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Her baby, the Mostly British Film Festival


From February 4 to 11, the Mostly British Film Festival comes to the Vogue Theater on Sacramento Street. It’s the brainchild of longtime Chronicle movie writer and editor Ruthe Stein, who’s just back in town from the Sundance Film Festival.

Tell us about this new film festival coming to the neighborhood.

It’s the Mostly British Film Festival, showing 32 films from the U.K., Ireland, Australia and South Africa. We jokingly call it a “Foreign Film Festival For People Who Don’t Like Subtitles.”

This festival comes at a great time because so many wonderful movies from these countries can no longer secure American distribution. That means the festival may be the only chance to see such terrific movies as “London River,’’ a tearjerker starring Brenda Blethyn as the mother of a missing daughter, which opens the festival, and “Balibo,’’ a political thriller from Australia starring Anthony LaPaglia. We will also present the Northern California premiere of the much-lauded “Red Riding Trilogy,’’ which British film scholar David Thomson recently called “better than ‘The Godfather.'” Thomson, who lives in the neighborhood, will introduce the films.

How did the festival come to the Vogue?

Because it is operated by my friends Alfonso Felder and Jack Bair. They saved the Vogue from extinction two years ago by forming the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which bought the place. Alfie and Jack share my love of cinema and I told them if I ever had time I would do some programming for the Vogue. Now that I’m no longer a full time staff member at the Chronicle, I have the time.

How do you describe your involvement in the festival?

Funny you should ask. I don’t have an official title. People who pick worthy films for a festival are called a programmer or a curator. I like programmer — it’s less fussy.

How did the first one go last year?

If you mean artistically, it was a big hit. We showed the intense but wonderful art film “Hunger’’ before it opened in San Francisco. Financially we broke even — a major accomplishment for a fledgling festival with no sponsors except Blue Angel, who were our angels by supplying vodka. They’re back again this year along with Thomas Pink, the upscale British clothier, who’s throwing our opening night party.

You’ve been to a few film festivals in your day. What makes this one special?

I regularly attend Sundance and Toronto — and of course all the major festivals in the Bay Area. I would say Mostly British is more intimate. The lobby at the Vogue offers the possibility for festivalgoers to exchange thoughts on what they have seen. There are terrific restaurants in the area where they can continue the conversation. Plus Jack, Alfie and I will be at a lot of the screenings. Come up and talk to us.

What’s in it for the neighborhood?

A bonding of the local community. People can meet fellow film lovers in the neighborhood. It will bring business to restaurants and cafes. We hope people in the neighborhood will see what a swell movie house the Vogue is and return for regular bookings.