Geneva Anderson digs into art

With films from Argentina to Kyrgyzstan to Zambia, the 61st San Francisco International Film Festival is up and running

Charlize Theron will be honored with a special tribute at the Castro Theater, Sunday, April 8, 7:30 pm, followed by a screening of her new film, Jason Reitman’s “Tully.”  Her performance as an exhausted mom who has just given birth to her third child and, day by day, feels the life drained out of her, has been called “fearless, emotionally raw, and physically intense.” Other prominent honorees to be presented with public tributes and awards at the 2018 SFFILM Festival include Wayne Wang, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Annette Insdorf, and Nathaniel Dorsky. Image: courtesy SFFILM

The 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM Festival), April 4–17, 2018, has something for everyone.  The festival, the longest running in North America, features the latest and most exciting in world cinema plus great docs, archival gems, live musical performances, big nights, special tributes and numerous awards.

This year, offerings include 186 films from 48 countries with 8 world premieres, 5 North American premieres, 6 U.S. premieres, and films from 67 women directors and co-directors.  Over 300 filmmakers and industry guests will be in attendance.

There’s even a film that will have the dogs lining up:  Don Hardy’s “Pick of the Litter,”  a delightful doc about San Rafael’s wonderful Guide Dogs for the Blind program that tracks 4 pups on their journey to become indispensable human helpers.  The screening (Saturday, April 7, Victoria Theatre)  is one of the festival’s free community screenings and it sold out almost immediately.  Dogs will have their own section in the theater and are asked to be on their best behavior.

It’s a fact: a film has an exponentially larger impact if you discuss it and meet its makers.   The best way to fest is to select films with filmmakers in attendance, so that you can take in the enlightening post-screening Q&A’s or to attend one of the many artists talks, live presentations or collaborative film and conversation events which feature filmmakers, actors or industry luminaries in more lengthy conversation or performance.

Through its Cinema by the Bay festival programming, SFFILM champions new work made in and about the Bay Area and honors Bay Area visionaries who helped establish the Bay Area as such a vital area for film production and exhibition.  This year, Cinema by the Bay offers 36 films and special programs celebrating the Bay Area.  Among these, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award  (Friday April 6, 6pm, SFMOMA), honoring experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky is one of those events that will leave a lasting impression.  It’s a shame that Dorsky is largely unknown outside the small world of avant-garde cinema because his short films, with their bursts of light and shifting shadows, have a deep impact and encourage contemplation of both life and art.  The program will include a screening of four of Dorsky’s 16mm short films and an in depth conversation with Dorsky about his unique compositional technique.

Coinciding with its mission to promote exceptional new talent, SFFILM is also continuing its Launch Program, which it began last year to assist a select group of films starting their journey into the distribution world.  In Launch’s second year, five documentary features within the festival official lineup have been selected to have their world premieres—The Human Element (US), The Rescue List (US/Ghana), Tre Maison Dasan (US), Ulam: Main Dish (US) and Wrestle (US).  “We are delighted to shine the spotlight on our second year of Launch,” said SFFILM Executive Director Noah Cowan. “This is a tightly focused program of world premiere presentations that we feel represent the values of our city and region and that we want to see enter the global film distribution system to help promote those values…”

ARThound’s top picks:

These are all gems of world cinema that are unlikely to have a theatrical release in the Bay Area. Indulge!

A Man of Integrity, Mohammad Rasoulof, (Iran, 2017, 118 min)

Reza Akhalghirad as Reza in a scene from Mohammad Rasoulof’s “A Man of Integrity,” image: courtesy Cannes Film Festival

Winner Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s “A Man of Integrity,” examines economic corruption and religious intolerance in Iran through the story of Reza, a man who relocates his family from Tehran to a small town where he dreams of building goldfish farm and where his wife guides students as the principal of a girls’ school.  Soon after the move, Reza is approached by local goons and requested to pay bribes.  The story address how he and his wife use their minds and fight back against these corrupt forces to regain their lives.  In October, Rasoulof was charged with national security infringements and propaganda against the Iranian state and, once again, faces imprisonment.  Despite great restrictions, he has managed, for the past decade, to remain central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse and with his gripping, allegorical films.  Rasoulof’s previous films at SFFFILM include Iron Island (SFIFF 2006) and The White Meadows (SFIFF 2010), Goodbye SFIFF 2012.  YBCA (SF) April 6, 1:30 p.m.  Also, SFMOMA, April 7, 9:30 p.m. and BAMPFA, April 8, 3:15 p.m.


Scary Mother, Ana Urushadze, (Estonia, Georgia, 2017, 107 min)

Nata Murvanidze is Manana in Ana Urushadze’s “Scary Mother.” Image courtesy: SFFILM

This intense debut feature, Georgia’s 2018 Best Foreign Language Oscar entry, tracks Manana, a Georgian mother of three, who negotiates middle age by writing a novel that leaves no family member unscathed.  As the ramifications of her artistic endeavor unravel in compellingly bizarre fashion, Manana’s single-minded pursuit of her new calling leads the film into dark territory.  She begins to dream that she is a Manananggal, a mythical Filipino creature that’s torn into two pieces—one human and one a monstrous bird-creature that emits a clicking noise when on the hunt.  Winner of Best First Feature Prize, Sarajevo.  Golden Gate Award Competition.  Children’s Creativity Museum (SF), April 6, 8:45 p.m.  Also Roxie (SF), April 13, 4 p.m. and Children’s Creativity Museum (SF), April 14, 5:30 p.m.


The Other Side of Everything, Mila Turajlić, (Serbia, France, Qatar, 2017, 102 min)

A scene from Mila Turajlić’s “The Other Side of Everything.” Image: courtesy SFFILM


In this eye-opening doc, Belgrade-born Mila Turajlić examines Serbia’s political history in the Tito and Milošević eras through the eyes of her mother, the pro-democracy activist, Srbijanka Turajlić.  Under Tito, the family’s spacious Central Belgrade apartment was divided and redistributed by the state government. Srbijanka’s activism meant that they were spied on from the very rooms they used to own.  Now, she is free to talk about “the other side” and existence under Communism.  From the director of Cinema Kommunisto (Festival 2011) this film also employs archival footage and interviews brilliantly. Mila Turajlić and Srbijanka Turajlić in attendance for April 10-11 screenings.  Golden Gate Award Competition  Roxie (SF), April 10, 6:30 p.m. Also BAMPFA April 11, 8:40 p.m. and Children’s Creativity Museum (SF), April 12, 12:45 p.m.


Blonde Redhead performs to Yasijuro Ozu’s silent masterpiece I was Born, But…(Japan, 1932, 90 min)

A scene from Yasijuro Ozu’s “I Was Born, But…” image: courtesy SFFILM

Blonde Redhead. Image: courtesy of SFFILM.

Taking a clue from the SF Silent Film Festival’s tremendously popular on stage live accompaniments to silent goldies, SFFILM has invited the musicians of the alternative rock band Blonde Redhead (Kazu Makino, Amedeo Pace and Simone Pace) to accompany Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s most popular film, the 1932 black and white drama I was Born, But…The story summarizes life in post-war Japan and follows the working class Yoshi as he moves his family to the Tokyo suburbs to be closer to his new job.  As his two rambunctious young boys, Keiji and Ryoichi, prepare for school, they encounter all sorts of bullies and must negotiate the local pecking order.  When they discover their good-natured dad is a nobody who sucks up to his new boss, they become indignant with the realities of class stratification.  The film is of full of wonderful physical gags and comedic moments.  Castro (SF), April 11, 8 p.m.


Suleiman Mountain, Elizaveta Stishova (Kyrgyzstan, Russia,  2017, 103 min)

A scene from Elizaveta Stishova’s “Suleiman Mountain.” Image: courtesy SFFILM

Russian actress-turned-filmmaker Stishova weaves mythological and even comedic elements into her debut feature.  Uluk, a young Kyrgyz orphan boy, is reunited with his father and his two wives who are traveling skam artists and who survive by swindling unsuspecting villagers in various Kyrgyz townships.  Working with a cast of nonprofessional Kyrgyzstani actors, Stishova guides audiences into a world of ancient folk traditions and shamanistic rituals that are enacted at fabled Takht-i-Suleiman Mountain, the mid-point of the Silk Road, where the characters aim to find their destinies.  Golden Gate Award Competition  BAMPFA, April 12, 6 p.m.  Also YBCA (SF), April 13, 5:30 p.m. and Roxie (SF), April 14, 2 p.m.


Jupiter’s Moon, Kornél Mundruczó, (Hungary, Germany, 2017, 128 min)

A scene from Kornél Mundruczó’s “Jupiter’s Moon.”  Image: courtesy SFFILM

From the director of the 2014 Cannes Un Certain Regard winner, White God, comes another visually astounding film, a parable of a Syrian refugee named Aryan, who, in death, discovers he can fly, literally.  An opportunistic doctor smuggles Aryan to Budapest and touts him as an angel. Soon, he is identified as a person to fear and possibly destroy.   Castro (SF), April 12, 9:30 p.m. and Roxie (SF), April 17, 3:30 p.m.


Details:  The 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival is April 4–17, 2018.  Most films are $16 and big nights, awards, tributes, and special events are priced slightly higher.   Advanced purchase is highly recommended as most of the screenings and events sell out well in advance.  For full program information and online ticket purchase, visit:

April 5, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival just opened—ARThound looks at opening night and gives top picks

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival.  He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.

Geoffrey Rush takes center stage at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival. He stars in “The Book Thief” which opened the festival on Thursday evening. He will be presented with the MVFF Award at Saturday night’s special “Geoffrey Rush Tribute.” He also stars in Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Best Offer” which screens twice at the festival.

The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF36) is off and running in grand style.  Tonight, there were two opening night screenings to choose from and an opening party.  ARThound is just back from the enthralling world premiere of director Brian Percival’s The Book Thief with Academy Award®-winner Geoffrey Rush as an accordion-playing foster father and Sophie Nélisse as Lisel Meminger, the young heroine.  Over seven years from inception through filming, the film is an adoption story of sorts set in Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death, it relates a spirited young girl’s relationship with her new German foster parents and neighbors just as WWII breaks out in Germany and is a remarkable roller-coaster story of inspiration, perseverance, loss, and the ability of books to liberate the soul. Following the screening at the jam-packed at the Century Cinema Corte Madera,  Brian Percival, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse and the film’s production team appeared on stage for a discussion with festival organizer Mark Fishkin, which included an audience Q & A.  These spontaneous exchanges are a big part of the thrill of experiencing a world premiere at MVFF.

Enchanting Sophie Nélisse, a born story-teller, delighted us all with her rendition of her nonchalant audition for the part of Lisel which all began with an emailed video and ended up with a live read in Berlin.  Nélisse confided that she hadn’t read Markus Zusak’s book or even put much thought into prepping for the audition. She was an Olympic caliber gymnast who had her sites set on making the national team instead.  Once she got talking, it was easy to see why she was selected. Her bright warm energy and enthusiasm for life, much like that of Lisel,  gave us all a boost.

Geoffrey Rush, who will be presented with the MVFF Award on Saturday evening, part of the Geoffrey Rush Tribute (tickets are still available), exhibited pride and a myriad of smiles while his young co-star chatted with the audience. Rush also stars as antiquarian art auctioneer in Giuseppe Tornatore’s (Cinema Paradiso, Baarìa) first English-language feature, The Best Offer which screens twice at the festival.  Critics have praised Rush’s sensitive performance. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Rush brings a striking depth of character to this classic Old World mystery…”  (Both screenings are AT RUSH) I can’t wait to attend Saturday’s tribute and to experience more of his razor-sharp humor and learn more about this fascinating actor’s life and career.

The filmmakers admitted that they are actually still putting finishing touches on the The Book Thief and that MVFF was indeed the film’s very first reveal.  The release date will be November 15.  Bay Area audiences can expect to see the film out for the holidays.

The 10 day festival runs through Sunday, October 13, and eases into its first weekend with several Friday evening screenings clustered around 6 PM and 9 PM at venues in San Rafael and Mill Valley.  The programming revs up to full days on the weekend and continues full force until closing.

Many of the films and special tributes are already sold out.  For a list of films currently at rush, click here.  Below are my recommendations among the films which still have ample ticket availability as of opening night.  Several of these films are newly announced entries for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.  If these films sound interesting, don’t dally, as they will sell out.

A Long and Happy Life (Dolgaya schastlivaya zhizn) (Russia, 2013) US Premiere

Screens: Sat, Oct 5 2:30 PM at Rafael 3 (AT RUSH) and Mon, Oct 7, 4 PM at Sequoia 1

Russian director Boris Hlebnikov’s latest film depicts the futile struggle of an idealistic young farmer, Sasha (Alexander Yatsenko), in the Russian provinces against corrupt local authorities.  Hlebnikov’s previous film, Till Night Do Us Part ( Poka noch ne razluchit, 2012), took a satirical look at the Moscow elite and now he explores graft in a small village.  The setting is the picturesque Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk region, the northern most territory of Northwest Russia, above the Polar Circle.  The film was shot on a hand-held digital camera in natural light by former Berlinale cinematography prize-winner and all-around camera-tzar Pavel Kostomarov (How I Spent This Summer (2010)).  Sasha (Yatsenko) has come from the city to run a collective farm with dreams of finally thriving.  He works hard and is well-respected by the locals who even turn a blind eye to his romance with Anna (Anna Kotova) who works for the town council.  Things get tense when he is pressured by local council bureaucrats (the provincial arm of the new Russian state) to sign over his land to them so that they can profit from redevelopment. It’s an epic story of a man who stands up for what is right and rightfully his but, as in real life, there’s the dream of a “long and happy life” and what life dishes out. 80 min. In Russian with English subtitles.

The Past (Le Passe) (France, Italy, 2012)

Screens: Sat, Oct 5, 8 PM at Sequoia 2 (AT RUSH) and Thurs, Oct 10, 3 PM at Rafael 1

This year’s Cannes Film Festival honored Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as Best Actress for her galvanizing performance as Marie, a French woman who has summoned her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) from Tehran to Paris to finalize their divorce. Marie takes Ahmad to her slightly disheveled house on the outskirts of Paris, where she lives with her two daughters from a previous marriage, her fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) and his young son. Asghar Farhadi, Academy Award–winning director of A Separation, crafts another superb drama of domestic secrets and unexpected revelations. Farhadi invests this intricately layered tale with an essentially humanistic point of view, in which every character—young or old—has his or her own reasons. 130 min. In French with English subtitles.

The Human Experiment (U.S., 2013) World Premiere

Screens: Sun, Oct 6 8:30 PM Rafael 1 (AT RUSH) and Thurs Oct 10 3:30 PM at Sequoia 1

What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time wasn’t an oil spill or the threat of a nuclear meltdown but instead was constant, low-level chemical exposures affecting every single being on the planet?  In certain ways, our lives are longer, healthier, and more prosperous than those of our great-grandparents but the inexorable march of progress is exhibiting major glitches—cancer, infertility, asthma, autism and a plethora of noxious diseases are all on the rise.   The Human Experiment is the latest documentary from acclaimed Bay Area filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy (Witch Hunt).  They again team up with impassioned activist Sean Penn, this time examining the high stakes battle to protect our health from literally thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday consumer products.  Narrator Sean Penn thoughtfully guides this fascinating look into the duplicitous tactics of the chemical industry and its stranglehold on regulation efforts.  The film’s brilliant four-dog argument about how corporate power beats down and co-opts is worth the price of admission alone.  In short, we’re on our own—Even China has better regulation than we do here in America.  Yes! China is sending its dubious ingredient products here to our markets and we are snapping them up.  Unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists are carefully managing scientific evidence about the health risks of chemicals.  Sham-science conducted by product and industry defense specialists has been elevated to the status of sound science and has created confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry.  As our confidence in science and U.S. government’s ability to address public health and environmental concerns is shaken, chemicals continue their insidious spread.

Gloria (Chile, Spain 2013)

Screens: Tues Oct 8 8 PM at Sequoia 1 and Thurs Oct 10 at 2 PM at Sequoia 2

(Chile, Spain 2013) When acclaimed Chilean stage actress Paulina García tried her hand film, starring in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, she walked off with Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.  The film was just chosen to represent Chile in the in the Foreign Language race for the 86th Academy Awards. García has been called the Meryl Streep of Chile and, like our amazing Meryl, brings out an inner candescence in her characters that has everything to do exposing the nakedness of their souls. Gloria finds García playing a 58-year-old divorcee who stumbles into a dubious romance with a man her own age (Sergio Hernandez) who she meets at a singles club.  The film has been praised for its courageous and juicy middle age sex scenes.  At its heart, it speaks to a woman with a story a lot of us can identify with—a woman who’s raised her children and is financially comfortable, and who is a bit fragile but who is more or less making the best of her situation…until a man who might just be the next big love comes along and shoots it all to hell.  As the new couple try to forge a lasting bond, their pasts constantly intrude.  This uplifting film was inspired by the life of director Sebastián Lelio’s own mother and her generation in Chile.

Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) (Japan, 2013)

Screens: Wed, Oct 9 2:30 PM at Rafael 1 and Sat, Oct 12 8 PM at Lark Theatre (AT RUSH)

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda knows how to weave a sensitive drama and his wonderful Like Father, Like Son picked up the esteemed Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for good reason.  The mixed up babies saga has been visited often but rarely executed in way that rips at your heart the way this tender and slow-paced telling does.  When the bourgeois Nonomiyas (workaholic architect Ryota and passive obedient mom Midori) receive news that their biological son may have been switched at birth with another couple’s boy and that Keita, the six-year-old boy they have been raising, may not be their biological child; a slow meltdown ensues that threatens their stability as individuals, as parents and as a family unit.  Keita is actually the biological child of working class suburban appliance storeowners Yudai and Yukari Saiki, who have unwittingly raised the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei, as their own.  As the two families arrange gatherings for their children to mingle, and begin a trial system of exchanging the boys on weekends, we see just how complex the nature vs. nurture arguments are when actually road-tested.  Should nature trump nurture? Can the tentacles of attachment really recede when you’ve raised a child from infancy? What does it mean to pass something on to your children? And what are the lessons to be learned from forced socialization with people you normally wouldn’t have anything to do with?  120 min. In Japanese with English subtitles.

The Missing Picture (L’image manquante) (Cambodia, France 2013)

Screens: Sat, Oct 12 4:45 PM at Lark Theatre and Sun Oct 13 5:30 PM at Rafael 3

Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture uses simple sculpted clay figures to retell the atrocities he and others endured under the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.  The documentary won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was recently selected as the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. Panh was 13 on April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and rounded up civilians and deported them to forced labor camps. There, they worked as slaves for the Pol Pot’s revolution which centralized the peasant farming society of Cambodia virtually overnight. One after another, Panh’s father, mother, sisters and nephews died of starvation or exhaustion, as they were held in a remote labor camp in rural Cambodia. In just three short years, over 25% of the country’s population was eliminated.

“Missing Picture” centers on Panh’s search for a “missing picture” via his recreated vision of the atrocities Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge committed.  These clay figures intercut with archival footage and Panh’s spoken word fill in the gaps in history and allows us to witness the human experience below the surface of this tragedy with an incredible compassion. 92 min In French with English subtitles.

Details:  The festival’s homepage is hereAdvance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. To purchase tickets online for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full list and scheduling information are online here.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.  Tickets can also be purchased in person at select Marin ticket outlets.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment