Berkeley picks from 54th San Francisco Int’l Film Festival

Deborah Peagler flanked by her legal representatives, including (left) Berkeley's own Joshua Safran, in Yoav Potash's documentary "Crime After Crime"

The clouds never seem to part and the puddles never seem to dry in Foreign Parts, a damp slice of life documentary screening at Pacific Film Archive at 2:15 pm this coming Saturday, April 23, as part of the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. (The Festival begins on Thursday, April 21 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre with — appropriately — Beginners, the new film from Thumbsucker director Mike ‘Not the Guy In R.E.M.’ Mills.)

Shot over a two-year period by directors Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki, Foreign Parts is a Frederick Wiseman-style slice of life centered on a rough and tumble corner of New York City known as Willets Point. Slated repeatedly for redevelopment, Willets Point is adjacent to Citifield, the recently opened ballpark that serves as home for the New York Mets. Some of the film’s most memorable moments come via stunning long distance shots of the stadium, the opulence and magnificence of which contrast startlingly with the auto shops and junkyards of Willets Point.

Are the locals envious? Not at all: in fact, they’re opposed, or at best indifferent, to Mayor Bloomberg’s plans for the ‘hood, which they consider gifts from the Mayor to his developer buddies. The Point’s tight-knit working-class community (which consists of a potpourri of transients, ex-cons, drug addicts, down and outers, immigrants, and one — count him, one — permanent resident who’s lived there for 76 years) is unimpressed by the glitter of Citifield or Bloombo’s promises of new apartments and amenities. Foreign Parts is an elegiac salute to the stubborn spirit of backwoods urban America, and a reminder that you can still get great deals on windshield repair if you only know where to look.

When Britain granted India and Pakistan their independence in 1948, the Muslim-majority provinces of Jammu and Kashmir ended up within the borders of Hindu-majority India. The two countries have been fighting over them ever since, and Aamir Bashir’s shot-on-location Autumn (screening Saturday, April 23 at 9:15 PM) looks at this seemingly endless conflict through the eyes of Rafiq (doleful newcomer Shahnawaz Bhat), a young Muslim torn between avenging the death of his brother and becoming a professional photographer. To complicate matters, Rafiq’s father is paralyzed with grief and needs constant supervision. It’s an unenviable situation that, unsurprisingly, doesn’t end well.

Relying on the sort of heavy symbolism more typical of Iranian cinema than Indian, Autumn is certainly not the kind of film any New Delhi government — Congress or Bharatiya Janata — is likely to look on with favor. Whilst Indian filmmakers no doubt struggle with fewer constraints than do their Iranian counterparts, Bashir—a Bollywood veteran of such fluff as Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006)—owes a stylistic debt to Jafar Panahi and Samira Makhmalbhaf, directors whose films can be read as both simple parable and pointed polemic. The somber, contemplative mood of Bashir’s film is also a welcome reminder that there’s always been a lot more to Indian cinema than hyperactive song and dance marathons.

It’s rare to associate the word ‘crowd-pleaser’ with a documentary, but Yoav Potash’s Crime After Crime (screening at PFA on Wednesday April 27 at 6:30 PM) has the potential to pack ‘em in—at least in some of America’s more liberal enclaves. An examination of the case of Deborah Peagler, a woman sentenced to life for conspiring to murder the man who physically and mentally abused her, the film will leave you relieved that L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley didn’t win election as California Attorney General last year, and thankful that Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t running for another term.

There have been quite a few documentaries of late detailing the dismal state of the American judicial system, but few that will affect an audience as deeply as this one. Bring a hanky and then tell your friends — I’m predicting an Oscar nomination for Crime After Crime. (There’s also a local connection, as Peagler’s case was taken on a pro bono basis by Boalt grad and Berkeley resident Joshua Safran. Nadia Costa, Peagler’s other lead attorney, is another Boalt alum.)

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.

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  • http://twitter.com/davidsuriano David Suriano

    If you’re interested in finding the best films @ SFIFF that match your style, check out our 5 question quiz. You can save your results and even win free tickets to the closing night event.

    http://www.baycitizen.org/data/film-fest/