Our city’s cultural scene received a necessary dose of punk when the San Diego Underground Film Festival (SDUFF) debuted at Ultrastar Mission Valley Cinemas last October. Organizers Rachel Nakawatase and Ryan Betschart wanted to shake things up by showing a wide array of experimental shorts, features and documentaries from around the world. They decided to curate programs based around theme, an approach that immerses the viewer inside a subjective headspace instead of being confined to labels of genres or social issues.
This fall, SDUFF returns for its second year with an expanded program (and an extra day), running from Friday, Nov. 11 through Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in downtown. Along with providing audiences a chance to see the latest in avant-garde cinema, the festival will showcase new programs as part of its sophomore growth spurt.
“We’ve made a huge effort to play as many features as we could by introducing a new program called The Catacombs—the festival within the festival,” says Betschart and Nakawatase. “It’s a program that is exclusively for feature films that will be played on loop for the entire duration of the festival.” Eight features in total will be screened for this series, and each should be a must-see for any adventurous cinephile looking to have a hallucinatory experience.
SDUFF also wanted to make it a priority to give local films a platform during this year’s event. Notables that will screen in the festival proper include UC San Diego alumnus Christina C. Nguyen’s short Parallel Inquiries, a playful, colorful blast of texture and shading with a grid-like visual structure and dense sound design that mimics the furious flapping of moth wings. Also, San Diego native Omar Lopex’s 14-minute Sin Eater, a grotesque and funny two-hander about a pair of scraggly witches dressed in fur coats rambling through the forest speaking in code. It’s like a version of Grey Gardens directed by Dario Argento.
Some wild card recommendations from other short programs include Catalina Jordan Alvarez’s mind-bendingly distasteful Paco, which tells the story of a charming, mustached vagrant who provides passersby with some much needed physical affection. Brian Jordan Alvarez’s brilliantly unhinged lead performance borders on genius. Isabelle Aspin’s animation/doc hybrid Rituals only scratches the surface of the eco-disaster that has struck Tulare County, California, in recent years. Its innovation and social importance begs for feature treatment.
For opening night, SDUFF will screen 12-minute oddity Half Human, Half Vapor by Mike Stoltz, which deals in all kinds of visual and sensory erosion. This will be followed by feature documentary Dead Hands Dig Deep, which examines the tortured life and career of Temecula-based black metal musician Edwin Borsheim, who became infamous in the mid 1990s for mutilating himself onstage. Performances by Rikk Agnew Band and Gitane Demone Quartet will follow the screenings.
Other musical acts will fill the time between short film blocks, and an Artist’s Alley will be on exhibit in the venue space. With an exciting second edition on tap, SDUFF will hopefully be defying convention for many years to come. sdundergroundfilm.com
Locals only: San Diego film lovers have come to expect single-screen North Park theater Digital Gym to program innovative and experimental films from around the world. Now comes “The Locals”, a new film series that will showcase works from local artists residing in the San Diego and Tijuana border region. Look for a variety of releases in the coming months from both sides of the border. Screening times can be found at digitalgymcinema.com.
That’s amore: Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the 12-day San Diego Italian Film Festival features the best in Italian narrative, documentary and short film programs. Opening night kicks off with a showing of the thriller They Call Me Jeeg Robot from director Gabrielle Mainetti. Screenings run from Wednesday, October 5 through Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Museum of Photographic Arts and La Paloma Theatre. sandiegoitalianfilmfestival.com
Minute by minute: On July 18, 1984, a gunman walked into a San Ysidro McDonalds and committed one of the worst mass shootings in history, killing 21 people and injuring 19. Charlie Minn’s new doc, 77 Minutes, examines the day’s tragic events with rare archival footage while also highlighting the stories of victims and first responders with first hand accounts and interviews. Opens Thursday, September 22 at The Front in San Ysidro and Friday, Sept. 23, at the Ultrastar Mission Valley Cinemas. 77minutesfilm.com
Masterpiece theatre: Every few months, the iconic Ken Cinema programs a series of classic films for its Ken Cinema Classics week. From Friday, Oct. 21, through Thursday, October 27 audiences will be able to experience David Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Drive, Robert Wise’s musical The Sound of Music, a new digital restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, Joel and Ethan Coen’s noir debut Blood Simple, Alan J. Pakula’s methodical newspaper yarn All the President’s Men, Jean Cocteau’s surrealist Beauty and the Beast, and Robert Aldrich’s nasty melodrama Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? landmarktheatres.com