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Mostly British Film Fest returns

Actress Minnie Driver will be present for opening night festivities January 17.

FILM | Ruthe Stein

Jack Bair — a co-founder and director of the Mostly British Film Festival, which opens at the restored Vogue Theatre at 3290 Sacramento Street on January 17 — leads two lives, at least. His day job is as senior vice president and general counsel of the San Francisco Giants, a team that had a good year. With the festival celebrating its fifth anniversary, Bair says this also promises to be a good year for the Mostly British Film Festival.

Working for a baseball team, how did you also become involved in saving old theatres and presenting a film festival? I first became involved in an effort to save the old Cinema 21 Theatre on Chestnut Street. I saw the theatre boarded up as I was walking back from a softball game at Moscone Field. My reaction was immediate: I had to do something. Fortunately, the effort was successful and gave life to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation. The old Cinema 21 has been reincarnated as the Marina Theatre and is alive and well.

With the Bridge Theatre and Lumiere Theatre closing, there are very few neighborhood theatres left; the Clay on Fillmore is a surviving exception. We have approached the owners of the Bridge Theatre and made an offer to keep it open, so we hope there is still a chance to save it. Fortunately, there are still a few neighborhood theatres left. We own the historic Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street. The Vogue just celebrated its 100th birthday and is one of the oldest movie theatres in the world. We also took over the lease at the Balboa Theatre to keep it alive. 

How have you managed to keep the Vogue Theatre going? We purchased the theatre in 2007 and operate it under the nonprofit organization and fundraise each year to make improvements and pay the mortgage. Some months are better than others, but we are making it. We had a very successful fundraiser last month that will enable us to do some further improvements to the theatre. It is a constant work in progress.

The Vogue has some specialty programming other than straight first-run feature films. How does this fit into your business model? Our bread and butter are the first-run feature films, but we also want to establish an identity as a special community theatre. Programs such as the Mostly British Film Festival help put us on the map and help us celebrate the theatre and its place in San Francisco history. We like to have community events that differentiate us from the experience one might have at other theatres.

This is the fifth anniversary of the Mostly British festival. What do you have in store? We have 25 feature films from the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland and South Africa — all at the Vogue. We are thrilled to have Minnie Driver join us on opening night for the screening of her film, Hunky Dory. The collection of movies should have wide appeal: British noir, England period pieces, classics, cult hits, documentaries, musicals, comedies — we’ve got it all. We have the Beatles, Clive Owen, James Mason, Elizabeth McGovern, Trevor Howard, Celia Johnson, Robert Carlyle and Felicity Jones, plus directors David Lean, Sidney Lumet, Ken Loach and Michael Apted. The festival is one of the most affordable in the city, with full festival passes selling at just $100. 

What films do you recommend? In addition to opening night, I recommend Friday’s British Noir Night with two films starring James Mason: Odd Man Out and The Deadly Affair. On Saturday, we’re showing The Sapphires, an energetic musical set in the Australian Outback featuring four sisters seeking a music career despite family objections. We’re showing one of my favorite indy films, Once, on Sunday. 

On Monday night we’re showing the latest installment in the award-winning “Up” series, 56 Up. This documentary has followed the same group of Brits from age 7 to age 56. Backbeat is a film about the early days of the Beatles and is referred to by Entertainment Weekly as “one of the best 50 movies you have never seen.” After watching the Ben Affleck film Argo, I was interested in seeing My Tehran for Sale, a film showing some of the repression of modern day Iran. The whole line-up of films can be found at mostlybritish.org.

Several of the films are musicals. Is that a theme of this year’s festival? We did make a conscious effort to include more fun, uplifting films in this year’s lineup.

How does the neighborhood get involved in the festival? We’re having the opening night party at the Jewish Community Center, a block away from the Vogue at 3200 California Street. We have food donated from local restaurants and encourage festivalgoers to patronize local establishments between films. Many volunteers from the neighborhood help put on the festival and get to watch the films, too.

Why “Mostly British?” We wanted to create special programming for the Vogue and this was a niche — foreign films in English.