of the B-Side BBQ. "I'm a projectionist at Sundance, and one of the things I love to do is show films in spaces that are not necessarily theaters, but it's fun and exciting."

Oakland graffiti artist GATS (his nom de plume; it stands for Graffiti Against the System) anchors another shorts programs (Hella Tight Shorts, 2 p.m. Saturday) with "GATS: Voice of Art," which highlights his philosophy of connecting to a community via art (also showing in Locals in Shorts, 4 p.m. Saturday).

Perhaps the most ambitious -- or at least most entertaining of the East Bay films -- is "Death Grip" (7 p.m. Friday), Eric Jacobus' "pure" martial arts film. That is, it's a film that shows off martial arts skills without all that quick-cutting or shaky camera work. And when it's two guys against a satanic cult, why wouldn't you want to see bone-crunching in all its glory?

Jacobus has a martial arts studio in the East Bay, and is also a Hollywood stuntman ("A Good Day to Die Hard"). For action fans, "Death Grip" is nothing if not ambitious.

At the festival's five-year mark, ambition is not a problem for most of these local filmmakers.

"In five more years we hope that the Oakland Underground Film Festival is playing a major role in the film festival circuit," Karn said, so the region's best filmmakers can get wider industry recognition.

Oakland Underground Film Festival: Through Sunday at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland; and B-Side BBQ, 3303 San Pablo Ave., Oakland.

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @BRfilmsAllen


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