ART hound

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: sffilm.org.

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

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival is off and running─here are the best films for armchair travel

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero,” that paints an extraordinary and rare portrait of one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast and otherworldly Slara de Uyuni plateau. Screening three times at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, with filmmaker Mike Plunkett in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s documentary “Salero,” which paints an extraordinary portrait of one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast and otherworldly Salar de Uyuni plateau, one of the most secluded places on the planet. This remote region faces the future head-on when Bolivia’s leaders embark on a plan to extract lithium from beneath the salt crust and to build an infrastructure connecting the Salar to the outside world.  Screening three times at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, with filmmaker Mike Plunkett in attendance. Image: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Armchair Traveler?   The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 59) (April 23- May 5, 2016) is known for its wonderfully-curated and inspiring world cinema and for championing the work of young, talented directors.  The festival’s been on since last Thursday but most films screen three times over 15 days, so there’s ample opportunity to find a fit for your schedule.  With 173 films and live events from 46 countries, the choice can be overwhelming.  In a way that ordinary tourism rarely allows, here are seven films, with contemporary stories and characters, that will transport you right into the heart of a remote culture─Bolivia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, the Faro Islands, rural India, Iran, North Korea.  Each film below delivers exquisitely filmed authentic sights and is joyful, sad or complex on its own special terms.

One of the joys of attending is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen with digital projection—and participating in stimulating Q&A’s with their directors and actors.  This year, a director or team member from four of these films will be present for post-screening Q&A’s which always shed light on the grueling work and special observational radar it takes to conceive of and pull off a feature-length film.

For full schedule, info, and tickets visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59 .

To read ARThound’s previous SFIFF59 coverage, click here.

Click on the titles of the films below to be directed to the festival webpage for that film and to purchase tickets.

 

Sonita

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami's "Sonita, playing at SFIFF59

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s “Sonita,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

 

(Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, (Germany/Switzerland/Iran, 2015, 91 min)  Robksareh Ghaem Maghami’s documentary (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for world cinema documentary at Sundance) takes us to a homeless shelter in Tehran as it tracks Sonita, a teen-aged Afghan refugee who fled the violence in her homeland to Iran. Sonita loves hip-hop, idolizes Rihanna and has a real knack for rap─ her sassy lyrics pack a defiant punch. In Iran, she is geographically removed from the tradition of child brides, but her Afghan family’s patriarchal practices are still in place. Her older brother wants to sell her so that he can buy his own bride and Sonita’s mother is in full agreement.  Sonita won’t go down without a fight and believes that her dream of becoming a rapper can set her free, despite the fact that in Iran it is illegal for women to perform in public without a permit or to record in a studio. She raps straight to the camera about her fears of being a child bride and the insanity of marrying her off.  What’s different about this doc is that the filmmaker, Maghami, gets directly involved in Sonita’s plight and it’s all captured on film. In the vein of Mustang, the film eloquently captures a young woman standing up for the innate human right to navigate the course of one’s own life. An important film that features immersive shots of  Tehran and Kabul. (Farsi w/subtitles) Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami in attendance/Q&A. Wed, April 27, 6:15 p.m., Alamo; Fri, April 29, 8:45 p.m., BAMPFA

 

Home Care

Alena Mihulová in a scene from Slávek Horák's "Home Care," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

Alena Mihulová in a scene from Slávek Horák’s “Home Care,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Slávek Horák, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2015, 92 min) Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize  Over-dedicated to the point of being nearly co-dependent, home-care nurse, Vlasta (Alena Mihulová) schleps around the bucolic south Moravian countryside on bus and foot tending to patients too sick or elderly to travel to a clinic. Back at home, she cooks and cleans for her growly, self-absorbed husband whose concern for her well-being extends mainly to pouring her shots of brandy and then taking pot shots at her drinking and suggesting ways to finagle gas money from her state-run employer. When she herself is diagnosed with a serious illness, she rejects morphine and finds support from a group of women healers who embrace alternative therapies and self-love which shakes up her relationship at home. Showcasing the amazing Alena Mihulová, who won the Crystal Globe for best actress at Karlovy Vary, this film of self-awakening also showcases life in a small Czech town, taking a dip into spoon-bending, dance, and saving rare frogs in the countryside. The Czech Republic’s Foreign Language Film Oscar submission. (Czech w/subtitles)  Director Slávek Horák in attendance/Q&A. Wed, April 27, 6:45 p.m., Alamo; Thurs, April 28, 8:50 p.m., BAM/PFA; Mon, May 2, 3 p.m., Roxie

 

Salero

A scene from Mike Plunkett's "Salero," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Mike Plunkett’s “Salero,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Mike Plunkett, USA/Bolivia, 2015, 76 min) West Coast Premiere  Moises Chambri Yucra, a Quechean Indian in his thirties, is one of Bolivia’s last saleros─men who harvest salt from the vast Salar de Uyuni plateau.  Underneath this expanse lies the gargantuan lithium deposits that some speculate will turn Bolivia into a kind of Saudi Arabia based on the sale of this scarce mineral that is vital for batteries and other industrial uses. Moises lives with his wife and two young sons in the tiny Bolivian village of Colchani. His livelihood is dependent on demand for the home-grown table salt he peddles to vendors in Uyuni, a small city that has become the hub of the burgeoning lithium mining industry. Daily, he rises at dawn and labors to gather salt from the flats and load it onto his truck and drive it to be ground. Demand for table salt has been falling steadily and he can barely support his family. The shots of the Bolivian salt flats are other worldly.  Director Mike Plunkett and producer Anna Rose Holmer will both be in attendance/Q&A.   Sat, April 30, 3:15 p.m., Alamo; Sun, May 1, 1 p.m., BAMPFA; Tues, May 3, 3:30 p.m., Roxie 159

 

Thithi    

A scene from Raam Reddy's "Thithi," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Raam Reddy’s “Thithi,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Raam Reddy, India/USA, 2016, 123 min)  Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize    Twenty-five year old Director Raam Reddy’s debut feature, Thithi, set in rural India, is a realistic comedy exploring how three generations of sons in a family, each with different perspectives on life, react to the death of the family patriarch, the grandfather, 101-year-old Century Gowda. As village elders plan his funeral with the final celebration on the 11th day (the “thithi”), the motivations of the two younger generations (his grown grandson and his young adult great grandson) emerge. The greedy grandson wants a piece of land for himself that should pass directly to his father from Century Gowda. The hapless great grandson is driven so crazy by frustration and desire for a girl that he slacks off on responsibilities just when he is most needed. Century Gowda’s son, elderly Gadappa, on the other hand, roams the fields and is so free of the material world and its trappings that he joins the group of nomadic shepherds. Driving the plot forward is the growing chain of graft and ill-conceived machinations involving snatching the plot of land and pulling off the grand thithi feast for the entire community. Set in a small village in Karnataka India’s rural Mandya district, a place where time seems to have stood still, this is no ordinary film set─Reddy used non-professional actors; the whole community essentially became the cast and the entire village the set. The viewer is thrust into the thrall of 2,000 year old customs in this slow moving portrait of the human condition. (Kannada language w/ subtitles)  Sat, April 30, 2016, Roxie, 3:30 p.m.; Sun, May 1, 3:15 p.m., BAMPFA; Wed, May 4, 2016, Alamo, 9 p.m.

 

Under the Sun

A scene from Vitaly Mansky's "Under the Sun," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Vitaly Mansky’s “Under the Sun,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Vitaly Mansky, Russia/Latvia/Germany/Czech Republic/North Korea, 2015, 106 min)Never underestimate a motivated Russian. The standard M.O. for docs providing windows into repressive regimes is that the filmmaker somehow gets deep inside, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous reporting, shows us how ordinary people live their lives and respond to authoritarian rule.   Russian documentary maker Vitaly Mansky (Bliss, SFIFF 1997) pulls off a real coup in Under the Sun, his documentary about life inside North Korea because it was shot with the full permission and supervision of Pyongyang authorities—a collaboration they would come to regret. Mansky was provided with preapproved locations in Pyongyang and suitable subjects: young Lee Zin-mi, a student at the city’s best school, and her parents, workers at two exemplary factories (or so officials claimed). This state managed propaganda effort morphs into a deep-cover documentary about life inside Pyongyang. When the joint project breaks down midway through, Mansky captures all the off-script machinations of the handlers on film and turns out a highly revealing portrait of life inside Kim Jong-Un’s totalitarian world. (Korean w/subtitles)   Sat, April 30, 6 p.m., Alamo; Wed, Mat 4, 3:15 p.m., Alamo; Thurs, May 5, 6:30 p.m., BAMPFA

 

Thirst

A scene from Svetla Tsotsorkova's "Thirst," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Svetla Tsotsorkova’s “Thirst,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Svetla Tsotsorkova, Bulgaria, 2015, 90 min) Up for Golden Gate Awards New Directors Prize  When drought threatens her ability to wash, a laundress, who lives on a parched hilltop in southwest Bulgaria with her teenage son and husband, invites a dowser onto their property to search for hidden springs. The father drills the wells, guided by his spirited daughter’s eerie ability to locate water beneath the ground. Told with minimal dialogue, this story is masterfully attentive in capturing the growing attraction between two very different teens that hesitantly get together. Director Tsotsorkova immediately establishes a bewitching sense of place that immerses the viewer in the hothouse of high Bulgarian summer—a dusty road, row upon row of bed sheets pinned on a line and caught in a hot breeze, the wonderfully functional huge mangle that wrings and flattens those sheets, a sudden torrential rainstorm, and a piercing drill. (Bulgarian w/subtitles)  Sun, May 1, 3:45 p.m. and Thurs, May, 5, 3 p.m.─both at Roxie.

 

The Island and the Whales

A scene from Mike Day's "The Islands and the Whales," playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

A scene from Mike Day’s “The Islands and the Whales,” playing at SFIFF59. Image: courtesy SFFS

(Mike Day, Scotland/Denmark, 2015, 81 min) Both seabirds and whales are still hunted for food and eaten in the Faro Islands, an island country situated roughly halfway between Norway and Iceland that consists of an archipelago of eighteen small volcanic islands spanning some 541 square miles. Connected by a network of tunnels, bridges and ferry routes, the small and remote archipelago is very rugged, windy, wet, cloudy, and cool year round.  Director Mike May spent four years documenting the controversial fishing culture of the Faro Islands and its unique way of life, telling the story of the hunters’ daily lives and the opposition they face from outside animal rights groups.  And just like the seas that surround them, this community is also suffering from increasing levels of mercury poisoning.  A local toxicologist, wielding 30 years’ worth of data on the neurological effects—particularly on children—of ingesting a traditional diet of pilot whale and seabirds, struggles to deliver the bad news to his neighbors, among them a young father of three who’s reluctant to abandon the customs he’s inherited and his livelihood.  Day presents an unprecedented window into a community reliant on tradition and folk practices colliding with urgent contemporary concerns.  Amidst a landscape of monumental beauty, scenes of local men herding pilot whales into the shallows for the kill or rappelling down a cliff to raid a gannet nesting area are graphic and arresting. (In Faroese, Danish and English)  Director Mike Day in attendance/Q&A.  Wed, May 4, 8:45 p.m., Victoria; Thurs, May 5, 12:15 p.m., Alamo

 

Details:

When:  SFIFF 59 runs 14 days─ Thursday, April 21 – Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where:  Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission Street (Between 21st and 22nd Streets, San Francisco (main venue)

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street., San Francisco (mostly big events, weekends)

Gray Area, 2665 Mission Street., San Francisco

Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street., San Francisco

Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco

BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), 2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Tickets: $15 most films, more for Special Events and Parties which  generally start at $20 or $35.   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). ($1350 Film Society members and $1700 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival.   Alamo Drafthouse is open daily from 11:30 a.m. onwards; all other venues are open for SFIFF purchases one hour before the first screening of the day.

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.

Day-of Noon Release Tickets: Each day of the Festival, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings. Pending availability, tickets may be purchased online or in person at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission starting at noon. Not all shows will have tickets released, and purchasing is first-come, first-served.

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.  No rush tickets for screenings at BAMPFA

More info: For full schedule and tickets, visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff59

April 25, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Globally relevant, the San Francisco International Film Festival 2015 starts Thursday—here are the Big Nights and Special Events

Oscar winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s new documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” opens the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival Thursday evening.  Just as his riveting Scientology exposé “Going Clear” deconstructed the cult of Scientology, Gibney’s latest film tackles our cult-like loyalty and emotional connection to Jobs and Apple products by methodically firing bullet after bullet at our rose colored glasses.  The film screens just once at SFIFF 58 which runs April 23-May 7, 2015 and offers 181 films and live events from 49 countries in 33 languages.  Photo:  Courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Oscar winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s new documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” opens the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival Thursday evening. Just as his riveting Scientology exposé “Going Clear” deconstructed the cult of Scientology, Gibney’s latest film tackles our cult-like loyalty and emotional connection to Jobs and Apple products by methodically firing bullet after bullet at our rose colored glasses. The film screens just once at SFIFF 58 which runs April 23-May 7, 2015 and offers 181 films and live events from 49 countries in 33 languages. Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Film Society

The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 58) opens this evening with a first in its 58 years—an opening night documentary.  Alex Gibney’s  Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, is a searing portrait of the late Steven Jobs that will hit tech-savvy Bay Area audiences where they live and breathe…in their Apple devices.  The festival continues over the following 14 days with 181 films—100 full-length features— and live events from 49 countries in 33 languages. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS), under the helm of Noah Cowan, now in his second year as SFFS Executive Director, and Rachel Rosen, Programming Director, this mammoth festival really defies categorization.  This year’s films, selected from a pool of 4,000 plus entries, mirror where global society is right now.  SFIFF is revered for its support of new filmmakers and for championing eclectic independent films that you just won’t see elsewhere and it always includes the crème from last year’s Cannes and fall festivals and this year’s Sundance festival.

One of the joys of attending is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen with digital projection—and participating in stimulating Q&A’s with their directors and actors.  With even more new onstage events and awards ceremonies that feature film luminaries in more lengthy moderated discussions, SFIFF delivers one of the highest ratios of face time with creative talent.

I am dividing my coverage of this year’s festival into two articles—this first one, below, gives an overview of the big evenings and tributes that ought to be on everyone’s radar; the second one will include short reviews of the top films that caught my eye.

BIG NIGHTS:

OPENING NIGHT: (Thursday, April 23, 7 PM, Castro Theater)  Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015, 127 min) Alex Gibney will attend.  Uniquely relevant to the Bay Area, this SXSW/Sundance documentary is a social inquiry into the phenomena of Steven Jobs by one of the most impactful filmmakers working today.  Gibney’s recent HBO doc, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), delivered a remarkable glimpse into scientology, made a scathing case against it, and garnered some of the highest ratings in recent times.  Gibney explores why Jobs has had such a wide ranging impact and why people who never knew him grieved him so.  He talks with insiders and methodically scrutinizes key ideas espoused by Jobs and Apple’s advertising and points out contradiction after contradiction, zeroing in on many of Apple’s unsavory practices and debacles. Unflattering, fascinating, and highly relevant to the latest generation of innovators being incubated in the Bay Area. (Click here to purchase tickets.)  Followed by an Opening Night Party at the iconic Madame Tussauds, featuring gourmet treats and beverages from San Francisco’s finest purveyors.  Must be 21+ to attend party. (Ticketed separately)

Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone journalist, David Lipsky, and Jason Segal as American author David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour” (2015), which screens Saturday, May 2 as SFIFF 58’s Centerpiece film.  Image: Courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone journalist, David Lipsky, and Jason Segal as American author David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour” (2015), which screens Saturday, May 2 as SFIFF 58’s Centerpiece film. Image: Courtesy San Francisco Film Society

CENTERPEICE:  (Saturday, May 2, 6:45 PM, Castro Theater)  The End of the Tour (2015, 106 min) Director James Ponsoldt and actor Jason Segel will attend.  Set in 1996, when American author David Foster Wallace’s dystopian masterpiece Infinite Jest was on every informed reader’s A-list, James Ponsoldt’s (Smashed, 2012) moody chamber piece stars Jesse Eisenberg as journalist, David Lipsky, whose admiration, curiosity and fear of Wallace drive him to propose a long-form profile of the writer to Rolling Stone.  He gets the assignment and ultimately goes out on the road with Wallace during the final five days of his Infinite Jest book tour.  Jason Segel gives an affecting portrayal of Wallace whose erratic behavior and bouts of depression were evident then, 12 years before his suicide in 2008 at age 46.  The chemistry between Eisenberg and Segal makes their interaction intense, palpable, through all the phases of getting to know each other and Lipsky’s attempts to take what is essentially one long and rambling conversation and drill down on those windows of insight that will become “the story.”   Based on Lipsky’s 2008 memoir on the experience, Although Of Course You End Up Being Yourself.  After-screening Centerpiece Party, 9 p.m., at Monarch, a sophisticated event space, with dancing, delicious food and fine cocktails.  Must be 21+ to attend party. (Ticketed separately)

Peter Sarsgaard is psychologist Stanley Milgram’s in Michael Almereyda’s “The Experimenter” (2015) which had its acclaimed premiere at Sundance and closes SFIFF 58.  It’s been 15 years since Almereyda’s astounding “Hamlet” starring Ethan Hawke and similarly, he has conceived Milgram’s life and work as a kind of evolving theatre piece.  At one  point, he even has Sarsgaard trailed onscreen by a full-sized adult elephant.  Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Peter Sarsgaard is psychologist Stanley Milgram’s in Michael Almereyda’s “The Experimenter” (2015) which had its acclaimed premiere at Sundance and closes SFIFF 58. It’s been 15 years since Almereyda’s astounding “Hamlet” starring Ethan Hawke and similarly, he has conceived Milgram’s life and work as a kind of evolving theatre piece. At one point, he even has Sarsgaard trailed onscreen by a full-sized adult elephant. Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Film Society

CLOSING NIGHT: Thursday, May 7, 7 PM, Castro Theater) The Experimenter (2015, 98 min) Michael Almereyda will attend.   Michael Almereyda’s The Experimenter revisits Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s famous 1961 experiment in which subjects were made to believe they were administering electric shocks to others in order to explore the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.  As much an examination of scientific ethics as it is an exploration of the moral consequences of just following orders, this playful and inventive biography of Milgram soars with Peter Sarsgaard as Milgram and Winona Ryder as his wife.  Began in 1961, a year after the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, Milgram devised his now famous experiment to answer the question “Could it be that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?  Looking back, we all like to think we would not obey and harm our fellow man, but 65% of the study participants ended up administering (imaginary) shocks.  After-screening Closing Night Party, 9 PM, Mezzanine, an all-out evening of music, drinks and dancing, with complimentary beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres by some of San Francisco’s best restaurants. Must be 21+ to attend. (Ticketed separately)

AWARDS AND SPECIAL EVENTS:

Guillermo del Toro, recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award at SFIFF 58.  Del Toro burst onto the international scene with Cronos (1993), winner of nine Ariel Awards from the Mexican Academy of Film Arts and Sciences and the Cannes’ International Critics Week prize. “The Devil’s Backbone” solidified his reputation as a masterful storyteller, while Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) opened to worldwide acclaim, winning three Oscars and garnering Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film.  He directed Pacific Rim (2013), one of the highest grossing live action films that year.  Audiences await his upcoming gothic thriller Crimson Peak, set to release in October 2015.  Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Guillermo del Toro, recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award at SFIFF 58. Del Toro burst onto the international scene with Cronos (1993), winner of nine Ariel Awards from the Mexican Academy of Film Arts and Sciences and the Cannes’ International Critics Week prize. “The Devil’s Backbone” solidified his reputation as a masterful storyteller, while “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) opened to worldwide acclaim, winning three Oscars and garnering Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film. He directed “Pacific Rim” (2013), one of the highest grossing live action films that year. Audiences await his upcoming gothic thriller “Crimson Peak,” set to release in October 2015. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Guillermo del Toro Irving M. Levin Directing Award—(Saturday, April 25, 8 PM, Castro Theatre) SFIFF celebrates sci fi and fantasy legend, Guillermo del Toro with an evening at the Castro Theatre where the Mexican director, screenwriter, producer and novelist will participate in a conversation about his illustrious career, show clips from his past and present work and screen one of his favorite films, The Devil’s Backbone (2001).

Dark, bone chilling and edgy, the masterpiece is both a sophisticated commentary on war and a hell of a horror film that became a cult favorite.  It’s the final year of the Spanish Civil War and a bomb is dropped from the skies above an isolated Spanish orphanage, which leaves a boy, Santi, bleeding to death in its mysterious wake.  His corpse is then tied and shoved into the orphanage’s basement pool. When another young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), arrives at the ghostly facility some time later, seemingly signaling the arrival of Franco himself, he is drawn to the snails in the swampy basement.  Soon the two boys will meet.  We feel in our bones that there’s evil here that cannot be easily understood or expunged. The odd couple who run the orphanage are concealing a large stash of the leftist cause’s gold, which is another subplot that expands brilliantly.

Richard Gere, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting at SFIFF 58.  Gere started his career on Broadway before his on-screen breakthrough in 1978 with Oscar-honored Days of Heaven.  His subsequent films include Gary Marshall’s Pretty Woman, Paul Schrader's American Gigolo and Taylor Hackford’s An Officer and a Gentleman.  He will next appear in Andrew Renzi’s Franny, currently getting rave reviews at Sundance, and Oppenheimer Strategies, co-starring Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, and Steve Buscemi.  Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Richard Gere, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting at SFIFF 58. Gere started his career on Broadway before his on-screen breakthrough in 1978 with Oscar-honored “Days of Heaven.” His subsequent films include Gary Marshall’s “Pretty Woman,” Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo” and Taylor Hackford’s “An Officer and a Gentleman.” He will next appear in Andrew Renzi’s “Franny,” currently getting rave reviews at this year’s Sundance, and in “Oppenheimer Strategies,” co-starring Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, and Steve Buscemi. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Richard Gere Peter J. Owens Award— (Sunday, April 26, 6:30 PM, Castro Theatre)  Richard Gere (Golden Globe Award winner and activist) is the recipient of this year’s Peter J. Owens Award for acting, which will be presented to Gere at An Evening with Richard Gere where he will discuss his prolific career with David D’Arcy before the screening his latest film, Time Out of Mind (2014), directed by Oren Moverman.  Gere plays vagrant George Hamilton who is evicted from the empty New York apartment where he is squatting and thrust out into the streets with nowhere in particular to go, except the eternal search for his next meal and place to sleep.  Gere established himself as one of the top actors of his generation with his screen debut in Terrence Malick’s 1978 drama Days of Heaven and from there went on to star in a number of important films.  Seeing the silver haired actor who has excelled at playing roles of privilege go against the grain and immerse himself in a tour de force performance as a plain, disenfranchised man is beyond refreshing.

Virtual reality pioneer,  Nonny de la Peña, discusses her role in developing immersive journalism in the context of creating “Project Syria,” originally commissioned by the World Economic Forum and created at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

An Evening with Nonny de la Peña: Immersive Journalism—(Monday, April 27, 6:30 PM, Sundance Kabuki)   Nonny de la Peña is a pioneer in “immersive journalism,” a new form of journalism that aims to place viewers within news stories via virtual reality.  Once immersed in the story, viewers feel an extraordinary emotional connection as witnesses.  Her project “Gone Gitmo,” created in collaboration with artist Peggy Weil and originally launched in virtual environment Second Life, was a groundbreaking approach to reporting through virtual experience.  Amongst her many projects, de la Peña’s newest VR work, “Project Syria” recreates both a street corner in Aleppo that comes under attack and a camp for refugee children that grows more crowded over time.   In this talk, de la Peña will present her work, its intents and consequences and lay out prospects for the future of nonfiction reporting.  Her vision has also culminated in Emblematic Group, a content- and VR hardware-focused company that she runs along with her brother in Los Angeles.

American director and screenwriter, Paul Schrader, will receive the Kanbar Award for storytelling.   Photo:  The Independent

American director and screenwriter, Paul Schrader, will receive the Kanbar Award for storytelling. Photo: The Independent

Paul Schrader: Kanbar Award—(Tuesday, April 28, 6:30 PM, Sundance Kabuki)  SFIFF will honor American  screenwriter and director Paul Schrader with an onstage interview prior to screening one his most acclaimed films, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985, 121 min).  Schrader’s breakthrough moment came at age 26, when he wrote the script for Taxi Driver (1976) which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was the first of several collaborations between Schrader and Scorsese, a list that includes Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999).  Mishima blends a recreation of Mishima’s (Ken Ogata) final day when the extent of his dedication to altering Japan’s political landscape and to bushido is made manifest; snippets of biography rendered in black and white that explore the psychology of one of postwar Japan’s most celebrated authors; and beautifully staged, luridly colored scenes from three key Mishima novels—Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoko’s House and Runaway Horses—that further explicate his psyche.  John Bailey’s luminous cinematography and Philip Glass’s sweeping, pulsating score add further texture to this mesmerizing drama, a portrait of one exceptional artist made by another.

Renowned British documentarian Kim Longinotto has devoted the bulk of her career to exploring various forms of activism, especially in relation to the plight of women around the world.  She won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance this year and SFIFF honors her with its POV Award which celebrates the achievement of a filmmaker whose work is outside the realm of narrative feature. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Renowned British documentarian Kim Longinotto has devoted the bulk of her career to exploring various forms of activism, especially in relation to the plight of women around the world. She won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance this year and SFIFF honors her with its POV Award which celebrates the achievement of a filmmaker whose work is outside the realm of narrative feature. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Kim Longinotto Persistence of Vision Award (Sunday, May 2, 3 PM, Sundance Kabuki) Renowned British documentarian Kim Longinotto has devoted the bulk of her career to exploring various forms of activism, especially in relation to the plight of women around the world.  She won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance this year and SFIFF honors her with its POV Award which celebrates the achievement of a filmmaker whose work is outside the realm of narrative feature.  Longinetto will participate in an in-depth conversation and her latest documentary, Dreamcatcher (2015), will be screened.  The film follows the life of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute, who works in a Chicago jail counseling sex workers and who also runs a weekly “Girl Talk” at the local school that mentors a group of at-risk girls.  Along with her friend Stephanie Daniels-Wilson, she runs the Dreamcatcher Foundation.  As Brenda unearths the horrific secrets and lies that have plagued the community for generations, she encourages girls and young women to change their lives by challenging the culture of silence and denial.  You’re inserted right into these girls’ lives which allows you to experience their daily struggles and judge for yourself whether or not one committed person can really make a difference.

Lenny Borger, recipient of SFIFF 58’s Mel Novikoff Award, is both a subtitler and an archivist who has been responsible for finding many important lost films.   Borger’s stellar work making French cinema come to life for English-speaking audiences and his passion for bringing lost classics back to the screen make him a true behind-the-scenes hero of world cinema,” says Rachael Rosen, SFFS director of Programming.  Borger taught himself French at a young age by simply listening to chansons francaises.  Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Lenny Borger, recipient of SFIFF 58’s Mel Novikoff Award, is both a subtitler and an archivist who has been responsible for finding many important lost films. Borger’s stellar work making French cinema come to life for English-speaking audiences and his passion for bringing lost classics back to the screen make him a true behind-the-scenes hero of world cinema,” says Rachael Rosen, SFFS director of Programming. Borger taught himself French at a young age by simply listening to chansons francaises. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

 

Lenny Borger Mel Novikov Award (Sunday, May 3, 1 PM, Sundance Kabuki) Brooklyn-born Parisian Lenny Borger is the recipient of this year’s Mel Novikoff Award.  The legendary archivist and master subtitler who has labored behind the scenes to bring French cinema to life for English-speaking audiences will participate in an on stage conversation with Variety’s Scott Foundas about the hunt for “lost” films and the unsung art of subtitling followed by a screening of the rediscovered 1929 silent masterpiece Monte Christo.  Borger originally came to France on a research grant to pursue doctoral work in Paris in 1977.  He abandoned his academic work to devote himself to covering the French film scene as a correspondent and film reviewer for Variety.  At the same time, he began scouring the European continent in search of rare and “missing” French films from foreign archives. His first discovery was the nitrate camera negative of Raymond Bernard’s The Chess Player, found in the vaults at the East German Film Archives where it had been concealed by the Nazi occupiers of France. A trip to Prague yielded even more exciting results: incomplete Czech distribution prints of Henri Fescourt’s Monte-Cristo—one of the highlights of the SFIFF tribute.

Douglas Trumbull, who has revolutionized movies more times than we can count, will deliver this year’s State of Cinema address, discussing the highs and lows of dreaming big and what the future looks like for the movies.  His short film UFOTOG, which he wrote and directed demos his radical new innovation, the MAGI process, a digital-projection method optimized for the eye-popping trifecta of 3-D, 4K, 120fps imagery.  Photo: Courtesy POdCAST

Douglas Trumbull, who has revolutionized movies more times than we can count, will deliver this year’s State of Cinema address, discussing the highs and lows of dreaming big and what the future looks like for the movies. His short film UFOTOG, which he wrote and directed demos his radical new innovation, the MAGI process, a digital-projection method optimized for the eye-popping trifecta of 3-D, 4K, 120fps imagery. Photo: Courtesy POdCAST

State of Cinema: Douglas Trumbull—(Sunday, May 3, 6:30 PM, Sundance Kabuki) director, writer, inventor, engineer and visual effects master Douglas Trumbull will deliver the highly-anticipated state of Cinema address.  Trumbull first stunned film audiences in the late sixties with the development of cutting-edge visual effects for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, including the epic “Stargate” sequence.  He was the visual effects supervisor on many works that pushed the limits of film fantasy such as Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  He also directed science-fiction classics Silent Running and Brainstorm and was a visual effects consultant for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.  He continues to work as an inventor and engineer, is a sought-after consultant, and holds numerous technology patents.  His ingenious suggestion for capping the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill went viral.  Currently, Trumbull is rethinking the immersive cinematic experience to include ultra high frame rates, high resolution, high brightness, high dynamic range, and ultra wide hemispherical screen projection. His talk will challenge everything you think movies can and should be.

2015 SFIFF Details:

When:  SFIFF 58 runs April 23-May 7, 2014

Where:  Main Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Landmark’s Clay Theatre, 226 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, Roxi Theater, 3117 16th Street, San Francisco,  Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.

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). ($1350 Film Society members and $1700 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival at Sundance Kabuki, Landmark’s Clay Theatre, Roxie Theater*, Pacific Film Archive and Castro Theatre*.  (*Day of show only and cash only)

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.

noon release tickets, daily : Every day, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings and may be purchased online or in person at Sundance kabuki, starting at noon.

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 and tickets, visit http://www.sffs.org/sfiff58/program

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

French Cinema Now starts Thursday— 10 of the best new French-language films in a four-day series at San Francisco’s historic Clay Theatre

Claire Denis’ “Bastards” is a revenge drama and dark commentary on late capitalism, shot in Paris, with cinematography by Agnès Godard.  Vincent London plays a sea captain gone AWOL to avenge his brother-in-law’s suicide and rescue his family. Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Denueve) plays Lisbon’s married lover who has trapped herself in a disturbing marriage for the sake of her child.  Screens Sunday at French Cinema Now, November 7 – 10, 2013, at Landmark's Clay Theatre in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Claire Denis’ “Bastards” is a revenge drama and dark commentary on late capitalism, shot in Paris, with cinematography by Agnès Godard. Vincent London plays a sea captain gone AWOL to avenge his brother-in-law’s suicide and rescue his family. Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Denueve) plays Lisbon’s married lover who has trapped herself in a disturbing marriage for the sake of her child. Screens Sunday at French Cinema Now, November 7 – 10, 2013, at Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

The sixth annual French Cinema Now (FCN) series begins Thursday, November 7, at San Francisco’s Landmark Clay Theatre and offers four glorious days dedicated to significant new works of francophone cinema from France, Belgium, Quebec and anywhere else the sweet sound of the French language is heard. This year, FCN screens 10 films and includes an opening night post-screening soiree with French-inspired bites and wine at 1300 On Fillmore, known for Chef David Lawrence’s inspired soul food and its smooth jazz. The program eases into weekend by offering two films on both Thursday and Friday evenings and five films on both Saturday and Sunday, with some repeats on the weekend.

The four-day festival is organized by the San Francisco Film Society, in association with the French American Cultural Society, the Consulate General of France in San Francisco.  The selections were handled by Rachel Rosen, SFS, Director of Programming, whose choices for this series and the larger annual SFIFF (San Francisco International Film Festival) reflect keen intuition for mixing the unusual and the flavor of the moment with the timelessness of great storytelling and cinematography.  Several of these French films had their premieres
at Cannes and are being shown for the first (and only) time in the Bay Area.  The charming venue, the mighty Clay Theatre, situated on the busting Fillmore Street, was built in 1910 and is one of the oldest theatres in San Francisco (refurbished with comfortable new seats).

From the established talents of such notable filmmakers as Claire Denis, Nicolas Philibert and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi to new, emerging talent like Sébastien Betbeder, Katell Quillévéré and Axelle Ropert, French Cinema Now 2013 has something for cinephiles of all tastes.  Romantic triangles, unusual familial conflicts and examinations of sexuality—subjects French filmmakers are known for handling with particular skill—feature prominently, and Europe’s biggest stars such as Louis Garrel (A Castle in Italy), Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni (Bastards) appear with the region’s up-and-coming actors like Sara Forestier (Suzanne) and Vincent Macaigne (2 Autumns, 3 Winters).

OPENING NIGHT: THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7   

7:00 pm 2 Autumns, 3 Winters Sébastien Betbeder (2 automnes 3 hivers, France 2013)      Sébastien Betbeder, whose debut Nights with Theodore was the winner of the FIPRESCI prize at this spring’s SFIFF, returns with this offbeat story of thirty-somethings navigating whatever crisis comes between quarter- and mid-life. Arman and Benjamin are friends from art school. Arman first meets Amélie when he bumps into her, literally, while jogging. His casual attempts to meet her again fail until one night when dramatic circumstances reunite them, intertwining the lives of all three. Playfully told, despite the serious nature of some of its events, 2 Autumns, 3 Winters applies indie charm to the vagaries of life. Written by Sébastien Betbeder. Cinematography by Sylvain Verdet. With Vincent Macaigne, Maud Wyler, Bastien Bouillon. 93 min. In French with subtitles. Film Movement. 

A scene from Sébastien Betbeder's “2 Autumns, 3 Winters” which screens Thursday and opens French Cinema Now, November 7 – 10, 2013, at Landmark's Clay Theatre in San Francisco.  Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

A scene from Sébastien Betbeder’s “2 Autumns, 3 Winters” which screens Thursday and opens French Cinema Now, November 7 – 10, 2013, at Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

9:15 pm Opening Night reception A post-screening soiree sponsored by TV5 Monde with French-inspired bites and sponsored wine at 1300 On Fillmore (1300 Fillmore at Eddy).

9:15 pm A Castle in Italy
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Un château en Italie, France 2013)
In her third film, director, actress and writer Valeria Bruni Tedeschi continues to mine her own experience to portray the lives and crises of the bourgeoisie. Here she plays Louise, an actress tiring of her profession and longing for motherhood. When she runs into younger actor Nathan (VBT’s former real-life beau Louis Garrel) on a film set, he pursues her relentlessly, but he’s not particularly interested in fathering a child. As she has done in her prior work, Bruni Tedeschi presents the problems of the rich and famous without apology but with refreshing nuance and humor, and surrounds herself with a formidable cast. Written by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Agnès de Sacy, Noémie Lvovsky. Cinematography by Jeanne Lapoirie. With Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Louis Garrel, Filippo Timi. 104 min. In French and Italian with subtitles. Films Distribution.

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's “A Castle in Italy” is packed with raw emotion as it delves into the lives of the bourgeois.  The brother (Ludovic) is struggling with imminent death and the sister (Louise) is 43 and aching to have a child.   The family is selling off the castle, a tie to the deceased father.  Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “A Castle in Italy” is packed with raw emotion as it delves into the lives of the bourgeois. The brother (Ludovic) is struggling with imminent death and the sister (Louise) is 43 and aching to have a child. The family is selling off the castle, a tie to the deceased father. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 8

7:00 pm Rendezvous in Kiruna
Anna Novion (Rendez-vous à Kiruna, France 2012)
Ernest is working on a major architectural project at his firm when he receives an unwanted call from Sweden. His biological son whom he has never met has died in a boating accident and, with the mother away, Ernest must come to Lapland and identify the body. Although he protests that he has no emotional connection to the dead youth, he ends up on a long drive north during which he picks up Magnus, a young Swedish man on his way to visit his grandfather. Director Anna Novion’s interest in Bergman and her own Swedish heritage add a quiet flair to this story of unavoidable emotional ties. Written by Olivier Massart, Anna Novion. Cinematography by Pierre Novion. With Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Anastasios Soulis. 97 min. In French, Swedish and English with subtitles. Pyramide International.

A scene from Anna Novion's “Rendezvous in Kiruna,” playing at French Cinema Now, November 7 - 10 at Landmark's Clay Theatre.  Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

In Anna Novion’s quiet drama, “Rendezvous in Kiruna,” a man receives an unwanted call from Sweden informing him that his biological son, whom he has never met, has died in an accident and he must identify the body. Screens at French Cinema Now on Friday and Sunday. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.


9:30 pm Michael Kohlhaas
Arnaud des Pallières (France/Germany 2013)
Arnaud des Pallières’ austere and visually splendid medieval-era drama tells the story of Michael Kohlhaas (Mads Mikkelsen), a horse trader who is one day forced by a ruthless Baron to give over two of his prize steeds. When the nobleman’s subsequent mistreatment of the horses is revealed, Kohlhaas demands justice. But when a nobility-favoring court rules against him, and the Baron and his henchmen commit other hideous acts, Kohlhaas turns to the sword and crossbow for his revenge. Though the themes and moral conflicts will be familiar to Game of Thrones fans, the remarkable style recalls Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac. Written by Christelle Berthevas, Arnaud des Pallières. Cinematography by Adrien Debackere, Jeanne Lapoirie. With Mads Mikkelsen, Delphine Chuillot, Bruno Ganz, Denis Lavant. 122 min. In French and German with subtitles. Music Box Films.  

In Arnaud des Pallieres' “Michael Kohlhaas,” a 16th century horse merchant (Mads Mikkelsen) is mistreated by those in power and seeks revenge and justice.  Screens Friday, Nov 8, at French Cinema Now at Landmark's Clay Theatre. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

In Arnaud des Pallieres’ “Michael Kohlhaas,” a 16th century horse merchant (Mads Mikkelsen) is mistreated by those in power and seeks revenge and justice. Screens Friday, Nov 8, at French Cinema Now at Landmark’s Clay Theatre. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 9

2:30 pm A Castle in Italy    (see Thursday, 11/7)

4:45 pm Miss and the Doctors   Axelle Ropert (Tirez la langue, mademoiselle, France 2013, 102 min)

7:00 pm Suzanne   Katell Quillévéré (France 2013, 91min)

9:30 pm Stranger by the Lake   Alain Guiraudie (L’inconnu du lac, France 2013, 97 min)

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 10

1:15 pm House of Radio
Nicolas Philibert (La maison de la radio, France/Japan 2013, 99 min)
Master documentarian Nicolas Philibert’s latest takes a delightful and surprisingly humorous look at public radio, French style. Inside an unusual round building in Paris is Radio France, comprised of several premiere stations. Luckily for us, these bustling offices are full of great characters both known (Umberto Eco in for an on-air interview) and unknown (a news manager who gleefully sorts through grisly news briefs, the director of a radio drama, a telephone operator who screens for a call-in show). Mixed in with the quiz shows, live musical performances and sports reporting, they form the fabric of a beautifully observed and pleasurable view of a public institution and beloved medium. Cinematography by Katell Djian. 99 min. In French with subtitles. Kino Lorber.


3:30 pm Rendezvous in Kiruna   (see Friday, 11/8)
6:00 pm Vic+Flo Saw a Bear  
Denis Côté (Vic+Flo ont vu un ours, Canada 2013, 95 min)
8:30 pm Bastards
Claire Denis (Les salauds, France 2013)
Claire Denis’ “Bastards” is a dark and elliptical revenge drama shot in Paris with cinematography by Agnès Godard.  It screens Sunday at French Cinema Now, November 7 – 10, 2013, at Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Claire Denis’ troubled and troubling new film, highlighted by Agnès Godard’s masterful cinematography and Stuart Staples’ (of Tindersticks) evocative score, begins with rain and death and rarely lets up from there. For reasons at first mysterious, a sea captain named Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) arrives in Paris and rents an empty apartment. Living directly downstairs are business tycoon Edouard Laporte (Denis regular Michel Subor) and his mistress Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), whose lives will intersect with Marco’s in dark and devastating ways. Denis’ latest is an angry and upsetting film, detailing a world where money and the power it wields can have poisonous and far-reaching effects. Written by Jean-Pol Fargeau, Claire Denis. Cinematography by Agnès Godard. With Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille, Michel Subor, Lola Créton. 100 min. In French with subtitles. IFC Sundance Selects.

 

For full program information and scheduling for Saturday and Sunday, click here.

Details: French Cinema Now is November 7-10, 2013 at San Francisco’s Landmark Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore Street, San Francisco.  Film tickets $12 for SFFS members, $14 general, $13 seniors, students and persons with disabilities, $10 children (12 and under); Opening Night film and party tickets $20 for SFFS members, $25 general; Fall Season CineVoucher 10-Packs $110 for SFFS members, $130 general.  Purchase tickets online here.

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: Iranian filmmaker Bahram Beyzaie discusses “Downpour,” his newly-restored, pivotal classic of Iranian cinema, screening at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, Sunday, April 28, 2013

Iranian film director and playwright Bahram Beyzaie will appear at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival for a screening of “Downpour,” (Ragbar, 1971), a classic of Iranian cinema, newly restored by the World Cinema Foundation. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Iranian film director and playwright Bahram Beyzaie will appear at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival for a screening of “Downpour,” (Ragbar, 1971), a classic of Iranian cinema, newly restored by the World Cinema Foundation. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Over the years, the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 56) has showcased some remarkable Iranian films and this year is no exception.  Bahram Beyzaie’s Downpour (Ragbar, 1971, 128 min), poetic and executed in a neo-realistic vein, was pivotal in shaping Iranian new wave cinema.  It hasn’t been screened in the Bay Area publicly for years but the newly-restored classic screens twice at SFIFF—Sunday, April 28 and Sunday, May 5.  Beyzaie, one of Iran’s most esteemed filmmakers, playwrights, and scholars of the history of Iranian theater, will attend on Sunday, April 28, participating in a post-screening Q&A with the audience.   This event almost immediately went to rush sales but, so far, tickets are available for the second showing.

Beyzaie, currently teaching at Stanford, is part of the generation of filmmakers referred to as the Iranian New Wave which emerged in the late 1960’s.  Blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality, and transcending the realism of Iran’s pre-revolutionary era with a highly poetic approach to editing, dialogue and context, Downpour, was an early pillar of the new wave.  Remarkably, it was Beyzaie’s first feature film.   He was heavily into theatre at that time.  Despite being regarded as one of the best and most influential Iranian films ever made, Downpour was nearly considered lost as it screened so rarely.  Beyzaie had the only known surviving copy and was reticent to show it.  All other copies had been seized and presumably destroyed.  Thanks to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, the surviving print, badly damaged with scratches, perforation tears and mid-frame splices, was restored in 2011 at Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna/ L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory.  Over 1500 hours went into its repair.

Downpour’s story revolves around Mr. Hekmati (Parviz Fannizadeh), an educated and progressive teacher who is transferred to a school in the south of Tehran, a poor conservative area.  When his pupils become unruly, he expels one young boy. The boy’s older sister, `Atefeh (Parvaneh Masoomi), comes to the school and protests the expulsion, speaking to Hekmati in private.  Another student sees them together and spreads rumors that Mr. Hekmati and `Atefeh are having a love affair.  As Hekmati tries to set the record straight, he suddenly finds he really is in love with her.  Caught between the overactive imaginations of his students and the idle gossip of neighborhood busybodies, the idealistic Mr. Hekmati quickly finds himself at the center of controversy.  Soon all eyes in the community are on him.  A rich story that explores love as much as it does control and morality, Downpour addresses Iranian society in a way that reveals what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition.

I spoke with Bahram Beyzaie last week. He has been at Stanford for three years now and teaches courses in Iranian cinema, Iranian contemporary theater, and cinema and mythology.  His career as a filmmaker has spanned four decades and he has made ten feature and four short films and has more than thirty-five plays and fifty screenplays to his credit.  He is also quite active in theatre and his latest theater work, “Jana & Baladoor: A Play in Shadows,” was produced by Stanford University’s Iranian Studies Dept. and performed at Palo Alto’s Cubberly Community Center in 2012.

To what does the title “Ragbar” or “Downpour” refer?  It is about intellectual life in Iran at that time?

Bahram Beyzaie: It refers to intellectual life in Iran in general and not just at that time. The appearance of the main character in Downpour is very short, like a flash of a lightening.

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films,  restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films, restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

What was it like to make a film in Iran in the 1970’s?  You worked with few resources but produced a beautiful film.

Bahram Beyzaie:  Downpour was an independent film, and had no official or commercial sponsor.  It was spontaneously made with no prior planning.  I wanted to create something that went against Iranian commercial cinema and its affected/ pseudo-intellectual films.  For the first time in Iranian cinema, the protagonist is an educated person who is not ridiculed or humiliated by the filmmaker.  In those days, Iranian traditional thinkers were in the position of humiliating the intellectuals.  This film, as well as my third film, addresses the very common educated figure without exaggerating their intellectualism.

What was it like to make a film in Iran in the 1970’s?  You worked with few resources but produced a beautiful film.

Bahram Beyzaie:  Downpour was an independent film, and had no official or commercial sponsor.  It was spontaneously made with no prior planning.  I wanted to create something that went against Iranian commercial cinema and its affected/ pseudo-intellectual films.  For the first time in Iranian cinema, the protagonist is an educated person who is not ridiculed or humiliated by the filmmaker.  In those days, Iranian traditional thinkers were in the position of humiliating the intellectuals.  This film, as well as my third film, addresses the very common educated figure without exaggerating their intellectualism.

Who is the most interesting character in the film to you and why? And has that changed any over time?

Bahram Beyzaie:  In this story, the central characters are the most interesting to me.  The main male character, Mr. Hekmati, is misplaced and certainly a stranger.  As for the female character, `Atefeh, this was the first time a female central character was not a prostitute, singer, dancer, or a villager who was seduced by rich figures.  Instead, she is a young woman who has a job and tries to find her position to help her family.  In Downpour,`Atefeh is presented in a traditional appearance, but in her hidden self, she wishes for change and independence.

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films,  restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films, restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

What more can you add about Iranian women in at that time?

Bahram Beyzaie:  There was a diversity of female figures in the 70’s—from deeply religious and fanatic, to traditional, to very sophisticated women who were university professors, painters, writers, poets, theater activists, some filmmakers, administrative personalities, nurses and medical doctors, and so forth.  For example, Downpour’s composer, again for the first in Iranian Cinema, was a woman. It is a great sorrow that Iranian cinema clung so to outdated clichés and portrayed women either as low class singer/dancers, prostitutes, or, if they were educated, as silly, rich, or negative figures.

 How did you select the actors in Downpour and were they well known at the time? Did their participation in the film have any significant impact on their careers and did you ever work with any of them again?

Bahram Beyzaie:  Some of the actors, including the two main male characters— Parviz Fannizadeh (Hekmati) and Manouchehr Farid (the butcher) were my friends and colleagues in theater, talented but not as successful in their careers as they deserved to be.  Before Downpour, they had one or two film experiences with very short parts.  The central female character `Atefeh (Parvaneh Masoomi) was unknown to the audience at that time. We discovered her from a TV commercial, maybe her first and last.  Later, I acknowledged that she had a film experience in a supporting role.  All the boys were my neighbors and had parts in my first short film. I worked with a couple of these boys in my next short film.  I worked with Parvaneh Masomi and Manouchehr Farid in three other movies, and Parviz Fanizadeh won his life’s sole acting prize for his performance as Mr. Hekmati in Downpour.

How would you describe the storytelling style you employed in “Downpour,” other than allegorical?

Bahram Beyzaie:  Poetic maybe. A poem about daily life.  Most of Iranian artistic language is allegorical, metaphoric, or poetic. More or less, you can find metaphors in other countries’ artistic languages as well, but it may be the core of Iranian artistic expression.  So is mine in my own way. You know, my father and grandfather were poets too, but their styles were different from mine.

Bahram Beyzaie in the 1970’s, a pioneer of Iranian new wave cinema.  His father, uncle and grandfather were famous poets.

Bahram Beyzaie in the 1970’s, a pioneer of Iranian new wave cinema. His father, uncle and grandfather were famous poets.

What are the characteristics of a great story?

Bahram Beyzaie:  I don’t have a good short answer for all tastes.  I wish you could watch my last theater work “Jana & Baladoor: A Play in Shadows” which was produced by Stanford University’s Iranian Studies Department —it had music, poetry, puppets, myths, and was a legend of the four mythic siblings representing the four basic elements of earth, water, air, and fire, who battled to redeem the world.

You have written a book about Hitchcock; tell me about your early cinema experiences in Iran. What did you like and was anything restricted?

Bahram Beyzaie:  After watching Chaplin’s “City Lights” I began to discover serious cinema by watching three black and white films: Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”, Ophüls’ “Letter’s from an unknown woman” and Carol Reed’s “Third Man”. Later Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” was a shock to discover oriental culture and cinema and great heritage of theater forms. In addition, I loved the great films of German expressionism, work of French masters, Italian neo-Realism, Russian epic cinema, Nordic classic films, British iconic films and American classic cinema. Tehran had a Cine-club and a very important film center which showed all these films on the big screen. Furthermore, the Italian, French, German, American, and USSR cultural centers were active as well in screening their classical films and they were all open to the public.  I remember watching Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin in the Russian cultural center.  I will never forget the joy of watching Satiyajit Ray’s “Paterpanchali” in the Indian Cultural Center. I remember the Americans had three weeks of American Classical Cinema and I watched all of them. It was usual and normal to watch international films in Tehran at that time – when I was twenty.

How did you eventually become the chairman of Dramatic arts at Tehran University?

Bahram Beyzaie:  It was the subsequent of my theater background. In high school I discovered Shakespeare and Greek masters of tragedy, and then suddenly I returned to Iranian traditional theater forms to research the Oriental theater — Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian. I started to write plays and became a stage director. Because of my works I was invited to teach theater at the Tehran University.

What was your involvement in the restoration?

Bahram Beyzaie:  It happened by the kindness of others. One of my colleagues attending a film festival met someone from the World Cinema Foundation and they spoke of Iranian films and me. My colleague was asked about my films and she explained that Downpour was the only film that was here and had English subtitles but could not be screened due to being the only subtitled copy of the film that existed. Hearing this, the World Cinema Foundation agreed to restore it and they did all the work in Bologna and it took about a year. Thanks to their hard work!

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films,  restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films, restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

What are you teaching at Stanford?

I’ve been at Stanford (visiting lecturer in comparative literature) for three years now, teaching Iranian cinema, Iranian cinema diaspora, Iranian contemporary theater, and cinema and mythology, which is an analytic view on numerous great films in general from the angle of mythology.

To view a 10 minute trailer of the unrestored Downpour click here.

Downpour/ Ragbar (1971): Directed by Bahram Beyzaie, Screenwriter: Bahram Beyzaie. Cast: Parviz Fannizadeh, Parvaneh Masumi, Manuchehr Farid.  DigiBeta, b/w, in Persian with English subtitles, 120 min.

Bahram Beyzaie Films: Vaqti hame khābim (When We Are All Asleep) (2009), Qāli-ye Sokhangū (2006), Sag-Koshi (Killing Mad Dogs)(2001), Mosaferan (The Passengers)(1992), Bashu (The Little Stranger)(1989), Shayad Vaghti Deegar (Maybe Some Other Time)(1988), Marg Yazdgerd (Death of Yazdgerd)(1982), Tcherike-ye Tara (Ballad of Tara)(1979), Kalagh (The Crow)(1976), Gharibe va Meh (The Stranger and the Fog)(1974),  Safar (The Journey)(1972), Ragbar (Downpour)(1971); Amoo Sibilou (1969)

(Other restored films which have screened at SFIFF in recent years include Federic Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Italy, 1960) SFIFF 54; Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room (India, 1958)

DETAILS:  Downpour Screens Sunday, April 28, 12:15 PM, Kabuki AND Sunday, May 5, 3:20 PM BAM/PFA).  Check ticket availability here.

SFIFF56: April 25-May 9, 2013.  5 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. Tickets: $15 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes. Special events generally start at $20  More info: (415) 561-5000, www.festival.sffs.org

April 27, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In My Mother’s Arms”—a powerful Iraqi documentary tells of one man’s courageous attempts to shelter Iraq’s abandoned war orphans

In My Mother’s Arms (2011) 82 min, Directed by Atea Al Daradji, Mohamed Al Daradji

This compelling documentary, up for the Golden Gate Award for a documentary feature at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 55) , follows Husham Al Thabe, a caring and courageous Iraqi man who runs his own orphanage  in Baghdad’s most dangerous district, Sadr City.  He works tirelessly to build the hopes, dreams and prospects of the 32 traumatized children of war under his care in the modest two bedroom house he rents.  Many of these children used to reside in state-run orphanages where they were abused or neglected.  Under Husham’s care, they have slowly started to come out of their shells, but most have peristent trust issues and behavioral problems and are starved for affection and individual attention.  They dream of being held in the loving arms of a nurturing female.  Husham is consistently denied financial support from the Iraqi government which insists that the children would fare better in a state run orphanage and in orphan schools.  Husham just manages to survive through the donations of concerned individuals.   The situation is crowded but functional–the boys are well fed, well clothed, do well in school and pursue extracurrcular activities, like diving.  It takes time to build trust but slowly the boys learn to trust and confide some in each other and in Husham.  When the landlord gives Husham and the boys just two weeks to vacate, a desperate search for a new home ensues.  This film reflects the bitter reality of life for an entire generation of young Iraqis growing up in a war-torn society and the tremendous difference that a single caring dedicated and tenacious individual like Husham Al Thabe can make.  (Screens at Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 9 PM)

55th S.F. International Film Festival

When: Thursday, April 19, 2012 through Thursday, May 3, 2012

5 Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco, S.F. Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Tickets: $11 to $13 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes. Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000, www.sffs.org

May 1, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Absent Iranian filmmakers deliver memorable films at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, through May 3, 2012

Pasandide (award winning Iranian actress Negar Javaherian) is about to be married in Reza Mirkarimi's “A Cube of Sugar,” playing at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 19 - May 3, 2012.

Over the years the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 55) has showcased some remarkable Iranian films and this year is no exception.  Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye, Reza Mirkarimi’s A Cube of Sugar and Marjanne Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Chicken With Plums are this year’s offerings— each film screens several times throughout the festival which ends on May 3, 2012.  Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers to make personal appearances at film festivals these days but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling.  What makes the situation so fascinating is that, in present day Iran, filmmakers have no freedom of expression and yet they have managed to become central in its complex social and political discourse, to the point that they are considered serious threats by the Iranian regime.  Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition.

Goodbye (bé omid é didar)(2011, 100 min)  In 2009, Mohammad Rasoulof (along with fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi) faced arrest, a six-year prison sentence and a 20 year filmmaking ban at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Court, which also prohibited interviews with local and foreign media.  Goodbye, his fifth feature film, and most realistic to date, was smuggled out of Iran and made its debut at Cannes in 2011, where it won the award for best direction in the Certain Regard section.  The film is a gripping indictment of Iran, told through the bleak story of a Tehran activist lawyer, Noura (Leya Zareh), whose legal license has been suspended and who is desperate to leave Iran.  Her husband, some type of political journalist, has escaped authorities and is living low in Southern Iran.  Noura has consulted a fixer whose job it is to help people leave Iran and her pregnancy figures in her exit scheme.  As she quietly prepares to leave her homeland and aging mother, she encounters all sorts of hitches which ratchet up the suspense.  At the same time, just navigating the course of her daily life—always covered, always monitored, always explaining, always navigating tight passages and not having her husband present to authorize things as simple as checking into a hotel, we get a very good feel for the chilling lack of personal freedom afforded Iran’s educated and professional women.  Rasoulof’s previous films include Head Wind (2008), Iron Island (SFIFF 2006) and The White Meadows(SFIFF 2010).  Read ARThound’s review of The White Meadows and about film censorship in Iran here.   (Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 1:30 p.m., Sat, Apr 21, 2012, 1 p.m., Mon Apr 23, 2012, 6:30 p.m., all at Kabuki)

Chicken With Plums (Poulet aux prunes) (2011, 91 min) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s drama based on Satrapi’s best-selling graphic novel of the same name which, in 2005, won the Prize for Best Comic Book of the year at the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival.  Satrapi, who lives in Paris, was born in Iran in 1969 but was sent by her family to Vienna in 1983 to escape the post-Shah fallout, a story she told in her acclaimed book and animated film Persepolis (2000, 2007).  Chicken with Plums is as riveting a portrait of an artist and all his brilliant and disturbing excesses that you’ll find.  Set in 1958 in post-Mossadegh Tehran (deftly filmed in German and France), the winding story captures the last eight days of Nasser Ali’s life. The virtuoso tar player (a Persian string instrument) has resigned himself to die after he runs into his old love, Irâne, who does not recognize him, and then returns home to find that his wife has smashed his prized musical instrument beyond repair.   As he miserably, egocentrically and brilliantly winds down, only his daughter, Farzaneh, his memories, and his favorite dish, chicken with plums, rouse his desire.  Imaginative sets, lighting and animation all enhance the drama. (Mon, April 30, 2012, 6:15 p.m. and Wed, May 2, 2012, 12:30 p.m., both at Kabuki.)

A Cube of Sugar (Ye habe ghand) (2011, 116 min) Reza Mirkarimi’s sublimely beautiful dramatic comedy about three generations of an Iranian middle class family coming together in the old family home as the youngest girl, Pasandide (Negar Javaherian), is about to be married.  Not everything goes as planned and it has something to do with the sweetener.  Traditional family dynamics play out as four sisters gather together to cook, sew, gossip and prepare for the wedding.  The family compound of aged Uncle Ezzatolah (Saeed Poursamimi) proves an ideal site for this reunion with its lush courtyard gardens, labyrinthine parlors and passageways, and erratic electrical system (subject to untimely city blackouts).  Mirikami captures all the proceedings with breathtaking images bathed in glowing light, accompanied by a sensual musical score by Mohammad Reza Alighouli. In 2005, Mirkarimi’s film Too Far, Too Close (Kheili dour, kheili nazdik), which he also co-authored and produced, was Iran’s selection for the Foreign Language Oscar.  Javaherian won the best actress prize in the 2010 Fajr International Film Festival for her role in Gold and Copper (Tala va Mes) (2010) and is likely to deliver a memorable performance here as well. (Sun, Apr 22, 2012, 4 p.m., Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 9 p.m., Wed Apr 25, 2012, 12:30 p.m.—all at San Francisco Film Society Cinema.)

55th S.F. International Film Festival

When: Thursday, April 19, 2012 through Thursday, May 3, 2012

5 Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco, S.F. Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Tickets: $11 to $13 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes. Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000, www.sffs.org

April 25, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival brings its best films to San Rafael’s Rafael Film Center August 6-8, 2011

Feliks Falk’s “Joanna” opens the Marin programming for the 31st San Francisco Jewish Festival. Urszula Grabowska (left) is Joanna, a Polish woman who finds seven-year-old Rose (Sara Knothe ) sleeping in the pews of a church and is faced with a split-second decision—to take the child with her or leave her for the Nazis. Image courtesy SFJF.

For those of us who live in the North Bay, the travel time and various costs associated with going to San Francisco for even a special film can put a damper on the most enthusiastic of fans.  Next Saturday, August 6, 2011, through Monday, August 8, 2011,  the 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will cross the bridge and splash onto the screen of Marin’s Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center offering 16 of its best films and shorts.  This year’s festival opened in San Francisco on July 21 and this is its 15th year of presentations in Marin.  The first and still the largest of its kind, the festival showcases some of the best and brightest cinematic gems—offering a full complement of films, celebrations, panel discussions and international guests—that highlight various aspects of Jewish culture.

Opening Night, August 6, kicks off with Joanna, a riveting drama

On Saturday August 6—the opening evening—Marin audiences will be treated to film and theater director Feliks Falk’s Joanna [Poland, 2011, 105 min], which proposes the altruistic dilemma—what would you risk to save another during World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland?   Joanna (Urszula Grabowska) is a gentile woman who finds 8-year-old Rose, a Jewish girl abandoned in a church, and faces this dilemma knowing that any choice she makes will be life-changing.  They embark on a relationship that helps to heal their respective losses, but Joanna faces difficult decisions if Rose is to survive.  Following Joanna that evening is Ben Berkowitz’s Polish Bar [US, 2010, 96 min], which centers on ambitious Reuben Horowitz (Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza) who works in his Uncle Sol’s (Judd Hirsch) Chicago jewelry store but dreams of DJing at a top local club.  Reaching for his dream, Reuben rolls the dice with his uncle Sol’s merchandise on a big drug score in this gritty, raucous drama suffused with an urban Jewish hip-hop vibe. Berkowitz will appear in person at the San Rafael screening.

Monday night, the Festival comes to a close with Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker [Israel, 2010, 112 min], an affectionate, bittersweet feature set in 1960s Haifa, in which protagonist Arik’s eye-opening summer vacation includes the sexy Iraqi-Jewish-American niece of his best friend, a seedy downtown movie theater run by a group of Jewish dwarfs who met at Auschwitz, and Yankele Bride—matchmaker, shady businessman and Holocaust survivor.

Diverse stories with international flavors

This year’s program is especially strong on documentaries.  It begins with Marin’s first screening next Saturday:  Incessant Visions—Letters from an Architect [Israel, 2011, 70 min].  This is Duki Dror’s (My Fantastia, The Journey of Vaan Nguyen, Mr. Cortisone, Happy Days) compelling meditation on the life and career of the architect Eric Mendelsohn.  Of local interest, Mendelsohn’s granddaughter, Daria Joseph, is a Marin resident.

Next Year in Bombay [France, India, 2010, 55 min], a co-production by Jonas Parientè and Mathias Mangin, profiles the surprising diversity of India’s Jewish communities.  The film focuses on a young couple’s struggle with their desire to see Judaism thrive in India and their commitment to providing their children with a Jewish education which is only possible if they move to Israel.

From France, Rose Bosch’s The Roundup [France, 2009, 120 min] is the harrowing investigative account of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Paris’ Jews in 1942 with a stand-out performance by French actor Jean Reno (The Professional).  Standing Silent [US, 2010, 82 min] is Scott Rosenfelt’s profile of journalist Phil Jacobs, whose crusade to unmask sexual predators within the Jewish community exposes him to ostracism for exposing the community to external scrutiny.  Liz Garbus (Shouting Fire) brings a portrait of the complicated life of the tormented chess genius in Bobby Fischer Against the World [US, 2010, 92 min].

Also screening at the Rafael Film Center and part of the San Francisco portion of SFJFF festival programming is Crime After Crime [US, 2011, 95 min], Yoav Potash’s unforgettable chronicle of a woman’s fight against horrible injustice.  Winner of both Audience Choice and Golden Gate awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival, this compelling documentary tells the story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an incarcerated survivor of domestic violence.  Over 26 years in prison could not crush the spirit of this determined African-American woman, despite the wrongs she suffered, first at the hands of a duplicitous boyfriend who beat her and forced her into prostitution, and later by prosecutors who used the threat of the death penalty to corner her into a life behind bars for her connection to the murder of her abuser.  Her story takes an unexpected turn when her cause is taken up by two volunteer attorneys: Joshua Safran, who witnessed spousal abuse as a child and whose identity as an Orthodox Jew fuels his work on the case, and Nadia Costa, a former social worker for Children’s Protective Services in Los Angeles.  Tickets for this exceptional film, which opens Friday,  August 5, 2011 at the Rafael Film Center with multiple screenings, can be purchased directly from the Rafael Film Center, as it is not officially part of the Marin festival offerings.

On the narrative side, thought-provoking stories abound from Israel, Poland and Germany, as well as America.  Aside from the opening and closing night offerings of Joanna, Polish Bar and The Matchmaker, from Israel comes Mabul (The Flood) [Israel, Canada, France, Germany, 2011, 97 min], directed by Guy Nattiv, which paints the unstable members of the Rosko family, each hiding dark secrets from the others.  Affairs, adolescence, drugs and unemployment plague the Roskos, and when autistic son Tomer suddenly rejoins the family, the building pressure explodes. The sharp performances of the cast earned the film 6 Ofir nominations, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars.

Nir Bergman’s Intimate Grammar [Israel, 2010, 110 min] is a beautiful narrative based on a 1991 David Grossman novel and is movingly told from the point of view of the teenage son of a dysfunctional family in 1960’s Jerusalem. From Poland, Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s Little Rose [Poland, 2010, 118 min] is a Cold War espionage thriller that opens as news of the Six Day War arrives.  In this paranoid atmosphere, a blond bombshell (Magdalena Boczarska) is hired by the secret police to spy on a renowned intellectual (Andrzej Seweryn) suspected of subversive views.  This twisted love story becomes entangled with the intrigues of the State security apparatus.

In an Austrian/German/Hungarian co-production, Elizabeth Scharang’s debut feature In Another Lifetime [Austria, Germany, Hungary, 2010, 94 min] (see ARThound’s full review) is a haunting and bittersweet tale of Hungarian Jews on a forced march towards death who stage a Strauss operetta in an Austrian village in a vain hope to survive their fate.

About the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), turned 31 this year and is the world’s oldest and largest Jewish film festival.  There are 58 films in all─38 full-length  films in all—38 full-length films (23 documentaries and 15 narratives) and 19 shorts (10 documentaries, 1 narrative and 8 animations) from 16 countries.  There are many free events too.  Attracting more than 33,000 filmgoers annually, SFJFF is world-renowned for the diversity and breadth of its audiences and films.  SFJFF’s mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of the diversity of the Jewish people, provide a dynamic and inclusive forum for exploration of and dialogue about the Jewish experience, and encourage independent filmmakers working with Jewish themes.

The SFJFF Jewish Film Forum

Members of SFJFF’s Jewish Film Forum receive exclusive discounts on all festival tickets, passes and 10-Flix vouchers. The Jewish Film Forum is SFJFF’s year-round affiliation program bringing film lovers together to enjoy and support the mission and programs of SFJFF. Memberships, which begin at $50, may be purchased online or by phone when ordering tickets.

Details:  The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 Fourth Street in San Rafael.  Metered parking is available on the street or chose from several lots close by.  The San Rafael portion of the festival starts next Saturday, August 6, 2011 and runs through Monday, August 8, 2011. 

Tickets are $12.00 for the general public and can be purchased online or by phone (M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at 415.621.0523.  Tickets are also available for same day purchase at individual screening venues but screenings may sell out in advance www.sfjff.org.  “Discount 10-Flix Voucher Packs” are $100 for the general public. Group rates and special prices for students and seniors are available.

July 31, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2nd Annual German Gems Film Festival set to sparkle at the Castro this weekend and in Point Arena on January 22, 2011

Johannes Silberschneider (left) as Mahler and Karl Markovics as Freud in MAHLER ON THE COUCH by Percy and Felix Adlon. The film opens the second German Gems Film Festival this Friday at the Castro Theatre. Photo courtesy of German Gems

The 2nd German Gems film festival opens this Friday evening at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco, presenting a line-up of ten fascinating new German-language films.  A portion of the program will be shown in Point Arena at their historic Arena Theatre on Saturday, January 22, 2011.  The emphasis of this little festival is on new filmmakers and first features whose narratives and styles define new trends in German-language cinema.  The festival opens with Mahler on the Couch  by the father and son team, Percy Adlon (Baghdad Café, Sugar Babies, Salmonberries) and Felix Adlon.  This magical and timely narrative feature of doomed love and musical genius comes at the centennial of the famous Austrian composer, Gustav Mahler’s death.  It focuses on his wife, Alma Mahler’s affair with the young architect Walter Gropius that drives her famous husband to Sigmund Freud’s couch.

 And that’s just the first gem…there are nine others addressing the little known but awesome sport of river surfing, a celebrated architect whose personal life is in complete ruins, a 17 year-old girl who viciously and unexpectedly murders a classmate, a 78 year-old pilot whose has flown notables like Haille Selassie and the king of Yemen who is building his dream plane in the Caribbean for an air show in Florida, and an epic mountain film set in South Tyrol in 1809 that is a grand love story between a Bavarian woman and a Tyrolean rebel who are both enmeshed in Napoleon’s quest for empire. 

Ingrid Eggers, founder of German Gems, now in its second year at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Ingrid Eggers who founded German Gems last year.  Eggers, a long-time Bay Area resident, ran the very successful Berlin and Beyond film festival from 1996 through 2009.  Under her guidance, Berlin and Beyond became one of the most successful German language film festivals outside of Europe, presenting over 500 films to 100,000 people in the Bay Area. When the Goethe-Institut San Francisco, which had sponsored Berlin and Beyond, merged it with Los Angeles’ German Currents festival to create a single West Coast event in October, 2009, Eggers had mandatory retirement forced upon her.  She re-emerged a few months later with German Gems, a one day, three film mini-fest at the Castro Theatre that was tremendously popular. Now, she is back with her second German Gems and a lot to say about German film.

What does German Gems allow you to offer the Bay Area audience that you couldn’t offer before? 

Ingrid Eggers:  I looked very carefully at Berlin and Beyond and the other German festivals in California and examined their current programming and didn’t see any focus on first feature films from young filmmakers. I decided to bring first features here–documentaries as well narrative features–to give young filmmakers from film schools a chance to show their films in San Francisco.  In Germany, there’s a lot of money for filmmaking, a lot of competition, and there’s a lot of very interesting film resulting from that.  It’s very hard for this group to find a festival that will take them.  Our selection of 10 films, one of which is a 20 minute short, includes 6 first features and several of the filmmakers will be here to present their films.

What impacted your decision to expand to a full weekend this year?

Ingrid Eggers:  The first German Gems did very well and I thought this January slot, which was when Berlin and Beyond used to be held, was very good because there’s not much happening.  I am also offering films that wouldn’t otherwise be shown here. Of the 10 films in my program, none of them has an American distributor at this point.  The big Bay Area festivals, SFIFF (San Francisco International Film Festival) and Frameline (Gay and Lesbian festival), aren’t showing many German films. SFIFF has emphasized French films, and it does the little French and Italian series in the fall.  I am not sure where the new director of Berlin and Beyond is headed; he’s Cambodian and seems to be moving in an international direction.  I want to continue represent German films and think there is definitely an audience. 

Do you select all the films yourself?  What are your criteria?

Ingrid Eggers:  I don’t do it all alone.  I have a group of people here who watch the films and another group of UCLA film school students (which includes my daughter) in Los Angeles because I want to have some young eyes look at this too.  And I go to the festivals– Munich in the summer, Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) in February and German Currents in Los Angeles in October—and I see what’s going on.  I get lots of films sent to me too. 

In terms of selection, the number one criterion is quality and that’s a very subjective thing.  For me, quality is based on the screenplay, cinematography, the way the film is made, and the filmmaker’s point of contact with the story.  It all has to work.  This year, we’ve got Celebration of Flight a documentary resulted from the filmmaker (director Lara Juliette Sanders) traveling to the Caribbean, to Dominica, and meeting a 78 year-old pilot, a quite amazing guy, who was working on building a plane.  It all came together beautifully.  The filmmaker has a curious story too—she was in advertising and quit and went to the airport and said I’m going to fly to No. 10 on this big list of departures.  That’s how she ended up in the Caribbean and found Daniel Rundstrom.  She wrote a book about this and has become very popular in Germany, on all the talk shows.  The outcome is that she became a filmmaker and has relocated to LA.  Daniel impressed me too: he is so methodical in the pursuit of his dream but then there were big problems with this plane at the air show in Miami.  Both the director and Daniel will be at the festival.

KEEP SURFING's director Bjorn Richie Lob, an avid river surfer, rides a wave on the Eisbach in a still from KEEP SURFING, photo courtesy of German Gems

There’s another one, David Wants to Fly which is really the story of two David’s–director David Sieveking whose subject is Director David Lynch– and TM (Transcendental Meditation).  Sieveking got more and more sucked into TM and then found out about the very harsh side of it and that impacted his talks with David Lynch.  So we get insight into TM and David Lynch and this quest and it all works. 

And when I saw Keep Surfing in Munich two years ago at its world premiere, I knew this had to be shown in the Bay Area. It really gets into this sport which is little known and into the stories of the people who are doing it. It represents years of work too.  I knew nothing about this before I saw the film and I know Munich. They took me from the theatre just 10 minutes down the street to the Eisbach and it was quite amazing. I really wanted the film and finally I got it

Of course, you don’t always get you want because distributors are asking a lot of money, even for small films. Our festival is very small and if you want to get new productions, the world sales people will tell you that they want to wait and see if the film is picked up by a larger festival in the area first.  The bigger festivals want to premiere films that have not been shown in the area before.  You get lots of no’s, but we always find great films that fit our program. 

The films I have seen—Mahler on the Couch, Mountain Blood, The Architect, She Deserved It, Disenchantments— all rely on exceptionally well-developed stories and actors rather than special effects to carry the day.  Is this your curating preference or a theme in German film?

Ingrid Eggers:  I think that young filmmakers are not going for special effects because these things cost money.  It’s hard enough to get good actors, but actors can sometimes be persuaded to donate their services. 

Josef Bierbichler as Georg Winter in THE ARCHITECT, Ina Weisse's feature debut about a man whose long-held secrets drag his family down. Photo courtesy of German Gems

What themes are young German filmmakers exploring these days?  

Ingrid Eggers:  I’ve been asking myself that question. I can tell you what is not in the film that I am watching now.   One of the things is war epics…Iraq, Afghanistan… wars have been done. I’m not seeing that in German or in new American films either.  The other thing is that I am not seeing is social clashes outside of the family.  Germany is full of Turks, the major minority in Germany.  Die Fremde (director Feo Aladağ, winner of 2010 European Lux Prize) is about honor killings through the narrative of a Turkish family living in Germany. It’s being shown all around and that’s why we aren’t showing it.  I think filmmakers are retreating with these problems into the family and not dealing head-on with these big subjects out there.  They are telling a story about family relationships, and at the same time, in parallel, a story with wider social, cultural and moral aspects. The Architect, She Deserved It, and Mountain Blood are examples of this. I didn’t see much engagement with gay topics either.  

Who are the filmmakers who are most influencing this new generation of German filmmakers?  Are they German, European, American, international?

Ingrid Eggers:  Usually, young German filmmakers graduating from film school will first try to write a good script and then see if they get funding for their film.  There’s so much money in Germany now for film, it comes from taxes, and as a result German film has gotten really good.  If you ask them–and we had these discussions at Berlin and Beyond here a couple of years ago with Wim Wenders and young filmmakers–you see that young German filmmakers watch a lot of films.  They are influenced by the all the big names out there– Antonioni, David Lynch—and they are investigating and comparing but I think their main thing is to try to do their own thing with their own story.

There is also a trend in Germany towards Hollywood with films being made in this pure entertainment style, trying to be blockbusters.  Some succeed but most don’t.   There are also young German filmmakers who migrate to Hollywood and give it a try.  Usually, they are not so successful.  Those who are most successful in German film are the ones who deal with more German topics.  The big example right now though is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who got an Oscar in 2007 for his fantastic debut feature film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) and now he’s done The Tourist which I wouldn’t go and see.  I think he has much more interesting stories to tell than that one.  After success in Germany, opportunities may open up in the States but that doesn’t necessarily translate into success here.

 The Architect and She Deserved It make for a very heavy Saturday night.  What facet of German culture do they shed light on? 

I got totally fascinated by The Architect (Der Architekt) which is mystery, secrets and snow and the story of this successful guy who is a total mess.  In that isolated village, he cannot walk away from all of this and everything disintegrates in him and in his family.  It is quite intense.  People told me, and I agree, that if he hadn’t died, he would have gone back to that woman which no one wanted.  From a screenplay point of view, once the family went back to north Germany, he could not survive.  The amazing thing is that the young director, Ina Weisse, got these huge German stars, all the big names, to play in her film and did a fantastic job of directing it.

Sina Tkosch as Kati, Liv Lisa Fries as Linda, Francois Goeske as Josch, and Saskia Schindler as Susanne in the SHE DESERVED IT, Thomas Stiller's topical exploration of a 17 year-old who murders her classmate. Photo courtesy of German Gems

She Deserved It (Sie hat es verdient) is a very heavy film that’s hard to watch but we had to show it because teen-based violence is such a big topic now in Germany, actually all over the place, and we don’t really know why.  Families will probably say this can’t happen in my family but it happens every day, this past weekend in fact.   This is based on a true story of a 14 year old girl who killed her classmate.  This is shot basically from the perspective of the perpetrator, the young girl.  You really get under her skin and the dialogue with her mother–the only one who tries to find out what happened—is remarkable.  The filmmaker can’t be here but I’m going to have a therapist come up on stage and talk about the family dynamics in both families and what it is that has driven so many young people into despair, violence and suicide.  This film will be shown on German television and embedded in something called “theme evening” where people and experts talk and other things related to this topic of teenage violence are shown.  It’s a very important film.

You’ve picked a set of films that portray a very interesting and strong group of women.  The female characters in Alma Mahler, The Architect, Mountain Blood, She Deserved It— use their strengths in different ways, to different ends but they are all strong.  Is this you coming through?

Barbara Romaner portrays the passionate Alma Mahler, in Mahler on the Couch screening at German Gems 2011. Photo courtesy of Percy Aldon.

Ingrid Eggers:  I haven’t looked at it from that point of view but yes, maybe.  I know that in She Deserved It (Thomas Stiller) all the men are hopeless. In The Architect (Ina Weisse), even though he’s at the pinnacle of his career, his life is a complete mess and he is torn apart by women.  Alma Mahler in Mahler on the Couch (Percy and Felix Adlon) is a strong woman who used her sexuality to draw very intelligent men into her orbit. In Mountain Blood, (Philipp J. Pamer) the women stay at home while the men are fighting and you have two very strong women there—Katherina, the outsider, and Elisabeth, the mother, who embodies that type of suspicious insular mountain person. These women really run things.  And then too, in terms of the mix of female filmmakers in this festival, there are two.  I would not do a festival without women filmmakers.

In Germany today, who are the strongest female filmmakers?

Ingrid Eggers:  Doris Dörrie, Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüte – Hanami) (2008), who was in San Francisco several times with Berlin and Beyond and Margarethe von Trotta, who made Vision (2008), about Hildegard von Bingen, at German Gems last year.  Both women are in their 50’s or 60’s.  There are many young German women who are maturing but not out there yet.  It’s a very long process to make it to the top because the industry is so dominated by men.  There are lots of women working in producing and at that range both here and in Germany; but directing and cinematography have been hard fields for women to really break into.    

What are your impressions of Philipp Pamer’s Mountain Blood?  I was mesmerized by its depth. I looked up this chapter in Tyrolean independence and he nailed it. 

Wolfgang Menardi and Ina Birkenfeld in MOUNTAIN BLOOD, directed by Philipp Pamer, photo courtesy of German Gems

Ingrid Eggers:  This is one of the most amazing and touching first feature graduation films. It’s a huge production, an epic drama set in 1809 in a small village in the Alps.  There’s a lot of autobiographical stuff in this film too because Philipp Pamer, grew up in that village and it’s very authentic with all the details, right down to the dialects.  There’s also the story and how it’s done.  There’s the couple and how they deal with the political unrest during the time that Napoleon took over Europe and remapped everything.  Oxburg, the home of young woman, Katharina, was a card in the Napoleonic Empire, as was South Tyrol, the home of her husband. 

The Tyrolean leader Andreas Hofer is also in the film but the focus is on the young couple.  The girl is an outsider and is not accepted.  This is very typical for this genre of mountain film. If you live in the mountains, you are cut off from the rest of the world. Within your little community, you become very suspicious of everything that comes from the outside.  She comes in and she doesn’t know what’s going on.  She doesn’t want to fight with anybody.  She starts to be accepted and then she does a major faux paus to keep her husband from fighting in the war from which there is no recovery.

What are your plans for German Gems? Are you hoping to expand it through collaboration with other festivals so that you can share the expenses of flying in more guests or of lengthening the festival?

Ingrid Eggers:  There is always the possibility to do co-presentations, which we are doing with Mahler on the Couch, but to merge with a festival and get money from them would mean you become a satellite. It would be a totally different story, like becoming “New Italian Cinema,” or “French Film Now.”  It’s a totally different way of organizing and a different relationship. You can collaborate but you don’t get real money unless you become part of them. My goal is not to turn this into a week-long festival but to leave it as weekend– two days plus a night– and see who will support this festival and how we can improve it in this format.  We’re very thankful to our sponsors–Maurice Kanbar, Barbro Osher and Kuehne + Nagel, the Bay Guardian and various local people and organizations. Last year we got money from a German foundation, Filmstiftung NRW, and that lasted for two years. 

 

Films in San Francisco, Castro Theatre Philipp Pamer’s Mountain Blood?  

Friday, January 14, 2011

7 pm  Mahler on the Couch (Mahler auf der Couch) followed by Opening Night Party

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2 pm Keep Surfing                                                                                                                                                                                                            4:30 pm Intern for Life (Ein Praktikant fürs Leben)
7 pm The Architect (Der Architekt)
9 pm She Deserved It (Sie hat es verdient)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2 pm Celebration of Flight
4 pm David Wants to Fly 

6:30 pm Mountain Blood  (Bergblut)
9 pm Disenchantments (Entzauberungen), preceded by GÖMBÖC

Films in Point Arena, Arena Theatre

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2 pm Intern for Life (Ein Praktikant fürs Leben)
4 pm Keep Surfing
7:30 pm Mahler on the Couch (Mahler auf der Couch)

Details:  San Francisco: German Gems is at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street at Market, San Francisco from Friday through Sunday.  Tickets: $9-11 per screening, $20 opening night.  Purchase online at www.germangems.com  Parking Alert: There is virtually no parking around the Castro Theatre.  Allow ample time to find a place to park and walk to the theatre.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFIFF 53 — 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22- May 6, starts Thursday with an Impressive Line-up of Global Cinema

It’s film festival season again and nothing beats the San Francisco International Film Festival for exceptional global cinema.  The festival, now in its 53rd year, runs April 22-May 6, 2010 and offers 177 films from 46 countries in 31 languages with 9 North American premieres, 5 world premieres and one international premiere.   I am especially attached to SFIFF because the programming is wonderfully diverse offering narrative features, feature documentaries, works from new directors, and shorts from all over the world that can loosely be divided into over 20 niche causes– animals, the arts, civil liberties, environment, family issues, human rights, science and technology, world culture, war, youth, and Cinema by the Bay (locals).  All screenings include engaging audience Q&A with the directors, actors, and film crews.  

The festival always includes a number of “big nights” with special gala screenings and events.  This year, the opening night film at the Castro theatre is Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MicMacs, a David and Goliath story about extracting revenge from weapons manufacturers who have reeked havoc in the life of man with a bullet lodged in his head.

The centerpiece screening on May 1 is Happythankyouplease, the feature debut film by Josh Radnor, star of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”  The story involves a struggling Lower East Side writer who strikes up a touching friendship with a lost child he meets on the subway and whose orbit includes an engaging group of twenty-somethings whose lives exemplify a generational shift for post-9/11 Manhattanites.  The festival closes on May 6 with an appearance by the amazing Joan Rivers and a screening of Joan Rivers–A Piece of Work.  At 76, this unflappable, courageous, quick-witted dynamo has been entertaining us for 55 years and is not about to abdicate her role as America’s reigning queen of comedy. 

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek starring in Aaron Schneider's GET LOW, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

The Film Society Awards Night on Thursday April 29, 2010 honors achievement in acting, directing and screenwriting.  Robert Duvall will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for brilliance in acting.  His latest film Get Low (Dir. Aaron Schneider, USA, 2009, 102 min) screens on Friday, April 30 and is sure to garner Oscar attention. 

 This year’s Founder’s Directing Award goes to Brazilian director Walter Salles whose trademark semi-documentary style was honed in memorable films like Central Station (1994) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).  The festival will screen his most recent film Linha de Passé (2008) and In Search of the Road, a work in progress based on Kerouac’s On The Road on Wednesday April 28, 2010.  James Schamas will receive the coveted Kanbar Award for screenwriting and his 2009 Director’s Cut of Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil will screen on May 1, 2010.

Tilda Swinton starring in Erick Zonca's JULIA, will screen at An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends at the Castro Theatre on May 1 as part of the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

Chicago film Critic Roger Ebert, who has been commenting on and championing movies professionally for over 4 decades will receive the Mel Novikoff Award recognizing his enhancement of filmgoer’s appreciation of world cinema.  An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends at the Castro Theatre on May 1, will include a screening of Ebert’s 2009 fav—Erik Zonka’s thriller Julia, starring Tilda Swinton as a boozed-up abrasive kidnapper who attempts a double-cross but finds herself overwhelmed.  

SFIFF takes place in San Francisco (Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, and Landmark’s Clay Theatre) and Berkeley (Pacific Film Archive).  Most of these films sell out, so buy your tickets in advance.

Here are my must-see flicks, biased by my interest in global politics, human rights, environmental concerns and penetrating storytelling.  I will be posting full reviews of several of these films in coming days. 

 
 
 
 
 

A scene from Ciro Guerra's THE WIND JOURNEYS, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

The Wind Journeys (Dir. Ciro Guerra, Columbia/Netherlands/Argentina/Germany, 2009, 117 min) Every year SFIFF offers a must-see “journey film”—an inspiring and unforgettable road trip through cloud-capped mountains in a remote and mystic locale.  The Wind Journeys takes us on a final trek with elderly Columbian juglar (migrant musician) Ignacio who, after his wife’s death, sets out to return his accordion to his mentor before he dies.  He travels through Columbia’s mountain villages and spectacular forests with Fermin, a pesky and unwelcome young follower who hopes to become his apprentice and successor but lacks musical talent.  When tragedy strikes, the two men discover they actually need each other.  Aside from its beautiful music and rich ethnographic context, this slow moving but perfectly-paced film is infused with references to sorcery–Ignacio’s accordion is said to be cursed.  Screens: Sunday, May 2, 8:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday May 4, 8 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, May 6, 5:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre.

 

Marwencol (Dir. Jeff Maimberg, USA, 2010, 82 min) As a result of a brutal beating in April 2000, Mark Hogancamp awoke brain-damaged with no memory of his life before the attack, unable to walk, speak or rely on his motor skills.  As something to pass the time while nursing himself back to health, Hogancamp began to build

A scene from Jeff Malmberg's MARWENCOL, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of san Francisco Film Society.

 Marwencol, a 1/6 scale fictional Belgium WWII era town in his backyard.  Populated with life-like Barbi dolls who he has painstakingly and tenderly given identities, Hogancamp plays out scenes from life and WWII and then photographs them.  The result is an amazing collection of gripping photographs that would hold their own next to any war photojournalism.  This engrossing documentary takes us into the brilliant creative mind of a remarkable man whose play therapy has captured the attention of the fickle art world.  I had the pleasure of watching this with my 85 year-old step-father, a veteran, who was so moved by the enactments and Hogancamp that he began to share his own remarkable war stories.    Screens: Saturday May 1, 4:10 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday May 2, 6:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday May 4, 4:15 PM Kabuki Theatre.  

A scene from Andrei Dascalescu's documentary CONSTANTIN AND ELENA, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010.

 Constantin and Elena (Dir. Andrei Dascalescu, Romania, Spain, 2008, 102 min)  Only if we could all be so lucky to reach our twilight years with the love, energy and genuine affection of Constantin and Elena, a Romanian couple who have been married happily for 55years.  This delightful documentary feature film, made by their grandson Andrei Dascalescu, follows them over the course of a year as they live simply but richly side by side–making sausage, weaving carpets, milking cows, going to church, nurturing each other and bursting into song and laughter.  Not that they don’t bicker but they do so lovingly.   They talk constantly about everything, even death– which they accept is coming but oh to keep living because they’ve got things to do.  Screens: Friday April 23, 4:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Sunday April 25, 12 noon, Kabuki Theatre, Tuesday, April 27, 6:45 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Saturday, May 1, Pacific Film Archive.  

Ordinary People (Dir. Vladimir Perisic, France/Switzerland/Serbia, 2009, 80 min) An unforgettable and utterly numbing debut film that about a group of young soldiers, including Dzoni (Rejila Popovic)

A scene from Vladimir Perisic's ORDINARY PEOPLE, playing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.

a twenty something recruit played by, taken on a bus ride to a remote locale–unstated but presumably somewhere in the Balkans—where their horrific task is to execute a large group of civilians.   As the act gets underway, the characters various responses to it will stay with you for days.  Dzoni refuses at first and fails at his first kill–a shot to the back of a bound man—but before our eyes, he slowly evolves into a brutal killing machine with hardened features to match. The film explores the familiar ethical defense that in war soldiers cannot always be held responsible for their actions when they are obeying orders.  In this case, the secretive slaughter of civilians violates international law and all moral codes.  We realize that these young men have been so brain-washed by their military training and their need to be accepted by their comrades that they will blindly follow any order.  In the end, they come to treat the act of killing as drudgery.  While this excellent film depicts an abstract massacre, it should spark an interest in the genocide trials now going in The Hague where actual heinous acts are being prosecuted.  Screens: Friday April 30, 9 PM,  Kabuki Theatre, Monday, May 3, 8:55 PM, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, May 5, 7:15 PM, Kabuki Theatre.

 
 
 
 

A scene from Satyajit Ray's 1958 film THE MUSIC ROOM, playing at the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 22 - May 6, 2010. Image courtesy of Aurora Film and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

The Music Room (Dir. Satyajit Ray, India, 1958, 100 min)  Every year, SFIFF offers a restored classic.  One of the greats of Indian cinema, this lovely slow film is based on Bengali writer Tarashankar Banerjee’s novel of the same name.  It tells the story of a turn-of-the-century zamindar, an Indian semi-feudal landlord in Bengal, whose wealth is dwindling but who continues to spend lavishly on concerts in his opulent jalsaghar (music room).  There is excellent footage of Hindustani classical vocal and instrumental music by Vilayat Khan, Asis Kumar, Robin Majumder, and Dakhin Mohan Takhur, as well as classical dance.  The iconic lead actor Chhabi Biswas delivers a stunning performance—of a man hell-bent on preserving his image of grandeur as he recklessly spends it all on one last musical orgy.   Satyajit Ray’s work occupies a special place in the history of SFIF.  Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali, had its U.S. premiere at the very first SFIFF in 1957. Since then, the festival has screened more of his films than those of any other director.  Screens: Saturday May 1, 2:30 PM, Castro Theatre, Sunday, May 2, 6:15 PM, Pacific Film Archive.  

Get Low (Dir. Aaron Schneider, USA, 2009, 102 min)  Robert Duval plays Felix Bush, a elderly recluse who has exiled himself in the back woods for 40 years, crippled by a tragic event that has kept him in a prison of his own making.  Stirred by the death of a one-time friend, Bush makes a rare trip to town and discusses plans to “get low” or make funeral plans.  He wants a funeral party where everyone who has a story to tell about him will have a chance to speak and he wants to watch it all go down. Co-starring Bill Murray as the greasy funeral home director and Sissy Spacek, as a jilted love interest, this story will leave you thinking twice about self-imposed baggage we all carry with us through this life.  Screens: Friday April 30, 7:30 PM, Castro Theatre.

Ticket Information:
Tickets are $12.50  Online: sffs.org   By phone: 925-866-9559 (Monday–Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm)
In Person: Main Ticket Outlet: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street (at Fillmore)
Pre-Festival: April 1–22, 3:30–7:30 pm
During the Festival: April 23–May 6, open one hour prior to the first screening of the day.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment