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Geneva Anderson digs into art

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

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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

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

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