Barry the Bearable Bear is Lost. Credit: SF Short Film Festival Credit: SF Short Film Festival

Sometimes, they say, life gives you lemons, and you proceed (with the addition of sugar and water) to convert them into lemonade. On other occasions you’re told a film is going to open on a certain date and then discover that the opening has been moved back several weeks — compelling you to adjust your recipe by incorporating whatever cinematic citrus remains on the new release tree.

This tortured metaphor was brought to you by a terrific-seeming new film scheduled to open in theaters this coming Friday. Alas, as I was applying the finishing touches to my review, I discovered the nearest participating cinema was located in Hollywood, U.S.A. — and there was no streaming option for those of us hundreds of miles away. Apparently, I’ve been spoiled by the pandemic.

That film will arrive in the East Bay (and Berkeleyside) a few weeks hence, but for now, the San Francisco Short Film Festival is riding to our rescue and ably filling the void. Available virtually (yay!) from Sept. 17-26, selected films will also be screening in person this weekend at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. This year’s festival features approximately 140 titles, and while I wasn’t able to screen all of them in advance (sorry!), those I did see suggest the program provides both broad appeal and a high standard of quality.

Most people associate the short film form with the humble cartoon, and there are more than a dozen animated shorts screening at this year’s fest. I was quite taken with Barry the Bearable Bear Is Lost, a snuggly cute look at a rather hapless ursine with a fish stuck on his arm, while Basketball Explorer’s ’80s video game aesthetic brought back 40-year old memories (not all of them good) and tickled my funny bone.

Eddy’s World. Credit: SF Short Film Festival Credit: SF Short Film Festival

Documentaries are also a short film staple, and there’s no shortage of them here. I was particularly impressed with Eddy’s World, about the man who invented chattering teeth and Kerplunk (he’s now 100 and still inventing toys), and intrigued by a film I unfortunately was unable to screen, They Can’t Take That Away: The Legacy of the Fillmore, about the San Francisco neighborhood that harbored the city’s jazz, blues, and soul scenes during the post-World War II years. I’ll go out on a limb and predict it’ll be worth a watch.

Bernard Checks In. Credit: SF Short Film Festival Credit: SF Short Film Festival

The festival also offers plenty of narrative entries, including the darkly humorous Bernard Checks In, featuring terrific newcomer Timothy Hornor (who looks like the love child of John Lithgow and John Cleese) as the titular motel customer, and Cry Later, a moving examination of a young comedienne’s internal tug of war between confidence and despair. Be sure to check out the festival’s complete schedule and find your own hidden gems!

In Balanchine’s Classroom. Credit: Roxie Theater Credit: Roxie Theater

Finally, while I may be a boor and a philistine — or even, heaven forfend, a boorish philistine — In Balanchine’s Classroom (opening on Friday, Sept. 17, at the Roxie) gave me a new appreciation for the Russian-born ballet master and his continuing impact on the art form. Likely a must-see for dance enthusiasts, the feature-length film taught me a valuable lesson — always dance on the balls of your feet, not on your heels.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...