It’s about time Oakland had its own film festival. Every other city, arts organization, special-interest group, and hobby club in the Bay Area seems to have one. But true to form, the new Oakland International Film Festival — opening Thursday night at the Grand Lake Theater with Carl Seaton’s African-American HIV drama One Week — is different: down-to-earth, socially conscious, and multicultural to a fault.
“Oakland is an incredibly diverse place, and our ultimate goal is to honor that diversity,” notes Nicole Atkinson-Roach, a local documentary maker who put together the ambitious debut festival with her husband David Roach and other members of the Oakland Film Society. “Of course, it’s our first time around. We were challenged to find new films, and we also wanted great films from other fests.” Like Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid’s South African doc Long Night’s Journey into Day (with the filmmakers in person) and Josh Kornbluth’s comedy Haiku Tunnel (he appears in person, too). In a similar international vein, there are movies from Senegal (Ousmane Sembene’s Faat-Kine), Mexico (Lourdes Portillo’s Señorita Extraviada: Missing Young Woman), and Japan (Shunji Iwa’s upcoming release All About Lily Chou Chou). The closing night show on October 24 is a thoughtful roundup of “first films” by four famous directors — George Lucas, Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis, and David O. Russell. All screenings take place at the luxurious Grand Lake, a definite plus.
The society has been presenting traveling packages of indie shorts and features for more than a year under the Black Cinema Cafe banner, but the Oakland International is the society’s great leap forward. “Our biggest goal is to bring in new audiences,” says Atkinson-Roach. “Part of the festival is going to be our visits to three different high schools, screening student videos and films just for students.” Workshops on casting and resources are scheduled for Saturday, October 19. Visit www.oaklandfilmsociety.org for more info, or phone 510-451-FILM. The Oakland International Film Festival, subtitled “The Small World,” runs through Thursday, October 24.