San Francisco Chronicle
German movie showcase gets new home
With all the hand-wringing in Hollywood about the stillrecovering theatrical business — certainly a subtext at this month’s Oscars ceremony — it’s no surprise that film festivals also have been experiencing a slow return to form since the pandemic shutdown.
Take the venerable Berlin & Beyond Film Festival of new German-language cinema, presented by the Goethe-Institut San Francisco. Since the last big-scale event in February 2020, regular venues in Berkeley (Landmark’s California and Shattuck Cinemas) have closed permanently, and the festival’s longtime flagship venue, the Castro Theatre, is in a state of flux.
But festival director Sophoan Sorn sees these events as opportunities. The 27th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival begins Thursday, March 23, with a screening of the dystopian road-trip movie “Everything Will Change,” with lead actor Noah Saavedra in attendance, at a new home base — the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, host of the festival’s Autumn Showcase mini-festival.
“For decades the Roxie has admired what Berlin and Beyond brings to the city, so we are particularly thrilled and honored to be serving as their home this year,” Roxie programmer Rick Norris said in a statement to The Chronicle.
For the festival’s part, “we’ve had so many events at the Roxie for many years, so it’s a natural fit for us,” said Sorn, who is in his 13th year as festival director. “They also are so connected to the community and have such a following. They’re a year-round programming organization. …
We feel like it’s a beautiful thing, because it is run by people who love cinema, who champion art house cinema.”
There is also a new Berkeley home for the festival with the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood debuting as a venue, he added, noting that with the venue an art house cinema space as well, it’s an exciting partnership for the organization.
To close the festival on Tuesday, March 28, the Roxie plans to host a special 35mm screening of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which earlier this month won four Oscars — international film, cinematography, original music score and production design.
There also will be a small online presence consisting of one feature, “Axiom,” about a sailing trip gone wrong, and a shorts program.
It takes months to plan and book a film festival, and Berlin & Beyond was unable to secure the Castro, which has a new operations manager in Another Planet Entertainment. The organization is planning an extensive renovation that has drawn opposition among some community groups and needs city approval.
With that process ongoing, APE finally declared in February that the Castro would be available for booking through January 2024. By then, Berlin & Beyond had booked the Roxie.
“I think this is honest talk: Box office for commercial films, let alone specialty cinema, has gone down 30%,” Sorn said. “Last year we booked a three-day weekend at the Castro Theatre, partly because we did not know what the future of Castro would be. But eventually we would have chosen to take it to something like one night, opening night perhaps, like other festivals.”
APE spokesperson David Perry confirmed that the Castro was not made available to Berlin & Beyond, but added in an email to The Chronicle that the Berkeleybased company “would be thrilled to once again have the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival back at the Castro (in the future).”
Other highlights during this year’s event include “The Forger,” about the real-life Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann of the Netflix series “Dark”), whose talent for forging IDs helped save hundreds of lives; “Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer,” a documentary about the legendary German filmmaker; and “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush,” about a Turkish housewife fighting for the release of her son from Guantanamo Bay.