A margarine heir, lesbians in revolt and an alien on stage at San Francisco Docfest

The film festival starts today at the Roxie Theater. It runs through June 17 in person and through June 20 online.

Dear Mr. Brody. Credit: SF Docfest

Is it really Docfest time again? Last year’s festival was delayed from June to September because of that thing that’s been going around, but in 2021 the fest is returning to its regularly scheduled month — and boy, is there an embarrassment of riches to be enjoyed (online or in person at the Roxie Theater) over the next few weeks.

Topping the bill, Dear Mr. Brody tells the bizarre story of Michael James Brody, Jr., a hippie margarine heir who pledged to give away his fortune on a first-come, first-served basis in January 1970. How much money he was going to give away depended on when he was asked: One day it was a paltry $25,000,000, the next a cool trillion.

After 10 whirlwind days during which the wealthy youngster signed a contract with RCA Records and thousands of people contacted him by mail, phone or in person, things began to unravel. While some money was distributed, there wasn’t nearly enough to go around; checks began to bounce and Brody became testy and irritable in interviews.

Director Keith Maitland frames his story around dozens of tubs full of unopened letters sent to Brody by desperate people around the globe. After beginning the lengthy task of opening the 50-year-old correspondence, Maitland and his crew tracked down some of the original senders, and unsurprisingly the memories they share are bittersweet and emotional — as is the tragic tale of Michael James Brody, Jr.


The Furies. Credit: SF Docfest

Once a Fury encapsulates the history of The Furies, a Washington, DC, lesbian collective that existed for 18 months in the early ’70s. Featuring interviews with most of the collective’s former members — including renowned author Rita Mae Brown — Jacqueline Rhodes’ film is a potent and by no means uncritical examination of The Furies, whose political differences and cultural blindspots still rankle decades after the fact. It’s a fascinating, lively, and very relevant film that young activists would benefit from seeing.

Alien on Stage. Credit: SF Docfest

If you’re looking for something a bit more light-hearted, Alien on Stage may feed your need. It’s the story of a group of Dorset bus drivers whose amateur stage adaptation of the science-fiction film Alien closed after a sparsely attended opening night.

Word of their adaptation got around, however, and months later the play was resurrected for what has since become an annual tradition in London’s West End. While the cast and crew still work on the buses in Poole, once a year (pandemics permitting) they tread the boards at the Leicester Square Theatre bringing new life to Ridley Scott’s chest-bursting classic.

Green Bank Pastoral takes a look at West Virginia’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a massive satellite dish operated by the National Science Foundation for the last 60 years. Because of the dish’s sensitivity, fixed radio transmitters and wireless towers aren’t allowed in its immediate vicinity, which has made it a destination for “electro-sensitive” Americans convinced that radio waves make them ill. Whether or not they’re right, the film suggests the newcomers haven’t been entirely welcomed by the area’s old-timers.

Summer of Soul. Credit: SF Docfest

Finally, a review embargo prevents me from saying too much about Summer of Soul (the film will open around the country in July), but this much I can say: if you’re a fan of African American music, it’s a bit of a holy grail. Whether or not you catch it at Docfest or wait until it’s more widely available, it’s essential viewing.

The film festival runs from June 3-20 online and from June 3-17 live at the Roxie Theater.