The Noir City Film Festival, a famous Bay Area cultural institution that showcases classic noir films, has been held in cinemas across San Francisco since its debut in 2003. The festival was forced to darken in 2021 due to the pandemic, but this year he’s making his personal return in January and arriving at a new venue: the historic Grand Lake Theater in Oakland.
January 20-23, 2022
- All-Access Passport (12 films), $ 100
- Double weekly invoices, $ 15
- Weekend shows $ 12.50 per film
Proof of compulsory vaccination, mask protocol respected.
All profits are donated to the Film Noir Foundation. See the Black City website for more information.
Produced, programmed and hosted by “Noir Czar” Eddie Muller, this year’s festival, titled “They Tried to Warn Us!”, Features 12 mid-20th century Hollywood films that explore still-relevant themes involving megalomaniacal politicians, corrupt businessmen, neo-Nazis, racism, anti-Semitism, sexual predators, serial killers, police brutality, even a viral epidemic.
Muller, host of the popular Black alley franchise on Turner Classic Movies, admits that for decades he sold himself professionally as a “San Francisco guy”. To connect with audiences, he relied on the popularity of famed San Francisco detective-turned-writer Dashiell Hammett, whose books like Maltese Falcon have become synonymous with the noir genre. Muller’s father also worked as a boxing reporter for the San Francisco Examiner-very black.
But the truth is, Muller has lived in East Bay for 30 years and says he loves Oakland. In fact, Muller says the best movie experience of his life was at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, where he watched the silent classic. Napoleon with live accompaniment from the Oakland Symphony in 2012.
The decision to move the Noir City Film Festival to Oakland was made in an unusual fashion. During the pandemic, Muller was forced to film the intros and outros of his TCM show in his own home. His neighbor Alameda for 30 years had a renovation project going on at the time, which created noise that interfered with the recordings. That neighbor happens to be Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater. As his theater was dark, Michaan offered Muller the option of using it as a temporary studio.
“I realized that its vintage movie palace feel, along with the care and upkeep of the venue, would work perfectly for the type of show that Noir City devotees have come to expect,” Muller said.
And Michaan, who has said he and his wife watch three to four feature films a week on TCM, welcomes the opportunity to show films on the big screen that are “outside the mainstream Hollywood for a change.”
With San Francisco starring in many of the most famous film noir films, Muller said there have been some links between Oakland and East Bay. In the classic Where danger lives, a reconstituted Trader Vic’s bar is at your disposal. In the years 1949 AKA Nick Beal, the Jack London Square First and Last Chance Saloon dive bar has been recreated to serve as a meeting place for the Faustian figure. And Daniel Mainwaring, originally from Oakland, wrote the black classic Out of the past.
Muller finds it humorous that so many film noir films set in San Francisco feature the Bay Bridge, which many people assume is the Golden Gate. “The backgrounds at the Bay Bridge are better and teams can shoot back and forth from Treasure Island,” he said.
With the move to Oakland, the festival will experience some changes. While the last venue to accommodate, the Castro Theater could seat 1,400 people, Grand Lake has a capacity of 640 and tickets are already selling out quickly.
The event will also be condensed from 10 to four days. “It will be a restorative tonic for people keen to rewatch classic films on the big screen and enjoy, with prescribed protocols, a return to the party atmosphere for which Noir City is famous,” said Muller.
Featured will be A night in the garden, a 2017 short documentary about a 1939 Nazi rally that filled New York’s Madison Square Garden. Mueller is also trying to secure the rights to show classic Warner Brothers cartoons inspired by black at the event.
In addition to the film screenings, Muller said that Black city Fans can expect plenty of on-screen surprises, black-inspired activities, and special guest appearances. There will be bar service at the Grand Lake Theater, something moviegoers expect at screenings.
All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the non-profit Muller Film Noir Foundation, which saves and restores films in danger of being permanently lost or damaged. “We created a successful festival and then used that money to restore films, which we then show at the festival,” Muller said. “It’s a system that continues and has worked very well for us.
One of these freshly restored films will make its world premiere at the festival: Secrets of Argyle, a mystery centered on “The Argyle Album” containing the names of American politicians and industrialists who encouraged the Nazis during World War II.
During the pandemic, the festival partnered with the American Film Institute for an online experience which Muller said went very well. On the positive side, the audience may have been international, but they lament that they don’t have the incredible energy, excitement, and fun that comes with being together in person. “This is what has been lost,” he said, “a sense of community and a shared passion”.
Muller looks forward to the new chapter of the Festival in Oakland. “It hurts that the city has lost the Warriors and Raiders, so I’m happy to give a little something back to the city’s cultural life.”