Spring Screens

Film events and festivals bloom in the North Bay

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With March well under way and spring around the corner, the clouds are starting to clear in the North Bay, meaning the stars are coming out to shine. From now through May, several of Hollywood’s top actors, emerging filmmakers, gifted documentarians and others will make their way to Sonoma and Marin for special screenings and festivals offering one-of-a-kind film experiences for local audiences.

‘High Fidelity’

First up, one of the most recognizable faces in movies for the last 30 years, John Cusack comes to Santa Rosa to screen and discuss his hit comedy High Fidelity on March 15 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

The story of record shop owner Rob Gordon (Cusack) recounting his top five failed relationships is set against a backdrop of over 70 pop songs spanning multiple decades and genres of music; the film has become one of the most beloved romantic comedies for music and film lovers alike. Cusack not only starred in the movie, he co-wrote and co-produced it, bringing the novel by Nick Hornby to life.

“I had made a bunch of films with Joe Roth, who ran Disney,” says Cusack. “And I had just made the first film I wrote and produced called Grosse Pointe Blank. We had a really good experience, and we had a big soundtrack on that movie. Kathy Nelson, who was the music supervisor, was a real wizard.”

After the success of Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack turned to High Fidelity and brought Nelson along for another music-centric film. But this time, the music took on a physical role, with Cusack and his friends (Jack Black and Todd Louiso) hanging out in a record shop and debating various top five lists like “Top five recording artists” and “Top five musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the ’80s and ’90s.”

High Fidelity also told a compelling story about love and relationships, as Rob attempts to figure out where he went wrong in the past and fix his current romantic situation, while also reorganizing his record collection autobiographically.

“I’m not as much of a collector in person, but I certainly value music the same way,” says Cusack of his character. “A lot of people live autobiographically through art, and they have albums and songs and movies that mean something to them in their life, when they first heard the song, or the era of the song. Those themes run close with me.”

High Fidelity was also the breakout role for Jack Black, whom Cusack recruited for the part. “I knew we had an ending to the film because I knew Jack and had seen his act Tenacious D in Los Angeles,” says Cusack. “I knew the part was perfect for him and that he would be able to knock ’em dead with the music at the end. We had a ball.”

Beyond being one of the most entertaining movies about music ever, High Fidelity captured an audience through the relatable characters and emotional narrative.

“It tells a lot of secrets about men, our inner monologue and thought processes,” says Cusack.

On hand for the screening and conversation, Cusack looks forward to the chance to talk with fans of the film.

“What we usually like to do is take questions directly from the audience,” says Cusack, who has toured with other films. “They’re into the movies and know them well. I like to take questions and let them ask whatever they want.”

John Cusack appears Friday, March 15, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 7:30pm. $39 and up. 707.546.3600.

Tiburon International Film Festival

There is a good reason why the Tiburon International Film Festival, running April 12–18, is known as the United Nations of cinema. The event is dedicated to understanding cultures and people throughout the world through the medium of film. Since 2001, the festival has showcased independent film selections from across the globe, and this year’s 18th annual lineup includes films of every genre from nearly 30 countries.

Several special programs highlights this year’s TIFF, starting with a tribute to comedian, singer, actress and television star Kaye Ballard, whose career has spanned eight decades. The tribute includes a screening of the documentary, Kaye Ballard: the Show Goes On!, directed by Dan Wingate, who will be present at the screening on April 13. Another legend receiving the tribute treatment is classic Hollywood director William Wellman, who is saluted with a screening of his original 1937 film A Star Is Born and a discussion with his son, William Wellman Jr., who will share his memories of his legendary father on April 14.

TIFF also hosts a Marin filmmakers program on April 15 and a Bay Area filmmakers showcase on April 17, each screening a collection of shorts from local filmmakers who will be on hand for Q&A session.

International selections include Hungarian film Eternal Winter, the first feature film about the 700,000 Hungarian victims of the WWII Soviet labor camps, and Iranian film Amir, from promising first-time writer and director Nima Eghlima.

Tickets for the Tiburon International Film Festival can be found at tiburonfilmfestival.com.

DocLands Documentary Film Festival

Formed in 2017 and hosted by the California Film Institute, DocLands Documentary Film Festival is a relative newcomer to the film festival scene in Marin, though it has already made an impact with its compelling, thoughtful film program and its non-competitive, non-juried and inclusive atmosphere. Beyond the festival, happening May 2–5 throughout Marin, Doclands is a great tool for filmmakers, as two signature programs from 2018 return for the 2019 festival. DocPitch is designed to connect filmmakers and their works-in-progress to distributors, funders, nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, fellow filmmakers, and future audiences. DocTalk will again provide a platform for local and visiting filmmakers to share with fellow filmmakers their tips and techniques for working in an ever-changing industry.

While film selections for this year’s event are yet to be announced and individual tickets go on sale in early April, the festival’s past selections have included films addressing climate change and sustainability as well as films about overcoming obstacles and celebrating the human spirit. Both come to light in one film Doclands has announced for this year, The Weight of Water, directed by Michael Brown and starring renowned mountain climber and kayaker Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The film follows Weihenmayer’s navigation of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in a kayak. Both Brown and Weihenmayer will be on hand for a special reception benefiting Environmental Traveling Companions before the film screens on May 4.

Other films and tickets can be found at doclands.com.

‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

Finally, San Rafael takes to the stars in a big way when it welcomes iconic actor, writer and director William Shatner to town for a conversation to accompany a screening of the best Star Trek movie ever, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, on May 16 at the Marin Center.

In revisiting his beloved character of James T. Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise in both the original 1966 Star Trek television series and then in seven feature films, the first thing that Shatner points out is that the character almost didn’t exist.

“The people who were doing Star Trek had made a pilot with another actor,” says Shatner. “And they couldn’t sell it, but the idea was intriguing enough. A very unusual and maybe unique event took place; NBC said make another pilot with a different script and recast everybody except the guy playing the Vulcan [Leonard Nimoy].”

So it was, and the role of Captain Pike was changed to Captain Kirk. Shatner was called in to read the new part. “I thought they took themselves a little too seriously and I suggested that we have more fun with it,” he says. “I had, the year before, done a film on Alexander the Great and I was riding horses, wearing a breechcloth and doing weight training. So I had an idea of what a hero might act like, and I kept thinking of a phrase I had heard somewhere, ‘the look of eagles.’”

Taking all that, Shatner created an archetype in science fiction, the brash but brave Captain Kirk, who fights for his crew and for the good of all. Though the original series lasted only three short years, the crew of the starship Enterprise would return in 1979 for the first of several feature films. Those films also famously spawned many other television series that continue to this day, not to mention books, video games and other media.

In revisiting the character of Captain Kirk in the movies, the actor approached Kirk as an older, wiser captain. “I began to look more closely on how an aging hero, who is one step slower, might act and feel,” says Shatner. “And on the loneliness of having an inanimate ship as the love of his life. There were many strains of things that I didn’t comprehend or look at when I was playing him on television.”

While 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture garnered mixed reviews, the sequel became a smash hit with critics and audiences. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is in fact a sequel to an episode from the original series, “Space Seed,” in which the superhuman Khan is revived from suspended animation and attempts to capture the Enterprise. That episode ends with Khan and his crew being exiled to a planet, where we find them at the beginning of the 1982 film.

“Somebody knowledgeable said, ‘Let’s get back to the series,’” says Shatner of Wrath of Khan. “The stories were the important part. So when they said let’s do a story instead of running-and-jumping, I thought that was the right way to go. And it turned out to be a success because we did that.”

As the title points out, Khan makes his wrath known in the movie, and as portrayed by the late Ricardo Montalbán, Khan is considered one of Star Trek’s greatest villains. The film concludes with not only one of the most memorable yells in cinema history (“Khhaaaan!”) it features Shatner, Montalbán and Nimoy all giving world-class performances.

“Leonard was a wonderful actor, everything done so internally, and a great gentleman and wonderful friend,” says Shatner. “The best of acting is a tennis game between the actors, and there’s this playful thing that should happen. If it’s there, it becomes alive; even if the dialogue isn’t necessarily sparkling, actors can bring it to life if they bring themselves to life, and these guys were able to that.”

William Shatner beams down Thursday, May 16, to the Marin Center’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. 7:30pm. $39 and up. 415.473.6800.

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