As befits the dozens of endearingly ragtag works it’s screening this year, the Berkeley Video and Film Festival is nowhere near as precious or overglossed as too many film festivals have become. Founded in 1991 by cinema artists and distributors who cut their teeth on the ’60s underground, this fest knows where it comes from, and still bears the authentic stamp of the rough-hewn, the handmade, the love-labored. It unifies the proud tradition of free (and frequent) speech with the ever-forward-looking push of independent moving-image art. And it is very, very Berkeley. The pageant includes docs aplenty, eclectic features, experimental shorts, commercials, animation, music video, and digital efforts — and also makes room to showcase such delicacies as a movie called The Stoned Channel by self-described “marijuana satirist” and Reefer Republicans cofounder Cliff Roth. Roth’s slickly edited drug-testing send-up, including amusing presidential commentary by Reagan, both Bushes (George W. can be seen remarking, “God bless marijuana use”), and, of course, Clinton, sets its bloodshot sights squarely on the cult-classic canon.
To take matters more seriously, the ammunition you’ll need for those eleventh-hour phone calls to swing states might be found in There’s Something about W, a forty-minute pointed policy analysis, or in Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties, wherein everything you wanted to know but were forbidden to ask about the PATRIOT Act is focused through a commendably diverse group of people whose lives it has affected.
If you should need some release from this urgent, mind-blowing stuff, try the Best of Festival award-winner Orgasm: The Faces of Ecstasy, which supplies the faces –and only the faces — of 22 people coming on camera (with annotating interviews about what it’s like). That appealing bit of bravura, along with Let’s Face It: Women Explore Their Aging Faces, nimbly gets across the idea that for all the technology now at moviemakers’ disposal, the human face remains cinema’s most unlimited and expressive ingredient. But of course, in this inimitable cinematic buffet, it’s just one of many.
Friday through Sunday at Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley. Tickets $5-17, from 510-843-3699, or visit BerkeleyVideoFilmFest.org — Jonathan Kiefer
See Through It
The diorama looks like an outtake from one of the Bros. Quay’s spooky short films: a dejected-looking standing female figure, back toward us, faces into a mostly empty white chamber, on the far wall of which hangs a trophy deer head with antlers. That’s business as usual for artist Midori Harima and her installation at Berkeley’s Kala Art Institute, Transparent Story — a combination of sculpture, prints, drawings, and text, exploring “the gap between illusion and reality.” Cue theremin music. It’s the first solo show in the Bay Area for California resident Harima, recipient of the 2004 Kala Board prize. Transparent Story opens Thursday with a reception at Kala (1060 Heinz Ave., Berkeley, 6 to 8 p.m.), then runs through November 27. Kala.org — Kelly Vance
Big Wind from berlin
Peter Brötzmann has been called “one of the loudest and most fearsome players of the European avant-garde.” Indeed, every time the veteran German free-jazz musician picks up one of his saxes (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, or bass) or clarinets and begins to blow, walls crumble and ears search for cover. The sixtysomething high-energy jazzman (Nipples, Machine Gun) has moved back and forth between Berlin and Chicago in his quest for the Pharoah Sanders/Albert Ayler-inspired outer limits, and now it’s the Jazz House’s turn to feel the blast. Brötzmann, with Michael Werthmüller on drums and Marino Pliakas on bass, plays Thursday at 8 p.m. 3192 Adeline Ave., Berkeley, 510-655-9755. — Kelly Vance
The Oaks Theater (1875 Solano Ave., Berkeley) is taking a page from the book of its big brother, the Grand Lake, and getting political. Starting this Friday, you can see what’s behind the headlines in two productions by Robert Greenwald (creator of Outfoxed, The Burning Bed, and a wide variety of other “issue” films). His latest film, director Nonny de la Peña’s Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties, is a coproduction with the ACLU; Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002) is narrated by Danny Glover and directed by Joan Seklar and Richard Ray Perez. Call 510-526-1836 for showtimes. — Stefanie Kalem