SFIFF 57 is off and running; here are the must-see films
The 57th annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) opened Thursday 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. So, how to choose? On Tuesday (click here to read), I covered the festival’s big nights and special programming. To further narrow the field, here’s my list of must-see films. If a film sounds interesting, don’t dally in pre-purchasing tickets, as most of the films will go to rush. (Click here to see which films are at rush now; the list is updated constantly.)
ARThound’s Top Picks—
All About the Feathers (Neto Vittalobos, 2013, 85 min) First-time Costa Rican director Neto Vittalobos has knocked it out of the park with this delightfully absurdist comedy about a security guard Chalo (Allan Cascante) in a small Costa Rican town who becomes almost co-dependent with “Rocky,” his fighting cock who happens to have gorgeous feathers. Chalo sees dollar signs as he dreams of Rocky pecking out the eyes of other roosters in a cockfighting event, the town’s main form of entertainment. But, just as you soon as you can figure out how to say “You can’t count your chickens before they hatch,” in Spanish, complications ensue and Chalo is out on the street trying to survive with a large noisy rooster. (Screens: Fri, April 25, 6:30 p.m., BAM/PFA, Sun, April 27, 8:45 p.m. and Tues, April 29, 6:15 p.m., both at Sundance Kabuki)
The Last Season (Sara Dosa, USA, 78 min) World Premiere The lives of some 200 seasonal Asian workers—allies and enemies from Southeast Asian wars— unfold as they set up a temporary camp each fall in the tiny town of Chemult, Oregon, to forage for a rare mushroom that is prized in Japan for its distinctive spicy aroma. From this unexpected forest world and its temporary tent city, filmmaker Sara Dosa explores the legacy of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge, poetically tells the story of a migrant community at the whims of the global economy. (Screens: Fri, April 25, 6:45 p.m., Sundance Kabuki, Sun, April 27, 12:30 p.m., BAM/PFA, Sun, May 5, 3:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki)
Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Dast-Neveshtehaa Nemisoosand) (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran, 2013, 127 min) Based on a true story, this gripping thriller tells the story of a failed effort by the Iranian government to murder almost two dozen journalists in 1995. The story is told through the journey of two hired killers who, years later, are intimidating and interrogating witnesses of the failed mass murder on behalf of the repressive regime. Shot on location in Iran, the film blatantly defies Rasoulof’s 20-year ban from filmmaking and serves as a chilling indictment of contemporary Iran. This is Rasoulof’s third film to screen at SFIFF ( The White Meadows (2010) SFIFF 53; Goodbye (2011) SFIFF 55) but he has yet to make an appearance. One the great masters of Iranian film, Rasoulof is a great storyteller and his films are loaded with images that are both picturesque and eerily disturbing. (Screens: Fri, April 25, 8:40 p.m., BAM/PFA, Sun, April 27, 4 p.m. and Tues, April 29, 9 p.m. both at Sundance Kabuki)
The Great Museum (Das große museum) US Premiere (Johannes Holzhausen, 2014, 95 min) —An elegant tribute to the curators, conservators, administrators and marketers who keep Vienna’s venerable Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM), in delicate balance so that the world’s cultural heritage is preserved and modern audiences find the exhibits relevant and engaging. Home to the vast collection put together by the Hapsburg dynasty, the stately KHM is one the world’s most important museums. Last year, SFIFF 56 offered Jem Cohen’s delicate Museum Hours (2012), which captured a random encounter between a middle-aged KHM guard and a museum visitor, giving us a glimpse of the institution’s glorious Dutch and Flemish paintings and inserting KHM into the film as enigmatic character.
Documentary filmmaker Holzhausen, who studied art history for six years before entering film school, offers more of a window into the museum’s day-to-day routine. He focuses on its employees’ micro-dramas—from the managing director to the cleaning services team. For example, a conservator who discovers that a Rubens painting has been painted over several times; an art historian who experiences the thrill and frustration of an auction, and the chief financial officer who thinks the “3” on the new promotional material looks “aggressive”. The film also tackles some profound issues: Is it possible to reconcile the conservation with timely presentation? What is art’s role in the representation of national identity in politics and tourism? The film’s precise camera work (Joerg Burger, Attila Boa) and poignant editing (Dieter Pichler) serve to create an atmosphere of patient observation and reflection. Holzhausen’s working rule—“only show the pieces of art in the context of work being done and never on their own.” (extracted from interview in press kit) (Screens: Sat, April 26, 6:30 p.m., New People)
Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze, Georgia/Estonia, 2013, 84 min) An old man caught in the brutal 1992 conflict over Georgia’s Abkhazia region finds himself nursing two wounded soldiers from opposing sides in his small house and struggling to navigate any form of truce between these blood rivals. Gorgeously filmed in Georgia’s mountainous coastal region, this slow-paced and perceptive antiwar tale observes the growing conflict from a tangerine orchard on a remote mountain. Recent events in the Ukraine make Tangerines especially relevant. (Screens: Sat, April 26, 2014, 9 p.m. and Sun, April 27, 6:15 p.m., both at Sundance Kabuki, and Tues, May 6, 8:30 p.m., BAM/PFA)
Soul Food Stories (Istoria za hranata i dushata) (Tonislav Hristov, Bulgaria/Finland, 2013, 69 min) U.S. Premiere “Everything bad comes from TV. It taught our women to argue with us.” That’s the opening line of Tonislav Hristov’s Bulgarian documentary Soul Food Stories, which serves as warm clever exploration of gender, tradition and community in the tiny Southwestern Bulgarian village of Satovcha. The elderly inhabitants are Muslim, Christian, Roma and atheist Communists and there’s also a Finnish family, the first tourists to stay longer than 10 days in Satovchka. Theyare all united by a love of food, a respect for the land and by the friendly clubs they have set up. The films zeros in seven members of one of these clubs—all men—who meet regularly and say they can solve all the world’s problems over a good meal. They cherish their space and are trying to decide whether or not to allow the women of Satovcha more acess to the clubhouse. Beautifully shot, the film unfolds like a simple but sumptuous 10-course meal, with observations on food preparation and religious diversity generously laced into the recipes. (Screens: Wed, April 30, 2014, 6 p.m., Sundance Kabuki, Sat, May 3, 3:30 p.m., New People Cinema, Tuesday, May 6, Sundance Kabuki
Of Horses and Men (Hross í oss) (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2013, 81 min) Laced with explicit equine sex, gaited trotting ponies and chock full of gorgeously shot vistas of the Icelandic landscape, actor Benedikt Erlingsson’s directorial debut is a delightfully comedic exploration of the base animal instincts in all of us. Set in a rural highlands community where horses (and drinking) are a crucial part of the social interaction, the director shows us the world of his human characters through their horses’ expressive eyes. The old proverb “pride cometh before a great fall” seems particularly well-suited to the stubborn and irrational Nordic characters in these interlacing vignettes. Erlingsson was brought up in downtown Reykjavík, but as a teen, he worked several summers on a horse farm in the highlands of northern Iceland. Iceland’s Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. (Screens: Fri, May 2, 4:30 p.m. and Sat, May 3, 8:45 p.m. and Sun, May 5, 6 p.m.—all at Sundance Kabuki)
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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