April 20, 2017
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SF International Goes Big
by Doniphan Blair
Festival director Noah Cowan announced a stellar year at the SF International's 60th anniversary. photo: D. Blair
With the festival just completed, I can say it was a spectacular as suggested by the initial promo.
Some of the highlights were the honoring of alternative film and music in "Long Strange Trip", about the Grateful Dead, the premiere San Francisco hippie band, and "The Green Fog", an abstract look a "Vertigo', San Francisco and the local art film tradition, which was also highlighted in the Canyon and Disposable Film Festival retrospective.
Old-time edge-cutter Jodorosky came through with a festival favorite, "Endless Poetry", while a bunch of first timers, like "Heaven Sent" from Lebanon, brought humor, insight or innovation to old stories.
AFTER A DOWN MARKET YEAR, WHEN
their offices were located in the Mission, the San Francisco International Film Festival celebrates its 60th anniversary with a rather spectacular, notably artistic and richly local program, playing around the Bay April 5th through the 19th.
In fact, the two shows which caught my eye — Alejandro Jodorosky’s new film and Melvin Van Peebles’s ‘60s New Wave feature, “Three Day Pass” — were not even mentioned in their hour-long press presentation. On top of which, four of festival’s five programmers and director Noah Cowan were holding forth in the astonishing new Dolby Theater, part of the festival’s new venue list (which always starts and ends at The Castro), in the spanking new Dolby Building on Market Street, where the revered recording arts company recently relocated from its odd, old-timey building in the Mission.
Equally artistic and local, the Festival is highlighting Canyon Cinema’s 50th and the Disposable Film Festival’s 10th anniversary, with shows, and Berkeley’s most famous producer and festival organizer (Telluride), Tom Luddy, with an award — not that they don’t have plenty of international star power to go around.
That aspect kicks in opening night with “Landline” by Gillian Robespierre, whose name suggests not so much revolution as solid indie filmmaking. Her “Obvious Child” (2014), which the Festival’s Film Society had a hand in developing, was a break out hit. “Landline” looks like it will achieve similar, given the inevitably great John Turturro as the tortured father of two hipster sisters (including “Obvious Child” star Jenny Slate) running around a drug- and rave-crazed 1990s New York.
Jenny Slate, Edie Falco and Abby Quinn catch a cig break in ‘Landlines’. photo: courtesy G. Robespierre
Indeed, nurturing film is an expanding aspect of the festival’s operations, from doc and screenplay development grants to residencies at the Film House, now in cool new digs across from Chinatown.
Closing night is a full-on festival commission which looks at both the Bay Area and its film history with a “remake” of “Vertigo” from found footage and unknown noirs, scored by the Bay Area’s own Kronos Quartet. Another fantastic-sounding, score-based screening is of “THX 1138”, George Lucas’s first film, featuring the English electronica/reggae band Asian Dub Foundation. Yet another is the ‘20s Russian masterpiece, “Man with a Movie Camera”, rescored by Denver’s Devotchka.
Indeed, in addition to almost 200 films, there is quite a bit of ancillary art, music and performance. Art film aficionados should be sure to catch “Tania Libre” by Lynn Hershman Leeson, director of SF Art Institute’s film department for a few years and at the forefront of technology and feminism, as well as art and film, for 40 years.
Truly outdoing themselves this, SF International lead programmers: (lft-rt) Amanda Salazar, Audrey Chang, Rod Armstrong, Rachel Rosen and Noah Cowan. photo: D. Blair
For sheer star wattage, they’re airdropping in Ethan Hawke for an award, tributing Shah Rukh Khan, the earth’s biggest cinema celeb (starred in over 80 Indian films), highlighting James Ivory (with his little known “Maurice”), featuring Eleanor Coppola and her first narrative “Paris Can Wait” (starring Alec Baldwin), and screening “Citizen Kane”, with an intro by William R. Hearst III, the first time the family has addressed their patriarch’s takedown in one of the greatest films of all time — not to forget the Festival’s State of the Cinema address by Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull.
Alas, this summary hardly does justice to the Festival’s two spectacular weeks, which even includes an unknown short from Jean-Luc Godard and a bunch of longs, also unknown — but not for long, from Argentina, where the festival’s intrepid programmers uncovered an especially fecund film scene, all-in-all a fitting 60th anniversary for the second oldest film festival in the United States.
Posted on Mar 28, 2017 - 02:10 PM