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by Brian Brooks
March 4, 2010 6:00 AM
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San Francisco International Fest Names Doc & New Directors Competitions

A scene from Lixin Fan's "The Last Train Home." Image courtesy of SFIFF.

Eleven documentary titles as well as twelve North American and U.S. premieres have been selected by the San Francisco International Film Festival's Documentary and New Directors Competition respectively. SFIFF will award $60,000 for docs in three categories: Investigative documentary feature ($25,000), documentary feature ($20,000) and Bay Area documentary feature ($15,000).

The New Directors Prize of $15,000 is given to a narrative first feature that "exhibits a unique artistic sensibility and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible," according to SFIFF. In addition to 11 doc competition and 12 New Directors competition films, the New Directors section of SFIFF53 includes 15 out-of-competition films, and there will be competitions in eight other categories, which will be unveiled March 30.

In addition to these 11 documentary features, the Golden Gate Awards also will include competitors in eight other categories. These films will be announced at the Festival press conference on Tuesday, March 30.

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival takes place April 22 - May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre and the Clay Theatre in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley.

SFIFF53 Golden Gate Award Feature Documentary Competition Films (with descriptions provided by the festival):

"Colony," directed by Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn, Ireland/USA 2009
In this compelling and beautifully photographed documentary, the mystery surrounding the vanishing of honeybees, or Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is explored through a variety of portraits of those affected within the beekeeping industry.

"The Invention of Dr. Nakamats," directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder, Denmark 2009
A legend in his own time -- and his own mind -- the fascinating, forbearing 80-year-old Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats holds 3,400 patents, including the floppy disk, bouncing jogging shoes and the impossible-to-resist Love Spray.

"Last Train Home," directed by Lixin Fan, Canada/China 2009
This visually stunning documentary follows a family of migrant factory workers on a grueling holiday journey back to their rural village-and the resentful child they left behind-in an intimate portrait of modern China.

"Marwencol," directed by Jeff Malmberg, USA 2010
West Coast Premiere
Creativity, longing, healing and the surprising way all three can merge together underscore this engrossing documentary about Marwencol, a miniature World War II Belgian town created by Mark Hogancamp while recovering from injuries he suffered after a vicious attack.

"Mugabe and the White African," directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson, England 2009
A white African farmer in Zimbabwe fights to retain his land in opposition to the policies of the Mugabe administration. With no recourse in Zimbabwe, he takes his case to the African court.

"The Peddler," directed by Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Macheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich Argentina 2009, U.S. Premiere
Itinerant and tireless filmmaker Daniel Burmeister travels from village to village in rural Argentina, making feature films with a cast of untrained locals and building community through collective acts of cinema.

"PianoMania," directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis, Austria/Germany 2009
Stefan Knüpfer, Steinway & Sons' captivating concert technician and piano tuner, assists an assortment of famous concert pianists, including Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel and Rudolf Buchbinder, in the quest for the perfect sound.

"Presumed Guilty," directed by Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith, Mexico 2009
A young man wrongfully convicted of homicide pursues justice in a system in which guilt is presumed and the conviction rate is 95 percent, in this taut documentary about the criminal court process in Mexico.

"Restrepo," directed by Sebastian Junger, Tim Hetherington, USA 2010
As harrowing as it is illuminating, Restrepo follows an Army platoon as it takes a turn on one of the most dangerous assignments in the military, a post in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. Viewers are given unfettered access to the dangers, toils and absurdities of war.

"Russian Lessons," directed by Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov, Russia/Norway/Georgia 2010
With access to conflict zones rarely shown, this film uncovers damning evidence of Russian violence to Georgian citizens, and constructs a portrait of a leadership willing to engage in secret wars and manufacture conflicts and media reports to consolidate power.

"Simonal: No One Knows How Tough It Was," directed by Cláudio Manoel and Micael Langer, Brazil 2009
Who was Wilson Simonal? This deft documentary interweaves memorable songs by the onetime star of Brazilian popular music with interviews and masterful photomontage to explore the dramatic rise and fall of one of Brazil's most popular singers in a time of military dictatorship.

(New Directors competition listed on page 2)

SFIFF53 New Directors Competition Films (with descriptions provided by the festival):

"Alamar," directed by Pedro González-Rubio, Mexico 2009
West Coast Premiere
The Mexican Caribbean's stunning Banco Chinchorro, home to the world's second largest coral reef, provides the setting and inspiration for this effortlessly beautiful story of a Mayan father and son as they spend a summer working (and playing) along the coast.

"Animal Heart," directed by Séverine Cornamusaz, France/Switzerland 2009
U.S. Premiere
This potent first feature, set on a small two-person dairy farm deep in the Swiss Alps, is a courageously clear-eyed and forgiving look at the wildly dysfunctional marriage of a brutish dairy farmer and his beleaguered wife.

"A Brand New Life," directed by Ounie Lecomte, South Korea/France 2009
Drawing on her childhood memories, director Lecomte creates an intimate portrait of an emotionally bereft nine-year-old and her irrepressible cohort at a South Korean Catholic orphanage.

"The Day God Walked Away," directed by Philippe van Leeuw, France 2009
U.S. Premiere
The atrocities of the Rwandan genocide are explored through the experiences of one woman in this debut feature by cinematographer Philippe van Leeuw.

"The Famous and the Dead," directed by Esmir Filho, Brazil/France 2009
U.S. Premiere
A 16-year-old Bob Dylan fan becomes obsessed by the images and murky fate of a girl in his town, his fascination growing with the appearance of her charismatic, sinister boyfriend.

"Night Catches Us," directed by Tanya Hamilton, USA 2009
In the summer of '76, a former Black Panther returns to his working-class Philadelphia neighborhood where he is not exactly welcomed back with open arms. His best friend's widow and her daughter are the only ones who appreciate his predicament in this potent drama.

"Northless," directed by Rigoberto Perezcano, Mexico/Spain 2009
The melancholy misadventures of a quiet young man who tries again and again to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. take the form of visual poetry in this beguiling, deceptively quiet feature debut.

"La Pivellina," directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Austria/Italy 2009
A middle-aged circus performer, living with her husband in a trailer park on the outskirts of Rome, takes in an abandoned toddler and a surrogate family slowly forms in this brilliant neorealist portrait of itinerant but deeply interwoven lives.

"Shirley Adams," directed by Oliver Hermanus, South Africa/USA 2009
In this unflinching drama, a determined mother tries to look after her teenaged son who has been left paralyzed from the waist down by a stray bullet.

"Susa," directed by Rusudan Pirveli, Georgia 2010
North American Premiere
Twelve year-old Susa, living in a dreary suburb of a Georgian city, tours back streets delivering orders from an illegal vodka dispensary and waits for his father's return from the big city.

"Tehroun," directed by Nader Takmil Homayoun, France/Iran 2009
A beggar rents a baby from local mobsters to ply his trade. When a prostitute steals the child he must delve into Tehran's underbelly to find her and retrieve the baby.

"You Think You're the Prettiest, but You Are the Sluttiest," directed by Ché Sandoval, Chile 2009
North American Premiere
Horny twentysomething boy-men cruise around the suburbs of Santiago trying to get laid, but instead discover the meaning of life, sort of, in Chilean writer/director Ché Sandoval's mock epic.

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