Thursday, April 23, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine (2015)

A scene from Alex Gibney's STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, playing at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 - May 7 2015. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.
WHO: Alex Gibney directed and co-produced this documentary in between his recent Scientology exposé Going Clear and his upcoming Sinatra: All or Nothing at All. It's all in a season's work for a man who has director credit on about two dozen non-fiction releases since busting onto the scene as a feature documentary director ten years ago with Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room.

WHAT: Steve Jobs: the Man in the Machine hasn't screened publicly anywhere since its world premiere last month at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX, as far as I can tell. It was that screening that prompted Ryan Lattanzio of Indiewire to write:
This bracing film at first seduces you with the charms of the man, and then guts you with what a tricky riddle he was, an at-times sociopathic mogul who flew close to the Sun, touched it and never quite fell as he should have.
I'm curious about this documentary, although as Kelly Vance notes at the tail end of his epic East Bay Express SFIFF preview, Steve Jobs: the Man in the Machine "is neither the first nor the last movie to capitalize on the late Apple godhead's popularity." I doubt it will be able to supplant this concise video as my own personal favorite moving image take on the Apple founder and his legacy.

WHERE/WHEN: 7:00 tonight at the Castro Theatre, presented by the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF)

WHY: Steve Jobs: the Man in the Machine is the opening-night film of the "longest-running film festival in the Americas" as David Hudson calls SFIFF in his essential Keyframe Daily preview. Last year I attended this festival's opening-night event for the first time ever, after writing a bit on why I hadn't ever done so before. Unfortunately I picked a bit of a dud year to finally walk down the red carpet, as Two Faces of January, while showcasing its actors and locations nicely enough, was ultimately a rather dull and predictable thriller and a disappointing directorial debut by a strong screenwriter. Still, it was nice to see what kind of a crowd the festival was able to assemble at the Castro; familiar faces from just about all corners of the Frisco Bay film scene (excepting, perhaps, the 35mm purists) were gathered together to watch a film that ended up being one of the least-memorable of the year. A bit of a waste, really.

Opening the festival with a documentary by a proven director seems a much safer choice, but in some ways it's quite a bold one; since SFIFF first appeared on my radar screen in the late 1990s, the festival has always selected a narrative feature to kick off its fifteen days of screenings. I should ask Michael Hawley, whose memory as an attendee goes back much farther, how long this tradition goes back, but at least in the past twenty years there has never been a documentary screened on SFIFF's opening night. Which is perhaps a bit strange considering that local film festival audiences tend to collectively eat up documentaries like they're scoops of ice cream in danger of melting in the hot sun. This year's crop at SFIFF also includes highly-anticipated non-fiction works like The Act of Killing director Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up The Look of Silence, the late Albert Maysles' Iris, and from locals, Stanley Nelson's The Black Panthers Vanguard of the Revolution and Jenni Olson's experimental doc The Royal Road (which, full-disclosure, I contributed to the crowd-funding campaign for).

It's always fun to see a movie in a packed Castro Theatre, though (in just about every way except for the line for the restroom), so I hope I can make it to quite a few festival screenings there even if I miss tonight's show. This year the festival's using the 1922-built venue for more screenings than it has in the recent past, including three six more showings over the upcoming weekend, each of which is highlighted among the festival's own opening weekend picks. I will definitely be there for the Saturday afternoon showing of Barbara Loden's sole directing effort Wanda, one of the three films expected to screen via 35mm print in the whole festival, and a film that's been high on my to-see list for years, and even more so since I was out of town during its last San Francisco screening.

HOW: Digital projection.

NON-SFIFF OPTION: Ernst Lubitsch's masterpiece Trouble in Paradise screens in 35mm at the Stanford Theatre along with Rouben Mamoulian's flawed but interesting (and containing the most sublime Russian Easter scene ever filmed, surely) Tolstoy adaptation We Live Again. It's the midway point of the Stanford Theatre's ongoing series of Lubitsch/Mamoulian pairings every Wednesday and Thursday.

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