48th San Francisco International Film Festival: The Hills Are Alive with the Sounds of Courtney Cox
by Brandon Judell
As George Sanders so splendidly noted as Lord Henry Wotton in the 1945
adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray: "It's an odd thing, but every one
who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful
city, and possess all the attractions of the next world."
Certainly with 185 films from 48 countries unspooling at the 48th San
Francisco International Film Festival, it would be hard to dispute that
sentiment. Add an attendance figure of 77,000, which was up 5% from 2004,
and you definitely had quite a party. There were also stars (e.g. Benjamin
Bratt and Jeff Bridges), directors (e.g. Costa-Gavras and Craig Lucas) plus
6 features from Malaysia, 5 from Brazil, and 1 from Tibet.
No wonder Roxanne Messina Captor, Executive Director of the San Francisco
Film Society, kvelled at the Film Society Awards Night: "Besides increasing
overall attendance, we've expanded our Schools at the Festival program
[directors such as Steve James visited classrooms], secured higher profile
films by master filmmakers, inaugurated the annual State of Cinema address
which was given this year by Oscar winner for "The Incredibles," Brad Bird.
We also presented more first run premieres with celebrity guests in
attendance, we were one of the few American festivals that had been chosen
to present the FIPRESCI jury prize, and we helped more filmmakers secure
North American distribution... We've also offered screenwriting master
classes, presented sneak peak packages, and formed an alliance with Akimbo
Systems to watch video on demand on the San Francisco International Film
Yes, starting in June, a selection from the 5,000 films shown in the last
half century at SIFF will available for downloading from the Internet onto
But back to the Awards Ceremony. Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby")
received the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, causing him to
recall: "I was standing at the bar at the Oscars, getting drunk with Charlie
Kaufman, one of our great writers. Me, because I knew I could get drunk
because I wasn't going to win, and Charlie because he knew he was going to
win and therefore had to drink. The worst thing you can do actually is ask a
writer to give an acceptance speech. That said, I'm very grateful to receive
this award, especially because its named after Maurice Kanbar who's done so
much for the arts... by creating Skye vodka, which we artists really,
Joan Allen, who was accepting her Peter J. Owens Award for being an actor
whose work "exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity," recalled
her first movies which happened to filmed in San Francisco: "When I came
here and I did "Peggy Sue Got Married," I got my feet wet a little bit, and
then I did "Tucker." At that point, I got a beautiful apartment in Sausalito
with a view of Alcatraz. Plus I had the opportunity to work with Francis
Coppola, Jeff Bridges, and for the first time in 8 or 9 years have a washer
and dryer. I would spend my free time doing laundry. It was a big change in
Taylor Hackford was also honored for his direction, and a night earlier, at
the Castro Theater, before a screening of his film "The Idolmaker," he had an
almost two-hour chat mostly about the making of "Ray": "We tried and tried
to make this film, and the studios were never receptive. It was only because
of one man who had a lot of money that it got made. It was a very strange
situation because Phil Anschutz is a moral conservative. Not really born
again but he's a religious guy, and it seemed to me very strange that this
man would want to make a story about Ray Charles because Ray's life was
pretty rough and tough. But Phil really believed in this subject; however,
he wanted to make the film PG-13 with no swearing, which I think is
fascinating, because if there's anybody who lived an X-life it was Ray. I
basically refused, so I left the project.
"The reason I came back was Ray. He said, 'Taylor, you're a fool. You've
been trying to make this movie for 13 years now and you've finally got the
got the guy who'll do it. Shit, I didn't say "fuck" in the fifties. I say it
now, but I didn't then.'"
Greg Harrison had fewer problems pulling together "November," his first
feature after his popular drug-infested "Groove." Courtney Cox stars as a
photography teacher with a bad haircut who repeatedly experiences a fatal
robbery at a corner store ala "Run Lola Run." Highly irritating and
nonsensical, the 73-minute thriller still seemed to strike a chord with many
attendees who cheered the director and Friends star who playfully sparred
with each other and answered questions at the screening.
Cox: The movie was shot in 15 days for 150,000. Correct?
Harrison: And it all went to you!
Cox: I don't think I actually ever got a paycheck, which we'll talk about later. By the way, I got married here. It's a great town.
indieWIRE: Having previously made a movie where everyone was on ecstasy, did that help you with "November?"
Harrison: Yes, this was sort of like the coming down from "Groove."
Moving on to the articulate, Robert Guédiguian's "The Last Mitterrand" is a brilliantly acted, directed and written look at the last days of the French president and the relationship he had with his biographer. Wise and witty with a superb Michel Bouquet, this should no doubt be a major art house hit.
Another perfect film with a masterful screenplay is Jenni Olson's seductive
experimental offering, "The Joy of Life." While ever-changing sights of San
Francisco stay on the screen for anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute, a
butch lesbian narrator (Harriet "Harry" Dodge) recalls her love life ("I'm
home sucking in Tic Tacs. Rather be having sex with K.C.), moves on to the
making of Frank Capra's "Meet John Doe," and ends with the history of the
Golden Gate and its thousands of suicides. This semi-autobiographical epic
has already made front-page news in San Francisco, and has caused the powers
that be to revamp the Bridge to make it harder to jump off.
But why no actors? Olson notes, "I saw so many bad movies, and I sort had
this feeling that the downfall of most small independent gay films is
acting. Acting and production. So really early on I felt like I wanted to
make a movie that didn't involve actors with dialogue. I was really
influenced by the work of people like Su Friedrich and Warren Sonbert, and
James Benning, who's not gay but does landscape films."