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Ken Classics, Two Film Fests Return This Week

San Diego Black Film Fest and Human Rights Watch offer lots of choices for weekend

Photo credit: Golden Harvest

Jackie Chan doing one of his insane stunts in "Police Story." The 4K digitally restored film screen as part of Film Classics Week at Landmark's Ken Cinema.

Sometimes there is just too much to choose from at the movies and this is one of those weeks. Ken classics, San Diego Black Film Festival and Human Rights Watch are just a few of the choices.

Photo credit: SDBFF

"Table Stakes" is a documentary short about African American comic book writers confronting challenges and stereotypes while pursuing their dreams. The film screens at the San Diego Black Film Festival.

San Diego Black Film Festival (SDBFF)

SDBFF starts the week's events. It had a "pre-opening" gala film and panel last night that was free to the public, but it officially opens Thursday night with the comedy "The 5th of July" starring Jaleel White (Urkel of TV's "Family Matters"). The film screens at Arclight Cinemas La Jolla with a reception at 6 p.m.

In 2017, the festival faced the challenge of having to find a new home when the Pacific Gaslamp Cinemas closed. It has tried out a few venues and last night tested the TCL Chinese Theatres' Theatre Box that opened up in the former Gaslamp Cinemas location. But the festival proper takes place at Arclight Cinemas La Jolla Thursday through Sunday.

Festival director Karen Willis said the festival screens “over 100 films in total” during its four days. The festival’s motto cited in its mission statement is “Spotlight on African American and African Diaspora Cinema.”

​In addition to the features, shorts and documentaries it is screening, San Diego Black Film Festival also hosts a Filmmakers Power-Mixer where the festival says on its website: "filmmakers mix and mingle with other filmmakers, actors, actresses, producers, and screenwriters for networking opportunities over refreshing drinks."

The event takes place at 2 p.m. at what is being called the Black Film Center Reception Room located across from ArcLight Cinemas. On Friday there will be an Industry Party and on Saturday the fest moves to Embassy Sites La Jolla for its awards dinner and gala.

You can check out the line up here.

Photo credit: HRW

“It is our time now to step forward and say, ‘OK, it’s not about what gender I am, it’s about if I can get the job done. And we for years have shown that, so why not acknowledge us?’" Laila Villanueva, film subject, in "," screening at Human Right Watch Film Festival.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Human Rights Watch is an organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. One of the ways in which they promote their activism and human rights issues is through its Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which screens films in nearly two dozen cities around the globe. Once again San Diego is one of those cities and the Museum of Photographic Arts is the venue.

The organization says through the festival "we bear witness to human rights violations and create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference. The film festival brings to life human rights abuses through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathize and demand justice for all people."

The films for the festival are culled by a programming committee that operates out of the New York office and screens more than 500 films each year. The festival narrows the selections to about 40 films each year festivals and then lets programmers in each of the cities decide which of those films to screen for their particular festival.

San Diego will be screening five titles this Thursday through Sunday: “Anote's Ark,” “Charm City,” “Roll Red Roll,” “The Unafraid,” and “TransMilitary.”

You should check out these films because HRW always selects excellent films with compelling topics, plus it's a rare opportunity to see a film in the beautiful cinema at MOPA, which is sadly underused.

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a couple grieving over the death of their little daughter in Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now."

Film Classics

If nothing new in theaters sparks your interest then perhaps another week of film classics at Landmark’s Ken Cinema will provide more tempting offerings.

If you’re an action junkie like me then there’s no better fix then the Ken showcasing the new 4K digital restorations of Jackie Chan’s "Police Story" and "Police Story 2" from Hong Kong’s golden era of the 1980s. These films highlight Chan in his prime and deliver jaw-dropping stunts and action. Chan cites American silent film comedians such as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as well as dancers such as Gene Kelley as inspirations for his stunt work. If you have never experienced a Jackie Chan film or a classic Hong Kong action movie then treat yourself to this intoxicating entertainment.

But if action is not your thing then there’s the gorgeous nostalgia of Ingmar Bergman’s "Fanny and Alexander" as well as the 60s indie hit "Easy Rider" (directed by actor Dennis Hopper), which still packs a punch with its social commentary. For purely escapist fare there is Gene Kelley and Donald O’Connor dancing up a storm in "Singin’ in the Rain" and Audrey Hepburn as the shining gem in "Breakfast at Tiffany’s." But you might want to close your eyes and plug your eyes every time Mickey Rooney comes on screen to deliver a politically incorrect Asian caricature.

The highlight for me from this week of classics is Nicolas Roeg’s seductive thriller "Don’t Look Now," which stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a couple coping with grief over the recent death of their young daughter. Their sex scene together caused quite a controversy and almost got the film an X rating. The clever editing of the scene — which intercuts the couple having sex with them getting dressed — was in part Roeg's creative means of addressing censors' complaints without actually changing what he wanted to show. The scene also supposedly upset Christie's then-boyfriend Warren Beatty.

Based on a Daphne Du Marier story, the film was creepy, stylish and effective. Roeg recently died and his films have been showcased in retrospectives up in Los Angeles. This one film does not serve up enough of a tribute to the wildly inventive and unconventional filmmaker but it's a start.

And if you are in the mood for more classics, Film Geeks SD (for which I do volunteer programming) will be showing Mae West in the pre-Code comedy "I'm No Angel" (co-starring a very young Cary Grant) on Sunday at 1 p.m. and the 1950s sci-fi cult classic "Fiend Without A Face" Monday at 7:30 p.m. Both films screen at Digital Gym Cinema.

If you are a cinephile, then there's a lot to celebrate this week in San Diego.

Sometimes there is just too much to choose from at the movies and this is one of those weeks. Ken classics, San Diego Black Film Festival and Human Rights Watch are just a few of the choices.

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