The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), which runs from April 25 to May 9, mainly in Japantown at the Sundance Kabuki and New People Cinema, is already shaping up to be a very exciting couple of weeks. The festival plays host to 151 films from 51 countries and in 31 different languages. One of the great pleasures of attending SFIFF is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen–on a big screen, in digital projection–since many won’t get a wide release, and those that do may play only briefly at smaller cinemas like the Embarcadero Cinema or Opera Plaza Cinemas, as well as sample films from all over the world all in one day.
Although SFIFF is at the end of the film season (Cannes is right on its tails) it distinguishes itself with excellent live onstage events that feature extended lectures or Q&As with directors and allow the artists to have in-depth discussions about their work–a rarity at festivals, where Q&As are often rushed.
Steven Soderbergh is set to give the State of Cinema address on April 27 at the Sundance Kabuki. SFIFF could not have picked a better person for the job: he is a pioneer of digital cinema, someone who has successfully straddled the line between Hollywood and independent filmmaking, and a man who is retiring (hopefully temporarily) from film in part because he’s fed up with where the business is going.
The great indie director Richard Linklater will also be on hand at the film festival for a live onstage event with Julie Delpy at the Sundance Kabuki on May 8 to discuss their latest film in the “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” series–“Before Midnight” –“which received rave reviews at Sundance. “Before Midnight” is a much-anticipated film for fans of the series, who first met Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) in “Before Sunrise” when they got off a train in Vienna together and spent the night walking and talking, met up again in “Before Sunset” nine years later, and are back now nine years after that in “Before Midnight.” “Before Midnight” will screen as the Closing Night film at the Castro Theatre on May 9. The film will be followed by a celebration party; tickets for both are available online.
Every year the festival honors a director with the “Founder’s Director Award.” Past inductees include Kenneth Branagh and Werner Herzog, and this year the honor will go to writer-director Philip Kaufman. Kaufman will be present for an extended Q&A at the Castro Theatre followed by a screening of his film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
SFIFF tradition also features live music for silent films. Mike Patton, Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi and William Winant present a new score for the German expressionist classic “Waxworks” live onstage at the Castro Theatre on May 7. Rick Prelinger also presents his latest film “No More Road Trips?”–a silent documentary featuring home-movie footage of road trips from coast to coast in the U.S.–with a soundtrack to be created by the audience during the screening.
The festival’s regular screenings include Sarah Polley’s fantastic documentary “Stories We Tell” about her search for her biological father, an extremely personal journey which is just as much a fascinating exploration of how we construct the stories of our lives as it is a personal revelation. Polley is expected to be in attendance at the festival. Olivier Assayas’ “Something in the Air,” a lovely portrait of misguided, youthful protesting in Paris in the ’70s, will also screen at the festival, as will the much-awaited Jack Kerouac adaptation “Big Sur,” Noah Baumbach’s latest film, “Frances Ha,” and the new Iranian film starring Leila Hatami of “A Separation” and “The Last Step.” All in all, it looks like it will be an exceptionally good festival this year.