The San Francisco International Film Festival unveiled its program of 97 features and 130 shorts from 41 countries Tuesday, March 28th at the Westin St. Francis Hotel today. Under new leadership from Executive Director Graham Leggat, the festival is moving toward its 50th anniversary with themes of innovation and democratization. Leggat, along with Director of Programming Linda Blackaby and Programming Associate Sean Uyehara announced a varied lineup for the festival, which opens with Peter Ho-Sun Chan's "Perhaps Love," a musical by the maker of "Comrades, Almost a Love Story," and closes with Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion."
The Film Society Directing Award goes to Werner Herzog, who will screen one of his new films, "The Wild Blue Yonder, " a sci-fi fantasy involving space travel. The Peter J. Owens Award will be given to Ed Harris, who screens a favorite early film of his, "A Flash of Green" (1984). Jean-Claude Carriere receives the 2006 Kanbar Award for screenwriting before a showing of his 1967 classic "Belle de Jour." Canada's Guy Maddin will be honored for his inspired creativity with the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award. And Tilda Swinton, most recently viewed in "The Chronicles of Narnia," but best remembered, perhaps, as Orlando, gives the festival's State of Cinema address. Its Centerpiece presentation is John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes," which Leggat said, features James Gandolfini singing Tom Jones.
Eric Steel's documentary "The Bridge," which caused a stir in San Francisco during filming, makes its West Coast premiere here. Other high profile docs include Stanley Nelson's "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple," James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments," and Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob's "Al Franken: God Spoke." Justine Jacob and Alex da Silva's "Runners High" -- about East Oakland youth training for the Los Angeles marathon -- receives its world premiere at the festival, and competes with many of the other documentaries in the festival for a Golden Gate Award. Highlights of the festival's 74 narrative features range from veterans Tsai Ming-liang's "The Wayward Cloud" and Alexander Sokurov's "The Son" to intriguing titles up for the SKYY Prize to first-time filmmakers, such as Noticias Lehanas' "News from Afar" and Sarah Watt's "Look Both Ways."
A quarter of this year's narrative features are from the Pacific Rim, with a special focus on the films of indieAsia, and many hail from Latin America, as well. Special focus also goes to "midnight"-style movies, such as Minoru Kawasaki's "Executive Koala," about an employee who carries on his shoulders a large koala head.
In keeping with the San Francisco Film Society's SF360 initiatives to broaden the festival's involvement with the city, and to create more opportunities for the city to participate in the festival, a "citizen press corps" of bloggers, podcasters, photobloggers, and videobloggers are being accredited. The festival's screening at a variety of non-traditional venues, including the Edinburgh Castle, the Swedish American Hall (for a Porchlight storytelling night), Intersection for the Arts, BAYCAT youth media center, Bar of Contemporary Art. There'll be an outdoor screening at the firefighter's training tower at SFFD Fire Station #7, as well.
An even more non-traditional venue in which the festival will screen films this year is: your cell phone. Its Pocket Cinema program features short works made for mobile devices, including cell phones. The festival's KinoTek spotlight, which houses the Pocket Cinema works, highlights new technology's ability to create new visual and storytelling forms. The festival features one of the latest trends in filmmaking, machinima, with "Cock Byte: Masters of Machinima." The festival also moves in a new direction with its "International ReMix," venture, which allows the festival's web site visitors to make mash-ups with images from the festival's own movies.
Not to abandon the festival's place as the first festival in North America, the festival features a spotlight on the past in "From the 20th Century," with an Alloy Orchestra-composed-and-performed score for Clarence Brown's "The Eagle," and a Deerhoof original score and performance for Harry Smith's 1962 experiment, "Heaven and Earth Magic," among other films.
Additional new features this year include a Talk Cinema series presented by film critic Harlan Jacobson, as well as SF360 Panels on the Bay Area and its new media innovations. 826 Valencia co-presents a seminar on literary adaptation with Bent Hamer and Jim Stark of "Factotum."
Festival activities kick off early, on April 17, with "San Francisco Movie Night," a co-presentation by the SF Film Society and Ironweed Film Club, in which house parties across the city will be discussing Marshall Curry's dramatic documentary on a Newark, NJ, election, "Street Fight."
[EDITORS NOTE: This article was originally published in SF360.org, a joint publication of the San Francisco Film Society and indieWIRE.]