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San Francisco Documentary Film Festival

You can't handle the truth

Only recently have documentaries begun to receive attention from the public that they have deserved for so long. Michael Moore's sardonic take on gun-loving Americans may have been what initially caught the public's eye, but stellar pictures like Capturing the Friedmans, The Fog of War and Spellbound have cemented the medium's place squarely in the public eye.

After a year hiatus, DocFest returns to San Francisco armed with nearly two dozen documentaries that deal with topics ranging from cigar smuggling to the sexual habits of senior women. Whether it be funny, thought-provoking or shocking, there's something showing to satisfy your desire. The following is just a sample of the good stuff that DocFest has to offer.

Up for Grabs - Opening Night Film
The proceeds from the sale of Barry Bonds' record-breaking 73rd home run ball were split between two men: Alex Popov and Patrick Hayashi. However, before the ball was auctioned live on ESPN, the two men waged a bitter battle for ownership of the piece of sports memorabilia that both believed they rightfully owned. Up for Grabs follows the strange set of events that ensued after Bonds sent the fateful ball over the right field wall. Often critical of the parties involved, we can't help but laugh at the two individuals who turned what amounted to a winning lottery ticket into a 15-minutes spotlight on the despicable aspects of human behavior.

Slasher - Opening Night Film
Buying a car is an experience that people rank somewhere between getting their teeth drilled and scrubbing the toilet. Slasher provides an inside look into the sales process as we follow a team of salesman flown across the country to jumpstart car sales at a struggling Memphis dealership. We get a glimpse at some of the techniques that dealers use to try and lure the customer into a purchase. The primary character, identified only as "the slasher", is everything we've come to expect in a used car dealer; fast-talking, persuasive, and in possession of a set of morals just a tad incomplete.

Awful Normal
No value is more innate to a documentary than honesty, and no film at DocFest exemplifies that fact better than Awful Normal. Molested by their father's best friend nearly 25 years ago, Celeste and Karen Davis still haven't recovered from the childhood trauma. After realizing that the only solution to their problem may be to confront the man responsible, they still struggle to face the man who took advantage of them. Somehow though, filming the experience provides them the courage to take that step forward. It's eerie enough to watch someone sitting across from the man who sexually molested them, so one can only imagine what it's like to actually do it.

Dirty Work
While it's become fashionable for people in corporate America to carp about their jobs, I guarantee not one of them would switch places with the individuals in this film. Three regular American guys - who just happen to be an embalmer, a septic tank cleaner, and a reproductive specialist for bulls - are profiled, and as appalling as their work sounds, they can't imagine anything else they'd rather be doing. We follow them as they handle their daily chores, always wondering how they can keep the smile on their face while engaging in activities that continually make us cringe. It's a refreshing look at contentedness, a state clearly achieved differently by different people.

The Naked Feminist
Pornography has long been assumed to be an industry that preys on vulnerable young women desperate for money and short on options. But while this may certainly be the case for some involved, many of the women within the industry believe this to be a myth perpetuated by individuals looking to justify their puritanical views. From Nina Hartley to Veronica Hart, many of the pioneers in pornography have continued to lead successful and fulfilling careers within the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. A number of questions are explored, all of which try to distill the effects pornography has on the women involved. And while it is easy to blindly accept the long-held mainstream opinion, this movie shows that there are a number of other factors that have to be weighed when considering this touchy topic.