Thursday, May 5, 2011

SFIFF54 Day 15: Sync

The 54nd San Francisco International Film Festival ends today. Each day during the festival I've been posting a recommendation and capsule review of a film in the festival.

Sync (UK: Max Hattler, 2010)

playing: at 5:00 PM at the Viz/New People as part of the Get With The Program animated shorts collection, which has no further screenings during the festival.
distribution: No commercial distribution is currently anticipated for this 10-minute long film.

The Golden Gate Awards for SFIFF documentaries and shorts were announced yesterday evening. As usual, I've seen only a few of the winners (listed at Indiewire). The only category in which I've watched all the contenders is the Animated Short category. I have trouble arguing against the shorts jury's choice in this case: The External World by Irish-born, Berlin-based animator David O'Reilly is conceptually the most expansive and ambitious of the six nominated shorts. It plays something like an entire program of Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation condensed into fifteen minutes, and amped up with a hypodermic full of cinematic self-reflexivity and paranoia about our increasingly digital-mediated society. Though two of the Golden Gate Award winners, Into the Middle of Nowhere and Young Dracula, can be viewed today on the festival's website, and the Fipresci prize-winner The Salesman plays today at 2PM, The External World is the only GGA winner that screens at a festival venue today.

The other animated short nominees all have their own merits, but perhaps a few shortcomings as well. Pixels takes on some of the same thematic concerns as The External World in a more directly entertaining way, but there are limits to the depth of exploration that can be achieved in an essentially one-joke film such as this. It also seems less necessarily suited to a theatre; its pleasures can be pretty much just as easily obtained as an shared video on the internet (and in fact it made a big splash in this manner over a year ago.) Dromosphere by Thorstein Fleisch, and Once It Started It Could Not Be Otherwise by Kelly Sears, are strong works, but probably not as strong as other pieces by their respective filmmakers (I'm partial to Energy and The Voice on the Line myself). In A Purpleman, a clay animation from South Korea, images provide illustration for a documentary audio interview of a North Korean refugee recounting his experiences as an in-between outsider in his new home. Surely the most obviously sincere of the nominees, some may find it the most sincerely obvious as well.

All of these (except for the Sears piece) play on today's program Get With The Program, but the short in this set I feel most powerfully demands being seen on the big screen is Max Hattler's Sync, which was not in competition for an award at all. Hattler's had a piece in each of the past five SFIFF editions now, starting with Collision in 2007. Sync is much less overtly political than that piece, and in fact might be argued to be an example of animation completely free of representational attributes. But it's even more beautiful, and in fact hypnotizing in its constantly spiraling, expanding complexity.

SFIFF54 Day 15
Another option: On Tour (FRANCE: Matthieu Amalric, 2010) Actor Amalric is known to some as the actor fetiche of Arnaud Desplechin, to others as the star of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and to still others as the Bond Villain™ in Quantum of Solace. Lesser-known is the fact that he's directed a few films as well. His latest directorial feature in fact won him the Best Director prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival for this film about American burlesque performers touring in France. I can't wait to see it tonight, especially since it may be the last theatrical screening the film has locally; rumor has it that there are music rights complications to a theatrical release in the United States, limiting it to festival showings only. Good thing there are a lot of seats in the Castro Theatre for all the people who might want to see this possibly-once-in-a-lifetime screening.

Non-SFIFF-option for today: The Strange Case of Angelica at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts. Like many SFIFF films, this has traveled the festival circuit, from Cannes to Toronto to New York and elsewhere. Instead of landing at SFIFF, the Yerba Buena Center has decided to book it for two nights and an afternoon in their intimate screening room. In my view it's better than any of the SFIFF films I've seen that are playing this evening, but then again I haven't seen them all, and mileage for a Manoel de Oliveira film may vary. If you feel like sticking with the festival tonight then it plays again Saturday evening and as a Sunday matinee.


  1. Thanks for the sfiff blogs. Reading them has enhanced my film fest experience this year.