Flix debuts the second half of its 2019-20 season Friday night with some surprises up its sleeve, including a musical performance.
That's just some of the magic in store for the film series, now in its second year after taking over for the 36-year-running FLICS.
"I think it's one of the strongest groups of films we've had in a while," said Woody White, a member of the three-person film selection committee.
The slate of seven films, which will run through April 3, kicks off Friday with "Pavarotti," a documentary about legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti directed by Academy Award winner Ron Howard.
"We liked 'Pavarotti' right away," White said. "He's a bigger-than-life character."
Before the film, the Bakersfield College Renegade Men's Chorus will perform two songs on stage.
Georgia Bailey, another committee member, said they like to add to the screenings when possible.
"We try to include if there is something (relevant)," she said.
Ally Lara, assistant theater manager at the Fox, said she thought the new men's chorus would be a good fit for the evening. She said previous Flix audiences have enjoyed a bit of live music.
"For the Aretha Franklin film ('Amazing Grace' in September), we had Caley Mayhall sing beforehand," Lara said of the local performer. "The response to that was great."
Also generating excitement is the next film in the series, "Standing Up, Falling Down," which will screen Jan. 24. The movie stars Ben Schwartz as a struggling stand-up comic from L.A. who returns home to Eastern Long Island and strikes up a friendship with an oddball dermatologist, played by Billy Crystal.
"It was so different a thing for Billy Crystal to do," Bailey said of the film that she saw at a festival last year. "It's real life, but it's not grim. There is uplift and a character arc."
Lara, who handles booking for the series, said they lucked out landing the film, which will go into general release after the Flix screening, giving local audiences a chance to see it first.
The enthusiasm can work both ways when it comes to booking as Lara learned with "Zulu Summer," a documentary screening Feb. 14.
"I reached out and the producer said, 'I'm actually excited you're showing it,'" Lara said.
The filmmakers were so enthusiastic that directors Joseph Litzinger and Eric Schrader will be in attendance for a preshow Q&A moderated by Californian columnist Robert Price.
"Zulu Summer" follows a radio DJ in a small town in Montana who, after receiving a suspicious email from an African prince, establishes a unique international alliance.
"It's just a heartwarming film," White said.
Bailey added, "It's about people making connections."
The committee member, who said she's drawn to offbeat films, said she's also taken with "Woman at War," an Icelandic-Ukrainian film coming Feb. 28 to the Fox.
"It's upbeat. Not a typical film about a typical person at all. She definitely has her own drummer," Bailey said of the protagonist whose eco-activism draws her to target an aluminum plant.
Bailey and White said they, along with fellow committee member Susan Sainte-Marie, try to select films from as many different countries and cultures as they can.
Sometimes the choice is easy, as with "Shadow," directed by Yimou Zhang, playing March 6.
The Chinese director is known to American audiences for such films as "House of Flying Daggers," "Hero" and "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles," which screened as part of FLICS’ 2007-08 season.
"They're exceptional films, beautifully photographed," White said.
"Birds of Passage," the next in the series, is also visually striking, following the indigenous Wayuu people of Colombia, some of whom must forgo tradition to succeed in the modern world.
"It was a beautifully done destruction of an old order and the picking up of a new order," Bailey said. "It's about as grim as I want to go but it's beautiful."
The film is in Spanish along with Wayuu and Wiwa dialects. White said they draw bigger crowds for Spanish-language films.
"We've even had teachers of Spanish and French say they like their students to come to our films," he said.
Instructors can put the final film in the season, "Transit," on their lists as well. In French and German, the movie centers on a German political refugee who ends up with the identity documents of a dead writer, then poses as the man to hide in Marseille, France. There he meets the writer's estranged wife, who was waiting for her husband so they could flee the country.
Both Bailey and White are excited about the upcoming films and the continuation of the series at the downtown theater.
"You get to see it in the most beautiful building in town," White said. "What could be better than that?"