Each year, the San Francisco International Film Festival (running April 23 to May 7) awards nearly $40,000 in total prizes to narrative and documentary films, this year from 20 different countries.
Both the GGA New Directors and Documentary Feature prize winners will receive $10,000, and the GGA Bay Area Documentary Feature winner will receive $5,000. In addition to these 19 narrative and documentary features by emerging filmmakers, the Golden Gate Awards will include competitors in six short film categories. These films will be announced on Tuesday, March 31. Juries select winners, to be announced on Wednesday, May 6.
US and international highlights include 2014 Cannes premiere “The Tribe,” the stunning Ukrainian film shot with an all-deaf cast of non-actors, Sundance-winning docs “The Wolfpack” and “Western,” Afghanistan’s 2015 Foreign Oscar submission “A Few Cubic Meters of Love” and more.
Here are the narrative and doc feature titles in competition, with synopses from SFIFF.
2015 GGA NEW DIRECTORS PRIZE (NARRATIVE
Bota, Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci, Albania/Italy/Kosovo
– North American Premiere
Populated by charming oddballs, quirky café/bar
Bota (literally “the world” in Albanian) is a silent witness to the lives and
secrets of people living in the shadow of the past. Long after the end of
Albania’s harsh dictatorship, the locals’ lives have stagnated, most too poor
to seize the opportunities liberty has offered them. But progress, in the form
of a highway construction project, prompts change and new decisions for this
very special café society.
El Cordero, Juan Francisco Olea, Chile
Domingo is a devoted family man and Christian
missionary gliding through a dutifully modest if unexceptional life. He’d
happily keep it that way, too, but for the fact that a fatal accident leaves
him, disturbingly, without a sense of guilt. Shot through with a subtle,
sardonic humor and beautifully acted, this exceptional feature debut is an
engrossing dramatic thriller reverberating with deeper questions about our
innermost natures and our ties to one another.
Court, Chaitanya Tamhane, India
Chaitanya Tamhane’s gorgeously recorded debut
unfolds almost in slow motion. The film–a prizewinner at the Venice
International Film Festival–concerns a criminal case in Mumbai’s lower court,
tracing the private and professional lives of the lawyers, defendants and
judges implicated in the proceedings. A patient examination of a
less-than-functional and sometimes Kafkaesque justice system, Court succeeds as a human drama, raising
questions about social structures while vividly painting the individuals who
must navigate them.
A Few Cubic Meters of Love, Jamshid Mahmoudi, Iran/Afghanistan
An Afghan refugee and an Iranian metal-punch
worker cultivate a clandestine relationship amid the corrugated-metal shacks of
undocumented workers in an industrial suburb of Tehran. Like teenagers in love
from time immemorial, they are convinced the world will bend to their dreams. A
beautifully shot slice of contemporary neorealism, A Few Cubic Meters of Love was Afghanistan’s official submission
for the Foreign Language Oscar.
Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere, Diep Hoang Nguyen,
Vietnamese director Diep Hoang Nguyen’s debut
feature is a sensuous and moody observation of a young student’s struggle to
get an abortion in the tropical languor of the slums of Hanoi. Thuy Anh Nguyen
finds the right balance of innocence and fortitude in the lead role, enduring
prostitution, an immature boyfriend and the questionable wisdom of her
roommate. While alluring and enchantingly unconventional, Nguyen’s film also
tells some hard truths about coming of age in Vietnam.
Run, Philippe Lacôte, Ivory Coast/France
Masterfully blending enchanting magic realism
with piercing sociological insights, Philippe Lacôte’s fleetly paced drama
charts the unusual circumstances that set the seemingly directionless Run
(Abdoul Karim Konate) on the path to becoming an assassin. The rich folklore
and fractious politics of the Ivory Coast factor heavily in this picaresque
fable that surprises at every turn and has seen Lacôte rightfully hailed as one
of the most exciting new talents in African cinema.
Sworn Virgin, Laura Bispuri,
A young Albanian woman, chafing against her
culture’s strictures on women’s behavior, makes the decision to follow the
local tradition of living as a man and takes the name Mark. Years later,
questioning her choice, she leaves her remote village to join her sister in
Italy. Stunningly shot and acted, this moving debut film carefully and precisely
delineates its protagonist’s determination to discover who she really is.
The Tribe, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine
A tour de force of pure expressive, explosive
cinema, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s one-of-a-kind drama recasts Lord of the Flies in a Ukrainian school
for the deaf where violence and unforgiving social Darwinism speak louder than
words. Telling its story completely through non-subtitled sign language, The Tribe
is a stunning directorial debut and a unique, disturbing cinematic vision.
Vincent, Thomas Salvador, France
In this charming
slice of magic realism, a quiet drifter finds a construction job in a small
town and meets a friendly woman living in the neighborhood. Finally feeling the
urge to settle down, Vincent’s newfound life is thrown into jeopardy when his
unique power is revealed.
Documentary features after the jump:
2015 GOLDEN GATE AWARDS DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Beats of the Antonov, Hajooj Kuka, Sudan/South Africa – U.S. Premiere
Filmed in the civil war-ravaged region between South
and North Sudan, Beats of the Antonov
paints an inspiring portrait of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain refugee
communities and their reliance on music making not only as a healing force in
the face of devastating loss and displacement, but also as a vital instrument
to keep their cultural heritage alive.
Democrats, Camilla Nielsson, Denmark
The Catch-22 of attempting a transition to
democracy in Zimbabwe while its prior epoch’s autocratic tyrant, Robert Mugabe,
still rules makes for riveting, stranger-than-fiction drama in Camilla
Nielsson’s documentary. She focuses on two leaders tasked with drafting a new
constitution for the country, a process rendered surreal at times by the secret
police, false arrests and other intimidation tactics still in place from
President Mugabe’s decades-old regime.
A German Youth, Jean-Gabriel Périot,
France/Germany/Switzerland – U.S.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, political upheaval
wracked West Germany. The legacy of Nazi Germany caused a fervent youth
movement to question the legitimacy of the State. From this resistance, rose
the movement’s most lethal offshoot, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, as the media
called it. Using only found and archival footage, director Jean-Gabriel Périot
reveals their increasingly radical statements and actions.
The Iron Ministry, J.P. Sniadecki, China/USA
A thrillingly expansive portrait of China as
observed in the cramped compartments of its trains, J.P. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry is simultaneously a
vivid social document and a bold aesthetic experiment. Shot over three years
and dozens of rides, the film seamlessly unfolds as a single voyage,
Sniadecki’s indefatigable camera instigating several conversations along the
way that may surprise audiences for their political candor.
Of Men and War, Laurent Bécue-Renard,
Winner of the 2014 IDFA award for Best Feature
Documentary, Of Men and War is
director Laurent Bécue-Renard’s multiyear account of the residents of The
Pathway Home, an innovative treatment center for PTSD and related war traumas
in Yountville, California. This quietly intense film bears witness to Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans as they revisit the brutalities of combat, process the
traumatic memories that haunt them and search for meaning in the psychological
wreckage of war.
Sunday Ball, Eryk Rocha, Brazil
This mesmerizing film captures the spirit of a
championship soccer game between rival teams from Rio de Janeiro’s impoverished
Sampaio neighborhood. More like a work of poetry than a traditional sports
documentary, the film uses footage from various games to create an intimate
portrait of favela football culture. Composed with luminous cinematography and
exquisite sound design, the film takes us inside the match along with the
players, and we experience something more like a deep spiritual quest than a
T-Rex, Drea Cooper, Zackary Canepari, USA
In the new Olympic sport of women’s boxing,
17-year-old Claressa Shields bursts out from the total obscurity of a small
Flint, Michigan, gym to compete for a coveted gold medal. T-Rex beautifully captures her rapid ascent, her battle to overcome
a damaged home life, the culturally ingrained bias against women’s boxing, the
spellbinding thrill of her bouts and the indomitable willpower that shows, in
its purest and most powerful sense, the meaning of warrior spirit.
Very Semi-Serious, Leah Wolchok, USA
San Francisco-based filmmaker Leah Wolchok’s highly
entertaining behind-the-scenes documentary look at the world of The New Yorker’s cartoons and
cartoonists brings to vivid life a beloved part of the magazine. Featuring
insightful interviews with many of its most popular contributors (including Roz
Chast and Bruce Eric Kaplan) and the department’s sagacious editor Bob Mankoff,
meditations on humor and life and many dozens of cartoons, it’s unmissable for
fans of the magazine and its sophisticated irreverence.
Western, Turner Ross, Bill Ross IV, USA
This intimate, observational documentary
portrait of the US-Mexico border focuses on two Eagle Pass, TX,
residents—cattleman Martin Wall and Mayor Chad Foster—and follows the strains
in the border town’s relationship to its sister city, Piedras Negras, Mexico.
As drug cartel violence moves into the region and threatens to spin out of
control, U.S. Federal policies made a thousand miles away shut down commerce
and further test an already delicate balance.
The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle, USA
This Sundance Documentary Grand Jury Prize
winner intimately focuses on the charming and insightful Angulo brothers who
range in age from 16 to 24. Kept isolated within their family’s apartment,
homeschooling, DVDs and fear of the outside world—epitomized by their bizarre
reenactments of famous films—inform the brothers’ reality. When one brother
sneaks away from home and eventually convinces his siblings to join him, their
shared truth is threatened with endlessly surprising results.