Wednesday, March 8


Sorry, Oscar talk

Bet you didn't know this: Crash is the first Academy Award for Best Picture winner to have premiered at a film festival since Titanic, which opened the Tokyo International Film Festival in 1997. But while Titanic's appearance in Tokyo was purely for publicity's sake, Crash went to Toronto in 2004 with the hopes of being sold. Indeed, Lion's Gate bought the film within a day or so of its public screening and developed a release strategy that included a wide window for the Awards Season campaign of another Paul Haggis-written film on the horizon (Million Dollar Baby), and for another Lion's Gate film with Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda). Then, hot off Million Dollar Baby's Oscar win, Crash was sent to a few film festivals in the weeks before its May 6, 2005 release: Newport Beach, the USA Film Festival in Dallas, and Frisco's loveable little festival, where Haggis was bestowed with a newly inaugurated screenwriting award. I was busy the day of the screening anyway, but to be honest it was one of the least appealing options at last year's festival for me. Not that I knew then that the film would be such a poor one, but simply because I felt its appearance at the festival was, though not on the same scale as Titanic's showing in Tokyo, little more than a publicity stunt. The Crash brand would benefit from the cachet of having been screened at this hemisphere's oldest film festival, and the film festival would seem more important to Hollywood-centric movie lovers who otherwise would have trouble recognizing very many familiar names in the festival catalog. And I could see the film anytime during its sure-to-be-long theatrical run (Indeed I finally caught it a couple weeks ago at the Roxie, and it opens up at the Balboa on Friday.)

All this was percolating in my head yesterday as I read two contrasting reactions to the Crash win in the Chronicle. One was in the front-page(!!) article dissecting Brokeback Mountain's surprising (to many, including me) upset. It was new Film Society director Graham Leggat, impartially noting that all five Best Picture nominees were "smart, good, intelligent and sometimes politically aware films." I suspect he senses Frisco is a Brokeback Mountain town, but has a politician's instinct for hedging his bets. Still, I wonder why he slipped in that "sometimes"? All five films try to tackle pretty serious political themes (Well, at least four of the five; I still haven't gotten around to Capote but I understand it's about the death penalty). Could he, like me, think that Crash is for the most part unaware of how simplistic its political outlook is, or is he thinking of another of the nominees?

The other reaction was in Leah Garchik's gossipy column: Roxanne Captor, the previous occupant of Leggat's position, who was probably instrumental in bringing Crash and Haggis to the festival last year. Garchik's column unveils Captor as a true Crash partisan (she too may sense that Frisco's a Brokeback Mountain town and want to gloat a little now that her ties to the local film scene are, shall we say, not quite as strong as they once were). Garchik: "She said Haggis' screenwriting award from the festival in May had started his roll." This runs counter to the fact that the Film Society's award recipients were announced before the Oscar ceremony where Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's Sideways won the prize Haggis had been up for. And that the festival's directing award was going to Taylor Hackford, when announced still a potential Oscar winner for Ray. It seemed to me that the Film Society in selecting these two recipients was gambling on the Oscars like one might at Vegas, but had lost.

Well, the Film Society announced the Award recipients just before the Oscars this year too, but took care not to have the appearance of capitalizing on the ceremony and its afterglow, thankfully. Instead they picked two of the most egregiously snubbed figures from the past year: actor Ed Harris, who should have been nominated for his menacing performance in a History of Violence, and Werner Herzog, whose Grizzly Man was pointedly absent from the Best Documentary Oscar shortlist. Harris is great for the Peter J. Owens acting award and one of his own favorite films, a Flash of Green, will play April 28 at the Castro Theatre. But I really can't express how encouraging a sign I feel it is that they chose Herzog for the directing award. His selection finally breaks the streak of American citizens with Best Director Oscar nominations to their credit that began after Abbas Kiarostami received the award in 2000. On top of that, he's just about my favorite filmmaker right now. Aguirre: Wrath of God and his Nosferatu remake are among the few films I loved as a teenager that still retain every ounce of their power for me. Over the years I've added the likes of Stroszek and Little Dieter Needs to Fly to my list of cherished films. And I've really been on a Herzog kick in the past year or so, thanks in part to the stepped up release of his films on DVD, in part to the 2005 SFIFF screening of the amazing the White Diamond. But in addition to complete gaps like Scream of Stone, there are very few Herzogs I've seen a decent 35mm print of, so I hope for as broad and deep a retrospective as possible to go along with the April 26 interview and screening of the Wild Blue Yonder already promised. Last year the festival turned its back on the tradition of accompanying this award with a mini-retro, and showed only one Taylor Hackford film. I thought this only exacerbated the problem with that selection; if a director doesn't have a strong reputation among cinephiles, you ought to at least try to make a case for him. Herzog's reputation is quite secure by contrast but I admit I'll be disappointed if that tradition remains defunct.

Ms. Captor didn't take the Kanbar Award for Screenwriting with her when clearing out her desk, though. This year the recipient is the French writer Jean-Claude Carriere, who has worked with Luis Bunuel, Volker Schloendorff, Louis Malle and Milos Forman, with whom he most recently co-wrote Goya's Ghosts.

The announced opening film (April 20 at the Castro) is the musical Perhaps Love by Peter Chan, whose 1996 romance Comrades: Almost a Love Story was one of the last crucial films made in Hong Kong before the British lease on the island ended. His Coming Home was simultaneously the sweetest and by far the scariest segment of the Asian horror omnibus Three. Alloy Orchestra will make its third straight appearance at the festival, this time playing scores to a set of silent short films and to a restored print of the Eagle on April 23rd (in case you missed it when it was digitally presented at the Balboa last week). Frisco indie rock band Deerhoof will premiere a new score to animator Harry Smith's Heaven and Earth Magic on April 27th. And the closing night film (May 4 at the Castro) is Robert Altman's Prairie Home Companion which has my pulse pounding too. I was originally hoping to dovetail this post into a belated entry in the recent Altman Blog-a-Thon, but I've gone on long enough already. More on Altman another day.

Brian: A thoroughly engaging analysis of the "Brokeback / Clash" thrash; thank you for that backstory!! And for the extra glimpses of what we have coming up at 2006 SFIFF.
nice article. there's a new boxed dvd set of brilliant herzog work now available (only) on that can function as the sfiff retrospective for interested herzogophiles, and put some money directly into the director's pocket at the same time. see you at the festival--graham
Thanks for the tip, Graham. I'm not in the habit of buying DVDs online, but that set looks so close to comprehensive that if I can save enough Euros I'll really have to make an exception.

I just hope the thorough representation of Herzog on DVD doesn't totally cease screenings of his greatest films on celluloid.
Any idea when the entire SFIFF lineup will be announced?
Thanks for asking, I forgot mention that: the opening press conference is on March 28th, so that's when I'd expect to hear the full details. Of course there's usually some advance info released by the various venues, which I'll try to stay on top of if I can.

I do know one other title in the line-up though: Gubra, Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad's follow-up to Sepet which played last year's festival.
Outside of Grizzly Man being an incredible documentary on its own, without further comment needed, its a further shame because of it being Herzog material if there ever has been-- man v nature, concepts of being a filmmaker, a slightly obsessed individual, personal vision v. societal systems, etc. So acknowledging Grizzly Man as one of the best, if not the best, documentary of the year would have provided credit to all of Herzog's works. I can forgive the Academy for Crash, but not this.

Still haven't seen Stroszek or Little Dieter Needs to Fly; an oversight that will be corrected in the next month or two.....
I just stopped by the Castro Theatre and picked up their new schedule, which includes the SFIFF films slated to play that venue. More great(-sounding) stuff to look forward to:

Thursday, April 20
7PM Perhaps Love (HONG KONG:Peter Chan, 2005)

Saturday, April 22
noon Heart of the Game (USA: Ward Serrill, 2005)
3PM Turnabout (USA: Hal Roach, 1940)
6PM Al Franken: God Spoke (USA: Chris Hedegus & Nick Doob, 2006)
9:15 In Bed (CHILE/GERMANY: Matias Bize, 2005)

Sunday, April 23:
3:45 Iberia (SPAIN: Carlos Saura, 2005)
9:30 the Wayward Cloud (TAIWAN: Tsai Ming-Liang, 2005)

Wednesday, April 26:

Thursday, April 27:
5:45 the House of Himiko (JAPAN: Isshin Inudo, 2005)

Friday, April 28:
noon the Lost Domain (FRANCE/ROMANIA/SPAIN/ITALY: Raul Ruiz, 2005)
2:30 Princess Raccoon
(JAPAN: Seijun Suzuki, 2005)

Thursday, May 4:
7PM a Prairie Home Companion (USA: Robert Altman, 2006)

Suzuki. Tsai. Ruiz. Awesome.
"The Wayward Cloud"!!! "Princess Raccoon"!!! Excellent news! Thanks for the gumshoe work, Brian!
Also of particular note on the Castro calendar (non SFIFF-related):

Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession March 20 and All that Heaven Allows March 23.

The Intruder March 31-April 6 (guess the Wellspring buyout didn't cancel this booking like I feared it might).

And the counter-programming for the days the SFIFF doesn't use the Castro is rather formidable. Friday April 21 is Jesse Ficks's MiDNITES FOR MANiACS triple feature (Staying Alive, Flashdance and Heavenly Bodies). April 24-25 is a Michael Powell double-bill (Black Narcissus and Age of Consent) and April 29-May 3 is a Stanley Kubrick series: Paths of Glory, Lolita, a Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, the Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.
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