TURF dancing, God's country, Korean War musicals: this weekend's Cinema By the Bay festival showcases films with local ties
American Vagabond, about homeless LGBT youth, is particularly timely in light of the SF Board of Supervisors' recent vote to close parks overnight. Golden Gate Park is home for James and Tyler, a young couple who've fled their close-minded families, dreaming of a better life in the rainbow capital of California. Guided by James' poetic, confessional narration — as well as other voices that chime in to share their experiences — American Vagabond is a specific, deeply personal story that also offers a broader comment on how gay youths and the homeless are treated, even in a city as progressive as SF. And it does take some unexpected turns, as when James reunites with the family that rejected him — though the reasons for the reconciliation are not happy ones.
Elsewhere in the fest, take note of Berry Minott's The Illness and the Odyssey, a medical whodunit of sorts that explores the history and controversy surrounding Lytico-Bodig, a neurological disease found almost exclusively in Guam. For years, scientists have believed that finding its cause would be like "a Rosetta stone," according to Dr. Oliver Sacks, resulting in cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and related illnesses. But since nobody can settle on a hypothesis — is it infectious? Caused by plants? The result of a curse? — and nobody really wants to share research (what, and let that Nobel Prize slip away?), there's been little progress other than clashing speculation, to the great annoyance of those in Guam whose families are affected by the disease. Ultimately, The Illness and the Odyssey is more about the scientific process than anything else, with plenty of prickly personalities (in both current and vintage footage) stepping up to share their views.
Also worth a mention: In Hak Jang's The Other Side of the Mountain, a Korean War-era romance (with musical numbers) that happens to be the first-ever North Korea/US cinematic co-production. And don't miss "Street Smarts: YAK Films' Dance Then and Now," an Oakland-born phenomenon that has spawned a international array of films showcasing so-called urban dance — staged on subway cars, in intersections, and other unexpected places — of the most limber, slinky, sassy, acrobatic, and awe-inspiring varieties. *
CINEMA BY THE BAY FESTIVAL
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