Starting this week: the best documentary festival in Northern California, and one of the best in the nation. The UNAFF festival is sponsored by a group that seeks to implement the ideals of the United Nations.
UNAFF brought us numerous Oscar best documentary short and best feature documentary contenders, but I’m particularly indebted for them bringing Gasland a few years ago—the move that unveiled the practice of fracking to America. Journalist and UNAFF fest founder Jasmina Bojic is a local hero. The Bay Area traveling film fest visits different venues including Stanford, Palo Alto’s Aquarius Theater, and the East Side Preparatory High School in East PA.
There are locals at work here: San Franciscan Nancy Kates’ Regarding Susan Sontag explains the often mystifying polymath. The team of Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman (Secrets of Silicon Valley) created the short “Drones in My Backyard”, a cinematic collage augmented by the work of robot-bird watchers everywhere. Stanford’s J. Christian Jensen has a short titled “White Earth” about the oil boom in North Dakota, and its effects. The E-Waste Tragedy shows what happens when you combine insanely great technology, instantaneous obsolescence, and a lot of toxic garbage. Michael Tubbs’ run for the city council of the ruined city of Stockton is chronicled in True Son. Catherine O’Brien’s “It All Started With Mom” is a short about the way the rites of dating have changed over many decades. O’Brien, a former New Hampshire state representative, has been producing films at Stanford for some years. Cory Taylor’s JFK: A President Betrayed is narrated by the voice of the Almighty, Morgan Freeman. It examines evidence that President Kennedy had been trying to open up secret negotiations with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, to lead America away from the brink of nuclear war.
After Tiller exemplifies the fearlessness of this fest. It concerns the four physicians in the US who still perform third-trimester abortions É knowing well that there are people ready to kill them for it. (The “Tiller” of the title is Dr. George Tiller, murdered by anti-choicers in 2009.)
Remember Cecilia Peck’s documentary Shut Up and Sing, about what happened to the Dixie Chicks after they expressed an opinion about George W. Bush? Brave Miss World is Peck’s newest. While visiting Milan, Linor Abargil was abducted, stabbed and raped by a stranger. The crime occurred a month and a half before she was supposed to represent Israel at the Miss World competition. When Abargil won the tiara, she determined to use the attention to find fellow survivors and convince them to not be shamed, or silenced.
A handsome portion of the UNAFF documents the work of Latino artists. Alumbrones profiles a dozen Cubans in the arts. Marcelina Cravat’s Angel Azul, narrated by Peter Coyote, tells of a Mexican sculptor who creates artificial reefs out of concrete body casts of models. Algae is defacing his work, to say nothing of what it is doing to sea life. Broken City Poets follows a youth poetry workshop in Stockton. The Forgotten records the art of Ramiro Gomez, who, when not working as a Beverly Hills “manny” installed (on the sly) cardboard effigies of the army of domestics, gardeners and day-laborers who keep things so cute in that city.
The UNAFF has the moral seriousness of a festival trying to keep an eye on all the trouble in the world, but there are plenty of lighter topics. A well-seasoned film viewer has a pretty good idea of what Soviet films, and even Communist musicals, looked like. But TV commercials? In the Evil Empire, one Estonian studio produced them, despite the fact that The Party didn’t believe in advertising, and the shops were empty anyway. Thus Volmer Hardi’s The Gold Spinners is a mind-roaster essential to SCTV fans and lovers of the psychotronic. The Pad Piper concerns a subject men won’t know about: the high cost of menstrual products. Akanksha Sood’s often humorous profile tells of an inventor who created a low-cost alternative—no mean feat in India, where menstruation isn’t a household subject.
Various Peninsula Venues