Sept. 30 2015 12:23 AM

New DIY and avant-garde film festival leads our rundown of movies screening around town

Growing Up Deathstar

Ryan Betschart and Rachel Nakawatase are on a mission. The dynamic duo behind San Diego Underground Film Festival's inaugural program screening on Saturday, Oct. 3 at the Ultrastar Mission Valley Cinemas, is hoping "to bring the world's best in avant-garde and experimental cinema to San Diego." That's music to my ears.

In a middlebrow city like ours, such an event challenges the soft and conventional programming that has become the status quo. Yet Betschart and Nakawatase seem downright positive about their radical objective: "We want to explore what media is now, what media is becoming and to facilitate experimentation in deciding what media can be."

Ambition runs deep with these two, and it shows in their programming. Brian Smee's animated short Sports surmises that every human is a slab of meat pre-ordained to break down.

On the other hand, Karissa Hahn's Effigy in Emulsion examines one of life's defining moments—a couple walking down the aisle on their wedding day—and obscures the filmstrip with saturation and blurring imagery. It seems a memory is only 24 frames away from disappearing forever.

Grace Rhee's Unicorn is a torrid gut-punch of iconography and fantasy gone astray, while Shambhavi Kaul's Night Noon goes on a desolate walk into the desert with a dog and parakeet. Its glorious rock formations are superseded only by the glistening oceans that appear later on, creating a vivid juxtaposition of diverging 16mm shadow play.

Then there's UC San Diego visual arts professor Michael Trigilio's short Growing Up Deathstar, which takes a baseball bat to Star Wars fanboy nostalgia in a way that didn't seem possible.

These are just a few of the festival's brazen programming choices. So much more remains on the horizon for this outlaw outfit. "San Diego has no other festival like us," the duo correctly surmise. "We have big plans."


San Diego Film Festival: If you enjoy glitz and glam this event, now in its 14th year, features a collection of star-studded galas and parties, along with five days of film screenings, including shorts programs, documentaries and narrative features. Runs from Wednesday, Sept. 30 through Sunday, Oct. 4 at the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas and Arclight La Jolla Cinemas.

San Diego Underground Film Festival: In its inaugural year, this one-day film festival brings a collection of DIY and avant-garde cinema to San Diego. Screenings begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Ultrastar Mission Valley Cinemas at Hazard Center.

Saving Mr. Wu: Six volatile criminals kidnap a movie star while posing as policemen in this true-crime adaptation of a real-life even that occurred in 2004. Opens Friday, Oct. 2 at the AMC La Jolla.

The Cut: Fatih Akin's epic drama is set in 1915 after the Armenian genocide and follows a broken man attempting to find his twin daughters he first believed to be dead but still might be alive.

The Martian: Left behind by his colleagues after being nearly killed in an accident, a botanist (Matt Damon) must try to survive on Mars with very few supplies.

One Time Only

The Wedding Singer: Adam Sandler tries to woo Drew Barrymore (again!) with his tenderly obnoxious vocals. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.

Miami Connection: The RiffTrax crew skewers this 1987 cult classic about a martial arts rock band that battles a group of motorcycle driving ninjas. Screens at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, at various San Diego area theaters. For more information visit

Notorious: Crafty Cary Grant convinces Ingrid Bergman to spy on a group of friends with Nazi sympathies in South America. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 1 – 3, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.

Tony Rome: Frank Sinatra stars as a tough Miami PI who is hired by a local millionaire to solve the case of a jewelry heist. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, at The Hotel Lafayette in North Park.

Listening: When in grad school, don't invent mind-reading technology that destroys human lives and threatens the future of free will. This is sound advice. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.

Hitchcock: The master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), tries to silence his critics with a daring new film called Psycho. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Public Library.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: In this comedy starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen, a NASCAR superstar at the tip of his game is challenged by a French formula one champion. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.


See all events on Friday, Oct 21