Actors, crew, and directors of Home Is a Hotel. Photography by Jeff Hunt
I've lived in San Francisco for 23 years and seen movies at the SFFilm Festival many times. But I've never "covered" the festival as press. At Erin's urging, this year, I applied for press credentials ... and SFFilm obliged. Amazing!
The schedule for this festival, which was celebrating its 66th year, was dizzying, to say the least. I leafed through and found a handful of films that fit the following criteria:
I ended up with access to the following movies, whether by at-home screener link or tickets to a theater:
Rally is a documentary about the life of Rose Pak. Since shortly after I arrived in San Francisco, Pak's name has been the equivalent of a bad word for me. I can't recall the first time I heard about her or what the context was, but as annoyed as I was by her alleged backroom City Hall dealings, I was fascinated that one person could wield so much control over city politics. When I saw that there was a documentary about her, I welcomed it with the intention of giving this enigmatic figure another chance. She was human, after all, and humans are complex AF.
Director Rooth Tang does a good job of exposing various aspects of Pak's ascent in society and politics in The City. Things I learned about her include: that she began her time here as a Chronicle reporter; that she was accused of being a plant of the Chinese Communist Party; that she broke with Ed Lee, whom she had lobbied so hard for to become mayor, after Lee rolled out the figurative red carpet for tech. See? Complicated.
I bumped into Tang and the film's producer, Michelle Moy, at CGV theater just after Bitch Talk interviewed them. I thanked them for their work and expressed what a feat it must have been to present such a polarizing figure that so many already have firm opinions about in a very human way. Look for Rally and, if your love for San Francisco is as head-scratchy and qualified as mine, do yourself a favor and see this documentary.
I wanted to see Earth Mama for its Bay Area setting as much as for its subject matter. The movie follows Gia, a young mother, as she navigates the foster care system in the East Bay. Tia Nomore's performance in the lead role is so goddam good, it almost feels creepy, like we're following her through the ins and outs and ups and downs of wanting to care for her own children in a capitalist system that seems to want to knock her down at every turn.
The screening of Past Lives I was lucky enough to attend was held at The Castro Theatre and served as the festival's centerpiece event. This one belongs in the "movies I simply wanted to see" category, and I'm really glad I did. It follows two young South Koreans after one of their families leaves the country to relocate in North America and they lose touch. Now adults, they reconnect, first over Skype, then IRL when the one who stayed behind visits the other in New York City. It's a really endearing love story of "couldas/shouldas" that is just so, so human.
Still is an intimate portrait of actor and pop culture icon Michael J. Fox. The movie charts Fox's rise from humble Canadian roots up to the present day. Probably what struck me most was the incredible sense of humor he has kept to this day despite now living for more than half his life with Parkinson's.
The final movie I saw at this year's SF Film festival is one I would've saved for last anyway. Home Is a Hotel immediately jumped out at me from the festival's schedule. It follows four families' journeys through San Francisco SROs (single-room occupancy [hotels]).
Quick editorial: We spend entirely too much time complaining about "blight" and "homelessness" and not anything close to enough time considering the human toll capitalism takes. Home Is a Hotel, like our podcast, is about our neighbors. More than one of the folks featured in the documentary have kids. They're navigating a system that depends on some folks failing. And these people are doing the best they can.
Several cast members were in attendance for a Q&A after the screening, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Be on the lookout for the next film festival in town--CAAMFest kicks off Thursday, May 11.
Jeff Hunt is a human husband, editor, podcaster, San Franciscan, dog lover, pizza eater, and moviegoer.