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SFIFF turns 51 this year, and Bay Area cinephiles are chomping at the bit to learn how the festival will follow up last year's golden anniversary bash. Patience, patience … all shall be revealed at the official press conference next Tuesday, April 1.
But if you're a SF Film Society member, you won't have to wait nearly that long. For the second year in a row, the festival is making its full line-up available to Film Society members four days before the press conference. Beginning Friday, March 28, members will have the opportunity to view the program and purchase tickets on-line. Membership does indeed have its privileges, not the least of which is the chance to buy 10-ticket CineVouchers for $80 (representing mega-savings over this year's $12.50 general admission price).
Over the past month the festival has been revealing bit and pieces of this year's line-up. So to begin The Evening Class coverage of SFIFF51, here's a recap of what we know so far, plus a bit of wishful thinking/speculation over what the rest of the program might have in store for us:
* Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress starring Asia Argento will open the festival on Thursday, April 24. This is a ballsy, welcome choice.
* The festival will close on Thursday, May 8 with the West coast premiere of Alex Gibney's (fresh off an Oscar win for Taxi to the Dark Side) Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. It seems this is only the second time in the festival's history that a documentary has served as opening or closing night film (the other being Amazonia: Voices from the Rain Forest, one of three opening night films in 1991).
* The festival's annual directing award gets another name change (now called the Founders Directing Award) and will be presented to Mike Leigh in a program to include clips, an on-stage interview and a screening of Topsy-Turvy.
* Maria Bello will receive this year's Peter J. Owens Award for acting, accompanied by her latest film, Udayan Prasad's The Yellow Handkerchief.
* This year's Centerpiece event will be a screening of Jonathan Levine's Sundance hit, The Wackness, starring Ben Kingsley.
* Black Francis, aka Frank Black of the rock band The Pixies, will perform his newly composed score for the 1920 German expressionist silent classic, The Golem.
* Venerable film critic J. Hoberman will receive this year's Novikoff Award and present a screening of Jose Luis Guerín's acclaimed In the City of Sylvia. This film, which topped SF Bay Guardian critic Johnny Ray Huston's 2007 Top 10 list, actually screened last week at the local Tiburon Film Festival. On behalf of those unable to attend that single North Bay, mid-week, late-night screening (myself included), a thousand thank-yous to the SFIFF.
* There are four films in this year's Cinema by the Bay section, highlighting the works of local filmmakers. The one getting the most attention is Dikayl Rimmasch's Cachao: Uno Más, a new documentary about the Cuban music legend. Director Rimmasch, Cachao himself and producer Andy Garcia are all expected to attend the screening. The other films are Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy (a favorite at the recent SXSW, for which Michael Guillén interviewed Jenkins), Logan and Noah Miller's Touching Home (starring Ed Harris and Brad Dourif), and Mock Up on Mu, the latest from experimental filmmaker Craig Baldwin.
* Each year the Castro Theater calendar provides an early peak at some festival titles. The latest calendar just hit the streets (and was posted on-line), so I'm hardly revealing state secrets by reporting these five festival programs:
- A newly restored print of the 1945 Technicolor-noir classic Leave Her to Heaven, starring Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde.
- Swedish director Roy Andersson's mixed bag of absurdist vignettes, You, the Living.
- Fados, Carlos Saura's latest blend of Iberian filmmaking, music and dance.
- The world premiere of Ask Not, Johnny Symons documentary about the U.S. military's failed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
- The Warlords, Peter Chan's 19th century Chinese war drama starring Andy Lau, Jet Li and Takeshi Kaneshiro.
So that's everything we know so far, and it's quite an impressive start, I think. We'll know the rest in a few days, but meanwhile here's a list of 20 films I'm really jonesing to have appear in the final program. They've been culled from a much longer list of 2007/2008 films that have caught my attention since last year’s festival. (Had they not already been announced, The Last Mistress and In the City of Sylvia would certainly have been among them.) My dream festival, in alphabetical order:
Après lui—Gaël Morel
Dr. Plonk—Rolf de Heer
Eat, For This is My Body—Michelange Quay
Elite Troop—José Padilha
A Girl Cut in Two—Claude Chabrol
Go Go Tales—Abel Ferrara
Help Me Eros—Lee Kang-sheng
Inside—Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
It's a Free World—Ken Loach
Lake Tahoe—Fernando Eimbcke
The Man From London—Bela Tarr
Munyurangabo—Lee Issac Chung
My Winnipeg—Guy Maddin
Promise Me This—Emir Kusturica
The Secret of the Grain—Abdellatif Kechiche
Still Life (from 2006, but hope springs eternal)—Jia Zhang-ke
La Zona—Rodrigo Plá
Finally, here are several terrific films I saw in Palm Springs, all of which I hope come to the SFIFF for the benefit of local film-friends who have yet to see them. Most I'd happily watch again, given the opportunity:
I Just Didn't Do It
My Father, My Lord
The Pope's Toilet
Takva: A Man's Fear of God