Bay Area enters unofficial film festival season

Cinephiles are spoiled in the Bay Area. Film festivals in the Bay are as common as tourists on Fisherman’s Wharf with a fest seemingly every other week. The rich tapestry of culture that is the Bay is well represented in the festivals with fests dedicated to specific nationalities, sexual proclivities, various causes, and a wide swath of genres. It can be difficult to navigate — especially if a film fan is willing to travel for the sake of celluloid. If any season had to be declared “festival season” in the Bay Area it would likely be these last three months of 2013. Starting at the end of September there are very few opportunities for movie buffs to get out of darkened theaters into the daylight. Below is an effort to create a comprehensive list of film festivals in the region from the end of September through December.

Oakland Underground Film Festival (September 25 – 29, 2013)
Tonight sees the kick-off of the fifth annual Oakland Underground Film Festival with a free screening at Grand Lake Theater of Citizen Koch. As a former Madisonian this film holds a special place in my heart since it features numerous scenes from the 2011 Capitol uprising. That film will be followed by a biopic of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hannah, who is considered one of the pioneers of the riot grrrl movement of the early-90s. The festival continues over the remaining four days with a mixture of narratives, shorts, and documentaries. From the website: “a showcase for independent and Do-It-Yourself film, video, and projection-art based in Oakland, California. The Oakland Underground Film Festival places special emphasis on local filmmakers, social justice, urban life, the environment and works of fiction and non-fiction that thrive outside of classic narrative filmmaking.” OakUFF’s website:

Mill Valley Film Festival (October 3-13)
Marin County gets in on the festival action with the 36th annual Mill Valley Film Festival. MVFF is a bit more starstruck than many other festivals in the region with spotlights and tributes to Jared Leto, Dakota Fanning, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ben Stiller, and others. MVFF is an all-encompassing festival featuring films from around the globe  and in multiple genres. According to the festival’s mission: “With its reputation as a filmmakers’ festival, this prestigious noncompetitive event showcases international features, documentaries, shorts and children’s films — something for every filmgoer.” MVFF’s website:

Hong Kong Cinema (October 4 – 6, 2013)
This is the first in a series of festivals presented by the San Francisco Film Society in October and November. Hong Kong Cinema takes over the Vogue Theatre for three days presenting a slate of films from Hong Kong. From the website: “This year features greater international scope than ever before with HK filmmakers telling mainland stories or setting their work in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. The program runs the genre gamut with enough action, romance, drama and thrills to satisfy all viewers.” Kung-fu fans take note, HKC is featuring a double billing of Liu Chia-liang’s The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. HKC’s website:

United Nations Association Film Festival (October 17 – 27, 2013)
UNAFF is one of the longest running documentary specific film festivals in the world.  From the fest’s mission: “UNAFF has grown and earned the respect of audiences and filmmakers alike for its fearless independence and integrity. In addition to providing early outlets for films, many of which later went on to win major awards and accolades, UNAFF prides itself in creating a community forum for discovery and dialogue about different cultures, issues and solutions.” The theme for the fest’s 16th year is “Individual to Universal.” The majority of films screen at Stanford University and in Palo Alto, but there are a couple showing in San Francisco. UNAFF’s website:

San Jose International Short Film Festival October 17 – 20, 2013
The SJISFF enters year five with an expanded festival now featuring multiple screens creating the opportunity for screening more short films. The festival seeks out short films from around the globe in an effort to bring the Silicon Valley community films they might not otherwise be able to see. From the website: “This year we are excited to showcase the best in contemporary filmmaking with thought-provoking and innovative short films that will amaze and astound you.” The website:

Sister Cities Cinema: Zurich/SF (October 18-20)
The Sister Cities Cinema festival is a nifty concept by the San Francisco Film Society which acts as a love letter between the cities of Zurich, Switzerland and San Francisco. From the website: “By highlighting some of the most exciting cinema featuring each metropolis—from late-noir treasures of the ‘70s through recent films—this brand new addition to the Film Society’s Fall Season pays homage to great movies and to two great towns.” This festival will call New People Cinema home for the duration. Website:

Taiwan Film Days (November 1 – 3, 2013)
One month after Hong Kong Cinema the San Francisco Film Society will return to Asia and the Vogue Theatre for a series of films produced by Taiwanese filmmakers. From the website: “the fifth installment of Taiwan Film Days features an eclectic mix of the most popular and celebrated films to come from Taiwan over the past year. Blockbusters such as Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast and Forever Love are presented alongside Cannes, Toronto International and Locarno Film Festival favorites such as Taipei Factory, Soul and Ripples of Desire.” Website:

French Cinema Now (November 7 – 10, 2013)
This year French Cinema Now expands to four days celebrating new French language films. A production of the San Francisco Film Society the line-up for FCN will be announced in early October.

New Italian Cinema (November 13-17, 2013)
New Italian Cinema enters year 17 with five days of dedicated to Italian film. Each year this festival includes a seven-film competition for the coveted City of Florence Award. Last year the award went to Andrea Segre’s Shun Li and the Poet. More information on this year’s line-up will be announced in early October.

Cinema By The Bay (November 22 – 24, 2013)
After spending two months backpacking through Europe and Asia the San Francisco Film Society comes home for this festival dedicated to the local filmmaking community. From the website: “The Film Society’s fifth annual celebration of new work by homegrown talent highlights the passion, innovation and diversity of Bay Area filmmaking and inducts a new group to our expanding pantheon of local cinematic luminaries at Essential SF.” More information on Cinema By The Bay will be unveiled in mid-October.

Another Hole in the Head Film Festival (November 29 – December 19)
Another Hole in the Head fills a void in the Bay Area cinema landscape by providing two weeks of films dedicated to sci-fi, horror, exploitation, and dark fantasy. Surprisingly, despite the growing popularity of independent films in those genres globally (especially horror), they’re poorly represented in the dozens of festivals that are programmed in the Bay Area. From the event’s description: “Our annual festival of horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation cinema defies convention to bring you the most outrageous genre films from both emerging and established filmmakers. Two weeks of celluloid mayhem not usually found in your local cineplex!” The festival is still accepting submissions through October 14 with the schedule to be announced in early-November. Website:


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