The San Francisco Film Society announced the films and events featured in the 2011 edition of its San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21–May 5) Tuesday at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. Currently at 189 films from 40 countries and growing, the 54th SF International opens with Mike Mills’ Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, about a father coming out of the closet at age 75. It closes with French actor Mathieu Amalric’s directorial debut, On Tour, which features a buxom crew of American (and Bay Area) New Burlesque performers (a movement said to include all shapes, sizes and genders) touring the French countryside. This year’s Centerpiece feature is Azazel Jacobs’ much-talked-about Terri, a teen story with John C. Reilly in a key role, made by the son of pioneering filmmaker Ken Jacobs.
The Festival’s announced awardees include Frank Pierson for screenwriting (Kanbar Award), Matthew Barney for the Persistence of Vision and filmmaker/programmer/showman Serge Bromberg (Lobster Films, Paris) with the Mel Novikoff Award. Pierson’s live Q&A event features a screening of his Dog Day Afternoon; Barney’s live-onstage conversation is followed by a screening of the silent Drawing Restraint 17; Bromberg’s Novikoff Award evening features early 3-D as well as recent gems in Retour de Flamme: Rare and Restored Films in 3-D. Storied film producer Christine Vachon gives the State of Cinema address.
Before introducing the program as a whole, San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat highlighted three anniversaries being celebrated in 2011. The first was George Gund’s five decades of support for the Film Society. Leggat described Gund’s contributions as no-strings-attached enlightened patronage, and SFIFF pays tribute to Gund with a screening of Otar Iosseliani’s Chantrapas. The Film Society’s Schools at the Festival program reaches 20 years old in 2011, and, according to Leggat, has grown from a modest scale into a year-round youth education program serving more than 10,000 school children annually. Its anniversary celebration includes a screening of American Teacher, an animation workshop for kids and a family-friendly matinee showing of A Cat in Paris. The third anniversary mentioned was SF360.org’s fifth; the publication began in March, 2006 and has published daily since that time. [SF360.org is published by the San Francisco Film Society.]
Director of Programming Rachel Rosen and programmers Sean Uyehara, Rod Armstrong and Audrey Chang introduced the bulk of the year’s films. A World Cinema Spotlight was created to call attention to a current trend in international filmmaking, and this year, the Festival highlights work on paintings and their creators with Werner Herzog’s much-heralded Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Amit Dutta’s Nainsukh and Lech Majewski’s The Mill and the Cross.
Uyehara spoke about the Live & Onstage section of the Festival, which includes a live performance by Tindersticks to Claire Denis clips; a new edition of the always raucous Porchlight storytelling series with a first-time story by host Beth Lisick; an evening of Leonard Cohen appreciation via New Skin for the Old Ceremony, plus live renditions of several Cohen songs and the documentary Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen; and a show by shorts-makers the Zellner Brothers, the contents of which Uyehara preferred to leave mysterious.
Introducing films of The Late Show, programmer Rod Armstrong noted that “the world is offering us enough terror, so it’s nice to see films with humor,” drawing particular attention to the difficulty of selling haunted houses in a down market in Emily Lou's The Selling.
Other trends in programming were given an informal spotlight. Rosen noted the growing group of films about “place:” Detroit Wild City, which finds hope in a decimated urban landscape; Foreign Parts, which looks at Willets Point, Queens; and The Tiniest Place, about the El Salvadoran village of Cinquera. Armstrong discussed the group of films about the Middle East: Circumstance, Microphone and The Green Wave, which he said offer insight into lifestyles and modes of protest in that region. Another trend mentioned by Leggat: Films that find their “right” length, be they short (A Cat in Paris) or epic (Raúl Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon).
Heavy-hitters of world cinema are well represented in the program, with new work from Hong Sang-soo, the aforementioned Ruiz, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Winterbottom, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Errol Morris, Takashi Miike, Kim Longinotto and Catherine Breillat as well as special presentations or restorations of classics from Fellini (La Dolce Vita) and Fassbinder (World on a Wire).
The prizes, many funded, were highlighted by programmer Audrey Chang, and they include the New Directors Prize and audience awards. Announcements will be made at the annual Golden Gate Awards party May 4.
Master Classes and academic-led Salons create discussions and adult-education opportunities at the Festival. Teachers include Jean-Michel Frodon (Cahiers du Cinema, Le Point, Le Monde); Azazel Jacobs (Terri); Frank Pierson (Kanbar winner); Susan Weiner (former Yale professor and author), Bill Nichols (scholar/author) and Susan Saladoff (Hot Coffee).
The press conference's question session highlighted an audience interest in shorts-programming, curiosity about the use of New People’s state-of-the-art cinema and Bay Area directors, who are now integrated into the program as a whole.
For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco International Film Festival 2011 web site.
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