Thursday, April 11, 2013
SFIFF56 2013 Perusing the Line-Up
The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF56) announced the full line-up for its 56th edition last week, and while only two of 20 films from my wish list made the cut, I've got plenty to be excited about comes April 25. Here are 20 SFIFF56 films I'm especially looking forward to, plus some commentary on what's to be found elsewhere in the line-up. While I ordinarily fill my SFIFF itinerary with smaller, distribution-less films, more than half my choices below have significant distribution, often with firm Bay Area theatrical release dates. Last year the fest went out of its way rustling up the in-person talent necessary to make these films worth catching sooner, rather than later, and I'm banking on that happening again.
The Act of Killing
I've followed the rapturous reviews of this documentary since its Telluride world premiere and it has remained high on my must-see list. The gist is that Indonesian paramilitary leaders responsible for over one million deaths in the 1960's are invited to re-enact their crimes and have them filmed in the style of various Hollywood genres, with shocking results. None other than Werner Herzog has called The Act of Killing "unprecedented in the history of cinema." This Drafthouse Films release has a local Landmark exhibition date of August 9.
Regrettably, work will keep me from attending the festival's closing night screening of Richard Linklater's follow-up to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, with the director and star Julie Delpy in person. (I hope to catch a press screening for review before the fest begins). The previous evening, however, SFIFF56 presents A Conversation with Richard Linklater, in which he and Delpy (and perhaps, as it was intimated at the press conference, a certain unnamed co-actor) will share an in-depth discussion about this beloved cycle of films. (Before Midnight opens at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema on May 31).
I regrettably missed this Peruvian indie at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where it ultimately won the fest's New Voices/New Visions Award. I'm very pleased to find it at SFIFF56, along with other little known but promising Latin American films from Argentina (Habi, the Foreigner), Mexico (Mai Morire), Colombia (La Sirga) and Brazil (They'll Come Back).
Mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski has been M.I.A. since 2009's Beeswax. This well-reviewed new comedy about nerds attending a 1980 computer chess convention was shot with a 60's-era Portapak videocam, in B&W with a 4:3 aspect ratio. At Sundance it took the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for a science-related film and Kino-Lorber has plans for a summer U.S. theatrical release.
As a big fan of Sebastián Silva's The Maid – and an even bigger fan of its little-seen follow-up Old Cats – I was intrigued when the Chilean director came to Sundance with not one, but two new films, both of which starred Michael Cera. Crystal Fairy is the one that received all the accolades, with Cera as an obnoxious American tourist on a psychedelic drug quest. Landmark Theatres will open this one in San Francisco on July 17.
The desire to check out a few more selections from the festival's New Directors section led me to this reportedly enigmatic and formalist character study about a German woman's vacation plans gone awry.
Even though I found Noah Baumbach's last two films insufferable (Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg), I have extremely high hopes for this purported B&W valentine to Woody Allen and the French New Wave, co-written by and starring the effervescent Greta Gerwig as a flighty NYC girl trying to get her shit together. Extra points are given for featuring Girls' Adam Driver as a love interest. The film opens at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema on May 24.
Good Ol' Freda
A documentary about Freda Kelly, who was secretary to The Beatles for their entire 10-year career and beyond? Say no more.
This nerve-wracking drama about negotiations between a Danish shipping company and the Somali pirates who've hi-jacked one of their vessels was a bit hit with audiences at last year's Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. It's another one I missed at Palm Springs that I'm grateful to find here. Magnolia Pictures is planning a limited U.S. release in June.
Inequality For All
This year's Centerpiece Film is a Sundance Special Jury Prize-winning documentary described by its director, Jacob Kornbluth, as an "Inconvenient Truth" for the U.S. economy, specifically the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. The film's guide is Robert Reich, the charismatic ex-Secretary of Labor, political economist and current UC Berkeley prof whose succinct on-line tutorials on subjects like Chained CPI I strongly admire. Weinstein Company subsidiary RADiUS-TWC plans to release the film this summer, but I have no intention of missing this lone SFIFF56 Centerpiece screening with Kornbluth and Reich in person.
Three years ago, Mexican director Pedro González-Rubio won SFIFF's New Director Prize with Alamar, a lyrical portrait of a boy spending the summer with his father and grandfather in a Yucatan fishing village. He follows that up with this docu-drama about the five remaining elderly inhabitants of a remote Japanese mountain village.
"Mesmerizing," "mind-blowing" and "visceral" are three adjectives critics have used to describe this documentary set aboard a North Atlantic fishing trawler. It's also one of the two SFIFF56 films that appeared on my wishlist and it will be the first film I see at the festival on Friday, April 26. Distributor The Cinema Guild opened the film in NYC back in early March, but I'm unaware of any plans for a local theatrical release.
Nights with Theodore
I'm looking forward to this 67-minute made-for-French-TV featurette if for no other reason than its setting in one of Paris' loveliest parks, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Oh, and it stars Pio Marmaï, who played the sexy drug runner in Living On Love Alone, which the festival screened two years ago.
Peaches Does Herself
While I'm not a big admirer of electro-clash pioneer/performance artist/anti-star Peaches, I did spend a dollar on an mp3 of "Fuck or Kill" from her 2006 album, "Impeach My Bush," so I suppose I should see this self-directed documentary/cock opera with Peaches herself in attendance. During the festival she'll also be performing at The Mezzanine on Wednesday, May 1, to which select Peaches Does Herself ticketholders will be given free admission.
Finding this made-for-Japanese TV movie in the SFIFF56 line-up was an unexpected surprise, given its five-hour length and the mixed reviews from Toronto and Venice. But we haven't heard from acclaimed director Kiyoshi Kurosawa since 2008's Tokyo Sonata, so I'm certainly game for it. I've read that the acting and direction are first rate, the first three one-hour chapters are the best and the fifth chapter brings it all to a pretty lame conclusion – which means I may slip out after three hours in order to sqeeze in the next film on this list.
As evidenced by last year's Audience Award win for The Intouchables, SFIFF audiences do like their French fare mainstream. While I had little patience for that Hollywood-styled culture-clash dramedy, I have greater hopes for this 1950's set, Tashlin-esque rom-com about a secretary entering a speed-typing contest, starring two of my fave French actors Déborah François (The Child, The Page Turner) and Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espagnole, The Beat My Heart Skipped). The Weinstein Company is scheduled to release this in theaters later in the year.
Sofia's Last Ambulance
Cannes is rarely thought of as a festival that showcases great documentaries, but last year critics fell over themselves to praise this up-close look at an over-burdened, three-person paramedic team responding to emergencies throughout the Bulgarian capital.
Something in the Air
Director Olivier Assayas' examination of post-1968 radical French youth opens at a local Landmark Theatre a week after the festival ends (May 17). I seriously doubt Assayas will be making the trek to our fair city for the festival screenings but still, this is something I need to see ASAP.
The Strange Little Cat
While the SFIFF56 line-up is packed with films by novice directors, none have received the kind of rave reviews garnered by this extremely weird-sounding little German film that made its auspicious debut in the Forum Section of this year's Berlin Film Festival. And its director is reportedly still in film school!
Twenty Feet from Stardom
Who hasn't fantasized about being a back-up singer, belting out sha-la-la's with hairbrush in hand in front of a bathroom mirror. Morgan Neville's acclaimed Sundance documentary profiles the women who actually got to live that life – women like Phil Spector powerhouse Darlene Love, Claudia "Brown Sugar" Lennear and Merry Clayton, the female force propelling the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." This should be terrific fun and it's another film RADiUS-TWC plans on releasing this summer.
Lastly, had I not already seen them at the Palm Springs International Film Festival back in January, After Lucia, Fill the Void, In the Fog and Just the Wind would have certainly appeared on this list. Capsule reviews of these films will appear here at film-415 shortly before the festival opening.
Elsewhere in the fest
This year's festival features an impressive eight programs worth of repertory/archival screenings. At the top of my list is Phil Kaufman's 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which I haven't seen in decades. This shot-in-San Francisco time-capsule will screen at the Castro Theatre in conjunction with Kaufman's receipt of 2013's Founder's Directing Award. William Friedkin, who's a guaranteed live wire in person, will be in town for a showing of what's often called the ultimate '80s flick, To Live and Die in L.A. (which I sheepishly admit to never having seen). Regrettably, that program conflicts with this year's silent-film-with-live-music event at the Castro, Paul Leni's German expressionist horror/fantasy film Waxworks. Spend It All showcases 16mm restorations of three documentary shorts by Les Blank, the renowned and eccentric Bay Area filmmaker who sadly passed away in his Berkeley home this past weekend. The festival also honors recently deceased philanthropist, SFIFF booster and cinema enthusiast George Gund III with a showing of the 1966 Eastern European masterpiece Marketa Lazarová, which I recall, philistine that I am, sleeping through when the fest last played it in 1997. Other SFIFF56 archival screenings include new restorations of Bahram Beyzaie's 1971 Downpour, which is said to be a major work of pre-Revolutionary Iranian cinema, and Francesco Rosi's 1972 political thriller The Mattei Affair. Finally, there's 1972's butt-busting, 316-minute "Finnish cinema's masterpiece," Eight Deadly Shots, which was selected by this year's Mel Novikoff Award recipient, Peter von Bagh. Sadly, apart from the Les Blank 16mm shorts, only two of these movies will actually be film projections – Waxworks and Marketa Lazarová.
While nearly one-third of the feature films in this year's line-up are by first and second-time directors, there's no shortage of established voices to be found. The festival will screen the final films of recently deceased world cinema giants Raúl Ruiz (Night Across the Street) and Claude Miller (Thérèse), as well as a welcome new work from aging auteur Bernardo Bertolucci (Me and You). From Spanish director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque, Chico & Rita) comes The Artist and the Model, which was nominated for 13 Goya Awards and stars Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale. American indie cinema is represented by veterans David Gordon Greene (Prince Avalanche) and Michael Polish (Big Sur). On the documentary front, director Kim Longinotto makes what I believe is her sixth appearance at this festival with Salma, and Raoul Peck (Lumumba) does an unaccustomed turn as documentarian with Fatal Assistance, an exposé on failed international efforts to reconstruct his native Haiti. Other documentaries of possible interest include looks at aging gay men (Before You Know It), late term abortions (After Tiller), killer whales in captivity (Blackfish), the Google Books Project (Google and the World Brain) and folk-music legend Kate McGarrigle (Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You).