This is unofficially Juneau Motion Picture Week.
Juneau has enjoyed a movie renaissance in recent months, and this week there are 14 different films showing, counting the JUMP Film Festival as one event. Glacier Cinemas is even featuring two alternative movies, the Japanese film "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge" and the skateboarding documentary "Dogtown and Z Boys."
A couple of years ago the only chance to see a foreign or independent film in Juneau was the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council's once-a-month showing at the high school. We now have two "art house" theaters showing movies on a regular basis, and the arts council films in the fall and winter as well.
This year, in part because the high school auditorium is out of commission, the arts council has teamed up with The Gold Town Nickelodeon for the annual film series. It's to our benefit - the arts council films now show seven times over the course of a weekend instead of just one night.
Last weekend, the first offering of the season, Sherman Alexie's "The Business of Fancy Dancing," was a resounding success. Shows were packed and an extra screening was added late Sunday night to accommodate viewers. One of the film's leads, Gene Tagaban, formerly of Juneau, introduced the movie and answered questions afterward. He was scheduled to just appear once but generously worked throughout the weekend.
The popularity of "Fancy Dancing," which was produced largely in the Seattle area, is part of what seems to be a growing wave of interest in films made outside Hollywood. Another example is the JUMP Society Film Festival Friday at the Back Room Cinema. This is an encore screening (it first showed in July) of a collection of 17 short motion pictures made in Juneau by local artists. Pat Race, who brought the Anchorage Film Festival to Juneau last winter, organized the event as a way to encourage film making in Juneau and showcase local artists' work.
The 17 videos are a real mixed bag, ranging from work by children to documentary-style pieces to nonlinear art pieces. The show runs twice, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., and admission is free.
Part of the renaissance in movie making is due to the accessibility of digital cameras and recorders, and technically this is not a film festival since no film is involved. But tape festival sounds lame.
The following night, Saturday, the Back Room Cinema will present its weekly offering. This Saturday the cinema will show the German film, "The Princess and the Warrior," at 8 p.m. The movie was directed by Tom Tykwer and features Franka Potente, the outstanding actor-and-director team that created "Run, Lola, Run." This film, part crime thriller and part strange romance, looks good. For full details on times and such, check the Movie Calendar on page 9.
Juneau's locally owned Gross Alaska Theaters depend on Hollywood for their bread and butter film fare, and by and large that's what people in Juneau consume. But over the years the management has been willing to occasionally bring in alternative films. These tend to be less lucrative but there have been some notable exceptions such as "Oh Brother" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which is currently running.
This month Gross Alaska will feature four other independent films as well. The first, starting Friday, Oct. 11, is "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge," by Shohei Imanura, who netted top awards at the Cannes Film Festival for "Ballad of Narayam" and "The Eel." It looks to be a surreal Japanese comedy-drama with feminist overtones and a dose of magical realism, not a genre we see often in Juneau.
"Dogtown and Z-Boys" takes a look at the 1970s California roots of the modern skateboarding scene. The movie showed at the Nickelodeon earlier this year and opens at Glacier Cinemas on Tuesday, Oct. 15. The documentary, narrated by Sean Penn, comes highly recommended by skateboarders.
Another Japanese film, the coming-of-age tale "All About Lily Chou Chou" starts Friday, Oct. 18. And the Portuguese-language film "Behind the Sun," based on Albanian author Ismail Kadare's novel, "Broken April," starts Tuesday, Oct. 22.
A top-notch musical group comes to Alaska this week. Sunday night Juneau will be treated to a performance by The American Chamber Players, a five-person group that includes, flute, piano, cello, violin and viola. Violist Miles Hoffman is known for his musicality, but also as the musical commentator for National Public Radio's weekly show "Performance Today." He is frequently featured as a cultural commentator on "Morning Edition" as well.
Hoffman described the group as "a piano quartet plus a flute." It's a versatile ensemble, able to play a huge range of material in a number of configurations. Chapel by the Lake is a good-sounding room for concerts and this promises to be a winner. Tickets are available at bookstores and will be $2 more at the door.
Riley Woodford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.