Today, the San Francisco International Film Festival, running April 23 – May 7 at various venues in San Francisco and the East Bay, announced its 2015 lineup. Much of the fun of a film festival is deciphering the tea leaves (aka program notes) to identify the rare gems from the “pretty good” movies, and the “you had to be there” events from those that sound good on paper. You’re on your own for that pleasurably confounding exercise for the moment, as this missive rounds up the programs most likely to sell out. Note I didn’t add “and leave you disappointed” because today the emphasis is on quantitative, not qualitative, judgments.
Tickets for the two-night stand of Miranda July’s interactive performance, New Society, at the Brava Theatre went on sale weeks ago and are gone, except for a handful reserved for San Francisco Film Society members. Your best bet is to call your friendly neighborhood scalper.
What do you get when you pair the second coming of New York synth-poppers Cibo Matto with the kicky visuals of animated shorts and the 1970-filmed performance of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet? One buzzy show (May 5 at the Castro). SFIFF’s long-running and often-inspired scheme of commissioning contemporary musicians to accompany silent films is one of the fest’s most popular events.
On a more melancholy note, Kronos Quartet and Bill Morrison, the master of decayed 35mm film, mark the centennial of World War I with Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 (May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki). Ancient, flickering visuals and minor-chord movements evoke the long-gone soldiers and the timeless futility of war.
Against the odds, Richard Gere evolved from an impossibly handsome clotheshorse to an actor of gravitas and integrity. Yes, and every single one of his Pretty Woman fans will pack the Castro on Apr. 26 for his onstage interview and Peter J. Owens Award acceptance speech. For dessert, there’s Gere’s weighty turn as a homeless man in Time Out of Mind.
The Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu won the last two Oscars for directing, and it would surprise no one to see their close friend and countryman Guillermo del Toro hoisting the gold statue one day. Until then, del Toro’s greatest admirers are the Hellboy fans who can’t wait to see him receive the Irving M. Levin Directing Award and introduce his Spanish Civil War chiller from 2001, The Devil’s Backbone (Apr. 25).
Douglas Trumbull is an inventor and futurist whose talent and ambition extends beyond innovative visual effects for movies like The Andromeda Strain and Blade Runner. Whether he discusses big-picture concepts or trivial technical tricks in his State of Cinema address, the offspring of the Star Wars generation will fill the house.
Aiming to turn a certain number of screenings into events, the festival has arranged special guests for post-film discussions. If the extraordinary local history revived in Stanley Nelson’s documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, isn’t enough to pack the room, the panel of former Panthers will do it.
Romeo Is Bleeding, Jason Zeldes’ documentary about local poet Donte Clark’s staging of Romeo and Juliet with African American teenagers in Richmond, may be more relevant to high school students than the Panthers’ goals and struggles. The world premiere at El Cerrito High will be a raucous affair, but the screenings at the festival should be pretty electric, too.
It’s hard to handicap which documentary portrait of a colorful character will emerge as a word-of-mouth favorite, but I’m leaning toward City of Gold, Laura Gabbert’s profile of eccentric Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold. (San Francisco is chock-a-block with food enthusiasts, after all.) Runner-up: Iris, the last completed film by the recently departed Albert Maysles, is a humanistic study of an unlikely, 90-something New York fashion icon. Both films will open theatrically, but their obvious pleasures assure sellouts at the SFIFF.
The charm and lineage of actress Isabella Rosselini, a former model and the daughter of movie greats Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, will attract adoring crowds to the world premiere of Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno Live! This entertaining documentary presents her touring monologue about the sex lives of animals, birds, fish and insects, augmented with scenes from her endearing Green Porno short films.
Finally, I’ll make a long-shot guess that Theory of Obscurity: A Film about the Residents will draw the remaining survivors and devotees of San Francisco’s once-thriving alternative and underground performance scene, along with the current wave of art-school students and nascent conceptual artists. (If that sounds like a variation of The Walking Dead, I hear you. Maybe you’d like to join me just to see who shows up.) Certainly the Residents fit comfortably with so many others in the SFIFF — Bill Morrison, Guillermo del Toro, Douglas Trumbull, the Black Panthers, Jonathan Gold, Iris Apfel — who resist compromise and constraint.
Needless to say, opening night (Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine by the prolific, prosaic documentary maker Alex Gibney) and closing night (Experimenter, starring Peter Sarsgaard as the infamous 1960s social psychologist Stanley Milgram) will fill with festival sponsors, donors and fans of good parties. The latter group, plus anyone nostalgic for disco, will hustle to the director’s cut of 54 (1998) with Ryan Philippe on hand. Nonny de la Pena, who combines real life scenarios and virtual reality paraphernalia into “immersive journalism,” will be a popular draw given the large numbers of documentary filmmakers and technology acolytes (from video games to phone apps and beyond) hereabouts. Finally, a couple more docs that just might make waves at the box office are Liz Garbus’ What Happened, Miss Simone? (about singer-activist Nina Simone) and The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to Oscar-nominee The Act of Killing, which focuses on the victims (rather than the perpetrators) of the Indonesian slaughter. Happy shopping!
The San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 23 – May 7, 2015. For tickets and more information, visit sffs.org.