There is such a thing as festival fatigue, but you'd do well to forget it with the ambitious programs ruling the 16th Street corridor this weekend. The Roxie launches Elliot Lavine's latest dive into film noir's deep end, while down at the Victoria San Francisco Cinematheque caps its spring season with the second annual Crossroads festival, a veritable bonanza of experimental cinema. I haven't seen many of the 50-odd works being shown, but the quality of the ones I have makes me think that I wouldn't trade Crossroads for Cannes.
The fest opens Thursday, May 12 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with the culminating presentation of "Radical Light," the epic panorama of local alternative cinemas that has lined Cinematheque and the Pacific Film Archive calendars since September 2010. This evening showcases rarely screened works by "Radical Light" mainstays (the Bruces Baillie and Conner, Gunvor Nelson, Scott Stark) as well as the premiere of a new film by Will Hindle, whose topsy-turvy Chinese Firedrill (1968) was one of the gems of a recent program at the museum.
Opening night includes at least one city symphony (Timoleon Wilkins' Chinatown Sketch), a form expanded upon in several subsequent Crossroads shows. Jeanne Liotta's aptly titled Crosswalk transcribes an Easter street processional in Loisaida, a Latino enclave of New York City. Liotta, an ambitious filmmaker who ranges over the history of science and the nature of belief, will be at the Victoria Friday, May 13 for the film's West Coast premiere. Also showing is her beautiful condensation of stargazing, Observando el Cielo (2007).
The scientific method also informs closing night feature, The Observers, a recording of the recorders who gauge the famously extreme weather atop Mount Washington, as well as Saturday, May 14's "Observers Observed" program. The latter spotlights Get Out of the Car, Thom Andersen's termite tour of multilingual Los Angeles. In only 33 minutes, Andersen gives us a resonant culture container, looking back at what's been lost and imagining how it might yet change form.
When Andersen holds out a photograph of what was in front of the landscape that is, he seems to refer to the nested frames of Gary Beydler's elegant time lapse film, Hand Held Day (1975). You can judge for yourself as that earlier film is included on the same program. Other highlights across the weekend include an evening dedicated to Bay Area maverick Robert Nelson, Ben Russell's latest consciousness-raising Trypp, a hand-cranked projection performance by Alex MacKenzie, and short films by master collagist Lewis Klahr and some guy named Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I could go on, but you should get going.
Thurs/12–Sun/15, $10 (festival pass, $50)
SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF
Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St., SF