3rd Cinema By the Bay Film Festival: I Think It’s Raining, Where’s My Stuff & the Price of Sex

by Peter Wong on November 1, 2011

The San Francisco International Film Festival’s Cinema By the Bay section provided an opportunity for Bay Area cinephiles to check out new and established talents in the Bay Area film industry. The San Francisco Film Society, organizers of the international festival, eventually spun off a mini-Cinema By the Bay film festival. Now the third such mini-festival runs November 3-6, 2011 at the San Francisco Film Society/New People Cinema with screenings of feature films, documentaries, and shorts from Bay Area filmmaking talent.

Opening Night Film for this year’s Cinema by the Bay Film Festival is Joshua Moore’s debut feature I Think It’s Raining. Renata (an always compelling Alexandra Clayton) has returned to San Francisco after disappearing a year and a half ago. Yet despite having friends and family ties in the city, she isolates herself by wandering the streets of San Francisco and shallowly connecting with utter strangers. What personal truth about Renata lurks behind her voluble digressions? Can even attractive book smuggler Val penetrate the young woman’s defenses to find out?

Renata’s verbal concealments and sometimes self-destructive behavior could frustrate or alienate viewers if the actress played the character badly. Fortunately, Clayton succeeds in making her character’s uninhibited behavior both annoying and liberating. More importantly, Moore and Clayton find such small moments as Renata’s heavy breathing in the toilet to show that her unconventional actions conceal the soul of a woman terrified at dealing with the world on its terms.

The film also proves itself a quiet love letter to the San Francisco known by its residents. Scenes on Muni busses and an unconventional Chinese restaurant make a viewer enjoy playing a film tourist in The City. Local cinephiles will have a lump in their throats during the Red Vic Movie House scenes.

I Think It’s Raining challenges the viewer to decide which of Renata’s actions are affectations and which expressions of something emotionally significant. It also leaves such mysteries as the reason for Renata’s disappearance unanswered. The few real facts about the young woman’s past that trickle out only lead to more questions. For those willing to ask more of their art than simple entertainment, Moore’s debut provides a worthy enigma.

Despite mashing up comedy, California politics, and science fiction, Sam Burbank’s Where’s My Stuff? ends up far less interesting than promised.

In metaphorical high diving terms, the life of Donovan Commons (Todd Brotek) has taken a cannonball into the world’s largest crapper. A string of disasters beginning with the implosion of his dot-com employer climaxes with entrusting a crate of stuff to a now defunct storage company.

Donovan’s best friend, hustler and gamer Imad Ayoub (Nicholas Massouh) helps him track down the missing crate. That journey will lead the duo to other victims of the storage company, including found object artist Audrey Tyrrell (Paz Pardo), before eventually taking them to a warehouse in legendary Area 51.

Where’s My Stuff?‘s strongest material is expended in the first act. The pacing of Donovan’s misfortunes makes the viewer feel there’s no bed big enough for our hero to crawl back into. The friendship between the politically divergent Donovan and Imad manages to be oddly endearing thanks to a camaraderie forged in online RPG campaigns.

But the writer/director’s creative mistakes soon drain the film of comic energy. New characters introduced to the story are either non-entities (e.g. Cowboy) or undead clichés (the racist rednecks who sound like a dysfunctional couple). The running gag of Enron-created rolling blackouts grows tiresome before sliding into inconsistency with conveniently timed blackouts occurring outside California. Finally, the film fails to create any emotional investment in the fate of the characters’ quest.

Where’s My Stuff? attempts to jab at people’s irrational attachment to useless stuff. A viewer need not fear developing irrational attachment to this film.

Mimi Chakarova’s The Price Of Sex, a country-hopping documentary about the roots of the female sex trafficking trade, skillfully steps beyond sexual politics to embrace both autobiography and free market capitalist critique. Over several years, the filmmaker travelled and filmed (sometimes covertly) in countries ranging from Bulgaria and Moldova to the sex trafficking centers of Greece, Turkey, and Dubai. Interviewees include women who escaped the trade, officials whose efforts to fight the trade are hampered by everything from police corruption to fears of driving away foreign investors, and even a former sex club owner.

Part of the appeal of Chakarova’s documentary comes from her personal connection to the subject. She’s a native Bulgarian who lived in the type of high-unemployment rural village targeted by recruiters who trick pretty girls with promises of foreign jobs where the only servicing of men they’d do involves giving them food. A strong sense of “there but for the grace of God” is balanced in Chakarova’s treatment by her mourning of the slow death overtaking her birth village.

The stories of former prostitutes will rip away any romantic notions regarding the world’s oldest profession. The women ensnared in the illegal trade are not people but expendable producers of value for their pimps. In practice, this means regular shifts of servicing 50 clients a day or finding ways to still provide sex to a client despite pregnancy or even partial paralysis. Beatings or even killings aimed at breaking recalcitrant women’s wills to ensure continued labor is considered de rigeur. One could say the existence of international sex trafficking provides an unstated rebuke to naïve notions of the inherent moral neutrality of free market capitalism.

(I Think It’s Raining screens on November 3, 2011 at both 7 PM and 9:30 PM. Where’s My Stuff? screens on November 5, 2011 at 9:00 PM and November 6, 2011 at 4:15 PM. The Price of Sex screens on November 5, 2011 at 6:45 PM. All screenings take place at the San Francisco Film Society/New People Cinema (1746 Post Street, SF). For advance tickets and further information, go to www.sffs.org )

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