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- And when I die, I won't stay dead
Billy Woodberry's documentary And when I die, I won't stay dead captures the mood of Beat Era San Francisco in the dazzling, impressionistic chronicle of street poet Bob Kaufman. The black-and-white location film of North Beach coffee houses and alleyways in the Fifties and Sixties should be the gold standard for documentary explorers of the past. Everybody looks ecstatic except Kaufman, the golden-voiced African-American spoken-word troubadour. As recounted by myriad talking heads, Kaufman was constantly in cop trouble over free speech and his white girlfriends, but his gorgeous poetic ode to Charlie "Bird" Parker and jazz music is what every wordsmith was, and is, looking for. This enthralling tribute to the original Black beatnik plays May 1 and 3 at the Alamo, May 4 at BAMPFA.
A pair of gentle, leisurely paced Eastern European character studies provide this year's festival with the classic joy of people-watching. In Home Care by Czech filmmaker Slávek Horák, a selfless nurse named Vlasta (Alena Mihulová) makes house calls on her cranky, eccentric senior citizen patients, despite the cancer in her stomach. In several ways, Horák's peripatetic drama is the epitome of the old-style film festival village picture, amiably paced and human-scaled. It shows at the Alamo (2550 Mission St.) on April 27, at BAMPFA on April 28, and May 2 at the Roxie (3117 16th St.). Meanwhile in Tbilisi, Georgia, a poised but prankish teenager named Nick (Dati Khrikadze) interacts with half the city as director Vano Burduli's camera flits from one light-hearted situation to another. A sexy female passport official appears, then an ambling Irish photographer, then a pair of wise-cracking loafers, a street bookseller, a TV talk show hostess, and the Christmas tree man, among others. The atmosphere in The Summer of Frozen Fountains is typically Georgian — relaxed, unhurried, circumspect, "southern" in the best way, with flashes of soulful music and the ever-present promise of love. It's the ideal film to bring a glass of wine to. Too bad the BAMPFA (May 5) and the Roxie (April 25 and 27) don't allow alcohol.
New York's Jem Cohen (Museum Hours, the Gravity Hill Newsreel series) has a reputation for training his camera eye on fascinatingly overlooked locations and teasing out the essence of human endeavor. In his 2015 doc Counting, Cohen basically walks around in places like Istanbul, Moscow, Cairo, St. Petersburg, Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, New Jersey, and Porto, Portugal — and simply looks. His montage magic extends to his hometown, from wintry NYC streets to subway faces to homeless persons cowering in public spaces, as if afraid to be seen. Counting is one the finest films of any kind in this festival, and you have exactly two chances to see it: Saturday, April 23 at BAMPFA and April 24 at the Alamo.
This year, the SFIFF is paying special attention to animated work. On May 1 at the Castro, Aardman Animations co-founder Peter Lord will receive the Film Society's Persistence of Vision Award for the company's outstanding stop-motion comic adventures. The evening will also showcase a feature-length reel of some of Aardman's greatest hits, including Nick Park's short The Wrong Trousers (1993), starring audience favorites Wallace and Gromit.
And there's more animated offerings. The French team of Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, who made the delightful A Cat in Paris, combine a hint of pathos and a heap of graphic invention in Phantom Boy, the action-packed yet kind-natured tale of an ailing kid who doubles, magically, as an invisible flying hero to help a detective fight crime. But the imaginary heroics weaken him. The French are not afraid of showing a young cartoon protagonist grappling with terminal illness. It screens Sunday, April 24 at the Alamo. Then there's Penny Lane's NUTS! No matter how we try to describe it, Lane's animated account of the career of "folk healer" J.R. Brinkley and his career as a seller of fake remedies in 1920s and 1930s rural America is the strangest film in this year's fest. Also one of the most artfully produced. You'll never see another animated movie — or any movie at all, most likely — on the concept of using goat testicles as a cure-all. NUTS! unwinds April 29 at the Alamo and April 30 at BAMPFA.
Still technically an animation, yet on another plane entirely, is collagist Lewis Klahr's Sixty Six, a truly hypnotic anthology of twelve Pop Art-influenced shorts utilizing comic-book characters in advertising-art settings to spin out the roots of Mid-Century Malaise in a flurry of obscure montage anxiety. The found-object audio adds to the mood: soap operas, electronic burps, orchestral snippets, etc. This is the type of visual-art project every self-respecting urban film festival should try to book. You can put Leonard Cohen songs behind a montage of anything and it'll look brilliant — here's the proof. Don't miss it when it hits the Roxie on April 28 or the BAMPFA on April 30.
- Sixty Six.