April 22, 2014

SFIFF 57: 10 FILMS YOU CAN'T MISS

by Erik Anderson


The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival is just days away and among the dozens of great films are some gems you should check out. 

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BAUYR (LITTLE BROTHER), Seric Aprymov, Kazakhstan

Eight-year-old Yerkin is an immensely resourceful if irascible third grader. He lives in Bulak, a small village on the steppes of Kazakhstan, where his keen observations of grown-ups are sometimes humorous and always honest. Yerkin makes bricks for a living when not in school, where he gets in trouble for shooting spitballs and learns how to recite Lermontov in Russian. At an age when he can pass under the radar of adults undetected or ignored, this determined lad provides a uniquely unfiltered view of his village and its quirky inhabitants.


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THE BLUE WAVE, Zeynep Dadak and Merve Kayan, Turkey/Germany/Netherlands/Greece

Returning home from a summer spent at the beach with her family, Deniz, a teenage girl living in the midsize Turkish city of Balikesir, embarks on a year of flirtations, shifting friendships, unfocused restlessness and emotional tumult in this low-key, loosely plotted coming-of-age tale. Entering her penultimate year of high school, Deniz, along with her two best friends, Esra and Gul, and new girl Perin, faces choices that will decide the next chapter of her life. While Deniz contemplates imminent change and acts on some questionable impulses, writer-directors Zeynep Dadak and Merve Kayan avoid fireworks in favor of tracking the quiet, largely internal dramas playing out.


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BOYHOOD, Richard Linklater, USA

A bold, brilliant experiment in time-lapse cinema. In 2002, Linklater started constructing a fictional story centered on a six-year-old boy named Ellar Coltrane. For 12 years, Linklater, Coltrane, actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and several nonprofessionals (including the director’s daughter Lorelei) got together once a year, working out a loose storyline and incorporating his young star’s experiences into the mix. 


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CALVARY, John Michael McDonagh, UK/Ireland

This pitch-black comedy drama, the second collaboration of writer/director John Michael McDonagh and actor Brendan Gleeson (2011’s The Guard) frames trenchant observations of the Catholic Church’s history in Ireland and its record worldwide in dealing with abusive priests within a daft mystery/passion play with Father Lavelle reluctantly thrust into the role of the martyr marked to die for the sins of others.


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DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, Justin Simien, USA

On the campus of Winchester University, a civil war is starting to erupt. An all-black residential hall is in the process of electing a new student head, with a run-off between two candidates: the handsome, jock-ish Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) and the aspiring film student/militant radio DJ Sam White (Tessa Thompson). When White unexpectedly beats her super-popular rival, she decides to start enforcing some new rules that fight the power and ruffle some feathers around the African American students’ enclave.


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EASTERN BOYS, Robin Campillo, France

In this erotically charged nail-biter, director Robin Campillo takes the audience on a completely unexpected ride when a French businessman’s life changes with a single act. Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin), a dapper, 50-something Parisian, coyly cruises the Gare du Nord, trailing a group of men around the urban shopping plaza. He awkwardly propositions one—a young eastern European immigrant hustler, Marek—to whom he naively gives his address, where they agree to meet the next evening. A nightmarish, yet arousing evening of terror and seduction ensues when Marek keeps the date, but doesn’t come alone. 


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HELLION, Kat Candler, USA

Inspired by her 2012 short film of the same name, Candler expands the original Hellion  story of sibling misbehavior and misguided peer pressure into an eye-catching and heart-wrenching family drama set in the sun-soaked industrial town of Port Neches, TX. Struggling father Hollis Wilson (Aaron Paul) drunkenly copes with the loss of his wife while blind to the toll her death and his frequent absences has taken on his teenage son Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and younger boy Wes (Deke Garner).


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SALVATION ARMY, Abdellah Taïa, Morocco

Adapting his autobiographical novel, director Abdellah Taïa tells the story of a gay Moroccan boy finding self-realization and personal strength within a society that shuns him. Homosexuality, however, is not the only difficulty confronting Abdellah (the main character shares the same name as the filmmaker)—his father abuses his mom, he feels an attraction for his older brother Slimane and older men in the neighborhood prey on him for their frustrated sexual needs. 


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STOP THE POUNDING HEART, Roberto Minervini, USA/Italy/Belgium

Italian director Roberto Minervini ventures deep into Texas’ rural Bible belt, achieving an intimacy with his subjects so deep that it seems spiritual. Focused on teenage Sara Carlson and her rising discomfort as she begins to feel the full confinement of her fundamentalist upbringing on a goat farm, the film quietly observes her daily life with its chores, sermons and the rare moments of freedom that entice her to see beyond the fences. Minervini captures the natural rhythm and soul of life in Waller, Texas, in a style best described by Werner Herzog as “poetic documentary,” meaning the characters and circumstances are real, but certain scenes are nudged or set up to find a deeper truth. 


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THREE LETTERS FROM CHINA, Luc Schaedler, Switzerland

In the final film of his Asian trilogy, Swiss director Luc Schaedler presents three diverse, intimate and well-crafted portraits of life in contemporary China, each segment presenting an evocative and penetrating study of a different region. In the north, an elderly couple tenaciously clings to their family farm long after everyone else in the village, while their son and his wife negotiate a harsh existence in one of many grim industrial zones.


San Francisco International Film Festival begins April 24th and runs though through May 8
Tickets: $10-$15; ticket packages also available; http://www.sffs.org

 

April 19, 2014

TWO PREVIOUS CANNES WINNERS: LES ORDRES and INDAGINE SU UN CITTADINO AL DI SOPRA DI OGNI SOSPETTO

by David Acacia


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In the evening following the announcement of the Official Selection for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, residual excitement for all things Cannes had me visit the TIFF Cinematheque to watch what proved to be a striking pairing of previous prize winners from the festival. Michel Brault's Les ordres (the 1975 Best Director winner, and only Canadian winner in this category) and Elio Petri's Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, the 1970 Grand Prix winner), both cautionary exposés of corrupted bureaucracy, could not be less tonally alike.

Les ordres chronicles events of the 1970 "October Crisis", where the War Measures Act (an amendment that would give the government more power as a measure to combat insurrection) was used to incarcerate 465 innocent civilians without charge, after Québécois separatists kidnapped two government officials. Unfolding in a docufiction structure, the film chooses five of the prisoners, and based off actual interviews with these victims, depicts the moral conundrum of whether or not it was appropriate to effect those measures.

While hardly the prototype for a Cannes Best Director Winner (a prize which, more often than not, appears to favour films that may be too divisive to win the Palme d'or, Grand prix or Prix du jury, though featuring some sort of distinctively stylish directorial flair), Michel Brault's modestly rendered direction is nevertheless accomplished. Visually, Les ordres has a bifurcated structure, where events taking place within the prison are shot in colour, while anything that happens outside its confines is portrayed in black and white. One memorable shot illustrates the eventual release of Marie Boudreau, and as she crosses the threshold of where the prison's confines meet the world beyond, the image fades in a transition from colour to black and white that is so subtle, one only realizes the effect moments later. But, for all the merit of its visuals, this is a film most notable for the execution of its tonality. So convincing is its realism, it was necessary for Les ordres to introduce the actors portraying five of the apprehended civilians with a statement of their name, and who they were playing, so as not to be mistaken for a literal documentary. Another film with a largely prison-based setting would likely err in an inclusion of caricatured, menacing jailers, but its understated depiction of the incarceration of the October Crisis's victims is precisely what grounds Les ordres, and allows it to have such a chilling effect, demonstrating how it could be possible for such a bizarre, waking nightmare of a scenario to happen.

Meanwhile, Elio Petri's Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto is an equal to Les ordres in its justified irreverence for authority, but it opts for an entirely different route to reach this eventual conclusion. An angry, though often humorous satire, the film is anchored by the portrayal of Gian Maria Volonté as the jaded head of a homicide department, enigmatically named "Il dottore". After a coital encounter with his lover (Florinda Bolkan, in a superlative performance), with whom he has re-enacted various crimes he has witnessed for the consummation of their depraved erotic fantasies, Il dottore murders her, and proceeds to plant obvious clues to his guilt, in an act of defiance.

At first glance, it feels as though Volonté's performance and the tone set by the musical score (executed with a twinkle in its eye, in what is surely one of Ennio Morricone's greatest achievements amidst an embarrassment of riches) are perhaps too much: they are both so exaggerated that it seems as though Il dottore's demeanour should make it glaringly obvious to his colleagues that he is the author of this crime. But, as the film progresses, it appears with increasing clarity that the thesis of this acidic satire is a brazen condemnation of a wilfully obstinate bureaucratic effort to keep its head in the sand, in regards to internal mismanagement and corruption.

While it would be tempting to see these films as time capsules for a bygone era, it would be... optimistic to think that scenarios such as those depicted in Les ordres or Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto do not still happen regularly. In Canada, the controversy and impact of the October Crisis made it seem as though mass detention of uncharged civilians could not possibly repeat, but just five summers ago during protests coinciding with the G20 Summit in Toronto, hundreds of innocent civilians were taken under arrest. Stories like these are why challenging films are still being made, and it appears as though there will always be a definite need for them.

 

April 1, 2014

57th SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL COMPLETE PROGRAM ANNOUNCED

SFIFF57

SFIFF57 Runs April 24 - May 8

The San Francisco Film Society today announced the complete schedule of films and events that will make up the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, running April 24 - May 8 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, New People Cinema and the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

Download the Festival program here.

Browse the full public program info at festival.sffs.org.

SFIFF 2014 by the Numbers:

168 Films
74 Narrative Features 
29 Documentary Features
65 Shorts
56 Countries Represented
40 Languages
3 World Premieres 
5 North American Premieres 
5 U.S. Premieres 
45 Women Directors
200 Filmmakers and Industry Guests Expected 

Highlights from today's press conference included these announcements:

The SFIFF57 Centerpiece film is Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola and based on the collection of short stories by James Franco. Coppola is expected to attend the screening and the Centerpiece Party that follows. 

Pixar's John Lasseter will be the recipient of the George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award, given to a worthy member of the filmmaking community for their outstanding and unique contributions to the art of cinema. Lasseter will be presented with the award at Film Society Awards Night, May 1. Read the full press release for more details.

Stephen Gaghan will be honored with the 2014 Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, and the Festival will screen his acclaimed film Syriana on May 3. 

Film historian and prolific author David Thomson will receive the Mel Novikoff Award at SFIFF57, which acknowledges an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public's knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. Thomson has selected Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve to screen as part of his tribute on May 4, which will also consist of an onstage conversation with author Geoff Dyer. 

Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award will be given to pioneering filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien, with a tribute program that will include a screening of his recent work Ten Thousand Waves on April 27. The POV Award each year honors the achievement of a filmmaker whose main body of work is outside the realm of narrative feature filmmaking; crafting documentaries, short films, television, animated, experimental or multiplatform work. 

The SFIFF57 lineup features an unprecedented number of films supported by the San Francisco Film Society's Filmmaker360 program, including Kat Candler's Hellion (SFFS/KRF grant winner: $70,000 for postproduction), Sara Colangelo's Little Accidents (SFFS/KRF grant winner: $50,000 for postproduction), Josef Wladyka's Manos Sucias (two-time SFFS/KRF grant winner: $45,000 for production, $90,000 for postproduction), Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child (Off the Page screenwriting workshop participant), Jesse Moss' The Overnighters (SFFS project development program) and Michael Tully's Ping Pong Summer (SFFS/KRF grant winner: $50,000 for postproduction).

 

 
 

SFIFF57

North American Premiere of Hossein Amini’s 'The Two Faces of January' and Chris Messina’s Directorial Debut 'Alex of Venice' to Bookend 2014 Festival Program
3/26/2014
 
The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 24–May 8) has announced its highly-anticipated Opening Night and Closing Night selections. SFIFF kicks off with the Opening Night presentation of Hossein Amini’s gripping Patricia Highsmith adaptation The Two Faces of January (UK 2014) starring Oscar Issac, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst. The Festival will come to a stirring conclusion with Chris Messina’s drama Alex of Venice (USA 2014), starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Messina and Don Johnson. Special guests are expected to attend and will participate in post-screening Q&A’s at each event, and both screenings will be followed by high-energy celebrations.

“We are delighted to offer these exceptional films by first-time directors who are best known for their work in other areas of the film world,” said San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Noah Cowan. “Championing talented artists who aren’t afraid of taking risks is at the heart of the Film Society's mission and our ongoing support of filmmakers around the world. I can’t think of a better pair of films to kick off and wrap up what is going to be an amazing festival.”

With their combination of renowned artists, acclaimed films and San Francisco hot spots, SFIFF’s Big Nights are an annual landmark on the Bay Area cultural calendar. Bookending two weeks of cinematic celebration, the Opening Night and Closing Night festivities give the SFIFF community a chance to gather for the love of world-class film and to drink, dance and discuss from dusk till dawn. The Festival’s Centerpiece film and party will be announced at the SFIFF press conference on April 1.
Two Faces of January

Opening Night: The Two Faces of January
North American Premiere
Thursday April 24, 7:00 pm, Castro Theatre
Special guests expected to attend
Celebrated screenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings of the DoveDrive) delivers a stylish directorial debut, with this adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith suspense thriller gorgeously filmed on location in Greece and Turkey. In 1962, a well-heeled couple (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) come to know an American expatriate acting as an Athens tour guide (Oscar Isaac). But an incident at the couple’s hotel puts all three in danger and creates a precarious interdependence between them.

The Opening Night celebration continues at the Public Works (161 Erie Street) at 9:00 pm with an exclusive party featuring hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants, sophisticated cocktails and, of course, dancing. The evening will feature special performances by the Seshen and DJ Lady Ryan. SFIFF Opening Night is sponsored by RBC Capital Markets.
Alex of Venice

Closing Night: Alex of Venice
Thursday May 8, 7:00 pm, Castro Theatre
Special guests expected to attend
Actor Chris Messina creates a winning mix of wistful comedy and heartfelt drama in this tale of accepting the unexpected. Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an environmental lawyer whose job often keeps her away from the home she shares with her son, husband (Messina) and actor father (Don Johnson, in a knockout performance).  When her husband rebels against being a stay-at-home dad and takes a time out from the marriage, Alex’s world quickly becomes very complicated.

At 9:00 pm the Closing Night party kicks off at The Chapel (777 Valencia Street). Partygoers will bring down the final curtain on SFIFF57 with festive drinks, hors d’oeuvres and music. The evening will feature a special performance by Midnight Sons.

Tickets: Opening Night film and party $65 for SFFS members and $80 for the general public; film only (limited quantity available) $35 for members, $40 general; party only $40 for members, $50 general; VIP film and party $125. 
Closing Night film and party $65 for SFFS members and $80 for the general public; film only (limited quantity available) $35 for members, $40 general; party only $40 for members, $50 general; VIP film and party $125.
Box office opens March 26 for SFFS members and March 28 for the general public, online at sffs.org.

For more information visit sffs.org/Exhibition/SF-International-Film-Festival.
For photos and press materials visit sffs.org/pressdownloads.


57th San Francisco International Film Festival

The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 24–May 8 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre and New People Cinema in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Held each spring for 15 days, the International is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in one of the country’s most beautiful cities, featuring 200 films and live events, 14 juried awards and nearly $40,000 in cash prizes, upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests and diverse and engaged audiences with more than 65,000 in attendance.

San Francisco Film Society
Building on a legacy of more than 50 years of bringing the best in world cinema to the Bay Area, the San Francisco Film Society is a national leader in exhibition, education and filmmaker services. SFFS is headed by Executive Director Noah Cowan, with programmatic leadership by Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, Director of Education Joanne Parsont and Director of Filmmaker360 Michele Turnure-Salleo.
 
The Film Society presents more than 100 days of exhibition each year, reaching a total audience of more than 100,000 people. Its acclaimed education program introduces international, independent and documentary cinema and media literacy to more than 10,000 teachers and students. Through Filmmaker360, the Film Society’s filmmaker services program, essential creative and business services, and funding totaling millions of dollars are provided to deserving filmmakers at all stages of their careers.
 
The Film Society seeks to elevate all aspects of film culture, offering a wide range of activities that engage emotions, inspire action, change perceptions and advance knowledge. A 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, it is largely donor and member supported. Membership provides access to discounts, grants and residencies, private events and a wealth of other benefits.
 
For more information visit sffs.org.
 
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