Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MICHAEL HAWLEY'S SFIFF50 GAMEPLAN


It's been two weeks since the SFIFF50 press conference, and it's taken me about that long to piece together a workable festival schedule. Believe me, it hasn't been easy. Between trying to schedule around two jobs and a "life," deciding which films to see ahead of time at press screenings and on screener DVDs, weighing the merits of scheduled personal appearances by directors and actors, making informed guesses about which films will receive theatrical distribution, and trying to schedule a few films to see with friends, a person could lose their mind. The end result is that I've purchased advance tickets to 19 programs. That number will probably be augmented by festival's end, depending upon the vagaries of disposition, stamina, buzz and availability of press tickets. But for now, here's what I've selected.

The festival kicks off for me on Saturday, April 28 with one of the films I'm anticipating most, Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, to be followed by Hirokazu Kore-eda's Hana. In the evening it was a tough choice between Nanni Moretti's The Caiman (which I tried to see in Palm Springs but the distributor sent a French-subtitled print) and the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award winner Once. I chose the latter because director John Carney is expected to be in attendance. I'll wrap up the day with a screening of the documentary Cecil B. De Mille—American Epic.

Much of Sunday, April 29 will be spent in the company of theater and opera director Peter Sellars. I'll start the day at the Castro Theater with the Indonesian musical, Opera Jawa, which Sellars commissioned as artistic director of last year's New Crowned Hope Festival. Sellars is expected to introduce the film, and then appear later that afternoon at the Sundance Cinemas Kabuki to deliver this year's State of Cinema address. This will be the first time I'll be hearing the address live, as opposed to simply reading a transcription of it later. The reason is simply that there wasn't a film playing in that time slot which appealed to me. That evening I'm very excited to be seeing Otar Iosseliani's Gardens in Autumn; firstly because I'm a fan of Iosseliani, and secondly because I've had my appetite whetted by Julie Bertuccelli's delightful documentary Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird, which is also showing in the festival. This film, which I saw on screener, is an affectionate profile of the French-Georgian director, and follows him through the pre-production and filming of Gardens in Autumn. The order in which I'm seeing these two films is a bit like watching the "making of" featurette before watching the film itself, but that's how it worked out for me.

Daratt, another film from the New Crowned Hope series, will begin the day for me on Monday, April 30. This film from Chad won a special jury prize at Venice last year, and director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun will be here for the screening and—who knows?—perhaps Sellars will stick around to help introduce this film as well. The next film was a tough choice; Jessica Yu's latest documentary Protagonist, or the Djibouti-set, French-Belgian co-production Sounds of Sand. I'm usually leery of "African" films directed by Europeans, and the little I've read about this film is not reassuring. Variety's Deborah Young describes it as "well-intentioned but somewhat soulless," and one IMdb user comment declares it "a romanticized film made by a middle aged western woman aimed at . . . middle aged western women." I'm crossing my fingers and seeing it anyway, knowing this will probably not be the last opportunity I'll ever have to see Yu's film. More difficult decisions for that evening . . . do I see the Iranian film A Few Days Later…, followed by The Caiman, or do I spend the evening basking in the presence of one of my favorite American actresses, Parker Posey? One look at the droll trailer for Fay Grim answered that question. Posey will attend back-to-back screenings of this new Hal Hartley project, as well as Zoe Cassavetes' Broken English (both directors are also expected to attend). Incidentally, Fay Grim will be released in theaters May 18 and on DVD May 22, but Hal Hartley and Parker Posey will not be at your theater or in your living room, so see it at the festival.

SFIFF50 Week Two commences with a matinee of Im Sang-Soo's The Old Garden on Thursday, May 3, followed by a 48-hour film-going reprieve until my Saturday, May 5
screening of the Algerian film Rome Rather Than You. That evening I'll be seeing Michael Glowogger's Slumming at the SFMOMA. I think it's marvelous that the festival has added the museum's Phyllis Wattis Theater to its list of venues, especially since it's only a 15-minute walk from my home.

Sunday, May 6 may or may not find me at the 10 a.m. free Film Society member's screening, depending on how much energy I have that morning, and more importantly, whether I can sleuth out the film's secret title in advance. Otherwise, I have nothing definite planned until that evening's showing of The Violin, whose director Francisco Vargas, is expected to attend. The night will be capped off by the Norwegian film Reprise. The following day, Monday, May 7 I'll be seeing two of the films I'm anticipating most, namely Asger Leth's documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil and Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain. The latter is the only "event" I'll be attending at this year's festival, and my expectations are sky high based upon the reports I've read from the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. A matinee screening of Jean-Pascal Hattu's 7 Years on Wednesday, May 9 will bring to a close my personal SFIFF50.

Even though I'll be seeing close to 20 films during the festival, and will have previewed another dozen or so before opening night, there are still a few I'm dying to see which simply can't be worked into my schedule (and have not been available as press screenings or screeners). At the top of that list is the Egyptian documentary These Girls, followed by The Road to San Diego, The Caiman, Lady Chatterly and Dans Paris. Minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, to be sure, considering the thrilling two weeks of film-going I have to look forward to.

8 comments:

Darren said...

Don't worry about missing These Girls. I saw (most of) it at Toronto and really disliked it, although until recently I would have been more hard-pressed to explain why. I was reminded of the film yesterday, when I found Jill Godmilow's Kill the Documentary, as We Know It: Dogma 2001. These Girls breaks most of Godmilow's rules.

Michael Hawley said...

Hmmm...I'd be curious to see a list of documentaries that don't break any of these 'rules.' Off the top of my head, I'd have to say that most of my favorite docs break several. At any rate, I now feel slightly less bad about missing These Girls... I think.

dave said...

I'm seeing Colossal Youth again this weekend; I think it's amazing, but it does require an extraordinary amount of patience and attention. I love Kore-eda's Maborosi but haven't seen Hana. I look forward to your thoughts on both.

Maya said...

Darren, that's quite a funny set of documentary guidelines; I have a feeling I will reference it frequently. Thanks for the link.

Brian said...

Well, now I've seen Sounds of Sand and Protagonist, and I hate to break bad news but Protagonist is the far better film (much better than In the Realms of the Unreal too, if that was scaring you away). I will say one thing for Sounds of Sand vis a vis Protagonist film though: it's far more cinematic. If ever there was a place to see this EXTREMELY soulless, predictable piece of self-congratulatory pap, it's at a film festival, not your living room. But unless you can get Jessica Yu to come visit your living room after watching her film...

That's my take anyway. Mileage may vary, I suppose.

Maya said...

Reports always welcome, Brian, with varying mileage expected! Thanks for stopping in. Protagonist has come highly recommened to me from several folks who caught it at Sundance and I'm hoping I can fit it into my fluctuating schedule.

Keep letting us know what you see!

Michael Hawley said...

Sounds of Sand vs. Protagonist is now a moot point. I saw Opera Jawa yesterday, was blown away and will now catch a second screening of it this afternoon instead of Sounds of Sand.

Brian said...

That seems like the wisest course of action. I was stunned by Opera Jawa too. Though I'd love to get your reaction to either of the other two films, should they ever cross your path.