SFFILM Looks Eastward

The Grand Lake Theatre joins BAMPFA as an East Bay outlet for the SFFILM Festival, and the crop of movies is promising.


Photo courtesy of SFIFF

Eric Khoo's Ramen Shop is one of the narrative films screening in the East Bay.

A year ago, the San Francisco International Film Festival, aka SFFILM Festival, staged a raucous Centerpiece screening of Boots Riley’s delirious debut feature Sorry to Bother You at the Grand Lake Theatre. Taking a note from that packed-to-the-rafters success, the 2019 festival has booked Oakland’s signature movie house for no less than five days (April 17-21) of dramas and documentaries from here and yon. Mind you, that’s in addition to the typically full slate unspooling at BAMPFA, SFFILM’s longstanding East Bay outpost.

The expansion on this side of the Bay Bridge is significant on many levels, not the least because it suggests a reckoning that the bohemian center of gravity is moving (with priced-out artists) from San Francisco. Regardless, what always matters most about the festival are the movies. We Are the Radical Monarchs, which chronicles Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest’s debut Oakland class of activist girls of color, will be a hot ticket and a hotter program. The world premiere of Berkeley native Sara Dosa’s The Seer and the Unseen weighs the cost of development through the eyes of a stalwart friend of Iceland’s elves. Mysteries embedded in the landscape likewise propel James Marsh’s gorgeously morbid 1999 travelogue, Wisconsin Death Trip, screening in conjunction with the Mel Novikoff Award presentation to BBC’s Arena. The Bay Area’s present passion for basketball guarantees a full house for Q Ball (April 11 at the Castro, with executive producer Kevin Durant slated to attend), a portrait of hoop dreamers in San Quentin.

The parade of narrative films includes Eric Khoo’s Ramen Shop, a vibrant saga of a young Japanese chef on a roots journey in Singapore, and Olivier Masset-Depasse’s psychological thriller Mother’s Instincts, which exults in menacing a pair of paranoid 1960s Brussels housewives. Speaking of upending norms, Boots Riley returns to deliver this year’s State of Cinema address. Get your tickets now.

SFFILM Festival, April 10-23, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org, and Grand Lake Theatre, 3200 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-452-3556, RenaissanceRialto.com.