OIFF Returns for its 11th Year of Independent Film

The Oakland International Film Festival opens this week – bigger, badder, and better than ever. The first clue that OIFF has upgraded its mojo is the redesigned website, whose rotating slideshow of stills and movie posters got me kind of juiced for this year’s offerings.

The 2013 line up looks kind of tasty. This being an Oakland-based festival, first mention has to go to locally-made films. The documentary “Crimes of Police” is extra topical in the wake of the Derrick Jones lawsuit, while “Up and Out,” is a coming-of-age story from a young woman’s perspective.  Another documentary, “Oaktown,” explores the dichotomy between the Oakland Art Murmur and Occupy Oakland.

One of OIFF’s potential breakout films has to be “Oakville,” of which an abridged version screened last year, raising anticipation levels of what the finished film might look like. The full version of the compelling urban drama is 98 minutes long and could turn out to be an indie-circuit classic. Another buzzworthy film is“Licks”—which reportedly wowed ‘em at SXSW—a story of a young man returning to his ‘hood after being incarcerated for two years. Licks is followed by “Funkquaria Rising,” a short documentary about Oakland’s beloved samba dance troupe, the Funkquarians.

***

Even more Oakland-related films at OIFF: “The Corner Garden,” about an East Oakland boxing club who become active in food justice; “Daisy Cutter,” a love story set in post-invasion America; “Against the Grain,”  another film by Oakville writer/director Elias G. Mael; “Phoenix Rise,” a story about a young woman’s drive to become a star, directed by Ramses Head; “A Bridge Between Cultures,” a documentary about Oakland’s African American and Asian American communities; “Villain or Hero,” a tale about a guy having a really, really bad day, and “Let Clay Be Clay,” a movie with revenge on its mind.

***

The rest of OIFF heightens expectations as well, particularly in terms of breadth and scope. Oakland documentary filmmaker Tukufu Zuberi’s “African Independence” looks at post-colonial Africa; other films come from Ecuador, Argentina, Spain, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Cambodia, Baltimore, San Diego, and L.A.

There are shorts, animated films, documentaries, and dramas galore, spanning a gamut of emotions from zany to serious — and a series of films addressing food equality and produce justice – a theme near and dear to OIFF founder David Roach’s heart. A complete list of OIFF11 screenings is here.

With four days of screenings at multiple venues, including the New Parkway, Black Repertory Theater, San Leandro Performing Arts Center, Oakland Asian Cultural Center and Grand Lake Theater, it looks like David (disclosure: Mr. Roach is a board member at Urban Releaf, a non-profit I work with) has outdone himself this time. Check back next week for a more detailed report on OIFF.

***

Night of The Iguana

In the classic 1954 film “Night of The Iguana,” Richard Burton stars as a former priest who’s lost his calling and regains his soul one epic night. That film has nothing whatsoever to do with the Oakland band called the Iguana, except that Saturday’s show at the newly-minted Legionnaire Saloon made me think of that movie. Why? Simple. It was The Iguana’s night.

Walking upstairs to the Legionnaire’s second-level stage, I felt a strange sense of déjà vu.  As sinuous, loping, and super-funky grooves surrounded me, I could have sworn I was having an acid-jazz flashback to the early ‘90s, when the Kat Klub, Up & Down Club, and 111 Minna were the coolest spots in San Francisco,  and bands like TJ Kirk, Broun Fellinis, and Mingus Amungus ruled the roost.

The acid jazz epiphany turned out not to be a hallucination, after all – Broun Fellinis saxman David Boyce is a member of the band, along with guitarist Jon Monahan, drummer Valentino P, keyboardist Colin Hogan, and head-Iguana-in-charge, bassist Ethan “Headnodic” Parsonage. Needless, to say, the Iguana’s flavor could have been as easily straight outta 1993 as fresh for 2013.

Parsonage is somewhat of a musician’s musician, and also a low-key local legend of sorts. He’s probably best known as the producer and bassist for the Bay’s answer to the Roots, live hip-hop band Crown City Rockers, but his resume is far deeper than that – including tracks for the Mighty Underdogs, Zion-I & the Grouch, Mr. Lif, Latyrx, Jern Eye, Rico Pabon, and Raashan Ahmad. (A free download of tracks he’s produced over the last decade is available here) and there are more free downloads here.)

Iguanas aren’t particularly cute, they can be moody, they eat a lot, and they have scratchy claws and sharp teeth that can hurt you if you’re not careful. But as Saturday’s show proved, The Iguana can groove with the best of them.

***

Oakland’s Baby Jaymes has always been an intriguing character. One part Prince, one part Michael Jackson, 100% East Oakland born and raised, the singer-songwriter has been a great addition to the urban R&B genre. After returning from a sojourn in LA with his “comeback” album, Whatever Happened to Baby Jaymes?, he’s been making moves of late.  Jaymes was recently nominated for an Oakland Indie Award, and makes a cameo in the indie film “The Shop.”

(Look for Jaymes at the 2:17 mark in the above trailer.)

Plus, his latest video, “Streets,” featuring The Jacka, recently jumped 103 positions, to land at number 32 on the California Music Channel’s charts.

Filmed entirely in the streets of Oakland, the video is a somewhat self-explanatory ode to Oakland’s avenues and boulevards, and the hustlers who navigate them daily. What’s cool about the song, though, isn’t the subject matter, but the way Jaymes approaches it, from the viewpoint of a survivor who wants to do better for the next generation, who’s striving to “do everything I can not to die on these streets.” Rather than emphasize the inner-city’s rough edges, Jaymes accentuates its positives, similar to Too Short’s “The Ghetto.” Along the way he adds his silky tenor, a smooth falsetto, and a melody lifted from the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” while coaxing an emotionally-resonant guest verse from The Jacka. I’ve always been a fan of “reality R&B” – that is to say, songs with sung vocals and strong melodic hooks which go past the superficialities of banal pop efforts. It doesn’t hurt that “Streets”’ beat slaps, either.

***

This week’s picks:

Oakland International Film Festival
: April 4-7 at various locations.

Betti Ono Presents The Storytellers –New Exhibition by Wendell McShine:  April 5, 6pm-9pm, free, Betti Ono Gallery, 1427 Broadway

EleFUNk — Oakland’s tribute to Patti Astor’s FUN gallery: april 5, 6-10pm, free, Loakal, 550 2nd St.

Soy Raka x Oaklandish: April 5, 8pm, free, Oaklandish, 1444 Broadway

Konshens: April 6, 9pm-4am, $25 (advance), New Karibbean City, 1408 Webster

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.