Plenty of variety found in Mostly British films 

The Mostly British Film Festival is back, with a lineup twice the size of last year’s bill. Fare ranges from Yorkshire neo-noir to Edwardian whimsy to Australian claymation tragicomedy.

Talent includes director Ken Loach, actors Peter O’Toole, Brenda Blethyn and Samantha Morton, Oscar-winning animators, a soccer superstar, and some “rough aunties,” to name a few.

Thirty-two films from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and South Africa will screen at the second annual Mostly British festival, an eight-day celebration opening Thursday at the Vogue Theatre in San Francisco.

In climes where even Sherlock Holmes is played by an American star, truly British cinema is often considered too foreign for the multiplex, and many British films, lacking marketable names or catchy themes, don’t get booked into art houses either.

Mostly British allows local filmgoers to experience Britain’s contribution to world cinema and enjoy it in a neighborhood theater, says Jack Bair, a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which owns the Vogue and is co-presenting Mostly British with the California Film Institute.

“We’re looking forward to building on the success of last year’s festival,” Bair says. “Options have grown this year,” he adds, citing local interest in quality film and impressive public support for 2009’s festival as factors behind 2010’s expanded programming.

“London River,” director Rachid Bouchareb’s drama (starring Oscar-nominee Blethyn), set in the wake of the London bomb attacks, leads things off at 8 p.m. Thursday, “Looking for Eric,” veteran filmmaker Loach’s comedy about sports fandom, closes the festival at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11. Soccer giant Eric Cantona appears as himself.

In between, look for the searing “Red Riding” films (first screening at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5) based on David Peace’s novels and set in 1970s and 1980s Yorkshire. Author and film scholar David Thomson (“The Moment of Psycho”), who will introduce the films, describes the crime trilogy as “an extraordinary modern thriller and a portrait of depressed society.”

“It is an enormously creative country,” Thomson says. Britain, he adds, continues to come up with “fascinating pictures” and “daring ideas.”

Additional fare includes the Gaelic-language drama “Kings,” with Colm Meaney (at 12:15 p.m. Feb. 9); the reincarnation comedy “Dean Spanley,” with O’Toole (at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 5); and the South African documentary “Rough Aunties” (at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 10) featuring some caring women bucking the system.

Australian offerings include the thriller “Balibo” (7 p.m. Feb. 6); the actor-driven indie “Men’s Group” (3:45 p.m. Feb. 7) and Oscar-winning Adam Elliot’s claymation pen-pal tale, “Mary and Max” (12:15 p.m. Feb. 8).

Oldies include “The Red Shoes” (4 p.m. Feb. 7 in San Rafael). Director Martin Scorsese has described Michael Powell’s ballet classic as “a film that I continually and obsessively am drawn to.”

IF YOU GO
Mostly British Film Festival

Where: Vogue Theatre, 3290 Sacramento St., San Francisco
When: Thursday through Feb. 11
Tickets: $10 to $30 per screening
Contact: (415) 346-2288; www.mostlybritish.org
Note: Programming also runs Feb. 7-10 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael; call (415) 454-1222.

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