February film festival fever


Say what you will about San Francisco these days, but the city is one of the truly classic settings for movie and television projects, and the local love of cinema is ongoing — as seen in the parade of film festivals that grace the area. Mere weeks after we could enjoy the pleasures of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Noir City festival, February welcomes two of the most anticipated annual events for discerning cineastes: the Mostly British Film Festival and the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.


The 16th Mostly British Film Festival runs from Feb. 15–22 at its longtime venue, the Vogue Theater (3290 Sacramento Street). As usual, the MBFF presents a thoughtfully curated selection of new and occasionally vintage English-language feature films from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and India, celebrating a range of drama and comedy on the narrative side and a handful of fascinating people, including a master moviemaker and an acting legend, in the documentary portion of the schedule.

On opening night, the festival kicks off with a preparty at Presidio Kebab across the street from the Vogue, followed by the provocatively titled “How to Have Sex” — a layered, wry, and brutally honest depiction of three teenage girls exploring their sexuality, which won a jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival for first-time director Molly Manning Walker. A discussion about the movie with Walker via Zoom is also on tap.

The festival proceeds with centerpiece offerings that include renowned actors and actresses, led by Anthony Hopkins in One Life, a biographical look at humanitarian Nicholas Windsor with Hopkins playing the man considered “the British Schindler” and supporting turns by Helena Bonham Carter and Jonathan Pryce; Lily James and Emma Thompson in What’s Love Got to Do with It?, a romantic comedy about a documentarian (James) shooting a film about her Pakistani friend’s arranged marriage; Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley in Wicked Little Letters, a raunchy romp triggered by Colman’s character receiving a bunch of obscene, anonymous missives; and Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Shirley Henderson, and Indira Varma in The Trouble with Jessica, a darkly comic look at the chaos when a house sale is put at risk by a dead body found on the premises.

A few notable selections in the MBFF’s “Irish Spotlight” are Dance First, a canny biopic with Gabriel Byrne as Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer Samuel Beckett; Lie of the Land, a revenge drama about a couple facing destitution unless they sell their farm; and Ballywater, a heartfelt story about a reluctant cab driver and her encounter with a passenger who happens to be a would-be comedian. As for the “Australian Spotlight,” it presents Sundance Jury Prize-winner Shayda, concerning an Iranian immigrant trying to protect herself and her daughter from her abusive husband; the coming-of-age drama Sweet As, exploring the personal growth of an Indigenous teen; and the joyful female-empowerment yarn How to Please a Woman.

When it comes to documentaries, this year’s MBFF offers compelling ones, such as My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock, studying the life and timeless work of the portly, iconoclastic, and often macabre director; Peter O’Toole: Along the Sky Road to Aqaba, an exhilarating dive into the achievements and escapades of the brilliant, hard-drinking movie star, enhanced by interviews with famous peers and admirers; and Mad About the Boy: The Noel Coward Story, replete with the magic of the wry, sophisticated English playwright, actor, singer, director, and composer.

For its latest “Spotlight on a Classic,” the festival unearthed a crowd-pleaser from 1983: Local Hero, screenwriter-director Bill Forsyth’s gentle comedy about a charming Scottish seaside village that’s turned topsy-turvy when a Houston oil executive (Peter Riegert) is sent there by his swaggering boss (Burt Lancaster) to essentially buy up the entire town so a refinery can be built. A Zoom interview with Riegert is scheduled to accompany the screening.

The closing night presentation is The Old Oak, an examination of the strife faced by unfortunates in Northern England. It’s touted as the final film from the activist, salt-of-the-earth director-screenwriter Ken Loach who is also slated to be interviewed over Zoom prior to the showing. After the movie, this edition of the MBFF will conclude with a party in the theater.

Mostly British Film Festival: Feb. 15–22, Vogue Theater, 3290 Sacramento St. Visit website for complete schedule, synopses for all 26 movies, and ticketing (tickets also available at the Vogue Theatre box office).


Venerable and expansive, the 26th San Francisco Independent Film Festival, colloquially called SF IndieFest, is slated from Feb. 8­­–18 with 35 features and 55 shorts from 15 countries to be screened at the Roxie Theater (3117 16th Street) and the 4 Star Theater (2200 Clement Street). In keeping with SF IndieFest’s commitment to local films and filmmakers, 34 of the festival’s entries are of Bay Area origin.

Jeff Ross, director of SF IndieFest, reiterated the event’s philosophy: Offer an alternative to the Hollywood machine by providing a platform for movies that won’t be found at multiplex theaters or on high-profile streaming services. Accordingly, highlights of the latest IndieFest range from the opening-night Roxie double-feature of director Mar Novo’s drama Sisters, following three Mexican-American siblings on a sacred pilgrimage, and director Shane Atkinson’s neo-noir LaRoy, starring John Magaro as an ordinary man who finds himself thrust into serious trouble, to No One Asked You, Ruth Leitman’s documentary about crusading comedian Lizz Winstead and her road-tripping team of pro-choice activists, to the director Marc Marriott’s closing-night offering Tokyo Cowboy, the offbeat adventure of a Japanese businessman attempting to revive a failing cattle ranch in Montana. 

In between, special events are on tap led by a 25th anniversary screening of now-lionized filmmaker David Fincher’s violent satire of machismo, Fight Club, which was based on author Chuck Palahniuk’s eponymous best seller. Palahniuk will be in attendance for a Q. & A. session with Burning Man-Cacophony Society founder John Law at the Roxie.

S.F. Indie Fest: Feb. 8–18, Roxie Theater (3117 16th St.) and 4 Star Theater (2200 Clement St.). Visit website for complete schedule, synopses, virtual viewing information, and ticketing., 415-662-3378.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on The Mark Thompson Show, via YouTube, iTunes and I Heart Radio and on Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast, via and Roku. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster.

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