10 Hottest Tickets at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival

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Juliette Binoche stars in Claire Denis' sci-fi drama 'High Life.' (Courtesy of SFFILM)

The countdown to the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival, taking place April 10–23 in theaters across the Bay Area, begins. What’s different this year? More East Bay engagements. More prints coming from a source called Netflix. And three films that start with the word “midnight” (including the 50th anniversary screening of Midnight Cowboy).

Tickets go on sale to the general public Friday, March 22 at 10am. And while the opening night showing of Netflix’s reimagined and contemporary take on Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is at rush, there’s still plenty of special appearances, screenings and performances worth snagging a seat for come Friday morn.

A scene from Mike Tolajian's film 'Q Ball.'
A scene from Mike Tolajian's film 'Q Ball.' (Courtesy of SFFILM)

‘Q Ball’

April 11, 7pm / Castro Theatre, San Francisco
It may surprise many Golden State Warriors fans to learn that a half hour drive from Oracle Arena, a second Warriors team plays inside San Quentin State Prison—a team of dedicated and talented players who also happen to be convicted felons. Michael Tolajian’s documentary follows an about-to-be-paroled squad star who harbors NBA dreams, a lifer who mentors younger inmates, and the team’s head coach, who believes the lessons of basketball help prepare his charges for life outside. The director and executive producers (including Kevin Durant) are expected to attend this world premiere screening.

Robert Pattinson stars in Claire Denis' sci-fi drama 'High Life.'
Robert Pattinson stars in Claire Denis' sci-fi drama 'High Life.' (Courtesy of SFFILM)

Claire Denis: Tribute + ‘High Life’

April 11, 8pm / Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
The French filmmaker joins a conversation on stage after the screening of her latest film (her first English-language feature), starring Robert Pattinson, André Benjamin and Juliette Binoche as a group of death-row inmates on a dangerous space journey. A Denis sci-fi, SFFILM promises, is like no other sci-fi you’ve seen before.

Boots Riley, speaker at the State of Cinema.
Boots Riley, speaker at the State of Cinema. (Courtesy of SFFILM)

Boots Riley: State of Cinema Address

April 13, 2pm / Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
Well known to Bay Area denizens as an activist, The Coup front man and that guy everyone in Oakland seems to know, Riley burst onto the national film scene last year with the so-surreal-it’s-real Sorry to Bother You. Riley’s State of Cinema address will keep Bay Area filmmaking at the forefront while he speaks to the ways film responds to current social movements, and vice versa.

Laura Dern in a still from Edward Zwick's 'Trial by Fire.'
Laura Dern in a still from Edward Zwick's 'Trial by Fire.' (Courtesy of SFFILM)

Laura Dern: Tribute + ‘Trial by Fire’

April 14, 3:30pm / Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Laura Dern! In person! Need I say more? Following a screening of Edward Zwick’s new drama starring the actress (based on the real-life story of a Texas playwright advocating for a man on death row), Dern discusses her illustrious career on stage at the Castro. So help me, if anyone dares “ask” her anything that “isn’t actually a question,” there’ll be hell to pay.

An Evening with Kahlil Joseph

April 15, 8pm / Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
Joseph’s moving image work transcends the traditional boundaries of commercial video projects, film and art. Case in point: the co-director of Beyoncé’s Lemonade is also a participant in this year’s Venice Biennale. He appears on stage to discuss a series of short works (including two new projects), his process and plans for the future.


April 16, 7:30pm / Castro Theatre, San Francisco
What’re two straight-A students to do on the eve of their high school graduation and with no black marks on their spotless records? Cram all the missed opportunities for misbehavior, bad decisions and hijinks into one wild night, of course. Actress-turned-director Olivia Wilde is expected on stage after the screening.

Centerpiece Film: ‘The Farewell’

April 18, 7:30pm / Castro Theatre, San Francisco
“Some people are describing it as the indie version of Crazy Rich Asians,” one of SFFILM’s programmers said at the press preview, “but it’s so much more than that.” Writer-director Lulu Wang’s feature debut tells the story of an Asian-American artist (Awkwafina) who joins family in China to say goodbye to their dying matriarch—who doesn’t know she’s dying.

Warpaint: Live Score + Films by Maya Deren

April 19, 8pm / Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Two members of the LA-based band Warpaint perform a live score for four of avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren’s signature works, including her landmark 1943 experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon. See Deren’s pieces in the luxurious setting they deserve (instead of, say, a musty film studies classroom), and with a dreamy post-punk soundtrack I’m pretty sure she would’ve loved.

A still from Fab 5 Freddy's 'Grass is Greener.'
A still from Fab 5 Freddy's 'Grass is Greener.' (Courtesy of SFFILM)

‘Grass is Greener’

April 20, 6:30pm / Grand Lake Theater, Oakland
As mentioned, SFFILM boasts an expanded East Bay program this year (possibly a result of 2018’s sold-out Sorry to Bother You screening at the Grand Lake), and the billing sure to draw crowds is a documentary about the history of cannabis in America (and its relationship to music and people of color), directed by legendary graffiti artist, rap artist, MTV host and music video director Fab 5 Freddy.

A still from Penny Lane's 'Hail Satan?'
A still from Penny Lane's 'Hail Satan?' (Courtesy of SFFILM)

‘Hail Satan?’

April 20, 6pm / Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
April 23, 8:30pm / Roxie Theater, San Francisco

There’s two screenings for this one, which might mitigate the “hot ticket” pretense of this list, but it was also the only film mentioned in the festival’s press preview that elicited an actual cheer from the assembled crowd of usually deadpan critics. Nonfiction filmmaker Penny Lane’s latest takes viewers into The Satanic Temple, where a group of Satanists are putting up a rebellious and hilarious fight for religious freedom and against political corruption. (I’d swap that question mark for an exclamation.)