San Francisco Film Fest Defines Scope of Modern Cinema;
"Wilde" Leads 1998 Festival Lineup, "Box" Closes
by Carl Russo
Just 500 miles from Hollywood, but worlds apart in its concerns, the
41st San Francisco International Film Festival is set to unspool 174
films from 45 countries that define the scope of modern cinema. Organizers
have unveiled the lineup for the 1998 event.
The two-week affair, running April 23 through May 7, boasts a
prestigious list of independent film premieres, retrospectives and
guests, with special attention given to artists sharing Bay Area roots.
“We’ve gone for the edgy. We’ve gone for films that audiences may not
immediately go ‘Yummy’ about,” cautioned Peter Scarlet, Artistic
Director and chief programmer. While that might explain the fest’s
preponderance of bleak Eastern European epics over recent years, a sense
of the fantastic sets the tone on opening night. A local sound stage
will be the scene of a Salome/Parisian café-themed opening night bash
on April 23 following the North American premiere of Brian Gilbert’s
Oscar Wilde bio-pic, “Wilde.” Stephen Fry stars in the Sony Pictures
San Francisco director Wayne Wang returns to the festival that launched
his successful films “Smoke” and “Blue in the Face” to close the fest on
May 7 with his latest production, “Chinese Box.” Starring Jeremy Irons,
Maggie Cheung and Gong Li, the Trimark release is a political love story
set in Hong Kong during the final days of British rule.
The glitz arrives in the form of Academy Award-winner Nicholas Cage,
this year’s recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award which honors “an actor
whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity.” The
onstage tribute and interview will include a screening of “Birdy,” Alan
Parker’s 1984 film that featured the Bay Area-raised Cage in his
breakthrough lead role.
While technically not a competitive festival, several independents from
around the world will converge on San Francisco with fingers crossed.
The Skyy Prize (sponsored by Skyy Vodka) will be awarded by a jury of
critics and industry pros to one of 13 features presently lacking a U.S.
distributor. Two of the competing films were made by well-known actors
who crossed over to helm. San Francisco-based Joan Chen cast herself as
the title character in the Mandarin-language film “Xiu Xiu.” She plays
a novice horse breeder in rural Tibet during the end of the Cultural
Revolution. Veteran French thesp Michel Picolli stayed behind the camera
to direct the ensemble of “So There,” which follows the misadventures of
a multigenerational French family. Other films vying for the Skyy
Prize include Sylvie Verhyde’s “A Brother” (France), Christohper Nolan’s
“Following” (UK), Georgi Khaindrava’s “Graveyard of Dreams” (Georgia),
Lee Chang-Dong’s “Green Fish” (South Korea) and Eduardo Milewicz’ “Life
According to Muriel” (Argentina).
This year’s Golden Gate Awards commemorate the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, signed 50 years ago in San Francisco. Documentaries
dealing with human rights were invited for submission. Of the 112
winners in 31 categories, 10 are North American premieres, including
Sonia Herman Dolz’ “Black Tears” (Netherlands) and Isabella Sandri’s
“Spirits of 1000 Years” (Italy). Critics Emanuel Levy and Gavin Smith
will be included on the jury to hand out the Grand Prize Awards for Best
Documentary, Best Short, Best Bay Area Documentary and Best Bay Area
Short on May 7.
Photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank will be the recipient of the second
annual Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, which honors “the
lifetime achievement of a director working outside the bounds of
narrative filmmaking. Frank’s “Cocksucker Blues” and “Me and My
Brother” will screen, as well as a collection of his short films. This
year’s Akira Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement in film direction
will be given to the renowned Korean director Im Kwon-Taek. Audiences
will be treated to rare stateside screenings of his films “Mandala,”
“Surrogate Mother,” Sopyonje,” “The Taebeck Mountains,” and “Ticket.”
Other tributes include a ceremony honoring the groundbreaking
career of Adrienne Mancia, longtime film curator of the New York Museum
of Modern Arts; an evening with Hollwood Blacklist survivor John Berry,
a tribute to Warren Sonbert’s Estate Project for Artists with Aids;
screenings of favorite past SFIFF films hand-picked by local “name”
filmmakers, and a celebration of music in film.
[For advance tickets and information, call: (415) 569-9700. The
festival’s web site is at www.sfiff.org/fest98]