Conference call: A camera captures San Francisco International Film Festival programmer Sean Uyehara speaking about the films of the SFIFF's 51st at the Westin St. Francis Hotel Tuesday morning. (Photo by Pamela Gentile)

SF Int'l announces its 51st program and year-round screen

Susan Gerhard April 1, 2008

The San Francisco International Film Festival announced not only its 2008 program today at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, but also the June 13 launch of its year-round programming on one screen at the Sundance Kabuki.

San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat told the assembled that the Film Society has been working very hard since he arrived to turn its programming into a “year-round operation,” and that the SFFS screen will feature international independent and documentary features with limited U.S. distribution.

[Editor’s note: is published by SFFS.]

Most of the event was devoted to unveiling the work inside the 51st Festival, which runs from April 24 through May 8. It opens with Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress, starring Asia Argento—one of three films in the Festival’s opening weekend featuring the actress, who Leggat spoke of as “alluringly vulpine. And that’s a compliment.” The International’s closing night is an Alex Gibney documentary with roots in San Francisco publishing, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Jonathan Levine’s Sundance hit The Wackness is the Centerpiece presentation.

The Festival’s Cinema by the Bay programming of locally made work features a diverse slate, including a worldview-colliding African American romance in Medicine for Melancholy, a loving ode to the recently deceased Cachao in SF State Documentary Film Institute-produced Cachao: Uno Mas, the latest surreal collage from Craig Baldwin, Mock up on Mu, as well as the debut feature by North Bay baseball-playing filmmakers Logan and Noah Miller, Touching Home.

The Miller brothers actually met and wooed their lead actor, Ed Harris, at the SFIFF two years ago, when they, as Leggat joked at the press conference, “ambushed” Harris in tihe alley of the Castro Theatre. Said the brothers, who took questions at the coffee bar after the presentation, “It’s come full circle.”

A couple of the Bay Area documentaries on display are Johnny Symons’ Ask Not, about the gays-in-the-military issue, and Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricia Lanfranco’s The Judge and the General, about the prosecution of Pinochet.
The programmers—Linda Blackaby, Sean Uyehara, and Rod Armstrong—offered hints on what might be highlights of its New Directors section: Competition films Cochochi, Sleep Dealer, and Wonderful Town were cited, as well as outo-of-competition entries Ballast, Shadows in the Palace, and The Toe Tactic, among others. The programmers did the same for the Festival’s Documentaries category, drawing attention to the many films on water issues and “the elements,” and noted a few of the docs in the festival that were popular at Sundance and that will make their West Coast premieres at SFIFF, including Secrecy, Up the Yangtze, and Stranded: I’ve come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains.

The Festival’s World Cinema programming features new work from heavyweights of the international circuit, and this year’s list of makers includes Bela Tarr, Alexander Sokurov, Carlos Saura, Claude Chabrol, Johnny To, and David Mamet.

KinoTek, the Festival’s spotlight on technology/innovation, is, annually, a collection of surprising programs, one of which is described by Uyehara as a “live lo-fi multimedia spectacle” from performance collective Cloud Eye Control and Anna Oxygen. The Late Show spotlight expands beyond horror with Japanese superheroes (Big Man Japan) and a new one from Abel Ferrara channeling Altman, per Armstrong (Go Go Tales), while not ignoring its bread-and-butter genre with the third part of the “Three Mothers” trilogy (The Mother of Tears) from Dario Argento, starring daughter Asia, Asia’s mother, and Dario’s ex-wife.

This year’s big Film Society Awards Night honors go to Maria Bello (Peter J. Owens Award), Robert Towne (Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting), and Mike Leigh (Founder’s Directing Award, given in memory of Irving M. Levin).
The Mel Novikoff Award gives the Bay Area a peek inside J. Hoberman’s mind, as Film Comment’s Kent Jones speaks with America’s most accomplished film writer before a screening of the heralded Spanish/French film Hoberman chose for his tribute, In the City of Sylvia.

Errol Morris comes to town with his new documentary, an important look at the stories behind the tortures of Abu Ghraib prison in Standard Operating Procedure. He receives the Festival’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision award.

The Festival’s second annual Midnight Awards go to Rose McGowan and Jason Lee, who, sometime in the late evening of Saturday, April 26, at the W Hotel, receive their ceremonial silver martini shakers.

Wired founding executive editor Kevin Kelly offers an illustrated State of Cinema Address Sunday, May 4. The Pixies’ Black Francis offers the fruits of his commissioned score for The Golem Friday, April 25. And SF360 Film+Club meets expectations for the unexpected with Evolution: The Musical! Tuesday, May 6, at the Mezzanine.

The Festival plays primarily at the Sundance Kabuki, Castro Theatre, Pacific Film Archive, and Landmark’s Clay Theatre, with California Culinary Academy, the Jewish Community Center’s Kanbar Hall, and Mezzanine as satellite venues.