Thursday, April 5


50th SFIFF Program Announcement: Initial Thoughts

Frisco's 50th International Film Festival has announced its full program slate, and I'm overwhelmed by the task of trying to absorb it all in anticipation. I certainly haven't come close yet. I entreat any readers to take a glance at the schedule online and fill the comments section below with recommendations of films you've seen or are anticipating.

In the meantime let me direct your attention to Michael Hawley, a 31-year festgoing veteran who has posted his initial reaction to the program announcement at the Evening Class. I've attended only a fraction of the festivals Michael has, but I share his excitement in titles I've been hoping for months might be screened, most especially Opera Jawa by Garin Nugroho, Daratt by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Colossal Youth by Pedro Costa, and Brand Upon the Brain by Guy Maddin. These are among the films that I'll be trying to reconfigure my work schedule to catch if I have to, and it looks like I will, at least in the case of Opera Jawa. This Javanese gamelan-driven retelling of a piece from the Ramayana epic is one of the most fascinating-sounding of the seven films commissioned by Peter Sellars for his New Crowned Hope celebration of a quarter-millennium of Mozart last fall. Darrat is another. Hopefully the full set will make its way to Frisco cinema screens sometime this year. The selection of Sellars to deliver this year's State of the Cinema address seems like an inspired one from this vantage point.

Other films I've been eagerly anticipating for a while now include His Eye is on the Sparrow by Bruce Conner, Ad Lib Night by Lee Yoon-ki, Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic by Kevin Brownlow, Hana by Hirokazu Kore-eda and the newly-struck Janus print of the Phantom Carriage by Victor Sjöström (insert "Jonathan Richman is awesome" note here). And those are just the ones I don't expect to encounter another shot at later on down the line; I know that for instance Paprika by Satochi Kon, Private Fears in Public Places by Alain Resnais and Bamako by Abderrahmane Sissako all have theatrical distributors, and the latter even has a release date, at least in Marin County: June 1st at the Rafael Film Center. (According to that theatre's new calendar, SFIFF closing night film La Vie En Rose also opens there on June 15th.)

But, as I noted around this time last year, at this anticipatory moment a festival cannot be judged by the familiarity of the titles to those of us who pay attention to buzz from festivals in other cities. For every title I can check off my "hope someone brings it" list, there are at least two I've heard little to nothing about. If I'd known that Nanni Moretti, Patrick Tam, and Otar Iosseliani, to name three, had new films on the festival circuit, at some point I must have forgotten. But now I'm excited for a chance to see the Caiman, After This Our Exile, and Gardens in Autumn, respectively. And those are still films by known-quantity directors, while it's at least as important for a good festival to introduce work by unfamiliar names. On that front I'm very intrigued by a Thai documentary previously unknown to me, Stories From the North by Uruphong Raksasad. Another documentary is Fabricating Tom Zé by Decio Matos, Jr., on a Brazilian musician I resolved to learn more about after finding his tense compositions the most effective part of the Sundance prizewinner Manda Bala. Of course that's only the beginning. I've barely begun to look deeply into the program guide.

I have already seen a few more films in the program than I ever have before at this stage, though, and I hope to have time to elaborate on what I think of some of them. For now I'll just briefly list them (with links, as always). In tribute to Frederico Fellini, whose La Strada played on a 1956 program of Italian films at the Alexandria, that would morph into the SFIFF the following year, I wish I could say it was 8 1/2, but truthfully I've seen 8 1/3 of the films programmed in this year's festival so far. Three, Wonders Are Many by Jon Else, Protagonist by Jessica Yu and Destiny Manifesto by Martha Colburn were among my favorites from Sundance this January. Three are classics of various sorts that I've only seen on video up to now and am definitely considering taking the rare opportunity to rewatch on the big screen. Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, which won the first Golden Gate award at the first truly international festival in 1957 and was reprised at the 35th and 40th editions of the festival, will also be screened at the 50th on April 29th. Terry Gilliam's the Fisher King is the Robin Williams film selected for his Castro Theatre tribute May 4th, and is one of very few Gilliam features I've never seen in a cinema. And Wladyslaw Starewicz's the Cameraman's Revenge by Wladysaw Starewicz is an adorably morbid piece of 1912 insect animation playing as part of a very intriguing program of live-music-and-film called Notes to a Toon Underground. Two more are also animated: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which screened at the 1965 edition of the festival's tribute to Walt Disney, and ten years later was the first film I ever saw (at the Stonestown Theatre, according to mom), and The Danish Poet, which I saw digitally projected on a program of Oscar-nominated animated shorts at the Lumiere a few weeks ago (I thought it was the marginal best of a rather lackluster bunch). Finally, last year's festival screened a ghostly iceberg collage called How to Pray, which is the center of Bill Morrison's Highwater Trilogy making its Frisco premiere this time around. So that's where 1/3 comes from.

There's so much more to mention but I'd really better wrap it up for now. Suffice to say I'll be writing more about the 50th SFIFF in the coming weeks.

One thing I will mention before I go: some of the films I'd thought might be programmed by SFIFF are actually turning up soon at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It goes beyond Syndromes and a Century April 13-15 and I Don't Want to Sleep Alone April 20-22, which careful readers of this space have known about for a while. Also expect Row Hard No Excuses April 18th, the Pervert's Guide to the Cinema May 3-5, Red Without Blue May 16th, and Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait, which I caught at Sundance but am glad to see snagging a Frisco engagement May 17-19. The venue will also play host to a Grindhouse double-bill (exact titles kept secret until showtime) May 10th, a May 24th showing of Terry Zwigoff's Crumb to accompany the exhibit currently on view there, and its regular calendar of copresentations with SF Cinematheque (which brings the legendary Larry Jordan in person for a May 13th program of his films) and other local institutions.

Did I say one thing before I go? Here's a couple more, time-sensitive items I've been meaning to post. First, of all, in August there'll be a new film festival in town called the Dead Channels Festival of Fantastic Film, and to drum up early interest they're bringing a series of genre-wallowing triple features to the Victoria Theatre over the next few Sundays.

And finally, contrary to what I reported here earlier, Journey From the Fall will not be playing at the Four Star when it expands April 20th, but the ebullient teen film from Japan Linda Linda Linda will still open there this Friday. I haven't seen Grindhouse or Police Beat yet myself, but as much as I want to I can't imagine enjoying them more than Nobuhiro Yamashita's rockin' crowd pleaser.

Brian, let me warmly recommend Pervert's Guide to Cinema! I was a bit trepidatious going in (150 minutes of motor-mouthing Zizek?!), but he is fantastically entertaining and full of ideas. The film is like Scorsese's "Personal Journey through American Movies" doc--one I'd like to revisit every few years if I can.

And I'm curious: how many films do you manage to catch during a typical SFIFF? And will this be a typical year?
Brian, I'll probably post some thoughts of my own in the next day or two, but here's a list of the films I'm seeing during my six days by the bay:

Sunday, 4/29
The End and the Beginning

Monday, 4/30
Opera Jawa
A Few Days Later . . .

Tuesday, 5/1
Colossal Youth
At the Edge: New Experimental Cinema

Wednesday, 5/2
The Island

Thursday, 5/3
The Old Garden
Private Fears in Public Places
Fresh Air

Friday, 5/4
Desperately Seeking Images
Stories from the North
Dans Paris

Several of them are holdovers from TIFF -- films I can't wait to see again (Colossal Youth), films I saw part of before leaving to take a much-needed three-hour nap (Private Fears in Public Places), and films I wanted to see but couldn't fit into my schedule (Opera Jawa, Daratt, The Island).
Brian, I'm so pleased you chose to headline Michael Hawley's Evening Class remembrances and anticipatory remarks. Thank you.

I can't speak for Brian, but last year I caught 49 films for the 49th festival. This year is a different animal as the festival conforms to the presiding practice of fewer press screenings and a preferred screener dvd library. For some reason, watching films on a dvd screener, though always welcome, doesn't "count" when I'm tabulating my festival experiences. I don't know why I feel that and perhaps I will get over it by the time I do my final tabulations. This year SFIFF50 is offering only 4 announced press screenings--Sounds of Sand, Flanders, After This Our Exile, and Private Fears in Public Places. Volunteer coordinator Ninfa Dawson mentioned that a few more will probably be announced at the Dolby Lab Screening Room, most likely through respective publicists.

I am absolutely delighted, of course, to share SFIFF50 with Darren. I anticipate learning from his visual acuity and poetic sensibility. Girish often calls me a "social gadfly" (which always makes me feel like I should be hurriedly laying eggs somewhere before my brief chance is over); but, it always makes me feel good to mingle great minds and sensibilities and I look forward to Darren's meet-and-greet at Casa Maya.
I'm stoked about Kore-eda's HANA and Im Sang-so's THE OLD GARDEN as well as HK pop scene sendup THE HEAVENLY KING'S and Norwegian fright fest COLD PREY.

BTW for you art film lovers, starting tonight, Thai filmmaker Joe will be at the PFA for three consecutive nights to discuss his films:
Thanks for mentioning that, Jennifer. I'm extremely excited to be there tomorrow for the close examination of Tropical Malady. I wish I could be there Saturday too, for the ingenious pairing of Blissfully Yours and Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, but other plans are taking priority.

Heavenly Kings is a complete unknown entity for me right now. I hope to fit the Old Garden in but it may fall by the wayside (Though I loved a Good Lawyer's Wife I found very little to hang onto in the President's Last Bang). There's only so much time for so many films.

Which brings me to your question, girish. Until 2002 I saw anywhere from two to ten or so films the years I attended. But that year I was on unemployment during the festival and saw 39 film programs (counting a collection of shorts as one film program). Since then I've fluctuated between 30 and 45 films each year, totals including advance press screenings and screeners the years when I've written for Senses of Cinema or this blog. This year I have a gut feeling that I'll post a lower total, but I had a similar feeling last year and still logged something like 34 film programs. It's not a huge portion of the festival, but for a guy holding down two jobs, I think it's quite a few.

Unfortunately, Pervert's Guide to the Cinema is screening during the festival this year. I hope to make time for it anyway though. I usually see at least one non-festival film during the festival period.

Darren, thanks for providing your schedule! I'm excited to learn that you'll be out here for the festival. Am I right to recall that this won't be your first trip to the SFIFF? The majority of the selections in your schedule are films I hope to make fit into mine. I suspect we'll be at the same screenings at least a few times.

Michael, I didn't realize that there were only going to be the four press screenings this year. As much as I bemoan the trend toward DVD screeners and away from press screenings, I have to say I'm glad they picked those four; it looks like quality is trumping quantity this year. (Though I realize I shouldn't speak so soon without seeing the films first).

I very much enjoyed our lunch today. See you tomorrow at the PFA, I'm sure!
Brian, allow me to echo maya's thanks for pointing the way to my festival piece.

Thank you also for making me aware of the Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait screenings at the YBCA. This was on my SFIFF wish list, as was Paris, je t'aime, which I now know will be opening next month thanks to your link to the Rafael Film Center. The latter was listed in the Landmark Theaters Winter FLM magazine and I was beginning to wonder if we were going to see it or not.

I look forward to reading your festival coverage in the weeks to come.
Hey Bri,

Outside of a few animated shorts (and the retro pieces), I'm coming in pretty unfamiliar with this year's roster. Still, here are what I have tix for:

The Iron Mask
Sounds of Sand

At the Edge (Experimental short program)
Forever (POV award)

The Silly AGe

Notes to a Toon Underground

Times & Winds

The Yacoubian Building

I've still got 1 ticket left off my cinevoucher, and this may fill out a bit more if my wife is out on business, but still probably not by much.

I'll be looking forward to what you learn/glean/discover as the fest. gets closer, and keep up the good work.

(Oh, and btw, I'm a KALW sub this Easter Sunday!)
Show some love for the lone Filipino film in the festival: Tuli. It may not be as instantly rewarding as Solito's "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," but it's quite something...
Michael, I couldn't not link to your piece, with its hilarious anecdotes and experienced perspective.

Archiveguy, there's definitely several programs in your line-up that match my (currently completely tentative) schedule. It'll be good to see you around these parts! I'm not sure if I'll be able to listen in on Sunday this time, but thanks for the heads-up.

Oggs, thanks for the recommedation for Tuli; coming from you it carries some real weight. Last year I missed the Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros and regret it. The other Filipino film of last year's edition, a Short Film About the Indio Nacional, was one of my favorite totally-unanticipated surprises of the year.

I'll toss my list in as well:

Saturday 4/28

Sunday 4/29
Bunny Chow
The 12 Labors

Monday 4/30
A Few Days Later

Tuesday 5/1
Colossal Youth

Wednesday 5/2

Friday 5/4
When The Levees Broke (hope it's a film print)

Saturday 5/5
Fresh Air

Sunday 5/6


I was glad I caught Ghosts of Citi Soleil at Telluride last year but was disappointed with Jindabyne.

Saw both matinees of Police Beat this weekend. Posted my thoughts on that neglected thing I call a blog =)
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