Grassroots Reeling 

The biggest little film festival in Oakland.

The Oakland International Film Festival may come off a bit slapdash, but it's no two-bit affair. Nope, the Oakland Film Society has put on the biggest little film fest in town four years running now, and though there are probably a few kinks left to be worked out, everything seems to come together at the next-to-last minute for founding director David Roach et al. Roach says that out of two hundred entries, "only about fifty" could pay the $25 entry fee -- it was waived for some. But the money that did come in made a big difference for the OIFF. Sixty-four movies, six of them feature-length, from filmmakers local and global are featured in the eight days and nights of film frenzy starting this Thursday.

Opening night at the Grand Lake Theater (3200 Grand Ave. at Lake Park Ave.) brings the award-winning feature Constellation by Jordan Walker-Pearlman, about an African-American family in the deep South. It stars Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Saldana (of Guess Who), Lesley Ann Warren, Rae Dawn Chong, and Pleasanton-raised Gabrielle Union; the filmmaker and special guest will be on hand for the opening. Friday and Saturday nights, a short film competition features Oaklander Eric Escobar's One Weekend a Month (which garnered an honorable mention at Sundance), about a single mother in the Army Reserve who is called to duty in Iraq. It's up against The Second Shine, a locally filmed mob flick by James Wagner, plus three others. The program plays Friday at 10 p.m. and Saturday at 8:20 p.m.

Other local notables highlighted include Apartment 202, a feature from Oakland's Kelleth Chinn about the trials of transcontinental dating, and 1208 Sherwood, a short about a couple who discovers they're HIV positive, from another Oaklander, Dedoceo Habi. Then there's Kia Simon's Oakland-shot Disarmed, about a wannabe amputee on a blind date. Walnut Creek resident Mike Wanguhu's Hip Hop Colony will open your eyes to the genre's burgeoning music scene in Kenya. Unhitched is Stanford grad students Ben Wu and Erin Hudson's documentary short about a Guerneville trailer park. And Nigerian-born San Francisco resident Lisbon Okafor's JuJuLuv is a tale of two sisters-in-law, set in ... drum roll, please ... Oakland.

But that's not all, of course, because this festival gets more ambitious every year. Roach foresees a destination festival -- one that brings business to the city. "This festival is the Oakland community." With their weekday "In the Classroom" screenings of films at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts (1428 Alice St.), the festival's organizers aim to bring together intergenerational audiences as a springboard to discussing difficult subject matter such as violence, racism, HIV/AIDS, and police brutality. And of course, all that is in addition to mixers at Geoffrey's Inner Circle and Cafe Van Kleef, and a free concert Sunday in Splash Pad Park (across from the Grand Lake Theater) with Oakland's own mellifluous chanteuse Jennifer Johns.

Finally, whether you're looking to buy or sell a film, or just learn how to get one made, you shouldn't pass up the Film Market this weekend, featuring two days of talks and workshops at the East Bay Center for Philanthropy in downtown Oakland (353 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza). Aspiring filmmakers will learn how to take their idea and make it work, with topics ranging from "The Art of the Treatment" to "Grassroots to Global: Marketing and Distribution for Your Film." Visit OIFF.org for more information on locations, times, and tickets.

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