Digging deep at the Oakland Underground Film Festival
The Bay Area is home to over 50 annual film festivals, but there’s only one that describes itself as all of the following: “bottom-up, DIY, misfit, badass, outsider, outlaw, rebel, underdog, minority, local, urban, green, un-polished, revolutionary, unpretentious, and non-traditional.”
It’s the Oakland Underground Film Festival, which promotes local, indie, and DIY film and art projects while focusing on issues of social justice, urban living, and the environment – all outside of the classic narrative.
Kevin Robinson of Medium Rare sat down with the festival’s Program and Outreach Director Mischa MacLaird for this preview.
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KEVIN ROBINSON: So give me a little brief synopsis of this year's festival and why people should attend.
MISCHA MACLAIRD: Well we're going into our third year here and really the focus is that everyone always asks us what that means, you know, what “underground film” means. Really the focus for us is to bring films that we think have to be seen in Oakland and that people are really going to want to see. We've got a mix of documentary and fiction films, we've got an experimental shorts program, and we've got live performance of local music as well.
ROBINSON: Some of the films have a local angle but some do not. But they all, I think, have some music as you mentioned, some musical themes within their films, like Gandu.
MACLAIRD: Well the most striking thing about the film is the title because it roughly translates as “loser,” and that film is by a Bengali filmmaker who goes by the name of Q. It’s also about a film about a young man trying to get by, but is focused on his fantasy of becoming a famous rapper. A lot of male fantasy in there.
The main character kind of adopts this nickname where people are calling him Gandu, but sort of takes it on as his own name and sort of self-description. In one scene, he's getting harassed by a couple of guys who're calling him that and telling what a loser he is, and then from that it switches into his sort of music video image of himself where he's throwing down some lyrics. Here is translation of his rap lyrics:
"You make me feel like a worm
You call me an asshole
Ambition is hopeless
My future is dark
You get angry; I go hungry
I’m in visible in the dark corner of your room
They tell me your life is worth more than mine
But one day I will haunt you like a ghost
You’ll be a balloon; I'll be a pin."
ROBINSON: You've got some films about things besides music and Gandu is about music but it’s also martial arts. Another film that deals with martial arts is about Quentin Tarantino; it’s called The Disciple of Hong Kong.
MACLAIRD: Right, what you referenced before was a sort of satire in Gandu in one of the main characters is a little bit Bruce Lee-obsessed and, you know, being from Oakland we're all a little bit proud of that. But yes, we have the Tarantino documentary about how Tarantino has taken these old genres of Hong Kong cinema and incorporated them into his own work, and how much respect people in Hong Kong cinema have for him as a filmmaker that he's not just reproducing, you know, he's not just doing an American remake; he's really paying tribute to this whole genre of cinema.
ROBINSON: Well bravo for him, another film that I understand, you have got a coup. I'm not going to say what festival you got this from but I heard this so congratulations on that: Marimbas from Hell. Tell us about that film.
MACLAIRD: Marimbas from Hell is by director Julio Hernandez Cordon who is kind of one of the big names that not many people don't know. That Central American film is coming up right now. There is a lot of new stuff coming out of there and he's one of the leading directors. It’s a commentary on the conditions of unemployment right now, and so an out-of-work marimba player teams up with a heavy metal band to create an all new sound and so the film sort of speaks to how they're received and a little bit on how people are resistant to this new fusion sound that they're creating.
In part of the film, the main character who plays the marimbas, Don Alfonso (played by a professional marimba player), is rehearsing for the first time. He's in the studio with his godson Chiquilin and this well-known metal musician Blacko, and so they're rehearsing with a guitar player and telling Don Alfonso when to cue in with the marimbas.
ROBINSON: Mischa, why should people, above all the things in the Bay Area, why should they attend the Oakland Underground Film Festival?
MACLAIRD: The main thing is that what we try and do is bring you films that you're not going to see anywhere else, and plus, it’s not just a film festival. It's not just one of the things where you go in and you buy popcorn and watch a film and walk out. It’s an event, a community event. We open up Grand Lake Theater, which is just a stunning theater, and I mean I'd go just for the building itself. Two days after that we're at NIMBY, which is a studio space and we're going to have all kinds of things going on besides the films. We're going to have live music performances, projections, games, and things for kids. It's an experience in itself just to go beyond the amazing program.
Kevin Robinson is the executive producer of Medium Rare TV, an organization dedicated to highlighting the achievements of women and people of color in the television, film, and gaming industries. The Oakland Underground Film Festival starts today and runs through Saturday, September 24.