The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival opens Thursday evening with a captivating drama and continues with 14 days of film from all corners of the globe
Berkeley native, Sara Dosa’s “The Last Season” makes its world premiere on Friday, April 25th, at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) which runs April 24- May 8, 2014. The documentary examines the bonds between some 200 seasonal workers, mostly Asian, who set up a temporary camp each fall in tiny town of Chemult, Oregon, to forage for matsutake, a rare type of mycorrhizal mushroom that is prized in Japan for its distinctive spicy aroma. Dosa, her film crew, and Cambodian immigrant Kuoy Loch will be in attendance. The film screens three times at SFIFF 57, which offers 29 documentary features and a total of 168 films. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society
Not just another film festival, the 57th Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) is the West Coast’s premiere film festival, showcasing stellar global storytelling, homegrown talent, impactful reportage and remarkable cinematography. SFIFF opens this Thursday evening and runs for 15 days, featuring 168 films and live events from 56 countries in 40 languages—74 narrative features, 29 documentary features, 65 shorts, 14 juried awards, and over 100 participating filmmakers. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS), this mammoth festival really does defy categorization. Its greatly revered for its support of new filmmakers and for championing independent films that are unlikely to screen elsewhere in the Bay Area. One of the joys of attending SFIFF is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen, in digital projection—and getting to participate in Q&A’s with their directors and actors, many of whom reside in other countries and express fresh and unpredictable points of view. SFIFF also distinguishes itself with excellent live onstage events and awards ceremonies that feature film luminaries in more lengthy moderated discussions. While many festivals have morphed in multi-sensory entertainment malls, SFIFF is first and foremost film, with a few great parties thrown into the mix.
I am dividing my coverage of this year’s festival into two articles—this first one, below, gives an overview and lets you know what the featured big evenings and tributes will offer; the second one will include short reviews of the top films I recommend. I haven’t covered the special programs before but I’ve attended several of these honoree chat/screening combos and there is nothing more impactful than watching a film and getting the behind-the-scenes lowdown straight from the creator or actor’s mouth. Value priced at $15-$25, they’re a no-brainer. So, here are the high-profile events that ought to be on everyone’s radar–
This year, both opening and closing night films focus on two American married couples who develop fractures in their relationships while dealing with issues—work and vacation—that become insanely complicated and high stakes.
Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst star in the North American premiere of Hossein Amini’s “The Two Faces of January,” a stylish adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith suspense thriller. The film, which was shot on location in Greece and Turkey, opens the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) which runs April 24- May 8, 2014. Hossein Amini will be in attendance. Photo courtesy San Francisco Film Society
OPENING NIGHT: (Thursday, April 24, 7 p.m., Castro Theatre) The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amini, UK, 2014, 97 min) Hossein Amini will attend. Intrigue begins at the Parthenon when wealthy American tourists Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his young bride Collette (Kirsten Dunst) meet American expat Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a scammer who poses as a tour guide. Instead of becoming his latest marks, the two befriend him, but an incident at the couple’s hotel puts all three in danger and creates a precarious interdependence between them. This American thriller, written and directed by Hossein Amini in his feature directorial debut, is a gripping adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name. Filmed on location in Greece and Turkey, Amini evokes the glamor of the 1962 setting through Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography, Alberto Iglesias’ atmospheric score and the Kennedy-era chic of Steven Noble’s costume designs. The clever screenplay has the two male protagonists seesawing between being allies and adversaries, a handful of unnatural deaths, and a few attempted murders and frame-ups. Amini was born in Iran and he and his family immigrated to England when he was 11. He wrote the screenplay for Snow White and the Hunstman (2012) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay for Wings of the Dove (1997). (Click here to purchase tickets) Followed by an Opening Night Party at Public Works, a new events space, situated in San Francisco’s Mission district, featuring gourmet treats and beverages from some of San Francisco’s finest restaurants and purveyors. (Ticketed separately)
This year’s CENTERPIECE is Saturday, May 3 and introduces first time writer director Gia Coppola (27-year-old granddaughter of FFC and niece of Sofia) who has adapted Palo Alto, James Franco’s 2010 book of short stories, into a richly layered ensemble drama. I attended a press screening of Palo Alto and Coppola certainly has the family touch. Her film follows an extended group of high school teens, some genuinely disturbed and others just angst ridden, as they experiment with all sorts of vices and struggle with their families and one another. Emma Roberts, is sensitive April, the emotional lynchpin, who falls for introspective artist Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer who also appears), while navigating an affair with her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco). Meanwhile, Teddy’s friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), wreaks personality disorder level mayhem wherever he goes. When he zeroes in on sexually promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin), things get cruel and so uncomfortable and nasty, you’ll have a hard time watching. If you’re a parent, take in the signals and enjoy the great retro aura. If you’re one of the young and disaffected, Coppola’s sharp mirror is sympathetic to your inner demons. (Screens May 3, 7:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki with Gia Coppola in attendance. (Click here to purchase tickets.) After-screening party, 9 p.m., at Roe, San Francisco’s premier boutique nightclub and lounge destination. (Ticketed separately)
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina star in Messina’s “Alex in Venice,” SFIFF 57’s Closing Night Film, a very human drama about a workaholic lawyer who struggles to manage her high profile career, her family, and her identity after her stay-at-home husband decides to leave. Both Winstead and Messina will attend. Photo: courtesy Milissa Moseley and SFFS.
CLOSING NIGHT: (Thursday, May 8, 7 p.m., CastroTheatre) Alex of Venice (Chris Messina, USA 2014, 87 min) In the tranquil suburbs of Venice, CA, Alex, (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a workaholic environmental rights attorney, receives a rude awakening. Her stay-at-home husband George (Chris Messina), who runs the household and takes care of their son Dakota (Skylar Gaertner) and her pot-smoking actor father (Don Johnson), calls it quits. He wants to work on his waning art career and needs space. Thrown for a loop, Alex barely has time to register her own shock and pain because she’s immediately overburdened with the practical responsibilities of two full-time jobs. As it becomes clear how inept she is on the home front, and how important George is, she acts out. What eventually follows is Alex’s mini-voyage of self-discovery, resolve and resignation. This is the directorial debut of actor Chris Messina (“The Mindy Project” TV series). Chris Messina and Mary Elizabeth Winstead will attend. (Click here to purchase tickets.) Closing Night Party: Dance the night away with SFIFF’s movie-loving crowd while enjoying delicious hors d’oeuvres and cocktail at The Chapel, San Francisco’s new Mission addition. (Ticketed separately)
AWARDS AND TRIBUTES:
British artist Isaac Julien will receive SFIFF’s Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday, April 27, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of Graeme Robertson and the San Francisco Film Society
British artist Isaac Julien, who will receive SFIFF’s Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday, April 27, is acclaimed for his immersive film installations. “Ten Thousand Waves” (2010), which will be shown on Sunday, was filmed on location in the ravishing and remote Guangxi Province and at the famous Shanghai Film Studios and various sites around Shanghai. Through formal experimentation and a series of unique collaborations, Julien seeks to engage with Chinese culture through contemporary events, ancient myths and artistic practice. Isaac Julien Mazu, Silence (Ten Thousand Waves), 2010, Endura Ultra photograph, 180 x 240 cm, Courtesy of the artist, Metro Pictures, New York and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.
Persistence of Vision Award — (Sunday, April 27 at 3:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki) British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien (2001 Turner Prize short-list nominee for The Long Road to Mazatlán (2000) and creator of numerous immersive film and sound installations at world’s top museums) is the winner of this year’s Persistence of Vision Award. He will take the stage for a conversation with author and social critic B. Ruby Rich and for the screening of his acclaimed Ten Thousand Waves (2010), a film installation reflecting the movement of people across continents. This installation, projected onto nine double-sided screens, travelled the world (the UK, China, South Korea, Europe, and Scandinavia) and arrived at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in late 2013, riveting visitors with its three-story arrangement of screens and multiplying sounds, which filled MoMA’s atrium and reverberated through the galleries. I can’t wait to hear what Julien is planning next.
Jeremy Irons will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival on May 1 at the Regency Center. Irons, who won a best actor Oscar in 1990 for his performance as Claus von Bulow in “Reversal of Fortune” and a Tony in 1984 for Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” also will be honored with “An Evening With Jeremy Irons at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas” on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Photo: courtesy SFFS.
Peter J. Owens Award—Jeremy Irons (Academy Award, Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, Tony and SAG Award winner) is the recipient of this year’s Peter J. Owens Award for acting, which will be presented to Irons at the very exclusive Film Society Awards Night, Thursday, May 1 at the Regency Center. Irons will also be honored at An Evening with Jeremy Irons at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Wednesday April 30, 7:30 pm. A screening of a film featuring one of his iconic performances will follow an onstage interview and a selection of clips from his impressive career. (Stay tuned to ARThound for more information about this special evening.)
American indie director Richard Linklater will receive SFIFF’s Founder’s Directing Award on Sunday, May 2, 2014. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society
Ellar Coltrane, the focus of Richard Linklater‘s “Boyhood” (2014), which follows an American family over the course of more than a decade. Linklater shot the film, with cast Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and newcomers Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (Linklater’s daughter), over twelve years. It’s the real deal—each year, he brought the cast together for a scene or two sensitively documenting the actual growth of two siblings, the evolution of their family and how they navigate the painful beautiful and unfair act of just living.
Founder’s Directing Award— (Sunday May 2, 7 p.m., Castro Theatre) Self-taught American indie director and writer, Richard Linklater is the winner of this year’s Founder’s Directing Award and marks his third consecutive appearance at SFIFF. He joins an elite group— Satyajit Ray and Spike Lee—of directors whose first films were screened at SFIFF and who were subsequently awarded the Founder’s Directing Award. The evening will include a clip reel of career highlights and an onstage interview followed by a screening of Linklater’s entrancing new film Boyhood (2014), shot over 12 years, which received accolades at its premiere at Sundance. The 162 minute film is Linklater’s 18th feature film. It begins in 2002 and tells the quiet story of a boy named Mason as he grows up in Texas. The hook is that this film offers something few if any other films have—Mason is played throughout by the young actor Ellar Coltrane, who we literally and authentically watch grow up, year after year, on camera, from first grade to his departure for college.
Stephen Gaghan, the writer who crafted “Rules of Engagement,” “Traffic” and “Syriana” is the recipient of the Kanbar Screenwriting Award at SFIFF 57, April 24 – May 8, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society
Matt Damon (left) and George Clooney (center) in a scene from Stephen Gagan’s “Syriana” (2005) which screens at SFIFF 57 on May 3, when Stephen Gaghan receives the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting. “Syriana” tackles oil and money and the stakes of the world’s Haves and Have nots through a series of interlocking stories that involve revenge, bribery, and betrayal. The plot is so complex, that it surrounds and engulfs the viewer, making him just like one of the players in the game–compelled to fight without understanding the complete picture.
Kanbar Award —(Saturday, May 3, 12:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki). American screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan is this year’s recipient of the Kanbar Awardfor excellence in screenwriting. Gaghan wrote and directed Syriana (2005), for which he received a best original screenplay Oscar nomination, and is well known for his feature script for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) for which he won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Writers Guild of America Award and British Academy Award. I’ve always admired Gaghan and thought if he’d been so inclined, he would have made a great investigative reporter because he swims like a pro in the clandestine and murky waters of global politics. The festival will honor Gaghan with an onstage interview prior to a screening of Syriana.
San Francisco-based film critic David Thomson is the recipient of SFIFF’s Mel Novikoff Award. On May 4, he will appear in conversation with writer Geoff Dyer , followed by a screening of Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” (1941). Photo: courtesy the San Francisco Film Society
Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” (1941). Card shark Stanwyck is out to fleece naïve Fonda, the heir to a brewery fortune and a snake enthusiast coming home from an Amazon expedition. Her scheme is quickly abandoned when she falls in love with her prey but is exposed anyway and shunned by Fonda. Her plan to re-conquer his heart involves assuming a false identity and unabashed flirtation. In the famous scene where Fonda adjusts Stanwyck’s shirt downward to expose less skin, Thomson, in his book “Moments that Made the Movies,” linked this act of restraint to the inelastic film censors of the times, observing that Sturges was a brilliant master of the double entendre. Photo: courtesy the San Francisco Film Society
Mel Novikoff Award— (Sunday May 4 at 3 p.m., Sundance Kabuki.) San Francisco-based film critic and historian David Thomson, who has authored over 20 books on film, including the best-selling Moments That Made the Movies (2013), is the recipient of the Mel Novikoff Award. He will be in conversation with writer Geoff Dyer and chose Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve (1941), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, as the film he wanted screened on his big day. You can be sure that he will give a riveting analysis of select moments in this heralded film, some familiar and others not, along with anecdotes and juicy gossip about its filming and stars.
Stay tuned to ARThound. Tomorrow, I’ll cover the festival’s top films.
SFIFF 57 Details:
When: SFIFF 57 runs April 24-May 8, 2014.
Where: Four Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Salon and Event Venues (all San Francisco): Filmhouse, 1426 Fillmore Street, Suite 300 (near Ellis), Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery Street (near Lincoln), The Chapel, 777 Valencia Street (at 18th Street) , The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, 1290 Sutter Street (at Van Ness), Roe Restaurant, 651 Howard Street; Public Works, 161 Erie Street (at Mission)
Tickets: $15 for most films. Special events generally start at $20 or $35. Two screening passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1200 Film Society members and $1500 general public). How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival at Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema. Purchase day of show, cash only tickets at Pacific Film Archive and Castro Theatre.
Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush. Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).
Arrive Early! Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.
Rush tickets: Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time. If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time.
More info: For full schedule, info, tickets visit www.festival.sffs.org. or call (415) 561-5000.
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