Wednesday, May 6, 2009

SFIFF52 Day 14: Photograph of Jesus

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival ends tomorrow, May 7th. Each day during the festival I've been posting about one film I've seen or am hotly anticipating.

Photograph of Jesus (UK: Laurie Hill, 2008)

playing: 2:00 PM this afternoon at the Kabuki, with no more showtimes later in the festival.
festival premiere: seems to have been Tampere Film Festival 2009
distributor: available online at Getty Images and elsewhere, but a chance to see it on the big screen again? Unlikely.

This evening is the Golden Gate Awards ceremony, in which the SFIFF's competition winners are announced in the many categories offered, from documentaries, to made-for-television films, to short works. Earlier in the afternoon will be the public's final chance to see a category of in-competition shorts screen together, with some of the filmmakers expected to be in attendance. A program entitled A Thousand Pictures presents the seven films up for the Animated Short GGA. Jay has written up the program in its entirety; as you can see it's a collection diverse in both technique and tone, with near-abstract pieces competing against surreal narratives and animated documentaries.

The piece from the set that I enjoyed most was one of the latter documentaries, the brief and comic Photograph of Jesus. In it, photo archivist Matthew Butson recounts on the soundtrack (alongside a bouncy musical track) some of the more "difficult" requests his institution (the Hulton Archive in London) has to contend with. Things like, people wanting them to find a photograph of Jesus or of a yeti or of a dozen men posing together on the moon. In a world where photography has become so ubiquitous, it's become difficult for many people to understand the historical limits of what the technology has been able to capture. Confusion is compounded by the proliferation of non-photographic images; many of us instinctively feel we know what Jesus or a yeti should look like, and director Laurie Hill employs this iconic status of images in her cut-out style animated accompaniment to Butson's interview. I found it all absolutely hilarious, partly because I once worked in a photo archive, but mostly because these researcher requests, and the archive's responses, are genuinely funny. If you can't make the final festival showing of A Thousand Pictures, Photograph of Jesus can be viewed on the Getty Images website, as the film was created in response to a contest. It won then; will it win its category tonight as well?

SFIFF52 Day 14
Another option: Can Go Through Skin (THE NETHERLANDS: Esther Rots, 2008) I was impressed by the daring ambiguity and expressionistic sound design of this feature debut, showing a woman's collapse and attempted rebuild after a brutal, random assault. On the whole I'm not sure it handles its material with the appropriate delicacy, but others I've talked to call it their favorite of the festival so far. David Hudson rounds up reactions from New York.
Non-SFIFF-option for today: My Winnipeg (CANADA: Guy Maddin, 2007) at the California Theatre in lieu of the Pacific Film Archive. It's the last of the semester for the latter venue's Film 50 series of screenings for students but with tickets available to the public. It screens with a 16mm Canyon Cinema short entitled Alpsee.


  1. Although it is stated on the PFA website, it should be noted that the screening of My Winnipeg is at the Landmark California Theatre at 2113 Kittredge Street and not at the PFA screening room.

  2. Thanks Dan for the keen eye (I should have double checked the link before posting; I'd collected it several days ago).

    I have changed the post to reflect your knowledge.

  3. As an Archivist, I had a special fondness for Photograph of Jesus, though I have to say, this year's animation short collection program was perhaps the best I've ever seen at the SFIFF. Really impressive compilation.

  4. It was a good set, wasn't it? Though the year they had Rocks, Home Road Movies and Strange Invaders in the same program was hard to top. Still, I could have seen any of the seven selections winning the Golden Gate Award. It turned out to be Kanisza Hill that won. full list of winners here.

  5. Speaking of animation--Have you seen "Sita Sings the Blues" yet? I saw it tonight, and it's a pretty unique and remarkable specimen--Betty Boop meets Bollywood. Tomorrow's the last night at the Red Vic if you get a chance...

  6. Thanks for the reminder, filmatelist! I haven't seen it yet, am excited for a chance to do so in 35mm, and hope I can make it over to the Red Vic tomorrow!