The San Francisco International Film Festival unveiled its far-ranging 60th anniversary lineup yesterday, along with an earlier calendar spot (April 5-19), a new shorthand moniker (hello SFFILM Festival, goodbye SFIFF) and a cascade of one-off events (the first weekend, especially). Tickets go on sale to the public at noon on Friday, March 17, which gives you ample time to mark up your calendar with films to see. Here’s a tip sheet of the programs likely to sell out first.
'The Green Fog — A San Francisco Fantasia' with Kronos Quartet
For the closing night program on April 16 (note that Festival screenings continue through April 19), SFFILM commissioned a new work by cult hero Guy Maddin. With a couple close collaborators, Maddin has fashioned an alternate view of San Francisco circa Vertigo from a dizzying, delectable assortment of vintage footage. Jacob Garchik composed a score to accompany the visuals, which the redoubtable Kronos Quartet will perform.
18 Black Girls/Boys Ages 1-18 Who Have Arrived at the Singularity and Are Thus Spiritual Machines
Terence Nance’s acclaimed performance pieces combine dance, music and images from the internet to examine perception, stereotypes and identity. Black girls have the spotlight at the April 16 show, followed by the boys the following evening (both shows at the Victoria).
'Long Strange Trip'
Amir Bar-Lev’s six-part, four-hour Grateful Dead documentary premieres May 26 on Amazon Prime, but why wait to start your Summer of Love commemorative celebrations? Catch a contact high at the Festival’s tax day show at the Castro, where dancing in the aisles is permitted. (Possibly. Smoking is definitely verboten, so if you want to party like it’s 1969, plan accordingly.)
A Tribute to Ethan Hawke
It took me a long, long time to warm up to the Austin-born actor, director and novelist. The turning point was his unshowy performance a decade ago as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s dim-bulb brother in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Hawke takes a bow and takes questions at the YBCA on April 8, followed by a screening of Maudie starring Sally Hawkins as Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis and Hawke as the fish peddler she married in 1938.
East Bay filmmaker Pete Nicks’ hotly awaited follow-up to The Waiting Room (shot in the ER at Oakland’s Highland Hospital) observes the Oakland Police Department at a crucial juncture in the national debate over police power and racial injustice.
One of the biggest stars on the planet -- no exaggeration -- visits the Castro April 14. We’re sworn to secrecy, though the Festival will reveal his name on Monday, Mar. 20, if not before. Am I recommending you buy a ticket based solely on this tiny dollop of information? I am. You get a movie with a San Francisco connection in the bargain, too.
'City of Ghosts'
Bay Area moviegoers consistently turn out for the current events-oriented docs in the lineup every year. This portrait of extraordinarily brave Syrian activists (April 13 and 16 at Alamo Drafthouse) from Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman is especially timely given the reported increase in U.S. ground troops in Syria.
'This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous'
The Canadian YouTube star, born Gregory Lazarrato, opens up (unsurprisingly) for Barbara Kopple’s camera. The discussion after the lone Festival screening (April 12 at the Victoria) purportedly will focus less on Gigi’s life and career than on social media’s influence on the nature of celebrity, the construction of image, and the impact on the audience.
A Tribute to John Ridley
An increasingly important producer, writer and director, Ridley started out as a stand-up comic before breaking into television as a writer of black-themed sitcoms (Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, among others) in the 1990s. His early novels were adapted into the films U-Turn and Three Kings, while his Oscar-winning screenplay for 12 Years a Slave presumably allowed him more freedom and power. I expect Ridley’s onstage interview April 12 at Alamo Drafthouse to combine straight-shooting insight into Hollywood’s new (and alleged) diversity with broader political commentary. The other hook: The first episode of Guerilla, Ridley’s six-part Showtime miniseries (debuting April 16) about a radical activist couple in 1970s London.
'The Man with a Movie Camera'
Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s brilliant 1929 synthesis of documentary and fiction still stands as one of the freshest and most vital movies ever made. The festival’s annual marriage of silent film and live music pairs Vertov’s masterpiece with the quartet DeVotchKa at the Castro on April 13.
That’s really only a smattering of what's in store at SFFILM’s 60th birthday bash. Additional salutes include Berkeley native James Ivory (April 14 at SFMOMA with Maurice), S.F. pioneer and Persistence of Vision Award-winner Lynn Hershman Leeson (April 11 at YBCA with her latest, Tania Libre) and producer and behind-the-scenes mover and shaker Tom Luddy (Mel Novikoff Award, Apr. 9 at the Castro followed by the gorgeous Soviet road movie A Long Happy Life). A revival of Citizen Kane features local historian and critic David Thomson querying William R. Hearst III about his grandfather (April 6 at YBCA), while Jill Soloway (Transparent) debuts the first two episodes of her new Amazon Prime series, I Love Dick.
Pixar’s Ed Catmull gives the annual State of Cinema address (April 8 at the new Dolby Theater on Market), which kicks off a day of talks and panels billed as the festival’s first Creativity Summit (and anticipates the following two VR Days at YBCA). Have I omitted anything? Of course. Go scouting.