SFFILM Festival unveils Boots Riley Film Debut

The made-in-Oakland film got raves at Sundance.


Boots Riley and Tessa Thompson in stills from Riley’s movie debut, Sorry to Bother You.

Photo Courtesy SFFILM

It was inevitable that famed Oakland hip-hop artist and activist Boots Riley would expand his horizon to the movies. After all, Riley studied film at San Francisco State University before founding The Coup and tramping down various musical paths in the ensuing decades. Sorry to Bother You, his darkly comic and fearlessly political fable about the trials and travails of a black telemarketer, premiered to stellar reviews at Sundance. The SFFILM Festival unveils Riley’s filmed-in-Oakland debut to local audiences Thursday, April 12, at its Centerpiece event at the Grand Lake before the audacious satire hits cinemas this summer.

As always, BAMPFA hosts a large chunk of the SFFILM festival with a focus on movies from abroad that likely won’t resurface in the Bay Area. Russian director Elizaveta Stishova’s tragicomic road movie Suleiman Mountain, shot on and around the Kyrgyzstan landmark, centers on a con man, his ex- and current wives, and their children. Cuban-Canadian brothers Rodrigo and Sebastian Barriuso based their feature debut, Un Traducor, on their father, a Havana professor of Russian literature enlisted to translate when children arrived for treatment after the Chernobyl disaster.

The documentary contingent includes The Distant Barking of Dogs, which poignantly follows an adolescent boy and his grandmother over the course of a year in their war-torn East Ukrainian village. Erika Cohn’s The Judge profiles the first woman judge appointed to a Shari’a court in the Middle East. Serbian director Mila Turajlic unlocks a door in her mother’s Belgrade apartment in The Other Side of Everything, and erases the line between the personal and the political.

Documentary and autobiography collide Tuesday, April 10, for another high-energy night at the Grand Lake. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., Steve Loveridge’s kinetic portrait of the iconoclastic British-Sri Lankan pop star, screens after Qasim Basri’s A Boy, A Girl, A Dream, an incipient romance drawn from the director’s experiences in Los Angeles on election night 2016. As the kids say, it’s lit, y’all.

SFFILM Festival, April 6-19, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org

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