Saturday, April 7, 2018

SFFILM 61 Day 4: Smoke

The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival began Wednesday and runs through April 17th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting about a festival selection I've seen or am anticipating.

Image from Smoke provided by SFFILM
Smoke (USA: Wayne Wang, 1995)
playing: 7:30 tonight at Dolby Cinema as part of the festival's Tribute to Wayne Wang

I believe I saw Smoke years ago, perhaps shortly after it was released onto videocassette (I seem to associate it with those Blockbuster plastic cases) but I barely remember it at all. I definitely recommend listening to its director talk about how he protected this Miramax release from the meddling of Harvey Weinstein in his recent KQED interview.

I'm interested in this screening for two main reasons beyond refreshing my memory of what at the time was apparently a forgettable movie for me (albeit one that I've heard others talk of more positively in the meantime). One is that I'm interested in hearing the director of great San Francisco (and not just Chinatown) films like Chan is Missing and Dim Sum: a Little Bit of Heart speak about his work in person; he'll be interviewed by the auteur of Colma: the Musical and Fruit Fly, H.P. Mendoza.

The other reason is my curiosity about the Dolby Cinema, which as far as I know has only opened to the general public for ticketed screenings twice: during the first weekend of the San Francisco International Film Festival last year, and during the first weekend of the festival this year. In 2017 I took advantage of the occasion only for one film, Score: A Film Music Documentary, which certainly showed off the sound capabilities of the space well by way of Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Hans Zimmer etc (it was heavy on big-budgeted Hollywood symphonic music and barely addressed anything foreign or indie for better and worse). This year I want to see how it stacks up when showing work shot by a great cinematographer, and I think Adam Holender, who shot Midnight Cowboy and Puzzle of a Downfall Child a quarter century before spending time as something of a Miramax house DP, lensing Boaz Yakin's Fresh a year before Smoke and M. Night Shyamalan's studio debut Wide Awake a few years after, qualifies. Normally I'd want to see a movie made during the 35mm era (even if at the tail end, by many though not all accounts) on 35mm but I've heard miraculous things about the Dolby's deep blacks and I want to see them tested out on a new remastered digital "print" so I can know precisely what photochemical restorations are up against these days.

Unfortunately at this writing all advance tickets to Smoke are unavailable, but you can check the SFFILM website again at the daily "noon release" of tickets to some (not all) SFFILM shows, or wait in the RUSH line to see if you can be seated at the time of the screening. Just remember to eat dinner beforehand; no food or drink of any kind is allowed inside the Dolby, and they check you bags to make sure you won't be a scofflaw.

SFFILM61 Day 4
Other festival options: The first screenings of Golden Gate Award nominated shorts are today, all at the Roxie: narratives & documentaries in one program, animation in another, and experimental works in a third. It's also the second of three SFFILM screenings of Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof's A Man of Integrity, 9:30 tonight at SFMOMA.

Non-SFFILM option: I can't limit myself to just one: if I weren't going to SFFILM I'd be sorely tempted by tonight's female-focused Other Cinema line-up or the 100-year old Mary Pickford film Stella Maris, with a screenplay by San Francisco's own Frances Marion, screening in 16mm at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont.

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