There are some serious-minded films on the program of this year's San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, like Cracked Not Broken, about a stockbroker turned crack addict, and The Chances of the World Changing, about one man's crusade to save endangered turtles. But when there's an option in life to sample something called Pizza! The Movie, there's really no way around it. You have to go for the pie.
Director Michael Dorian is good-natured enough to include a clip from "the other" Pizza: The Movie — a low-budget 2004 comedy about a lovelorn delivery dude — in his doc; he's also clever enough to wrap his film around the theme that pizza is, by nature, a competitive sport. Rivalries lurk in all aspects of the business. The simple question of whose pizza tastes the best is paramount; dozens of parlors, from New York to Los Angeles to an Ohio spot famed for its meat-laden "butcher shop" special, are visited, and many friendly opinions are shared. But other points of contention run deeper than Chicago-style crust, including which trade magazine can claim superiority (bad blood runs twixt upstart PMQ and old-school Pizza Today); mass-market (i.e., Pizza Hut) versus artisan-style pies; and who invented which new twist when, exemplified by a chef who claims he created all of California Pizza Kitchen's original recipes.
So, clearly, the pizza industry attracts strong personalities. But the absolute highlight of Pizza! The Movie is the Bay Area's own Tony Gemignani, a champion acrobatic pizza tosser whose skill with dough is as awe-inspiring as his deadly serious approach to his craft. Frankly, I can't believe Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell hasn't starred in a feature film based on this guy; the entire 90 minutes of Pizza! The Movie are worth watching just to see Tony's take on The Matrix, complete with bullet-time dough-throwing. Good thing DocFest goes down in the Mission, where pizza is plentiful — after the movie, there's no way you won't be in the mood for a slice.
Another DocFest film with a tempting title is Muskrat Lovely, Amy Nicholson's affectionate study of a small-town Maryland beauty pageant. The specter of Corky St. Clair looms over the proceedings, which transpire during a festival with twin highlights: the crowning of Miss Outdoors, of course, and a muskrat-skinning contest. (In a tidy display of synergy, one of the pageant girls skins a muskrat as her talent.) The importance of glamour — even when one is a teenager living in an isolated Chesapeake Bay community — is addressed, as is the importance of removing the muskrat's musk gland before you cook it.
A less triumphant tale unfolds in The Future of Pinball, local filmmaker Greg Maletic's ironically titled work-in-progress doc about pinball's painful decline. He focuses on a 1999 invention optimistically dubbed Pinball 2000, a wondrous machine dreamed up by the industry's most talented (and increasingly desperate) pinball designers, a dedicated group whose job titles were made nearly extinct by the video game boom. Despite a groovy lounge music soundtrack, Pinball weaves a sad tale of creativity being stamped out by big business; also, as it turns out, the eventual fate of the Pinball 2000 happens to be one more thing we can blame on Jar Jar Binks.