Monday, April 1, 2013
SFIFF56 2013 Anticipating the Line-Up
It would be an understatement to say that tomorrow morning's press conference for the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF56) will yeild surprises. The SF Film Society (SFFS) has held its cards closer to the chest this year, with most film titles and at least five major awards (Peter J. Owens Acting Award, Founders Directing Award, Kanbar Screenwriting Award, Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award and Mel Novikoff Award) still to be announced. In addition, this year film society members were not sent a PDF of the festival's mini-guide prior to the press conference, which has helped to amp up the suspense. Here's an overview of what's already been announced, followed by some fanciful speculation on what we might expect tomorrow, and a wish list of 20 films I hope made the cut.
● The festival opens at the Castro Theatre on April 25 with Scott McGehee and David Siegel's What Maisie Knew. Loosely based on Henry James' 1897 novel, the film traces a bitter custody battle between a former rock star (Julianne Moore) and her art dealer husband (Steve Coogan), as experienced by their six-year-old daughter Maisie (newcomer Onata Aprile). It premiered last year at Toronto to strong reviews. Former San Francisco residents McGehee and Siegel have attended SFIFF twice before, with Suture in 1994 and The Deep End in 2001. Both are expected on opening night, along with child actress Aprile.
● Closing out the fest 15 days later will be one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. Once again starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, it continues the romantic journey that sparked in 1995's Before Sunrise and was reignited in 2004's Before Sunset. Linklater attended SFIFF just last year with Bernie, and he's expected to attend May 9's closing night at the Castro Theatre, along with Julie Delpy. (The film will open at a SF Landmark Theatre on May 31.)
● SFIFF56's Centerpiece Film is Jacob Kornbluth's documentary Inequality for All, in which ex-U.S. Secretary of Labor, political economist and current UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich examines our country's widening economic gap. The film premiered at Sundance, where it won a Special Jury Prize. Kornbluth is the brother of Bay Area playwright/actor Josh Kornbluth and previously directed the film adaptation of his brother's play The Haiku Tunnel. Both Jacob Kornbluth and Reich are expected to attend the screening on May 4.
● One of this year's hottest tickets, in fact it's already at rush, is director Steven Soderbergh's State of Cinema Address on April 27. This annual event was inaugurated 10 years ago and past addressers have included Tilda Swinton, B. Ruby Rich and Walter Murch. Other announced SFIFF56 Live & Onstage Programs include Inside the Drunk Mind of Derek Waters, Show or Tell and No More Road Trips?, the latter a filmic coast-to-coast U.S. tour comprised of clips from over 9,000 home movies, assembled by film archivist Rick Prelinger.
● This year's silent film with live musical accompaniment at the Castro will be Waxworks, a 1924 German expressionist horror/fantasy from director Paul Muni (The Cat and the Canary). It's the tale of a poet hired to write back stories for three wax museum figures: the Caliph of Baghdad, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper, portrayed respectively by a power trio of German actors Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt and Werner Kraus. Performing alongside the film on May 7 will be Mike Patton, ex-vocalist/multi-instrumentalist of bands such as Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, accompanied by percussionists Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi and William Winant.
● Ten films will compete for SFIFF56's New Directors Prize. The only one already on my radar is Adrián Saba's The Cleaner from Peru, which I missed at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival. I've heard very favorable things from friends and it won that fest's New Voices/New Visions award. Scanning the other nine films on the list, I'm intrigued by the pedigree of Youth, directed by Justine Malle (daughter of Louis) and starring Esther Garrel (daughter of Philippe and sister of Louis).
● The festival's Golden Gate Documentary Competition features a dozen films, including one I'm especially excited to see. Illian Metev's Sofia's Last Ambulance received rave reviews when it screened in Cannes' Critics Week last year, and it follows a stressed paramedic team as they respond to emergencies in the Bulgarian capital. I'm also interested in After Tiller, a notable doc from Sundance about the few remaining U.S. doctors who perform third trimester abortions.
As someone who obsessively tracks international art films from their premieres to their eventual theatrical/VOD/DVD release (or not), I can't help but speculate which ones will turn up at our own hometown festival. Whatever SFIFF56 brings us, the festival's importance to Bay Area cinephiles will be greater than ever this year. San Francisco lost five arthouse screens in 2012 (including the film society's own cinema at Japantown's New People). Now rumor has it that the city's biggest, five-screen arthouse will be closing for extensive renovations this summer and fall. This means that even films from major distributors may have to forego Bay Area theatrical release, making festival showings our only chance to catch them on the big screen.
Here are a few high interest films I don't expect to hear about at tomorrow's press conference. YBCA Film/Video curator Joel Shepard recently announced that he's bringing Ulrich Seidl's acclaimed Paradise trilogy and Carlos Reygadas' controversial Post Tenebras Lux to that venue in the coming months. Jeff Nichols' Mud (his follow-up to Take Shelter) and François Ozon's In the House have a scheduled SF Landmark opening date of April 26, the day after the festival begins. If Fruitvale, the Sundance-winning film about the final day of BART murder victim Oscar Grant were to be in the festival, I would have expected it in an Opening Night, Closing Night or Centerpiece slot. I'd love to be wrong.
I imagined Pablo Trapero's White Elephant a shoe-in for SFIFF56 until I read that Strand Releasing is sending it straight to DVD – literally tomorrow! I caught it at Palm Springs, along with Marco Bellocchio's Dormant Beauty, Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, Peter Greenaway's Goltzius and the Pelican Company and Sergei Loznitsa's In the Fog, all strong contenders for the SFIFF56 roster. At that same festival I admired Kim Ki-duk's Venice Golden Lion winner Pieta and Joachim Lafosse's Our Children. Both, however, were part of the Rafael Film Center's "For Your Consideration" series in January and consequently unlikely for SFIFF inclusion. Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha with Greta Gerwig already has a May 24 local opening date, but I wouldn't mind seeing it sooner. Other desirable films with mid-to-large U.S. distributors that just might be in the festival include Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess, Sebastián Silva's Crystal Fairy, Tobias Lindholm's A Hijacking and Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda, the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. I'm also thinking that the apocalyptic Eli Roth-starring Aftershock and Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem have a potential shot at SFIFF56's Late Show sidebar.
Finally, here is my 20-film wish list for the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival. To the best of my knowledge, all of these films currently have very limited or zero U.S. distribution.
3 (Uruguay, dir. Pablo Stoll)
The Act of Killing (Denmark, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Burn It Up, Djassa (Ivory Coast, dir. Lonesome Solo)
Camille Claudel, 1915 (France, dir. Bruno Dumont)
Celestial Wives of Meadow Mari (Russia, dir. Aleksei Fedorchenko)
Child's Pose (Romania, dir. Calin Peter Netzer)
Dream and Silence (Spain, dir. Jaime Rosales)
Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (Bosnia/Herzegovina, dir. Danis Tanovic)
Escape from Tomorrow (USA, dir. Randy Moore)
Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen (Hungary, dir. György Pálfi)
Gloria (Chile, dir. Sebastián Lelio)
Horses of God (Morocco, dir. Nabil Ayouch)
I Used to be Darker (USA, dir. Matthew Porterfield)
The Last Time I Saw Macao (Portugal, dir. João Pedro Rodrigues)
Leviathan (France, dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor)
The Nun (France, dir. Guillaume Nicloux)
The Repentant (Algeria, dir. Merzak Allouache)
Rhino Season (Iran, dir. Bahman Ghobadi)
Thy Womb (Philippines, dir. Brilliante Mendoza)
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Canada, dir. Denis Côté)