Like the rest of the film world, the San Francisco International Film Festival has done some soul-searching this year. At the announcement of this year’s program, the watchwords were “diversity and inclusion,” put forth as both Bay Area values and ideals supported within the festival’s schedule.
Perhaps this year’s audiences will get a bit more self-reflection from the stars, directors and soon-to-be box office sensations coming to town April 4-17. Barring that, there will be plenty of opportunities for gutsy audience members to ask their own hard-hitting questions at post-screening Q&As.
Already chomping at the bit? Tickets for screenings go on sale Friday, March 16 at 10am, and some of them are obviously hot. Some tips for the shows sure to sell out fast:
April 4, 7pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
Setting a tone of openness and vulnerability against an often hateful national discussion is the festival’s kickoff film A Kid Like Jake. Helmed by Silas Howard (the first trans director of a Transparent episode), the film follows Jim Parsons and Claire Danes as the parents of a preschool-aged son who likes to engage in “gender-variant play.” Should they use their child’s possible transgender leanings as a “diversity” selling point in their quest for entry into New York’s exclusive private schools? What’s best for Jake?
April 6, 9pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) brings a Neil Gaiman short story to life in this “punk rock 1970s alien invasion film” starring Elle Fanning as a visitor from another planet and Nicole Kidman as a leather-clad club queen. Four words to pique your interest: shape-shifting anal probes.
April 7, 2pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
Local audiences won’t want to miss Marina Zenovich’s sensitive portrait of the late, great comedy hero. Including never-before heard audio tapes recorded by Williams, in which he discusses his life and career, this rousing tribute should have us simultaneously laughing and weeping in our seats.
April 8, 7:30pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
SFFILM honors Charlize Theron’s impressive career with an on-stage conversation followed by the screening of her latest film, the Diablo Cody-written, Jason Reitman-directed Tully. As she has with so many of her roles (Monster, Young Adult, Mad Max: Fury Road), Theron shapeshifts into her character — this time to become Marlo, a burned-out mother of three who reluctantly allows her brother to gift her a night nanny, played by Mackenzie Davis.
April 8, 12:30pm / Victoria Theater, San Francisco
The director behind last year’s closing night — The Green Fog, a reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo using only clips from other Bay Area films (playing at Stanford on April 6) — brings his mind to bear on the current state of cinema. Maddin’s description of his talk sounds a bit like the plot of Inception (“What are the limits of the nested trance?”), but he promises “dreamy clips galore” in this mind-bending discussion of dream-states, sleeping actors and elevating cinema to action.
April 9, 8pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
Marc Capelle’s eclectic and versatile group of musicians promise a No Wave/disco score to a selection of clips from Stephen Parr’s legendary Oddball Films collection. Parr, who passed away last October, was known for placing the right reel (be it industrial, educational or just plain odd) in the hands of every indie filmmaker, documentarian or big studio director who came to him for material. Let's hope these types of tributes to him just keep coming.
April 10, 7pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
How’s this for meta? Bay Area favorite Sam Green focuses his special brand of “live filmmaking” on another set of Bay Area favorites, Kronos Quartet, blending archival footage, interviews and interactive storytelling — all scored live onstage by Kronos Quartet. It seems a bit unfair to have to play during a movie that’s ostensibly about you, but I’m sure the audience will be able to set those feelings aside and simply enjoy this audio-visual treat.
April 14, 1pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 today, and she didn't earn the nickname "Notorious RBG" for nothing. Chronicling her legal career battling gender discrimination cases to her long and storied history with the court, filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen deliver a lively and necessary documentary on a living legend.
April 15, 7pm / Castro Theater, San Francisco
Gus Van Sant turns his attention to the life and work of celebrated Portland cartoonist, alcoholic and quadriplegic John Callahan, who died in 2010 after decades of sparing no one — including the disabled — from his macabre sense of humor. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Callahan, with Jonah Hill (nearly unrecognizable in leisurewear, long hair and a beard) as his AA group leader and Rooney Mara and Jack Black rounding out the supporting cast.
The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival takes place April 4-17 in various Bay Area theaters. For tickets and more information, click here.