The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival (site), opening tomorrow and running through May 3, "will seem comfortingly the same" to many in the Bay Area, writes G Allen Johnson in the Chronicle:
[A] lavish opening-night film and party, a rocking closing-night film and, in the two weeks between, 172 more films from 45 countries and tributes to distinguished celebrities... But behind the scenes, it's been the most challenging year in the festival's history. Two executive directors of the San Francisco Film Society have died — Graham Leggat, who lost a battle to cancer in August at 51; and his replacement, independent film maestro Bingham Ray, who had two strokes and died at 57 while attending the Sundance Film Festival in January. He had been on the job only 10 weeks.
"It sounds like a line, but it's actually true that for me personally it was a relief that I had something I could throw myself into that could distract me from the incredible turn of events that happened in the past year," festival director of programming Rachel Rosen said. "We want to honor them, and what they contributed to us is huge, but I think both of them would have agreed we want the festival celebratory, and not mournful. They were two guys who loved movies, and the event nature of festivals. They loved being at film festivals, interacting with filmmakers, interacting with the public. So the best thing we can do is put on a festival they would be proud of."
For indieWIRE, David D'Arcy talks with Rosen as well and picks up some of her recommendations, the first being The Fourth Dimension, the three-part project of short films by Harmony Korine, Alexey Fedorchenko and Jan Kwiecinski (image above).
Michael Fox in the SF Weekly: "This year's tributees include one of the American documentary's contemporary heroines, Barbara Kopple, who will be honored with the Persistence of Vision Award, an onstage conversation and a screening of her immortal 1976 vérité portrait of an Appalachian miners' strike, Harlan County, USA (Sunday, April 22). The thread of serious entertainment connects Kopple to the other honorees: Founder's Directing award recipient Kenneth Branagh (feted Friday, April 27, with a Q&A and Dead Again), Peter J Owens award-winner Judy Davis (saluted Wednesday, April 25, with her latest, the Australian saga The Eye of the Storm), local screenwriter [and Kanbar Award recipient] David Webb Peoples (sitting for an interview Saturday, April 28, followed by Unforgiven) and French talent scout, Cannes insider, and ace raconteur Pierre Rissient (who receives the Mel Novikoff award and presents Fritz Lang's dark and relatively unknown 1950 drama, House by the River)."
In the Bay Guardian, Max Goldberg finds that "inaccessible landscapes… guide a handful of interesting features…. Where [Julia Loktev's] The Loneliest Planet draws on landscape to reveal repressed instincts, Ulrich Köhler's Sleeping Sickness drifts towards further occlusion…. Grant Gee's suitably oblique documentary portrait" of WG Sebald, Patience (After Sebald), "offers astute commentary on the moods of Sebald's prose from thinkers like Adam Phillips, Robert Macfarlane, and Tacita Dean." Gonçalo Tocha's It's the Earth Not the Moon is a "resplendent study of Corvo… Along with It's the Earth and other SFIFF selections [Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt's] Palaces of Pity and [Kleber Mendonça Filho's] Neighboring Sounds, Júlia Murat's first narrative feature," Found Memories, "seals a particularly strong year of Portuguese-language films." Davy Chou's "assured debut," Golden Slumbers, "excavates the thriving Cambodian cinema that was rubbed out by the Khmer Rouge." More on that one from John Angelico in the Chronicle.
Sam Stander talks with Sam Green, who, on May 1, "will regale audiences at the SFMOMA with a 'live documentary' presentation, The Love Song of R Buckminster Fuller, featuring a live score by Yo La Tengo." The exhibition The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area is already open and on view through July 29. Back in indieWIRE, David D'Arcy notes that "Fuller's legacy has receded from view at a time when his focus on small-scale engineering and sustainability couldn't be closer to the zeitgeist."
Dennis Harvey picks out some documentary highlights, focusing on Lauren Greenfield's "obscenely entertaining" The Queen of Versailles and the latest from Caveh Zahedi: "Alternately very funny and completely infuriating, The Sheik and I is one movie you might want to attend just for the Q&A afterward. Odds are, it's gonna get ugly."
And then there are the capsules: Lynn Rapoport on the opening night film, Benoît Jacquot's Farewell, My Queen, Sam Stander on Giorgos Lanthimos's Alps (more from Ryan P Lattanzio in the Chronicle), Kimberly Chun on Adam Leon's Gimme the Loot, Cheryl Eddy on the Dreileben trilogy and Dennis Harvey on Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.
Michael Hawley's added 14 capsule reviews to his two previous previews of the lineup, the first focusing on Europe and second on films from everywhere else.
Back in the Chronicle, along with G Allen Johnson and Walter Addiego's bullet-pointed overview of the highlights of the festival, the paper runs its batch of capsules: Kenneth Baker on Alison Klayman's Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Ryan P Lattanzio on Mohammad Rasoulof's Goodbye, Johnson on Micha X Peled's Bitter Seeds, Kim Joong-hyun's Choked, Jessica Yu's Last Call at the Oasis (Nick Dawson interviews Yu for Filmmaker), Alex Gibney's The Last Gladiators, Peter Nicks's The Waiting Room and Peter Gerdehag's Women with Cows, Addiego on John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson's Tokyo Waka (more from David D'Arcy), Leba Hertz on Rory Kennedy's documentary on her mother, Ethel, Nadav Lapid's Policeman and Ellen Perry's Will, David Lewis on Bouli Lanners's The Giants and Mick LaSalle on Vincent Garenq's Guilty.