San Francisco 2018

The sixty-first San Francisco International Film Festival opens tonight with Silas Howard’s A Kid Like Jake, and when it premiered at Sundance, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich called it “very much a ‘White People Problems’ movie, but it’s also a lot more than that.” Surveying the main events of this year’s edition of the SFFILM festival, Michael Hawley sets it up neatly: “Claire Danes and Jim Parsons play Brooklyn parents of a possibly trans young son, who are encouraged by the boy’s preschool teacher (Octavia Spencer) to play up his trans identity as a ‘diversity’ ticket into a competitive private school. . . . Director Howard, who is trans himself (and has directed episodes of the award-winning Amazon series Transparent) will be on hand at the Castro Theatre.

The Castro is one of eleven venues this year, including the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland and BAMPFA in Berkeley. In the East Bay Express,Kelly Vance spotlights a few local screenings, including the Centerpiece presentation, “a can’t-miss for fans of Oakland rap artist Boots Riley: the April 12 screening of Riley’s debut feature Sorry to Bother You, a hella local satire involving an ambitious telemarketer (played by Lakeith Stanfield) trying to make a name for himself in showbiz.” I gathered a first round of reviews when it premiered at Sundance.

Even though the festival will run through April 17, it’s presenting its closing night film, Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, on April 15. Again, here are the reviews from Sundance.

“SFFILM Festival’s 2018 George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award could hardly go to anyone more deserving than Oscar-winning Bay Area filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk,Celluloid Closet,Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt),” writes Michael Hawley. Epstein and Friedman, along with SFFILM senior programmer Rod Armstrong, are guests on KALW’s City Visions (58’21”).

The Mel Novikoff Award, “given to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema,” will be presented to Annette Insdorf, professor, prolific author, and host of two series on FilmStruck. The presentation on April 14 will be followed by a screening of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942).

The Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, honoring “a filmmaker whose main body of work falls outside of the realm of narrative feature filmmaking,” will go to Nathaniel Dorsky, who’ll present four films—Avraham (2014), Intimations (2015), Autumn (2016), and The Dreamer (2016)—twice. The screenings and discussions will happen first at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Friday, and then at BAMPFA on April 15.

There’ll be a tribute to Charlize Theron, who, along with director Jason Reitman, will present Tully. A second tribute, to Wayne Wang, “will feature, after an extended clip reel and onstage interview conducted by local filmmaker H. P. Mendoza, a screening of a restored version of Smoke, Wang’s delightful 1995 collaboration with novelist Paul Auster about a Manhattan cigar-store owner and the orbit of characters who drift in and out of the store,” as G. Allen Johnson writes in his profile of Wang for the Chronicle.

Guy Maddin will deliver this year’s State of Cinema Address. A preview: “We’ve long taken for granted that cinema is a dream, sometimes even a dream within a dream, and more dreams inside those. . . . I hope to prove, by discussing the strange idea of ‘five unshootable films,’ that the new ‘sleeping actor’ is the greatest actor, that the neuroses and childhood fears experienced in slumber have replaced the strenuous labors of the long-incumbent ‘waking’ thespian and finally ascended to the status of ultimate attainment in film.”

“Speaking of iconoclasts,” writes Michael Hawley, “the Bay Area lost one of its most beloved last year with the passing of Stephen Parr, so it's entirely fitting the festival offer up A Celebration of Oddball Films at its 2018 edition. Oddball was Parr’s baby, a 50,000-plus reel collection of industrial, educational and otherwise uncategorizable films housed floor-to-ceiling in a Mission District warehouse. Watch the end credits of almost any documentary that includes archival footage and you’re bound to see the name Oddball Films scroll by.” The festival notes that Marc Capelle and his Red Room Orchestra will “commemorate and confound with a No Wave/disco score that features as much ABBA as Albert Ayler.”

Also performing live will be Blonde Redhead, presenting their newly commissioned original score for Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born, But . . . (1932).

And from the festival: “Sam Green and film editor Joe Bini have partnered with the legendary New Classical pioneers Kronos Quartet to create a ‘live documentary’ about the classical music group . . . Blending archival footage; interviews with longtime collaborators such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Laurie Anderson; along with interactive storytelling, A Thousand Thoughts creates a profound connection to the music and the musicians.”

Cory McAbee (The American Astronaut) will present Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences, “an evening of music, animation, and interstellar investigations,” as the festival describes it.

“As always,” writes Max Golberg for KQED, “many of the festival’s discoveries require digging deeper into the program guide.” A few of the “under-the-radar highlights” he recommends are:

  • “A Rubik’s Cube of a film, and a shot in the arm, Alee Peoples’s Decoy anchors a fine program of recent experimental films selected by curators Kathy Geritz and Vanessa O’Neill.”
  • Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable: “This documentary profile of the seminal street photographer was directed by noted experimental filmmaker Sasha Waters Freyer, and her rhythmic editing is marvelously responsive to the elusive snap of a Winogrand.”
  • Purge This Land: “Lee Anne Schmitt’s contemplative study of America’s history of racial violence sits uneasily, and pointedly, at the intersection of personal essay and historical documentation.”
  • “The fourth of six shorts programs (New Visions) features pieces by Kevin Jerome Everson, Jem Cohen, and [a] strikingly lucid work of documentary by Hope Tucker,” Atomkraftwerk Zwentendorf.

For more recommendations, see Jim Harrington and Randy Myers in the Mercury News. And be sure to check back for updates over the next couple of weeks.

Update, 4/6: Following an entry in which he explains why he’s glad SFFILM will not be using the Alamo Drafthouse as a venue this year, Brian Darr writes about Barry, the HBO series created by Alec Berg and Bill Hader—and finds that it’s not half-bad.

Updates, 4/7: “This year’s World Cinema Spotlight casts its gaze to the stars, beaming down a trio of fascinating films about space—none of which happens to be science fiction.” Cheryl Eddy for the festival: “There’s Mercury 13, a documentary about the highly qualified women who were denied the chance to join NASA's first generation of astronauts; Salyut-7, a docudrama about a real-life near-disaster aboard a Russian space station; and ★, an experimental film that takes a deep dive into the ways space has been portrayed throughout cinematic history.”

At Eat Drink Films, Gary Meyer writes about all three and about:

  • Alexandra Cuerdo’s Ulam: Main Dish, a documentary on Filipino cuisine
  • Chef Flynn, Cameron Yates’s portrait of Flynn McGarry
  • Tre Maison Dasan, Denali Tiller’s documentary about three boys who each have a parent in prison
  • Katie Galloway’s The Pushouts, a profile of Victor Rios, a former gang member who now teaches at UC Santa Barbara
  • Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink’s The Rescue List, about a project that saves kids from forced child labor in Ghana

Avraham is, like all of Nathaniel Dorsky’s recent films, an extraordinary beautiful silent 16 mm film intended to be projected at 18 frames per second (rather than the 24 fps standard cemented in the early sound-film era), which he calls ‘sacred speed’ and considers ‘gentler’ than the faster pace most of us are accustomed to viewing films at,” writes Brian Darr. “As Jeremy Polacek writes, Dorsky’s films ‘hover on the rim of recognition, not quite perceptible, because knowing would somehow be less.’ Unlike his other works, however, Avraham was named before it was filmed, making it a break from the filmmaker’s prior work in that it directly and explicitly dialogues with Dorsky’s Jewish heritage.”

Brian Darr also writes about Wayne Wang and Smoke (1995).

Update, 4/9:Brian Darr on Paul Schrader’s First Reformed: “The festival is only a few days old but this is in pole position as the SFFILM narrative film to beat; if I see another new feature of its level of quality in the next week and a half I'll be very surprised (and pleased).”

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