Established in 1919 and under the same local ownership since 1964, 4-Star Theatre specializes in independent and foreign films while also showing major studio releases. Touted by many sources as the best place to see Asian cinema in California, the quaint art house runs regular Asian film series showcasing reels old, new, and from 2067. Coming features include Echoes of the Rainbow, the winner of a Crystal Bear at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, which tells the story of a working Hong Kong family whose eldest son becomes sick with leukemia. Legend of The Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a raucous martial-arts adventure, elaborating on a role made famous by Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury. You can also see documentaries such as The Future of Food and We Are Skateboarders as well as blockbusters such as the second Wall Street installment and the CGI explosion-filled remake of On Golden Pond.
Hailed as one of America’s “coolest film festivals” by MovieMaker Magazine, the Disposable Film Festival celebrates and showcases the world’s best no-budget filmmaking. The festival culls its selections from short films shot on inexpensive equipment such as cell phones, still cameras, and webcams, giving audience to a new brood of cinematic mavericks unfettered by major studios, movie stars, or caterers who never bring enough bagels. Grab a fellow cineaste and eyeball the work of shoestring Scorceses and Bergmanesque Skypers as the 2011 festival kicks off with the competitive shorts program at the grand, lavish Castro Theater. A panel of experts appraises each film, and one diminutive flick is selected by the masses to receive an Audience Choice Award, giving laypeople a taste of the judgmental fun that movie critics, mothers-in-law, and sanctimonious squirrels enjoy every day. A festival T-shirt and tote bag help opening-night attendees reminisce about the evening's miniature masterpieces, and an online gallery of past competitors provides a glimpse of the sort of artistry audiences can expect. After the show enjoy complimentary appetizers and wine from Four Vines Naked Chardonnay, Mark West Pinot Noir, and Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon at the Lookout.
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival unveils an exciting lineup of dramas, documentaries, and other captivating cinema by acclaimed filmmakers. The Castro Theatre's weeklong schedule examines the Jewish experience in documentaries such as Strangers No More, an Academy-Award-winning glimpse into a school in Tel Aviv that educates refugee children with traumatic pasts, and Incessant Vision⎯Letters from an Architect, a film by Duki Dror that surveys the life of German-Jewish Expressionist architect Erich Mendelsohn. Simpsons writer and producer Mike Reiss hosts Jews in Toons, highlighting a range of Jewish–themed animated episodes from the Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy. Dates can court a favorite flame by cuddling up to the romantic comedy The Names of Love or erect a fortress of Raisinets boxes to guard sensibilities against the slasher flick Rabies, which touts itself as the first Israeli horror film.
On a mild February day in 1926, San Francisco theater magnate Samuel H. Levin address an anxious crowd of cinemagoers at the opening of his newest movie house. Ever the family man, Levin saw himself as a man providing entertainment for all ages. "In the New Balboa, as in all my theaters," he said, "I seek to supply the comforts and intimate surroundings associated with the higher ideals of home life."
Nearly 100 years later, the lights of the Balboa Theatre's maquee still burn against the night sky, calling patrons into a cozy cinema suffuse with classic designs pulled from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, these historical flourishes belie the modern innovations behind the scenes. The theatre was completely overhauled in 2011, with technicians retrofitting each auditorium with state-of-the-art digital sound and projection systems.
This technological refresher helps the Balboa continue its main mission: showcasing must-see movies. These often take the form of first-run blockbusters, but the Balboa doesn't simply mimic the faceless megaplexes. Family films, motion-picture classics, and buzzed-about documentaries all find a place on the theater's twin screens, celebrating both the film world's diversity and the Balboa's original purpose.
Erected in 1909, when the city's great earthquake and fire were still recent memories, the Roxie Theater is San Francisco's oldest continually operating movie theater. Its late-60s stint as an adult movie showroom is far behind the Roxie, and this vintage Mission District jewel, sporting a classic 1930s neon sign, now functions as a nonprofit operation. With programming predicated on celebrating the cinematic arts and its vibrant history, the theater works with many local film festivals, including Noisepop, Frameline and Indiefest. Other evenings feature writer and director talks, themed screenings and "Neighborhood Nightz," which showcases locally-made short films. Throughout the rest of the year, the Roxie screens art films, documentaries and rare treats that would be very hard to find anywhere else.