Sunday, March 22, 2009

SFIFF52 The Line-Up Part 1 (Early Announcements)

Bay Area cinephiles will be obsessively checking their in-boxes this Friday, awaiting e-mail instructions on how to access the program for the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF52). The line-up won't be officially announced until the March 31 press conference, but for the third year in a row, SF Film Society members get to peek (and start buying tickets) four days earlier. Press releases have arrived at a steady clip over the past few weeks, and the festival has already revealed much of its hand. Here's a recap of what we know so far, followed by a bit of speculation and wishful thinking over what Friday might have in store.

The Opening Night film will be the hometown premiere of Peter Bratt's La Mission. The film stars the director's brother Benjamin and is a redemption drama set in San Francisco's Mission District. The after-party will take place in the very neighborhood where the film was made and will be a two-venue affair: Bruno's Restaurant on Mission Street between 19th and 20th, and two blocks north among the ruins of the old El Capitan movie theater.

I'm really thrilled by the festival's choice for Closing Night film, Alexis Dos Santos' Unmade Beds. The director's first feature, Glue, was a wholly original look at teen angst in an Argentine backwater and one of my ten favorite films of 2007. His latest is set amongst young creative types living in a London squat, and features rising French star Déborah François (The Child, The Page Turner). The after-party takes place at the popular downtown nightclub Mezzanine.

Equally exciting is programmer Sean Uyehara's annual pairing of an iconic silent film with a live, newly composed score. This year's wild combo is 1925 stop-motion dinosaur epic The Lost World with music composed and performed by exotic Bay Area club favorites Dengue Fever. I've written more about this highly anticipated event here (click and scroll to the bottom).

Receiving this year's Peter J. Owens Award for acting will be none other than screen legend Robert Redford. I can think of dozens of more interesting choices, but hey – when someone of his stature agrees to show up and collect an award, the resulting publicity and cachet for the festival rightfully trumps all. (At least he's not getting the directing award à la Warren Beatty in 2002). Redford's career will be celebrated with a retrospective of film clips, on on-stage interview with SF Chronicle editor-at-large Phil Bronstein, and the world premiere of a newly restored print of This Property is Condemned (just joking…it'll be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, natch.)

Newly restored prints are a recurring highlight of SFIFF52, and here are three more that have been announced: Sergio Leone's 1968 Once Upon a Time in the West, Michelangelo Antonioni's 1955 Le Amiche, and John Cassavetes' 1974 A Woman Under the Influence (with an expected live appearance by Gena Rowlands).

Bruce Goldstein will be the recipient of this year's Mel Novikoff Award, which is given each year to "an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public's knowledge and appreciation of world cinema." Goldstein has been the programming whiz behind New York's Film Forum for the past 22 years, and is the founder of Rialto Pictures, a distributor which specializes in classic restorations. He'll be interviewed on-stage by another great programmer, Anita Monga, following a 20-minute reel of Rialto trailers. The evening will be capped off by a screening of Federico Fellini's 1957
Nights of Cabiria.

All of the above-mentioned programs will take place at the Castro Theater, continuing the festival's recent trend of using the historic venue exclusively for special events. This year the Castro will host only three regular screenings. Although not as yet officially announced, the titles are up on the theater's website, so I'm hardly revealing state secrets here. The Tiger's Tail is a unreleased 2006 John Boorman film starring Brendan Gleeson which has received mixed to poor reviews (we're talking a Rotten Tomatoes 7% freshness rating). The film obviously has its defenders, as it was included in last month's Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center. Every Little Step is a documentary about the Broadway musical A Chorus Line, and is scheduled to open in theaters immediately after the festival. Moon is the feature directorial debut of Duncan Jones (who happens to be the son of David Bowie) and stars Sam Rockwell as an astronaut whose three-year stint on the moon is about to come to an end.

Four films comprise this year's Cinema by the Bay section. The anticipated highlight is undoubtedly the world premiere of Christopher Felver's documentary on Bay Area poet/writer/activist Lawrence
Ferlinghetti. The other selections are Frazer Bradshaw's Everything Strange and New, Allie Light and Irving Saraf's Empress Hotel and David Lee Miller's My Suicide.

In a SFIFF first, the festival has generously pre-divulged the names of all the documentaries competing for the Best Documentary Feature Golden Gate Award, plus all the narrative features competing for the New Director's Prize. 13 feature documentaries will contend for a GGA $20,000 cash prize, and I confess they're all unknown entities to me. Three which catch my eye are
City of Borders (about Jerusalem's only gay bar), Kimjongilia (an indictment of North Korea's Kim Jong II) and Speaking in Tongues (a look at four SF public schoolchildren enrolled in Chinese and Spanish language-immersion programs). Of the 11 narrative features competing for the $15,000 New Director's Prize, Autumn from Turkish director Özcan Alper and Snow from Bosnian director Aida Begic have received considerable acclaim and were films I'd very much hoped to find in the SFIFF52 line-up. Ursula Meier's Home stars Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet and features cinematography by the great Agnès Godard, making this a personal must-see. I'm also pleased to see three Latin American films in this section, representing Guatemala (Gasoline), Argentina (The Paranoids) and the U.S. (Don't Let Me Drown).

So that's everything we know so far. Strangely, we're still waiting to learn the recipient of this year's Founders Directing Award. Whoever it is, they'll be getting their award at the Castro on May 1. Also TBA are the Centerpiece Event, the Persistence of Vision Award, the Maurice Kanbar Screenwriting Award, the Midnight Awards and the State of Cinema Address.

Now all that's left to ruminate upon are the individual films that'll make up the balance of the program. I haven't attended any festivals outside the Bay Area in the past year, so my wish list has grown to an unwieldy length of nearly 100 films that have played the international festival circuit between last year's Cannes and this year's Berlin (with a few stragglers leftover from Berlin08). I've painfully narrowed them down to 25, and the list could easily have been comprised exclusively of French-language films or films from Latin America. Since there's no use in wasting wishes, I've excluded several films I know for certain will open soon after the festival (Tulpan, Adoration, Rudo y Cursi, Summer Hours, Departures and Lorna's Silence). When the program is revealed on Friday, these are the 25 titles I'm most hoping to see laid out before me:

35 Rhums (France dir. Claire Denis)
Bellamy (France dir. Claude Chabrol)
The Country Teacher (Czech Republic dir. Bohdan Sláma)
Desert Within (Mexico dir. Rodrigo Plá)
Eden is West (France dir. Costa-Gavras)
El Olvido (Netherlands/Peru dir. Heddy Honigmann)
Everyone Else (Germany dir. Maren Ade)
The Girl on the Train (France dir. André Téchiné)
The Headless Woman (Argentina dir. Lucrecia Martel)
Il Divo (Italy dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
I'm Going to Explode (Mexico dir. Gerardo Naranjo)
It's Not Me, I Swear (Canada dir. Philippe Falardeau)
Julia (France dir. Erick Zonca)
Lake Tahoe (Mexico dir. Fernando Eimbcke)
Lion's Den (Argentina dir. Pablo Trapero)
Little Joe (US dir. Nicole Haeusser)
Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (Parts I & II) (France dir. Jean-François Richet)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru dir. Claudia Llosa)
Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire (US dir. Lee Daniels)
The Sea Wall (France dir. Rithy Panh)
Still Walking (Japan dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)
Three Monkeys (Turkey dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Tony Manero (Chile dir. Pablo Larrain)
United Red Army (Japan dir. Kôji Wakamatsu)
The Window (Argentina dir. Carlos Sorin)

Update 3/24/09
The recipients of this year's Midnight Awards will be actors Elijah Wood and Evan Rachel Wood. Author Beth Lisick will host the clips n' conversation event at the W Hotel on Saturday, April 25. The Midnight Awards were established three years ago "to honor a dynamic young actor and actress entering the prime of their careers, who have made outstanding contributions to independent and Hollywood cinema and who bring intelligence, talent and depth of character to their roles."

Update 3/30/09
It was inevitable that the SFIFF would eventually honor local hero Francis Ford Coppola with its Founders Directing Award, and it turns out this is to be the year. The director, who turns 70 next week, will be joined on the Castro stage by a number of his esteemed friends and collaborators, who, in a moderated discussion, will cover all manner of subjects, cinematic and otherwise. Film clips, including the new Tetro trailer, and extended audience Q&A will round out the evening.


Darren said...

Thanks for the preview, Michael. I'm coming to SF on 4/25 for a 3-day conference and have decided to stick around until 5/2 so that I can catch some films at SFIFF. I'm praying The Headless Woman will be there!

Michael Hawley said...

Good to hear from you, Darren. I heard you might be coming this year, so it's nice having that confirmed.

You and several other TIFF attendees I know are hoping THE HEADLESS WOMAN makes an appearance. Lucrecia Martel was at the festival in 2005 with THE HOLY GIRL. Hopefully she enjoyed herself enough to want to return.

Kaifu said...

Thanks and great write-up as usual, Michael. Lake Tahoe and The Country Teacher are Film Movement's March and April DVDs, respectively, so it's not be a big loss if they don't show up. I wonder what you'd replace these two wishlist slots with?

I saw Kimjongilia at Saundance and, well, let's just say that it wasn't quite what I expected.

Michael Hawley said...

Thanks, Kaifu. That's good to know about THE COUNTRY TEACHER and LAKE TAHOE, although I'd really like to see them on the big screen (especially the latter). What would I replace them with on my wish list? Boy, that's a tough one. As I mentioned, my original wish list had about 100 films on it. OK, how about Hong Sang-soo's NIGHT AND DAY and Catherine Breillat's BLUEBEARD?

I'm intrigued by your cryptic comment on KIMJONGILIA.

Darren said...

Looks like you only got 6 films from your wish list:

35 Rhums (France dir. Claire Denis)
It's Not Me, I Swear (Canada dir. Philippe Falardeau)
Lake Tahoe (Mexico dir. Fernando Eimbcke)
Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (Parts I & II) (France dir. Jean-François Richet)
Still Walking (Japan dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)
The Window (Argentina dir. Carlos Sorin)

I'm excited for the chance to see Summer Hours, which I missed in Toronto. Pretty disappointing program, I have to say, though I'm glad I'll have at least one more chance to see the Denis on film!

Darren said...

Ooooh, on second glance I noticed that Bluebeard is playing!

Michael Hawley said...

Actually, there's as 7th film from my list, Heddy Honigmann's EL OLVIDO (OBLIVION).

I have to say that at least initially, I'm more disappointed than thrilled with the line-up. That said, I don't think I'll have any trouble finding 25 films I want to see. But we're not supposed to talk about it until after the press conference on Tuesday, so I'll withhold the rest of my two cents until then.

Marcia Jarmel said...

We are the filmmakers of the forthcoming documentary, SPEAKING IN TONGUES. Thank you for your mention of our film in your blog. We're really excited about its premiere at SFIFF 2009. Two of our screenings have already sold out and a new show has been added on May 2 at 11:45a.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES tells the story of four diverse kids becoming bilingual in the public schools in a time when 31 states have passed English Only initiatives. As their city debates the provocative notion that speaking a foreign language can be a national asset, we see how they face the challenges and delights of becoming fluent in two languages. Through their eyes, we witness how speaking more than one language changes them, their families, their communities, and maybe even the world.

To learn more about the film, you can watch our 2 minute trailer at:
or read the description on the San Francisco International Film Festival website, where the film is premiering in April:


Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider
PatchWorks Films