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Notes from the Oakland Underground
by Doniphan Blair
The Oakland Underground Festival Now Operates Overground due to the good work of (lf-rt) director Kahlin Karn, Tanya Holland and Phil Surkis from Brown Sugar Kitchen (West Oakland's only haute cuisine) and Adam Lamoreaux, from Oakland's Linden Street Brewery. photo: CineSource
Shortly after it started, the Oakland Underground Film Festival (OakUFF) graduated from being an annual festival (#2 Sept 23-25) to an ongoing program of Oaklandish (the adjective) shows. A collective of a dozen volunteers, they work under the auspices of Kahlil Karn (a union projectionist who works Sundance, among other gigs). He founded and funded OakUFF, bringing on Keith Arnold (owner of the old Fine Arts in Berkeley) as programming director. Inspired by the New York Underground Festival and Sundance, these are some serious cinemaholics.
The 2009 festival was a raging success - some 600 attended at Oakland's Grand Lake - due to enormous assistance from the community and founding sponsor Linden Street Brewery. OakUFF proceeded to host the Bay Area premiere of "Black Dynamite," the LA indie hit, and get fiscal sponsorship from Media Alliance.
In 2010, OakUFF was approached by the Port of Oakland to do screenings in the now vacant Barnes and Noble building at Jack London Square. Showings have included Oakland's own "Everyday Black Man" (2009) by Carmen Madden, which chronicles the descent of an Oakland shopkeeper into smooth-talking, drug dealer hell.
Their current bi-monthly events (see www. oakuff.org) plump up nicely in the cavernous space, which they flesh out with T-shirt and popcorn vendors, art by their filmmakers, 300-plus seats (almost full when I attended), and 16mm as well as DVD projectors. On June 18, the crowd was a complete cross-section of Oakland, ranging from Burner kids to elderly Yiddish scholars. The films were smokin' - not the popular local produce, but straight-up cinema. Indeed, the hour-and-a-half selection of shorts reminded me of a great 1970s show at Canyon Cinema, showing off all the art film tropes at their highest refinement not lowest indulgence, plus some classical shooting, acting, and doc making, some by kids right off the streets. From its animated opener, which lists the upcoming films, you knew you weren't in for two hours of unjuried material. With the arrival of the first, perfectly projected film - yes, actual 16mm - you knew you were in the hands and eyes of masters.
"Elfmadchen," by Oakland filmmaker and artist Mirka Morales (her artwork graced the walls), clocked in at 16 minutes (healthy for a short). It would have been a hit in the '70s, and still stimulates the retinae today. With its Kodachrome reds, double exposures and iconic dreaming girl, it was a tour de force alt-film that made me sit up and remember fine art cinema. The remaining program kept that vision aloft in every imaginable genre.
"OSA: Oakland's Gem," a 15-minute doc by Jenny Chu, covered the three-year-old Oakland School for the Arts. It would have fascinated anyone interested in arts education, and provided possible answers to the violence plaguing Oakland. Also featured: the hot blurry-background cinematography of "Golly the Rainmaker" (6 min) by Yoram Savion, which won this year's East Bay Express 24-hour film festival. "Laundry" (4 min) by Danielle Katvan showcased excellent acting that ranged from a couple of kids coming on to each other at the titular washhouse to ditto among elderlies at a home. The comedic "The Inhuman Eating Machine," D. Silva (9 min), follows Oakland's own Andrew Levy as he eats eight meals in eight hours for under 10 bucks each (without ralphing).
The evening was capped by the appearance of Mateen Kemit, who showed a trailer for his long-awaited "Oakland B-Mine," which we reviewed in CS's opening issue (see archive: cinesourcemagazine.com). It is supposed to grace a digital display at the Oakland Airport, but Kemit is still securing finishing funds. Its great acting and shooting provide a romantic review of the lovely cultural and scenic spots of a town known for far different things.
In short (actually, a feature's-worth of shorts), you have a proud display of filmmaking and of Oakland - and not a bad place to take a date. Previous shows have looked at musicians Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth; the one on July 2 featured Tracey Snelling, the diorama artist whose gorgeous miniatures were at Sundance and are now at the Oakland Museum. On Aug 13, they'll show "Pig Hunt," an indie thriller produced in collaboration with The Kerner Group (see article, p1) and on Sept 3 a festival of bikes and skateboards called "Critical Massive."
In August, the 2010 Oakland Underground Film Festival program will be on the site and sure to include something for everyone - indie fiction and nonfiction and music video, too. Opening night will be September 23 at the Grand Lake, followed by an outdoor screenings and music on Fri, Sep 24th and Sat, Sep 25th at the Linden Street Brewery. Last week, Oaklandish (the organization) announced that OakUFF is one of eight winners of the Oakland Innovators Award. Congratulations to another cultural institution that is gaining momentum despite the recession!
Posted on Aug 13, 2010 - 02:49 AM