Expatriotic: "Unmade Beds," by Alexis Dos Santos, closes the 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival.

SF International Film Festival Lineup

Susan Gerhard March 31, 2009

The San Francisco Film Society announced its full program for the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7) Tuesday at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat called the Festival’s two weeks of programs—151 films from 55 countries—the "the jewel in the crown" of the Film Society, which now presents films year-round.

In a year that’s seen the Film Society expand its operations from film exhibition to filmmaker development with a variety of services, including grants, classes and residencies, the SFIFF programmers (Linda Blackaby, Rod Armstrong, Sean Uyehara and Leggat, among others) have selected a wide array of San Francisco talent for the Festival, from legendary names to the fledgling artists. The Festival opens April 23 with SF-based Peter Bratt’s La Mission at the Castro Theatre, starring Benjamin Bratt, and followed by a Bruno’s/El Capitan Theatre party in the neighborhood that lends the film its story and name. It gives its Founder’s Directing Award to Francis Ford Coppola and its Peter J. Owens Award for acting to Robert Redford.

In the Cinema by the Bay section, Frazer Bradshaw’s Oakland-filmed Everything Strange and New plays alongside Jonathan Parker’s NYC art/music-scene feature *, David Lee Miller’s *My Suicide, veterans Allie Light and Irving Saraf’s Empress Hotel, and photographer Christopher Felver’s documentary about SF’s poet icon, Ferlinghetti. SF-based advertising firm Goodby-Silverstein is prominently featured in the Doug Pray documentary Art & Copy. Longtime documentary envelope-pusher Lourdes Portillo receives the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award and presents her latest, Al Más Allá.

A total of $100,000 in awards will be given out at the annual Golden Gate Awards competition. Documentaries in competition for $60,000 worth of those prizes include works on topics ranging from Jerusalem’s only gay bar to language immersion schools in San Francisco to the Ecuadorian fight over oil-contaminated Amazonian lands. Among the selections are Bay Area films New Muslim Cool (Jennifer Maytorena Taylor), D Tour (Jim Granato), Speaking in Tongues (Marcia Jarmel) and City of Borders (Yun Suh).

The Midnight Awards, honoring Elijah Wood and Evan Rachel Wood, will be Saturday, April 25, at the W Hotel, and they’ll feature Beth Lisick, the City’s Porchlight emcee and a lead actor in Everything Strange and New as host.

Film Society Awards Night, a benefit gala for the Film Society’s Youth Education Program, honors not only Redford and Coppola, but also James Toback, who receives a screenwriting award. The Festival presents Tyson, a documentary he wrote and directed. The Centerpiece presentation is Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer, which features Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, followed by a party at the Clift. The Festival closes with the just-picked-up-for-distribution Unmade Beds from Alexis Dos Santos, who’s expected to attend.

The Festival, partnering with The Film Foundation and Gucci, presents a set of restored classics, Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence—featuring an in-person appearance by Gena Rowlands—and Antonioni’s Le Amiche. Along with the Mel Novikoff Award presentation to Bruce Goldstein of Film Forum/Rialto Pictures (interviewed onstage by Anita Monga) is a screening of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. A new restoration of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West comes to the festival via American Express and The Film Foundation.

The Premier Theater at Letterman Digital Arts in the Presidio hosts the boys: the sherman brothers’ story, which is directed and produced by the sons of Disney songwriters the Sherman brothers, who’ll be present at a party at the Walt Disney Family Museum’s Special Exhibition Hall in the Presidio.

The Goldman Environmental Prize screening features Barbara Ettinger’s call-to-action film on the ocean, A Sea Change and the director will visit San Francisco schools to talk about the issue and the work as part of the Film Society’s Schools at the Festival program.

A variety of forums will engage with issues raised in films, among them, "Truth, Youth and the New Muslim Cool," alongside Taylor’s film, and "A Critical Moment" (hosted by the writer of this article) alongside Gerald Peary’s tour through a century of film criticism, For the Love of Movies.

The "Late Show" category features a variety of unique films, including David Russo’s The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, about chocolate chip cookies that do very strange things to the male janitors who lift them from the office they clean, and Hansel and Gretel, a "Grimm delight" from South Korea.

LA-based Dengue Fever, which plays ’60s-style psychedelic Cambodian pop, has scored the 1925 silent The Lost World for presentation at the Castro Theatre May 5. Another live event, Proving Ground, in which Travis Wilkerson (An Injury to One) mans a VJ box and death-folk band Los Duggans offers sound, offers acute political agitation. The annual State of the Cinema Address is being given by photographer Mary Ellen Mark (Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set, Phaidon, 2008), who’ll speak to/of and beyond a variety images projected behind her.

The World Cinema category offers work from Festival favorites Atom Egoyan, Catherine Breillat, Rashid Masharawi, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Olivier Assayas, and Claire Denis, among others. New Directors feature Claustrophobia, directed by Hong Kong’s leading scriptwriter, Ivy Ho, as well as Carlos Cuaron’s Rudy y Cursi.

The Documentaries category features a duo on "closed countries"— Burma VJ (Burma) and Kimjongilia (North Korea)—as well as fascinating treatises and investigations in Peter Greenaway’s Rembrandt’s J’Accuse, Joe Berlinger’s Crude and Heddy Honigmann’s Oblivion.

More the San Francisco International Film Festival can be found at SFFS and the SFFS Festival website.

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