• [The Daily] San Francisco 2018

    By David Hudson


    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).”

    Update, 4/11: No Date, No Signature is “a well-done drama in much the same tradition as those of the great Asghar Farhadi,” writes Brian Darr, and it “makes a fascinating contrast with SFFILM61’s other Iranian selection, Mohammad Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity. Both are concerned with corruption in Iranian (or any) society, but where Rasoulof powerfully and precisely hammers his theme, to the point that his movie was banned from release within Iran, No Date, No Signature director Vahid Jalilvand takes a more subtle tack, and leaves enough vague that he was able to premiere at the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran, where Navid Mohammadzaden won a prize for his performance as a struggling family man.”

    Also, a look back at evenings well spent at Oddball Films.

    Update, 4/12: Brian Darr flags a piece he wrote for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2011:

    Usually described as a comedy, I Was Born, But . . . has been compared to Hal Roach’s Our Gang series. Yet it is much more, reflecting a tumultuous 1930s Japan being shorn of its traditions. The film focuses on the family of a typical white-collar worker (“salaryman”), his stay-at-home wife, and two school-age sons, who have just moved from Tokyo’s crowded center to an unfinished suburban development. As the boys struggle to find a place in the pecking order among neighborhood kids, they outwit the dandified young Taro and his bullying protector with their wily antics, only to be humiliated when their father plays jester to his boss, who happens to be Taro’s father. Ozu uses schoolboy politics to mock the hypocrisies of adult hierarchies.

    Updates, 4/14: “Documentaries about men in prison have been seen before, but Tre Maison Dasan, a film having its world premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival, offers a fresh and heartrending perspective,” writes Stephen Farber for the Hollywood Reporter. And “in the end, what makes this film memorable is the emotion it generates. Scenes with the boys and their parents during prison visiting days are almost unbearably wrenching.”

    “One of my favorite new discoveries of this year's SFFILM festival so far, [Rungano Nyoni’s] I Am Not A Witch tells a story, set entirely in the Southern African nation of Zambia, of an eight-year old girl accused of witchcraft and sent from her village on a tour of her country as a kind of combination lucky charm and sideshow,” writes Brian Darr. “Often absurdly humorous in tone and visionary in design, this ultra-widescreen fable with a ring of truth is something that should certainly be seen on a big screen.”

    He also has notes Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib and Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942): “Hollywood movies of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of the 1930s and 1940s are known for their glamour, for their stars, and for their maintenance of a consistent baseline standard of production quality. They’re not often known for their boldness in speaking truth to power, To Be or Not to Be might be one of the most noteworthy exceptions (not that it skimps in the glamour, star and production quality departments).”

    Updates, 4/16: The festival’s announced the winners of this year’s Golden Gate Awards:

    “A great example of documentary/animation hybridization, [Alexandra ‘Xá’ Ramires & Laura Gonçalves’s] Drop by Drop takes audio interviews of Portuguese villagers reacting to the social and environmental impacts of climate change and desertification on the Iberian peninsula and imagines a fantastic visual landscape based on the metaphors in its interviewees’ descriptions,” writes Brian Darr. “Not only is the imagery striking and strong, the animation itself is a wonderful example of the under-utilized concept of ‘camera movement’ in animation. Where so many independent animations have a very closed-off, shoebox feel (which can be beneficial to certain, but not all, subjects), Drop by Drop moves in all directions, creating a sense of vastness that befits its theme of long-rooted traditions becoming upended as families scatter to the four winds.”

    Update, 4/18: “Named for the internet domain extension that, if current climate change trends continue could become the last remaining trace of the Polynesian nation Tuvalu, .TV draws on (according to its end credits) video footage of Tuvalu's islands from Youtube and the hors-frontieres website, along with a voiceover by Tuvaluan-in-exile Tiueli Papau, to create an experimental documentary with traces of apocalyptic ‘fiction,’” writes Brian Darr. “Add in the element of video footage streaming directly from websites paying to use the .tv extension (to the point that, according to a title card, it's become Tuvalu's steadiest source of income) in mundane domestic and office spaces, and we have a film that perfectly intersects our transforming world in the age of internet pervasiveness and environmental catastrophe.”

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