United Film Festival tackles tough truths 

When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5, it became clear that the battle against racism in America is far from over, especially when it comes to white supremacist groups.

But not all skinheads are created equal; some want to change. “Erasing Hate,” a documentary about one of these people, screens at 7 p.m. Sept. 2 at the United Film Festival in The City. The touring independent-film showcase, which runs Aug. 31 through Sept. 6 at the Roxie Theater, includes 18 features and shorts as well as timely documentaries.

“Erasing Hate” profiles Bryon Widner, a former skinhead with a face covered in tattoos, including a giant arrow above his right eye that meant he would commit murder for the white race.

But Widner grew up and changed his perspective. As a married man with children, he wanted the tattoos removed — a sensationally expensive, and painful, procedure.

His future brightened when a donor to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an enemy to white supremacists, made the removal possible.

“The treatments were excruciating for Bryon,” says “Erasing Hate” director Bill Brummel. “We all make mistakes in our lives, but Bryon’s were written all over his face, and they happen to be bigger and more serious than the ones most of us make. The treatments were tough, and I think Bryon sees it as one of many penances he has to endure over time.”

Brummel, who has made documentaries about the Ku Klux Klan, hate crimes against gays and lesbians, and the Rwandan genocide, is drawn to difficult subjects.

“I’ve always thought issues of equality and justice interested me,” Brummel says. “It’s important for me to get the story out there in the public view. I think documentaries induce something to push national dialogue towards change.”

Although tackling a very different topic, James Feng, director of “Fight Life,” seeks to educate on what he feels is a misunderstood subject: Mixed martial arts fight culture, a sport whose popularity is growing exponentially in gyms across America.

The documentary, which screens at 7 p.m. Aug. 31, is a visceral insider scoop of MMA fighting, inside and outside the cage. Feng’s film unearths some startling facts, such as an MMA fighter’s average salary — $11,000 — and the fact that more than 68 percent of MMA fighters don’t have health insurance, an unfortunate irony given the sport’s high risk for injury.

“Fighting is one of the only universal forms of communicating that doesn’t require any translation,” Feng says. “There’s a certain primal high we get as spectators watching and cheering on one of the fighters. MMA is just like watching a fight after school in the schoolyard except there’s a few rules and a referee to ensure things don’t get out of hand.”



United Film Festival

When: Aug. 31 through Sept. 6

Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., S.F.

Tickets: $10 per film

(415) 863-1087, www.roxie.com, www.theunitedfest.com

Note: “Fight Life” screens at 7 p.m. Aug. 31; “Erasing Hate” at 7 p.m. Sept. 2.


We’re Getting On

The documentary — chronicling the fateful zero-emission bicycle book tour of James Kaelan’s critically acclaimed, controversial eponymous debut novel — makes its premiere. [2 p.m. Sept. 1]

Of Two Minds

The feature documentary provides insight into what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder — its painful moments, sad moments and funny moments. [7 p.m. Sept. 1]

5 Days in Denver

The award-winning documentary follows a group of protesters calling themselves Re-create 68 (as in 1968) who decide to organize and protest at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. [4:30 p.m. Sept. 2]

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Lauren Gallagher

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