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SFIFF 54 Day Eleven: Film Fest Instructor’s Guidebook, Hands Up, Something Ventured, Bin Laden

SFIFF 54 Day Eleven: Film Fest Instructor's Guidebook, Hands Up, Something Ventured, Bin Laden

On day eleven of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Meredith Brody talks Hands Up (a “kind of a Bizarro-world Disney film”), Citizen Kane, Something Ventured and its billionaires, and The Salesmen (which she tries tricking herself into liking by thinking of Jeanne Dielman). At the end of her day, Osama bin Laden news trumps everything:

Somewhere in the Film Festival Introducer’s Guidebook there must be a rule (more like a law!) that if it’s a nice day outside the introducer must thank the audience for ignoring the manifold pleasures awaiting them outside and instead huddling together in a dark auditorium.

The weather has been good all through the festival, but today is especially dulcet, a sweet spring day, with cherry trees in bloom, rose scent wafting from the bushes entwined on the metal fences lining the projects, and birds tweeting as I stroll to Hands Up(pictured) — a real Disney moment. I congratulate the SFIFF in managing to not schedule opposite Japantown’s Cherry Tree Festival this year, which used to make weekends around the Kabuki hellish.

Hands Up (Les mains en l’air), from prolific French actor/director Romain Goupil, belies the old Hollywood dictum: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” (Nowadays I guess it would be Facebook). The story of a group of young Parisian children who band together in 2009 in order to protect their undocumented Chechen classmate from being deported, hiding out like a tight-knit little Peter Pan, features a charmingly observed world (complete with a free-spirited left-wing mom, played by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, ironically Nicolas Sarkozy’s sister-in-law; and well-observed settings including a bohemian apartment and a picturesque country house). It’s kind of a Bizarro-world Disney film.

I don’t understand why the film is wrapped in a futuristic flash-forward, reminiscing about the events of 2009 from the vantage point of one of the children, now all grown up in 2067 (and living in a famous Le Corbusier house from the 1920’s, still reading as “modern,” even “futuristic”). Even the dig at Sarkozy (“I can’t even recall who was president of France in 2009″) doesn’t seem sufficient motivation. And then the ending of the film, recited in 2067 by another of the grown-up (not to say elderly!) children, recalls an epochal speech from Citizen Kane that always grabs me – and unexpected hot tears suddenly spring to my eyes. Good one, Goupil!

I grope my way, not into the light but downstairs to the sold-out screening of Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s Something Ventured, about the history of venture capitalism, which, in its beginnings, was largely a story of high-tech, and Bay Area high-tech at that.

The big room is very buzzy indeed; I’ve never seen so many RESERVED signs on seats. I pick a unreserved seat on the side, haphazardly, and find to my delight that a number of the fabled venture capitalists are sitting within my sightlines as we watch the film. Tom Perkins (Hewlett-Packard, investor in Tandem Computers and Genentech) is two seats to my right. Nolan Bushnell (Atari founder) is sitting across the aisle from him. Don Valentine (Apple, Cisco, Oracle investor) and Dick Kramlich (PowerPoint investor) are sitting a couple rows in front. The only one in attendance that I can’t see is Arthur Rock (Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, Apple investor), arguably one of the inventors of the whole idea of venture capitalism in the early 1960s.

The film slickly and charmingly lays out the history of venture capitalism and its (mostly) successes (failure is touched upon, but glancingly, in aging top sales, and the tech bubble of the early 2000s is not mentioned at all), largely through original interviews, but also witty use of found footage and period research. Afterwards the panel discussion is something of an anticlimax, though as Dayna told me the day before, it’s dazzling to see these guys all together. Billionaires all…

Which makes it even more poignant when a number of us wander over to the Something Ventured party at Yoshi’s afterwards and find it’s a cash bar. I owe Telluride Film Festival director Tom Luddy a drink. His wife Monique is ensconced across town at the Castro, watching Serge Bromberg receive the Novikoff award, for enhancing the public’s appreciation of world cinema, and present his Retour du Flamme program of rare 3-D films. I wish I could be there, too, although Tom points out I already saw Serge present the same program last Labor Day weekend in Telluride, in the intimate confines of the Sheridan Opera House. Yes, but I’d love to see them on the Castro big screen!

Instead I trudge back to the Kabuki with Daniela Michel and Nick Adams, members of the New Directors Prize Jury, to watch The Salesman (Le Vendeur), a French-Canadian film about a top car salesman in a tiny Quebec township. I find it kinda slow and obvious, though I try to trick myself into liking it by hoping it has cumulative power, an old film critics’ joke, and thinking of, say, Jeanne Dielman, not the best idea because that one, after all, is a masterpiece.

Afterwards, on my way home, I drop Daniela and Nick at their dinner at Starbelly (they don’t tell me what they thought of the film, of course, and I don’t ask!). “Have the pork belly,” I say, “and the gazpacho!” (idiotically, because tomatoes aren’t in season). I pull over and phone my father, who seems a little shaky. “Obama just addressed the nation. Osama bin Laden has been killed.” “Don’t you mean Quaddafi?,” I say. He patiently explains the news to me, which soon enough is even mentioned on the jazz station I listen too, which doesn’t even have news slots.

I have two French DVDs borrowed from the Press Office in my tote. But when I turn on the TV, I get foolishly stuck in the endless repetition of the same few facts and clips for a couple of hours. Truth is stranger than fiction once again.

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