Wednesday, March 29


The Bad, the Good and the Ugly

First the bad news: I just learned that the Act 1 & 2 in Berkeley closed the other night. Sunday, to be exact. After 35 years of film screenings, the last show there was C.S.A.: the Confederate States of America (which, as an aside, I tried to watch at the Roxie, but had to walk out of after twenty minutes of feeling uncomfortable about the audience's laughter, something that had never happened to me before. Am I becoming more sensitive or is it that this movie pushing buttons I'd never seen pushed before?) I don't have too much to say about the theatre as I only ever saw a few films there, the best of which was undoubtedly (speaking of walkouts, in this case other people's) Audition in 2001. The tradition of Midnight Movies will be passed to the California Theatre starting this Friday and Saturday with a Clockwork Orange. The 10-screen Shattuck Theatre a block or so away will continue the calendared programs that had in the past few years distinguished the Act 1 & 2 as the artsiest twinned theatre in the East Bay. So look to the Shattuck for Kekexili: Mountain Patrol starting April 21 and, in case you missed its recent Balboa engagement or are already eager for another shot, the Conformist starting April 28.

That is, if you're not overwhelmingly busy with the SFIFF during those weeks, which if you're like me you probably will be. Which brings me to the good news: they just released the complete selection of films for the 49th edition of the festival. I'd already composed an anticipatory write-up covering some preliminarily revealed titles and was excited enough, but with the full slate on display there's no denying I'll be attending as much as I can.

On a quick glance through the lineup, these are some of the films that I'd hoped the festival would bring and am thrilled they are:

Bashing, the 2005 Cannes selection from Japanese director Masahiro Kobayashi
Gabrielle, the latest from Patrice Chereau, based on a Joseph Conrad story
How to Pray, a short film offering from found-footage filmmaker Bill Morrison
the Lost Domain from Chilean-born Parisian director Raul Ruiz
Princess Raccoon, a bizarre-sounding musical from Seijun Suzuki starring Ziyi Zhang
the Regular Lovers, a three-hour epic from Frenchman Philippe Garrel
the Sun, Alexander Sokurov's dramatization of a post-war Emporer Hirohito
Three Times, the latest Hou Hsiao-Hsien film, a three-parter from this SFIFF mainstay
the Wayward Cloud, the new Tsai Ming-Liang film that follows the Lee Kang-Sheng character found in most of his previous films into the world Taipei pornography. And it's a musical too.

Those last five titles, along with Herzog's the Wild Blue Yonder, consitute 6 of the 20 items on the 2006 wishlist I drew up a few months ago. Add them to the three brought by CAAM's excellent festival that wrapped last weekend, and I should be nearly half-satisfied by the year already.

Except that I try not to evaluate festivals primarily on their ability to bring the films I'm already aware of and eagerly anticipating, but equally on the quality of the unknown quantities in their lineups. It's tempting upon the announcement of a festival program to immediately commence with the second-guessing of the programming staff, counting up the numbers of films from East Asia (up this year) or directed by women (down this year). I can't pretend I wasn't hoping the festival would bring at least one Thai film, for example. They didn't. But I'd still rather see them program a good film from a country whose cinema I'm less familiar with, like Cuba or Hungary, than a mediocre one that happens to be from a country I once lived in. I've learned that it's foolish for me to let my opinion of the program start to solidify until after actually seeing at least some of the films. Over the next few weeks press screenings (starting with this morning's first press screening of the German film Eden) will help turn some of the unfamiliar titles into more than just another page of data in the thicker-than-ever program guide. Films whose existence I was previously unaware of greatly outnumber those I'd been anticipating, and that's as it should be. I've already had my eye caught by a few unknowns, like the Japanese late night movie (they moved up the midnight movies to a 10:30-11:30 starting slot this year) Executive Koala and the one Iranian feature selected, Iron Island.

I'm encouraged by something else I noticed, though. This year's festival seems much less obsessed with premieres than recent years. Oh sure, there are plenty of premieres; the festival list 11 North American Premieres, 13 U.S. Premieres, and 38 West Coast Premieres (though that list includes at least one film that I know played in Seattle last November; keeping track of this is obviously not an exact science). I haven't compared those numbers to previous festivals' numbers. But I do know that the last couple of years the festival brought a half-dozen World Premieres and International Premieres, compared to one World Premiere (Runners High) this year. Why is this encouraging? Because I believe that the best film festivals should primarily be for the residents of the cities that host them. The overwhelming majority of potential SFIFF attendees have never heard of almost any of the titles anyway, so why should they care whether or not a given film has shown outside its home country? This year I even recognized a few items on the program that I know have recently shown in the Frisco area; whether it's because I've been paying better attention since starting this blog I do not know, but I don't remember that happening recently. I assume it means an especially strong endorsement for the films in question: the Chilean film Play and the Spanish Obaba, which showed at the Rafael in January, the Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which was among the Oscar-nominated animated shorts shown at Landmark Theatres for a few weeks, and Instructions For a Light and Sound Machine, a short which Peter Tscherkassky brought to a PFA audience including yours truly in February. I'd love to see it again, along with new films by Jay Rosenblatt, Cathy Begien and others in the Circles of Confusion shorts program.

As for the ugly news: just that I'm planning to tweak the look of this blog a bit in the near future. The first victim will almost certainly be the font you're reading right now. It will hopefully become something a little less strenuous to look at, and definitely something that won't turn special characters like tildes and umlauts into garbage. It may, in fact, become a boring font. If you have any font tips or suggestions, please e-mail me or leave a comment below. Thanks.

I'm very curious about the new Koji Wakamatsu (Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw). His Go, Go, Second Time Virgin had some really amazing images in them, even if I'm not all too crazy about pink films. This one seems to be more pensive and less sensationalist. :)
Brian, another film I'd encourage you to check out is Nobuhiro Suwa's A Perfect Couple. (The link will take you to my spoiler-free response at Long Pauses.) I saw it at TIFF just to indulge my Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi crush, but ended up really, really liking it.

I'm guessing that the tilde and umlaut problems your having are being caused by the Blogger interface rather than the font. Do you write in Word first, then copy/paste into Blogger? Doing so causes all kinds of formatting problems, I've found. Next time you need to use a special character, use html to create it. Here's a cheat sheet.
Brian, you are the acknowledged master of the heads-up!! Thanks for being on top of it and for listing your own recommendations. And also for your sage and steady comprehension that though what we want and what we get rarely matches up, we need to keep an open mind.

Good luck with refacing your site and thanks on the aside to your truly helpful cheat sheet, Darren!
Darren: I thank you for the cheat sheet too! Do we owe you a commission or something? :)

Brian: Without having yet opened the links to the SFIFF that you've provided, I'm wondering: are tickets usually bought up pretty much as soon as the festival schedule is announced? Just as a guess from an experienced festival-goer, how difficult do you think it would it be for a traveler like myself to get a ticket to, say, Princess Raccoon or Three Times, or The Wayward Cloud, or The Wild Blue Yonder? I am now, as I usually am when I read your site, squirming with envy.

For all my own excitement about it, and my meager attempt to promote it when it arrived a few weeks ago in LA, I still haven't gotten a chance to make it to CSA. But I'm really curious to hear more about that audience reaction at the Roxie. Was it a reaction you felt was based on missteps in tone that the movie was making? Or perhaps the audience was packed with what I think of as "knowing laughers," people who are excessive in their vocal reaction to certain films or elements of certain films in order to show the rest of the crowd where they're at in relationship to the film. (I described this reaction a bit in talking about seeing The Player for the first time, and I've had varying degrees of problems with the syndrome at screenings of everything from Clockwork Orange to Nashvile.) Whatever was going on, it must have been pretty strong to prompt you to leave after 20 minutes.

And speaking of walkouts, when I saw Audition I remember being amazed at the number of people who bailed out. This was an audience on a Wednesday night toward the end of the movie's run, so one would assume they had an inkling of what they were in for. But even with that inkling, I must have seen 10-15 head for the exits, and that was well before the first appearance of the piano wire...

Finally, I'm glad to see midnight movies aren't completely disappearing with the closure of the Act 1 & 2. The last time I was in Berkeley, Blaaagh and I almost went to the California to see Ray, but decided at the last minute to skip it. So I've yet to see the inside to that theater, although every time I visit Berkeley (which isn't often these days) I always insist on grabbing a glimpse of the marquee and facade of that place. That's what the outside of EVERY movie theater in remember from childhood looked like!
acquarello, I've never seen a pink film, but this one definitely has me curious. Glad to know the director has something of a track record.

Darren, I'll be sure mark a Perfect Couple down as another high priority. And thanks ever so much for the formatting advice, which was quite sound!

I'm still kinda itching to spruce things up a bit around here, so I may still experiment with a cleaner font unless folks are really attached to the current one. In that case I'll turn my attention to the page header, which was going to be my next target.

Michael/Maya, this time you beat me to the punch timing-wise, which is great. Your appeal for recommendations was the kind of approach I wish I'd thought of myself. Thankfully, they're coming through anyway.

I think my open-mindedness is related to my feeling of being overwhelmed with film options in the first place, combined with a dim understanding of the real mechanics of film programming. I'm sure there's a lot of competition for some of the most critically-discussed films, between SFIFF and other Frisco festivals, and between SFIFF and other springtime festivals. Add in distributors who don't want to their films to play festivals in all the same markets they want to release in, and it's got to be a tricky mess.

And it depends on my mood when you catch me too. I guess right now I'm still feeling optimistic for no particular reason that the PFA might bring Woman is the Future of Man and a Tale of Cinema soon, that the YBCA will pick up Apichatpong Weerasethakul's most recent video projects, and that the latest films by Chabrol, Techine, and some others will somehow scrape together some kind of distribution here.

Giving an award to Herzog and putting Princess Raccoon at the Castro earns a lot of good will from me.

Which brings me to Dennis: in my experience from the past several years, few of the Castro screenings sell out. But I do think the Wild Blue Yonder is likely to be one of if the first if not the first sell-out, considering it's been a number of years since Herzog appeared at the festival, and he's in the midst of a killer streak, both film-wise and media-attention-wise. And who knows, perhaps people will be excited about the new festival leadership and the festival will see an all-around increase in ticket sales. I doubt it would get to the point where you'd need to buy your tickets as soon as they go on sale to the general public April 4th, but it might be wise to try within a few days of that. Of course there's always the rush lines, but then again that's what I said to my friends John and Rob before they ended up the first and second to be turned away from the Five Obstructions a couple years ago.

It would be great to see you come up for some screenings though!

I'll have to tell you about movie walkouts later; this comment is long enough already and I need to move on to the next thing.
Nooooo!!! Not the Act 1 & Act 2 too!!! Well, the least I can say is the last 2 films I saw there, MYSTERIOUS SKIN and TROPICAL MALADY, were on two lovely dates with the same lovely lady who not so lovingly dumped me this past summer. So I can savor those good memories as my lasting impressions of the place.

I'd tell you what I'm most interested in at SFIFF, but this internet connection in Kona is freakin' slow. I don't want to pay for the time it would take to peruse the list again. Although EXECUTIVE KOALA did look crazy. (Twitch has posted about it before if you want to do a little research on it.)
In addition to your picks, I'm excited about:

The Bridge and Jonestown: two SF-themed docs. I've found in years past that the docs are always among the best films at SFIFF and I think these are very promising.

Manslaughter: the third in Danish filmmaker Per Fly's social status series which included the excellent Inheritance (which played at the Roxie in 2005).

The Japanese films Executive Koala and The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai look absolutely a good way.

There are plenty more too. Since I no longer live in SF, I get to enjoy the fest as a vacation this year and don't have to plan around a work schedule. Can't wait...
Hey I just wanted to mention the Guy Maddin tribute at the PFA. They are showing 3 or 4 of his more recent shorts and he will be there in person. I'm very excited about that one.

Thanks for the info brian. Were you at the press conference? Andy Lau will be in town for the fest too.
Adam, complaining about slow internet connections in the tropics while Frisco is dealing with cold wind and rain is a little cruel, don't you think? ;)

Socialretard, thanks for the recs! The Bridge is one I'm definiately going to have to see, especially since my favorite festival film last year was the Joy of Life and I'm curious to see another take on the suicide subject. SFIFF is traditionally an excellent festival for docs, and one of the few US festivals with a healthy selection of foriegn-language docs. Perhaps slightly less healthy this year in terms of raw numbers.

The Japanese selection looks really strong this year in general.

Scott, indeed I was there. I hadn't really delved into the list of expected guests, other than the award-winners. Super-excited about Guy Maddin getting the Persistance of Vision award. A little sad to note no Mel Novikoff Award winner this year as those have often been some of my favorite screenings to attend and I think the spirit behind the award is very worthy. But I like the fact that the festival is experimenting in lots of new directions, like with all the unusual venues being used for screenings.
I hate anonymous solicitors. They give blog comments a bad name.
Yeah, sorry about that Michael; I tried to delete the little buggers earlier this morning but was having connection problems on my home computer. Now they're gone for good.
You should also take a a good look at Taking Father Home, House of Sand, and The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros.

Just moved here. Pretty excited about the festival.
Welcome, Barry. I agree those three sound interesting. Hope I can squeeze them all into my schedule.
Thanks for the welcome brian, gotcha bookmarked along with girish, d+kaz, dave kher, et. al. I'm a filmmaker who LOVES to read criticism because I was trained without an emphasis on theory.

You mentioned Three Times. I caught it at Telluride and my advice would be to try to avoid seeing it late in the day; you may not make it through the second episode without dozing! (it's a great film)
Well, I'm very honored to be bookmarked among those three wonderful writers, and will strive to justify the inclusion.

Telluride sounds like a dreamy festival to attend. Hopeful that I might find the opportunity one of these years.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?