ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival opens Thursday evening with a captivating drama and continues with 14 days of film from all corners of the globe

Berkeley native, Sara Dosa’s "The Last Season" makes its world premiere on Friday, April 25th, at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) which runs April 24- May 8, 2014.  The documentary examines the bonds between some 200 seasonal workers, mostly Asian, who set up a temporary camp each fall in tiny town of Chemult, Oregon, to forage for matsutake, a rare type of mycorrhizal mushroom that is prized in Japan for its distinctive spicy aroma.    Dosa, her film crew, and Cambodian immigrant Kuoy Loch will be in attendance.  The film screens three times at SFIFF 57, which offers 29 documentary features and a total of 168 films.  Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Berkeley native, Sara Dosa’s “The Last Season” makes its world premiere on Friday, April 25th, at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) which runs April 24- May 8, 2014. The documentary examines the bonds between some 200 seasonal workers, mostly Asian, who set up a temporary camp each fall in tiny town of Chemult, Oregon, to forage for matsutake, a rare type of mycorrhizal mushroom that is prized in Japan for its distinctive spicy aroma. Dosa, her film crew, and Cambodian immigrant Kuoy Loch will be in attendance. The film screens three times at SFIFF 57, which offers 29 documentary features and a total of 168 films. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

 

Not just another film festival, the 57th Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) is the West Coast’s premiere film festival, showcasing stellar global storytelling, homegrown talent, impactful reportage and remarkable cinematography.  SFIFF opens this Thursday evening and runs for 15 days, featuring 168 films and live events from 56 countries in 40 languages—74 narrative features, 29 documentary features, 65 shorts, 14 juried awards, and over 100 participating filmmakers. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS), this mammoth festival really does defy categorization.  Its greatly revered for its support of new filmmakers and for championing independent films that are unlikely to screen elsewhere in the Bay Area.  One of the joys of attending SFIFF is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen—on a big screen, in digital projection—and getting to participate in Q&A’s with their directors and actors, many of whom reside in other countries and express fresh and unpredictable points of view.  SFIFF also distinguishes itself with excellent live onstage events and awards ceremonies that feature film luminaries in more lengthy moderated discussions.  While many festivals have morphed in multi-sensory entertainment malls, SFIFF is first and foremost film, with a few great parties thrown into the mix.

I am dividing my coverage of this year’s festival into two articles—this first one, below, gives an overview and lets you know what the featured big evenings and tributes will offer; the second one will include short reviews of the top films I recommend.  I haven’t covered the special programs before but I’ve attended several of these honoree chat/screening combos and there is nothing more impactful than watching a film and getting the behind-the-scenes lowdown straight from the creator or actor’s mouth.  Value priced at $15-$25, they’re a no-brainer.  So, here are the high-profile events that ought to be on everyone’s radar–

BIG NIGHTS:

This year, both opening and closing night films focus on two American married couples who develop fractures in their relationships while dealing with issues—work and vacation—that become insanely complicated and high stakes.

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst star in the North American premiere of Hossein Amini's “The Two Faces of January,” a stylish adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith suspense thriller.  The film, which was shot on location in Greece and Turkey, opens the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) which runs April 24- May 8, 2014.  Hossein Amini will be in attendance.  Photo courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst star in the North American premiere of Hossein Amini’s “The Two Faces of January,” a stylish adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith suspense thriller. The film, which was shot on location in Greece and Turkey, opens the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 57) which runs April 24- May 8, 2014. Hossein Amini will be in attendance. Photo courtesy San Francisco Film Society

OPENING NIGHT: (Thursday, April 24, 7 p.m., Castro Theatre) The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amini, UK, 2014, 97 min) Hossein Amini will attend.  Intrigue begins at the Parthenon when wealthy American tourists Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his young bride Collette (Kirsten Dunst) meet American expat Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a scammer who poses as a tour guide.  Instead of becoming his latest marks, the two befriend him, but an incident at the couple’s hotel puts all three in danger and creates a precarious interdependence between them.  This American thriller, written and directed by Hossein Amini in his feature directorial debut, is a gripping adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name. Filmed on location in Greece and Turkey, Amini evokes the glamor of the 1962 setting through Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography, Alberto Iglesias’ atmospheric score and the Kennedy-era chic of Steven Noble’s costume designs.  The clever screenplay has the two male protagonists seesawing between being allies and adversaries, a handful of unnatural deaths, and a few attempted murders and frame-ups.  Amini was born in Iran and he and his family immigrated to England when he was 11.  He wrote the screenplay for Snow White and the Hunstman (2012) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay for Wings of the Dove (1997). (Click here to purchase tickets) Followed by an Opening Night Party at Public Works, a new events space, situated in San Francisco’s Mission district, featuring gourmet treats and beverages from some of San Francisco’s finest restaurants and purveyors. (Ticketed separately)

This year’s CENTERPIECE is Saturday, May 3 and introduces first time writer director Gia Coppola (27-year-old granddaughter of FFC and niece of Sofia) who has adapted Palo Alto, James Franco’s 2010 book of short stories, into a richly layered ensemble drama. I attended a press screening of Palo Alto and Coppola certainly has the family touch. Her film follows an extended group of high school teens, some genuinely disturbed and others just angst ridden, as they experiment with all sorts of vices and struggle with their families and one another. Emma Roberts, is sensitive April, the emotional lynchpin, who falls for introspective artist Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer who also appears), while navigating an affair with her soccer coach Mr. B (James Franco). Meanwhile, Teddy’s friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), wreaks personality disorder level mayhem wherever he goes. When he zeroes in on sexually promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin), things get cruel and so uncomfortable and nasty, you’ll have a hard time watching.  If you’re a parent, take in the signals and enjoy the great retro aura.  If you’re one of the young and disaffected, Coppola’s sharp mirror is sympathetic to your inner demons.  (Screens May 3, 7:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki with Gia Coppola in attendance. (Click here to purchase tickets.) After-screening party, 9 p.m., at Roe, San Francisco’s premier boutique nightclub and lounge destination. (Ticketed separately)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina star in Messina's “Alex in Venice,” SFIFF 57’s Closing Night Film, a very human drama about a workaholic lawyer who struggles to manage her high profile career, her family, and her identity after her stay-at-home husband decides to leave.  Both Winstead and Messina will attend.  Photo: courtesy Milissa Moseley and SFFS.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Chris Messina star in Messina’s “Alex in Venice,” SFIFF 57’s Closing Night Film, a very human drama about a workaholic lawyer who struggles to manage her high profile career, her family, and her identity after her stay-at-home husband decides to leave. Both Winstead and Messina will attend. Photo: courtesy Milissa Moseley and SFFS.

 

CLOSING NIGHT: (Thursday, May 8, 7 p.m., CastroTheatre) Alex of Venice (Chris Messina, USA 2014, 87 min)  In the tranquil suburbs of Venice, CA, Alex, (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a workaholic environmental rights attorney, receives a rude awakening. Her stay-at-home husband George (Chris Messina), who runs the household and takes care of their son Dakota (Skylar Gaertner) and her pot-smoking actor father (Don Johnson), calls it quits. He wants to work on his waning art career and needs space. Thrown for a loop, Alex barely has time to register her own shock and pain because she’s immediately overburdened with the practical responsibilities of two full-time jobs.  As it becomes clear how inept she is on the home front, and how important George is, she acts out.  What eventually follows is Alex’s mini-voyage of self-discovery, resolve and resignation. This is the directorial debut of actor Chris Messina (“The Mindy Project” TV series). Chris Messina and Mary Elizabeth Winstead will attend. (Click here to purchase tickets.) Closing Night Party: Dance the night away with SFIFF’s movie-loving crowd while enjoying delicious hors d’oeuvres and cocktail at The Chapel, San Francisco’s new Mission addition. (Ticketed separately)

AWARDS AND TRIBUTES:

British artist Isaac Julien will receive SFIFF’s Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday, April 27, 2014.  Photo: Courtesy of Graeme Robertson and the San Francisco Film Society

British artist Isaac Julien will receive SFIFF’s Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday, April 27, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of Graeme Robertson and the San Francisco Film Society

British artist Isaac Julien, who will receive SFIFF’s Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday, April 27, is acclaimed for his immersive film installations.  “Ten Thousand Waves” (2010), which will be shown on Sunday, was filmed on location in the ravishing and remote Guangxi Province and at the famous Shanghai Film Studios and various sites around Shanghai. Through formal experimentation and a series of unique collaborations, Julien seeks to engage with Chinese culture through contemporary events, ancient myths and artistic practice.  Isaac Julien Mazu, Silence (Ten Thousand Waves), 2010, Endura Ultra photograph, 180 x 240 cm, Courtesy of the artist, Metro Pictures, New York and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

British artist Isaac Julien, who will receive SFIFF’s Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday, April 27, is acclaimed for his immersive film installations. “Ten Thousand Waves” (2010), which will be shown on Sunday, was filmed on location in the ravishing and remote Guangxi Province and at the famous Shanghai Film Studios and various sites around Shanghai. Through formal experimentation and a series of unique collaborations, Julien seeks to engage with Chinese culture through contemporary events, ancient myths and artistic practice. Isaac Julien Mazu, Silence (Ten Thousand Waves), 2010, Endura Ultra photograph, 180 x 240 cm, Courtesy of the artist, Metro Pictures, New York and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Persistence of Vision Award — (Sunday, April 27 at 3:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki) British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien (2001 Turner Prize short-list nominee for The Long Road to Mazatlán (2000) and creator of numerous immersive film and sound installations at world’s top museums) is the winner of this year’s Persistence of Vision Award. He will take the stage for a conversation with author and social critic B. Ruby Rich and for the screening of his acclaimed Ten Thousand Waves (2010), a film installation reflecting the movement of people across continents. This installation, projected onto nine double-sided screens, travelled the world (the UK, China, South Korea, Europe, and Scandinavia) and arrived at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in late 2013, riveting visitors with its three-story arrangement of screens and multiplying sounds, which filled MoMA’s atrium and reverberated through the galleries.  I can’t wait to hear what Julien is planning next.

Jeremy Irons will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival on May 1 at the Regency Center.  Irons, who won a best actor Oscar in 1990 for his performance as Claus von Bulow in "Reversal of Fortune" and a Tony in 1984 for Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing," also will be honored with "An Evening With Jeremy Irons at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas" on Wednesday, April 30, 2014.  Photo: courtesy SFFS.

Jeremy Irons will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival on May 1 at the Regency Center. Irons, who won a best actor Oscar in 1990 for his performance as Claus von Bulow in “Reversal of Fortune” and a Tony in 1984 for Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” also will be honored with “An Evening With Jeremy Irons at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas” on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Photo: courtesy SFFS.

Peter J. Owens Award—Jeremy Irons (Academy Award, Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, Tony and SAG Award winner) is the recipient of this year’s Peter J. Owens Award for acting, which will be presented to Irons at the very exclusive Film Society Awards Night, Thursday, May 1 at the Regency Center. Irons will also be honored at An Evening with Jeremy Irons at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Wednesday April 30, 7:30 pm. A screening of a film featuring one of his iconic performances will follow an onstage interview and a selection of clips from his impressive career. (Stay tuned to ARThound for more information about this special evening.)

American indie director Richard Linklater will receive SFIFF’s Founder's Directing Award on Sunday, May 2, 2014.  Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

American indie director Richard Linklater will receive SFIFF’s Founder’s Directing Award on Sunday, May 2, 2014. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

Ellar Coltrane, the focus of Richard Linklater‘s “Boyhood” (2014), which follows an American family over the course of more than a decade.  Linklater shot the film, with cast Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and newcomers Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (Linklater’s daughter), over twelve years.  It’s the real deal—each year, he brought the cast together for a scene or two sensitively documenting the actual growth of two siblings, the evolution of their family and how they navigate the painful beautiful and unfair act of just living.

Ellar Coltrane, the focus of Richard Linklater‘s “Boyhood” (2014), which follows an American family over the course of more than a decade. Linklater shot the film, with cast Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and newcomers Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (Linklater’s daughter), over twelve years. It’s the real deal—each year, he brought the cast together for a scene or two sensitively documenting the actual growth of two siblings, the evolution of their family and how they navigate the painful beautiful and unfair act of just living.

 

Founder’s Directing Award— (Sunday May 2, 7 p.m., Castro Theatre) Self-taught American indie director and writer, Richard Linklater is the winner of this year’s Founder’s Directing Award and marks his third consecutive appearance at SFIFF. He joins an elite group— Satyajit Ray and Spike Lee—of directors whose first films were screened at SFIFF and who were subsequently awarded the Founder’s Directing Award. The evening will include a clip reel of career highlights and an onstage interview followed by a screening of Linklater’s entrancing new film Boyhood (2014), shot over 12 years, which received accolades at its premiere at Sundance. The 162 minute film is Linklater’s 18th feature film. It begins in 2002 and tells the quiet story of a boy named Mason as he grows up in Texas. The hook is that this film offers something few if any other films have—Mason is played throughout by the young actor Ellar Coltrane, who we literally and authentically watch grow up, year after year, on camera, from first grade to his departure for college.

Stephen Gaghan, the writer who crafted “Rules of Engagement,” “Traffic” and “Syriana” is the recipient of the Kanbar Screenwriting Award at SFIFF 57, April 24 - May 8, 2014.  Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Stephen Gaghan, the writer who crafted “Rules of Engagement,” “Traffic” and “Syriana” is the recipient of the Kanbar Screenwriting Award at SFIFF 57, April 24 – May 8, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Matt Damon (left) and George Clooney (center) in a scene from Stephen Gagan’s “Syriana” (2005) which will screen at SFIFF 57 on May 3, when Stephen Gaghan receives the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting.  “Syriana” tackles oil and money and the stakes of the haves and have nots in the world through a series of interlocking stories that involve revenge, bribery, betrayal.  The plot is so complex, that it surrounds and engulfs the viewer, so that he becomes just like one of the players in the game who is fighting without understanding the complete picture.

Matt Damon (left) and George Clooney (center) in a scene from Stephen Gagan’s “Syriana” (2005) which screens at SFIFF 57 on May 3, when Stephen Gaghan receives the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting. “Syriana” tackles oil and money and the stakes of the world’s Haves and Have nots through a series of interlocking stories that involve revenge, bribery, and betrayal. The plot is so complex, that it surrounds and engulfs the viewer, making him just like one of the players in the game–compelled to fight without understanding the complete picture.

Kanbar Award(Saturday, May 3, 12:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki). American screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan is this year’s recipient of the Kanbar Awardfor excellence in screenwriting.  Gaghan wrote and directed Syriana (2005), for which he received a best original screenplay Oscar nomination, and is well known for his feature script for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) for which he won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Writers Guild of America Award and British Academy Award.  I’ve always admired Gaghan and thought if he’d been so inclined, he would have made a great investigative reporter because he swims like a pro in the clandestine and murky waters of global politics.  The festival will honor Gaghan with an onstage interview prior to a screening of Syriana.

 

San Francisco-based film critic David Thomson is the recipient of SFIFF’s Mel Novikoff Award.  On May 4, he will appear in conversation with writer Geoff Dyer , followed by a screening of Preston Sturges'  “The Lady Eve” (1941).  Photo: courtesy the San Francisco Film Society

San Francisco-based film critic David Thomson is the recipient of SFIFF’s Mel Novikoff Award. On May 4, he will appear in conversation with writer Geoff Dyer , followed by a screening of Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” (1941). Photo: courtesy the San Francisco Film Society

Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in Preston Sturges' “The Lady Eve” (1941).   Card shark Stanwyck is out to fleece Fonda, the naïve heir to a brewery fortune who is also a snake enthusiast coming home from an Amazon expedition.  Her scheme is quickly abandoned when she falls in love with her prey but is exposed anyway and shunned by Fonda.  Her plan to re-conquer his heart involves assuming a false identity and unabashed flirtation.  No one more convincingly desired a man.  In the famous scene where Fonda adjusts Stanwyck’s shirt downward to expose less skin, Thomson, in his book “Moments that Made the Movies,” linked this act of restraint with the inelastic film censors of the times, observing that Sturges was a brilliant master of the double entendre.   Photo: courtesy the San Francisco Film Society

Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” (1941). Card shark Stanwyck is out to fleece naïve Fonda, the heir to a brewery fortune and a snake enthusiast coming home from an Amazon expedition. Her scheme is quickly abandoned when she falls in love with her prey but is exposed anyway and shunned by Fonda. Her plan to re-conquer his heart involves assuming a false identity and unabashed flirtation. In the famous scene where Fonda adjusts Stanwyck’s shirt downward to expose less skin, Thomson, in his book “Moments that Made the Movies,” linked this act of restraint to the inelastic film censors of the times, observing that Sturges was a brilliant master of the double entendre. Photo: courtesy the San Francisco Film Society

Mel Novikoff Award— (Sunday May 4 at 3 p.m., Sundance Kabuki.)  San Francisco-based film critic and historian David Thomson, who has authored over 20 books on film, including the best-selling Moments That Made the Movies (2013), is the recipient of the Mel Novikoff Award.  He will be in conversation with writer Geoff Dyer and chose Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve (1941), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, as the film he wanted screened on his big day.  You can be sure that he will give a riveting analysis of select moments in this heralded film, some familiar and others not, along with anecdotes and juicy gossip about its filming and stars.

Stay tuned to ARThound.  Tomorrow, I’ll cover the festival’s top films.

SFIFF 57 Details:

When:  SFIFF 57 runs April 24-May 8, 2014

Where:  Four Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.  Salon and Event Venues (all San Francisco):  Filmhouse, 1426 Fillmore Street, Suite 300 (near Ellis), Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery Street (near Lincoln),  The Chapel, 777 Valencia Street (at 18th Street) , The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, 1290 Sutter Street (at Van Ness),  Roe Restaurant, 651 Howard Street; Public Works, 161 Erie Street (at Mission)

Tickets: $15 for most films.  Special events generally start at $20 or $35.   Two screening passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for Film Society members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night). ($1200 Film Society members and $1500 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at www.festival.sffs.org or in person during the festival at Sundance Kabuki, New People Cinema.  Purchase day of show, cash only tickets at Pacific Film Archive and Castro Theatre.

Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush.  Click here to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).

Arrive Early!  Ticket and pass holders must arrive 15 minutes prior to show time to guarantee admission.

Rush tickets:  Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time.  If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time.

More info: For full schedule, info, tickets visit www.festival.sffs.org. or call (415) 561-5000.

Advertisements

April 22, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3rd i’s 9th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival starts Wednesday, November 9, 2011, and runs through Sunday

In Prashant Bhargava’s “Patang,” (“The Kite”) which screens Friday at 3rd i’s South Asian Film Festival, a fractured family is transformed by the sumptuous experience and energy of India’s largest kite festival in the old city of Ahmedabad. Director Prashant Bhargava will be in attendance. Photo: courtesy Prashant Bhargava

 3rd i’s 9th annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (SFISAFF) begins this Wednesday, November 9, 2011, and runs through Sunday, November 13, 2011, presenting 10 new independent films from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, USA, and the South Asian Diaspora.  SFISAFF is the oldest South Asian film festival in the US and the best outlet for South Asian film in the Bay Area.  The festival is organized by 3rd i, a non-profit, nationwide organization, based in San Francisco that is committed to promoting diverse images of South Asians through independent film.  This year’s programming features art-house classics, documentaries, experimental and Bollywood features, movies made by Bay Area filmmakers, with a special emphasis on Sri Lanka.  Several of these magnificent films have been huge hits on the festival circuit and have their Bay Area or U.S. premieres at SFISAFF.  

Focus on Sri Lankan Films:  Sri Lanka has recently seen a surge in independent filmmaking through French co-productions. The highlights in this year’s SFISAFF are Lester James Peries’ groundbreaking film Gamperaliya (1964) which ushered in a new cinematic language in Sri Lankan film and was shot entirely outside of a studio using just one lamp and hand held light for lighting.  Recently restored by UCLA Film Archives, Gamperaliya is an adaptation of Martin Wickramasinghe’s seminal 1944 novel of the same name.  The film explores class conflict through a simple and nuanced love story between a teacher and an aristocrat’s daughter, and has been compared to Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy (1955-59).   The trailer below has no subtitles but the film shown at the festival will have English subtitles.

On the contemporary end, SFISAFF screens Asoka Handagama’s controversial Letter of Fire (2005), a strident indictment of Sri Lanka’s judicial system, treated in Handagama’s unique firebrand style.  Banned in Sri Lanka, it is now making its US premiere at SFISAFF.  3rd i will host a Castro Reception on Saturday, November 11, 2011, following the screening of Letter of Fire, where audience members will have a chance for intimate conversation with Handagama, and with other festival guests.  Handagama will also address the audience on Saturday, before the screening of Gamperaliya, on historical and contemporary trends in Sri Lankan filmmaking.

Also part of the focus is Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s feature debut Flying Fish (Igillena Maluwo) (2011), which is reminiscent of the films of Vimukthi Jayasundara (The Forskaen Land, 2005, winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2005) and points to a new aesthetic in Sri Lankan cinema.  SF-based Pakistani filmmaker Shireen Pasha’s What Time is It?, shot in the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004, will round out the Focus on Sri Lanka.

South Asian Americans shine at this year’s festival with a number of films by desi American filmmakers: NY-based Prashant Bhargava’s Patang (The Kite) (2010), which won raves from Roger Ebert and was a fest-favorite at Berlin, Tribeca and Chicago, is about a family dueling, spinning and ultimately coming together during the spectacular kite festival in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat, in western India.  The personal and political meet in Midwest-based Siddharth Anand Kumar’s stunning debut feature Semshook (2010), which tells the story of Tenzin, a Tibetan artist born and brought up in India, and his attempt to return to his Tibetan homeland on a motorcycle.  Indie-favorite and LA-based Ajay Naidu’s directorial debut Ashes (2010)  is a soulful film about two brothers trying to hold on to each other through mental illness and hardcore crime.  Both Bhargava and Naidu will be attending the festival.

In “Play Like a Lion,” twenty-four year old American born Alam Khan travels to India on his first concert tour without his ailing father, legendary Indian classical maestro sarodist Ali Akbar Khan. Alam knows that soon he will have to play and live life without his father's guidance and support. When Alam feels the weight of living up to his family's North Indian Classical music tradition, he remembers his father's advice: "Don't worry, Play like a Lion." Photo: courtesy Mill Valley Film Festival

 Documentaries are an essential component for SFISAFF, as more awareness of South Asian stories spreads into the mainstream culture.  2011 brings three documentaries (with filmmakers in attendance) made by Bay Area filmmakers.  Bill Bowles and Kevin Meehan’s Big in Bollywood  (2011) charts the instant stardom that Hollywood actor Omi Vaidya achieved through his role in the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots (2009).  Marin County filmmaker Dave Driver’s meditative documentary Way of Life (2011) follows the remarkable story of Michael Daube, a young man of modest means from small town America who finds a valuable David Hockney drawing in a dumpster, sells it at auction and builds a hospital in one of the most remote areas of India and Nepal and, then, goes on to found an international philanthropic organization that serves remote parts of the world.  Joshua Dylan Mellars’ celebratory doc on sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, Play Like A Lion (2011), is a moving illustration of Khan’s description of music as “food for the soul,” seen through the eyes of his American-born son Alam Khan.  Director Joshua Dylan Mellars, Alam Khan, and Producer Mojib Aimaq will be in attendance at the festival.

Shorts Programming: 3rd i’s signature local shorts program The Family Circus showcases 80 minutes of the best desi shorts by Bay Area filmmakers, with the artists in attendance.  This year’s program, on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm, will feature a live neo-benshi performance by local writer/performer Anuj Vaidya.  This program will be followed by a party celebrating the festival and filmmakers at Bollyhood Cafe (recently merged with Little Baobab) in the Mission district.

A second 70 minute program of four new shorts focused on attitudes about gender and sexuality across South Asia and its diaspora will screen on Sunday, November 13, 2011, at 2:30 pm.  The featured shorts are: Anusha Nandakumar’s The Boxing Ladies (2011) about three Muslim sisters in Bengal who defy tradition by becoming national boxing champions; Siraj ul haque’s Chandni (2009, Pakistan) about a hijra who finds solace in Sufism; Jordache Ellapen’s Cane/Cain (2011, South Africa) about a Indian South African and a Pakistani immigrant who connect over love and sugarcane; and Neelu Bhuman’s (US; Bay-Area filmmaker) uplifting Family in Frame (2011), where the filmmaker comes out to her family as bisexual, with varying reactions.

Other programs include: Anant Mahadevan’s inspirational Marathi feature I am Sindhutai Sapkal (Mee Sindhutai Sapkal) (2011), an official selection at last year’s London Film Festival.  The film follows Sindhutai Sapkal from her impoverished childhood in the 1950’s in rural Maharastra, India, where she is forced to drop out of school and marry at age 12 into an abusive and spirit-quelching existence in her in-laws’ home.  With pure grit, she somehow survives.  After relinquishing her own baby, she goes on to become a renowned “mother of orphans.”   The film will be followed by a panel discussion. 

The Closing Night film for this year’s San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival is Selvaraghavan’s Tamil gangster thriller “Pudhupettai” which follows the unlikely rise of Kokki Kumar (acclaimed Indian actor Vengatesh Prabhu Kasthuri Raja aka “Dhanush”) from petty criminal to powerful gang lord in the Pudhupettai slums of Chennai, India’s 6th largest city. Dhanush plays the role with the energy of a young Al Pacino. Photo: courtesy 3rd i.

Bollywood at the Castro:  SFISAFF has special Bollywood programing at every year.   Playing homage to camp meets and bad-boy cult films like Snatch (2000) and The Hangover (2009) is Abhinay Deo’s bawdy, sexy and explosive new comedy Delhi Belly (2011) about a dopey trio of mates who find themselves in a whole lot of trouble when they accidentally mix up a bag containing a stool sample with one full of smuggled diamonds.  Vipin Vijay (Enfant Terrible of Indian cinema) delivers a visual/aural spectacle as he narrates most of his film The Image Threads (2010) in a philosophical monologue.  This mysterious tale, artfully shot in exotic Kerkale, is about an IT-professor who communicates with a cyber-creature and his dead black-magician grandfather through the internet.  The Closing Night film this year is the high-octane Tamil thriller Pudhupettai (2006) (featured in 3rd i’s Cruel Cinema series), a box office smash, which is South India’s answer to Brazilian filmmakers Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s stunning City of God (2002)  or Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s brutal neorealist thriller Amores Perros (2000). 

For a full description of the festival programming and schedule, click here.  

Details:  SFISAFF opens at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., San Francisco on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 and continues there Thursday and Friday (November 10-11, 2011) and Sunday, November 13, 2011.  Films will screen at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco, on Saturday, November 12, 2011.   Tickets: $10 to $11 per screening.  Multiple Pass options are available (Full Festival Pass; Castro Pass; Roxie Pass; Weekend Pass; Focus on Sri Lanka Pass; American Desi Pass, etc.) varying in cost from $32-$120.  Complete ticketing and program information (including special guests, dates, times and venues) at  http://www.thirdi.org/festival/.

November 8, 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