Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Four Lists of 53rd SFIFF Titles

The San Francisco Film Society publicly unveiled the full line-up of the 53rd edition of its annual SF International Film Festival yesterday. The full program is available online. I'm in the midst of a cross-town move: as I write this sentence I'm sitting on a hardwood floor in a room without chairs. But as the SFIFF is the average Frisco Bay cinephile's most feverishly anticipated showcase of new films each year, I don't want to forego a weigh-in on this year's program before tickets start going on sale outside the film society membership circle tomorrow (April 1st- by the time you read this, probably today!). Once I settle into my new place I hope to post some more extended thoughts on the lineup overall, as it looks from this pre-festival distance. But for now, the fallback of any blogger: listing.

Spread-The-Love; I've seen these four films before and can recommend them. Highly.

Intermission in the Third Dimension is one of two confirmed short films playing as part of animator Don Hertzfeldt's April 23 tribute and Persistence Of Vision Award presentation, though "surprises" are promised as well. The other, I Am So Proud Of You has eluded me thus far, as I've been waiting for a good opportunity to see it projected on film as nature intended it. Presumably the shorts accompanying this Hertzfeldt tribute will be shown in 35mm prints, to counter the irony that this animator who works exclusively in the material world of film, without the assistance of computer technologies, has amassed through Rejected, Billy's Balloon, etc. a great following of fans who have only seen his films bootlegged on the internet.
Julia, Erick Zonca's long-awaited 2007 follow-up to 1998's the Dreamlife of Angels, is not as nearly perfect as the latter film, but it features a colossal must-see performance by Tilda Swinton. It plays at the Castro Theatre May 1st as Mel Novikoff Award winner Roger Ebert's selection to accompany his on-stage tribute. Errol Morris, Philip Kaufman, and others are expected to attend the on-stage tribute as well.
the Music Room is easily the greatest of the five Satyajit Ray films I've seen thus far in life. Made in 1958 between installments of Ray's famed "Apu Trilogy", it plays in a new restored print at the Castro May 1 and the Pacific Film Archive May 2.
Utopia, Part 3: the World's Largest Shopping Mall was a short film that premiered at Sundance 2009 and that I caught at the Exploratorium several months ago. It's a mind-blowing meditative piece lingering in the space of a titanic, but nearly deserted, China mall. On April 25, this short will be incorporated, along with other images and a live performance aspect, into Utopia In Four Movements Sam Green and Dave Cerf's contribution to the festival's Live & Onstage" sidebar.

Follow-The-Leader; I don't have to read the catalog descriptions to know I want to see these films; their directors have proven their track records with me to the point where I'll try to see any new film they put out.

Around A Small Mountain by Jacques Rivette, French New Wave master behind Celine And Julie Go Boating.
Cyrus by Jay and Mark Duplass, who have made (along with many terrific short films) only two features but one of them was the Puffy Chair and the other was Baghead.
The Darkness of Day by Jay Rosenblatt, the recently-appointed program director for the SF Jewish Film Festival's 30th anniversary edition this summer, but more pertinently to my interest in watching this, the found-footage maestro behind the likes of Human Remains and Prayer. This film appears in the shorts program Solitude Standing.
Ghost Algebra by Janie Geiser, whose short-form shadowboxes such as Immer Zu and the Fourth Watch have me begging for more. It plays on the shorts program Something Like A Dream.
Nymph by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, whose last film to play local screens was the wonderful Last Life In the Universe.
Senso by Luchino Visconti; not a new film of course but a new restoration of the 1954 Italian classic beloved by Martin Scorsese and others.
Vengeance by Johnnie To, whose prior film Sparrow was, I felt, his best in years. No faint praise.
White Material by Claire Denis, who made (arguably) the best new film in last year's SFIFF, 35 Shots of Rum.
Wild Grass by Alain Resnais, another great survivor of the French New Wave heyday. Je t'aime, Je t'aime was a highlight of a recent retrospective of his past work at the Pacific Film Archive.

Follow-The-Followers; When I linked to the Film Festival program website on twitter yesterday, I was the lucky beneficiary of more than a dozen recommendations from some of my twitter friends from the East Coast, who had seen SFIFF films at previous festivals such as Toronto. One title proved divisive amidst this crowd, but otherwise this relative outpouring of responses served as a validation of the SFIFF selection team's programming acumen. I'd like to share their collective tips with my blog readers here:

Air Doll was the divisive title, but Hiokazu Kore-eda fans and detractors alike may be interested in the opportunity to engage with the director in a q-and-a session following the film's screenings, as Kore-eda is listed among the international guests expected to attend the festival.
Alamar, a Mexican feature competing for the New Directors Prize. Director Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio is also expected to attend the festival.
Between Two Worlds from Sri Lanka is Vimukthi Jayasundara's follow-up to The Forsaken Land, which played on the currently-in-limbo SFFS Screen a year and a half ago. He is on the expected guests list as well.
A Brand New Life, once again from a New Directors Prize contender expected at the festival, Ounie Lecomte.
Colony, a documentary on disappearing honeybee popoulations made by Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn.
Everyone Else, Marin Ade's second feature, a German relationship drama coming particularly highly-lauded in the twitterverse.
Father Of My Children by Mia Hansen-Løve, who also directed 2008 SFIFF title All Is Forgiven.
Hadewijch, the latest from controversial French auteur Bruno Dumont. Said to be the kind of film to turn around negative opinions of Dumont, which I confess I share.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, a documentary constructed from the reportedly jaw-dropping footage surviving from Clouzot's uncompleted 1964 big budget film starring Romy Schneider. Clouzot directed Wages of Fear and Quai des Orfevres, of course, and this presentation was put together by Ruxandra Medrea and Serge Bromberg- the latter perhaps best known to Frisco cinephiles for presenting programs of early French film at the 2001 SFIFF and the 2007 SF Silent Film Festival, where he lit a fragment of nitrate film on fire on the Castro stage.
I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton and directed by Luca Guadagnino, who apparently drew inspiration from his fellow Italian forebear Luchino Visconti; the sole screening of this selection comes directly after the screening of Visconti's Senso at the Castro.
Last Train Home, a documentary on Chinese mass migrations directed by Lixin Fan, who is expected to attend the festival.
Lebanon, an Israeli film set inside a tank during the latter country's 1982 invasion of the former. Director Samuel Moaz is expected to be on hand.
Lourdes, Jessica Hausner's film about a wheelchaired pilgrim to the legendary French shrine (which Mary Pickford, among many millions of others, is said to have visited). SylvieTestud plays the pilgrim.
Northless, another New Directors Prize competitor from Mexico. Rigoberto Perezcano joins the list of directors currently expected to attend the festival.
The Oath, a documentary by expected festival guest Laura Poitras, that focuses on two former associates of Osama bin Laden.
La Pivellina, an Austrian/Italian co-production. If it wins the New Directors Prize it will be first time two co-directors will share the festival's honor.
The Portuguese Nun, directed by American-born transplant, now a very well-regarded French filmmaker, Eugène Green. I've been wanting to see one of his films for several years now, and this is the first Frisco Bay opportunity I've noticed.
To Die Like A Man, speaking of Portuguese, is a portrait of a drag queen made by Lisbon auteur João Pedro Rodrigues, who made Two Drifters and O Fantasma.
Woman On Fire Looks For Water, a recommendation that didn't come directly to me, but from Daniel Kasman via Ryland Walker Knight. It's directed by Woo Ming-jin, whose feature debut Monday Morning Glory had its world premiere as part of the Malaysian focus of the 2005 SFIFF.

Odds-And-Extras; Other titles I'm seriously intrigued by, for one reason or another. This is just a start; I'll be keeping my ears pricked for more buzz on the selected films

Afterimage. I keep missing screenings of Kerry Laitala's stereoscopic short films. This is her latest; attendees of the animated shorts program The High Line (which also includes new work by Kelly Sears, Jonas Odell, Martha Colburn, Lewis Klahr, and more) will be provided 3-D glasses at the door. Sight unseen, it's sure to be more interesting than the recent Alice In Wonderland, or How To Train Your Kraken, or whatever that one was called.
All About Evil. I expect this locally-made horror premiere to be the first to sell-out once tickets go on sale. That is, if the Film Society members haven't snapped up all the available Castro seats already. Joshua Grannell has yet to prove himself as a filmmaker in my book, judging by the short films I've seen. However, stakes were higher for this first feature that includes performances by Mink Stole and Natasha Lyone, and creative contributions from a good chunk of Frisco Bay's creative community. Even if the movie doesn't match expectations the pre-show is certain to be a must-watch for any self-respecting Peaches Christ fan.
Gainsbourg (Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus). I'm a biopic skeptic but the subject (Serge Gainsbourg, naturally) and the director (Joann Sfar, better known to some for his involvement in the current Francophone comics renaissance) certainly pique my interest.
The Little White Cloud That Cried. Guy Maddin's shorts are always worth a look and sometimes end up among my favorite films of a festival. This one, a Jack Smith tribute, sounds divine. On the shorts program Pirate Utopias along with films by Martha Colburn, Bill Morrison, the Zellner Brothers, Max Hattler, and more.
Nénette. Nicholas Philibert, director of the documentary To Be And To Have (I've seen no other of his films) has found a fascinating-sounding subject for his latest doc: an aged orangutan living in a Paris zoo.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Unlike the last couple SFIFF pairings of silent film and live rock soundtrack, I'm not particularly familiar with the chosen musician this year- I've never seen Stephin Merritt perform in person, and I only have one of his albums (Holiday). But I can't resist the fact that he's involving regular Castro Theatre pre-film organist David Hegarty in his mix, and I'm more than game to see the 1916 adaptation of Jules Verne's adventure novel on the big screen, having never seen it before at all.
Wake In Fright a.k.a. Outback. This newly-restored 1971 Australian thriller stars Donald Pleasance and was featured in the recent documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (Don't mean to shout, the exclamation point is part of the title.) It was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who would go on to make Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe?, the original John Rambo movie First Blood, and Weekend At Bernie's, and who is on the festival's expected guests list. How can I pass that up?


  1. What, no one tweeted to you about Fatih Akin's SOUL KITCHEN?! Besides Bae Doo-na's turn in AIR DOLL, I'm most excited about SOUL KITCHEN.

  2. Good luck with the move, Brian, and always a pleasure to read your fallback lists.

    I'll be at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood during the first half of SFIFF; but, will still manage to catch about 20 films, though I've opted to attend as a civilian this year, foregoing press accreditation. I'm doing research on press tiering and screening fees, which I imagine will make me persona non grata with SFFS. Ah well....

  3. I wish I could see The Music Room projected. It was my first - and still is my favorite - Ray.

    Air Doll is just not good, and I'm a Kore-eda fan.

    I just saw Hadewijch yesterday, and it's intriguing but I'm starting to think less good than I originally thought.

    Lourdes is superb. Don't miss it.

    Infermo is kind of tedious, but it has some interesting images and a few funny interviews.

    I look forward to your report back on all the rest, Brian.

  4. Adam: Yeah, nobody's mentioned Soul Kitchen until you did just now. Perhaps it hasn't been widely seen? Or isn't as good as Fatih Akin's other films? Or simply goes without saying? I notice it's one of the few titles booked at both SFIFF and the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. Akin is on the expected guests list too, although these are of course subject to change.

    Michael, I really look forward to seeing the fruits of your deep research into film festivals. I'm so glad you're getting to go to the TCM Classic Film Festival- a well-deserved assignment! (though I can't pretend I'm not also a little jealous.)

    Marilyn, thanks so much for the tips. Air Doll continues to divide, I see. Lourdes is definitely near the top of my must-see list. Love your recent redesign by the way!

  5. ben armerding4/2/10, 12:22 PM

    this is a wonderful preview brian, as always, especially the spotlight you throw on the usually under-appreciated shorts programs. i was lucky enough to catch I AM SO PROUD OF YOU at a shorts program at the fantastic fest and adored it unabashedly. Good rumblings about THE LOVED ONES also, despite the rather anonymous write up in the mini-guide.

    is it safe to selfishly grouse about the titles we WISH were on the program? i was really hoping to see two of the oh-so-arty expoliters that have been dazzling, or revolting, festival audiences worldwide: VALHALLA RISING and ENTER THE VOID! but i suppose they'll both show at a landmark theatre near you some day...

  6. Thanks, Ben! I can't wait to see I Am So Proud Of You; missed it at the Frozen Film Festival last summer.

    Grouse away! My most noteworthy "missing" title is Dogtooth, personally. Perhaps it will show up at the Greek Film Festival if it happens again this year in May.

  7. The California Independent Film Festival ( is being held April 22-25 at the Orinda Theater which is within walking distance of Orinda BART.

  8. Nice tip, Dan. Orinda has a great restored theatre (have only been there once myself). Haven't seen any of that festival's films, but the link is going onto my sidebar.

  9. Whoa, I actually got here through The Auteurs website. Pretty much just read tweets these days :)

    Brian, is the list of expected guests on SFFS site somewhere? If not, are you allowed to repost it?

    EVERYONE ELSE and SOUL KITCHEN are pretty mcuh the only two msut-sees for me. I'm going to just randomly pick this year based on various recommendations and gut feeling. Ain't nuthin' quite like film discoveries.

    A little surprised that there are no films from Quebec this year. No I KILL MY MOTHER, POLYTECHNIQUE, nor CARCASSES.

    Lastly, I'm casting my "not good" vote to Lebanon. It's some kind of war movie fail.

  10. Good comments, kaifu. Like you, twitter drives most of my internet-reading these days. Glad you found my post through the autuers!

    I think you may be able to find the expected guests list by poking around on the SFFS website in the "press" area. Let me know if that doesn't work.

  11. Here's another one for your sidebar - Sonoma International Film Festival from April 15 to 18.

    The full program is not listed on their official website but they posted the schedule on their Facebook page.

  12. Heh. Figures, Dan. I've been checking their site daily for a while now, expecting the program to appear there in full. I'm probably going to hold off on linking a facebook page on my sidebar (don't want to encourage other festivals to release their programs to facebook first in their quest to whore for more "fans".) But I'll put it on the 'bar as soon as I see that the site is fully live.

    I attended the Sonoma festival for the first time last year. Seemed like a friendly affair in a lovely little town. I went to see the 1922 Robin Hood, hoping it might be projected in a 35mm (or even 16mm) print, but alas it was a DVD projection. The fact that Donald Sosin performed a live synthesizer score to the picture, and that Douglas Fairbanks's granddaughter was at the screening, approachable to anyone in the audience, only partially mitigated my disappointment. Good thing it was such a terrific film.

  13. Didn't they screen The Peach Girl (with Ruan Lingyu) a few years ago? I assumed they had a silent screening every year but none of the titles rang any bells this year. I did notice Double Indemnity on the program. I've been looking for an excuse to go up there this year but watching MacMurray & Stanwyck for the 5th or 6th time isn't going to induce me to drive up there.

  14. Terrific post, Brian! I realize I'm coming kind of late for this discussion, but still have a few comments.

    I was underwhelmed by AIR DOLL, but I think it's worth seeing for Bae Du-Na's lead performance -- she's got an incredible gift for physical comedy/pathos. My friend Frako Loden thought the film had lots to say about women in Japanese society.

    Kaifu - I KILLED MY MOTHER will definitely be coming to Frameline, along with Lou Ye's SPRING FEVER and the Peruvian Sundance prize winner CONTRACORRIENTE. I found this out in the membership renewal letter I got last week.

    If DOGTOOTH doesn't show up at the Greek fest, I think YBCA is another possibly; ditto Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE VOID. And speaking of YBCA, I just learned that Harmony Korine's TRASH HUMPERS will play there June 3 to 6.

    I've been liking pretty much everything I've seen on screener and at press screenings so far, especially FATHER OF MY CHILDREN, THE WIND JOURNEYS and MARWENCOL. Did not like CAIRO TIME.

  15. One more thing. Your prediction that ALL ABOUT EVIL will be the first SFIFF53 sell-out may come true. I understand it's currently outselling everything else in the fest.

  16. Thanks for coming by, Michael. Your own very thorough preview pieces are very helpful for those of us still locking in our calendars, as well.

    And thanks for dropping the knowledge about advance screenings you've seen thus far, and about Frameline and YBCA screenings. Thinking of YBCA as a repository of SFIFF pass-overs reminds me of another title I was really hoping would be part of the festival, that I hope YBCA or some other venue quickly grabs: Tsai Ming-Liang's Face. Tsai's Madame Butterfly was, rather perversely, one of my favorites of last month's SF International Asian American Film Festival.

  17. I hope YBCA or somebody else picks up FACE, too. I don't think I've read a single positive review of it, however. And now the SF Asian and SF International have both passed on it nearly a year after its Cannes premiere. But FWIW, the clips and trailers I've seen 'look' pretty fabulous.

    Regarding MADAME BUTTERFLY, I really enjoyed the first half set in the Kuala Lumpur bus terminal. I mostly slept through the second half. I thought it was interesting that those four shorts were screened in a different order at the PFA than they were at the Clay.