Tuesday, May 09, 2006

2006 SFIFF—It's A Wrap!

It's time to wrap-up the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival! As much as I can anyways. First and foremost I want to thank Todd Brown at Twitch for securing me press credentials for the festival and for recruiting me onto the Twitch team to report on Latino film. Secondly, I want to thank Peter Galvin, the publicity intern assigned to me by the San Francisco Film Society, for encouraging my reportage and helping me out whenever he could. Hilary Hart's publicity team—Paula Cavagnaro and Tara Dempsey—have my heartfelt appreciation for arranging my interviews and their overall assistance through the press screenings into and through the festival. Karen Larsen and Chris Wiggums at Larsen Associates are my champions and always a delight to work with. And I'm also grateful to Michelle Jonas at Allied McDonald for her assistance in helping me get an interview with the directors of Half Nelson. Special thanks also go out to Susan Gerhard at SF360 and David Hudson at the Greencine Daily for picking up my entries and helping me gain credence.

I saw 49 and a half films this year at 2006 SFIFF!! Three of those I saw twice so I guess I actually saw 52 and a half films. The half was The Grönholm Method, which stuck halfway through the screener tape (don't you hate that?) and which never timed out for me to catch elsewise during the festival. Anyways, here's what I saw:

Adam's Apples
Art School Confidential
Brothers of the Head
Cartography of Ashes
Delicate Crime
Descent, The
Dignity of the Nobodies, The
Drawing Restraint 9
Eagle, The
Favela Rising
Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, The
Grönholm Method, The
(halfway through)
Guy Maddin Shorts
Half Nelson
Heart of the Game, The
House of Sand, The
In Bed
Iron Island
Iraq in Fragments
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Le Petit Lieutenant
Life I Want, The
Look Both Ways
Lower City
News From Afar
One Long Winter Without Fire
Perhaps Love
Perpetual Motion
Prairie Home Companion, A
Princess Raccoon
Regular Lovers
Romance & Cigarettes
See You In Space
Seeds of Doubt
Sólo Dios Sabe

State of Cinema: Tilda Swinton
Sun, The
Underground Game
Viva Cuba
Wayward Cloud, The
Wild Blue Yonder, The
Who Killed the Electric Car?

I look at that list and I grimace at how few of them I had time to actually write up so I hope no one minds if during the next week (month?) or two stragglers come up to take a belated curtain call? For example, I got a great interview with Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden—who won this year's well-deserved FIPRESCI prize for Half Nelson—but, the publicist tells me I can't post it until late August. I'll also have interviews up with Daniel Clowes of Art School Confidential and Dolissa Medina of Cartography of Ashes any day now and I've yet to transcribe Q&A notes for The House of Sand, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, and the screenings of Turnabout and The Eagle. And I absolutely must write something about News From Afar, Look Both Ways, The Wayward Cloud, The Sun, Regular Lovers, Le Petit Lieutentant and Drawing Restraint 9, when time affords. But those are sauces best reduced before serving them up.

The surprises from the festival were Greg Zglinski's Tout Un Hiver Sans Feu / One Long Winter Without Fire and Samir Nasr's Folgeschäden / Seeds of Doubt, which I talked up as much as I could because both were truly worthwhile. The filmgoer enters One Long Winter Without Fire on the backs of two crows who fly into the frame and set the theme for marital loyalty in the face of tragic loss. Seeds of Doubt is the closest to a Hitchcock film that I've seen since Hitchcock. A German woman begins to suspect her Algerian husband of terrorism. Is he innocent? Is he not? The script is tight and the direction suspenseful as Nasr demonstrates how doubt and racial profiling take seed within the home. This is definitely a movie that had to be made outside of the United States.

It was Graham Leggat's promotion of The Descent that caused me to become intrigued with his playful public persona. At the press conference, his announcement of The Descent made me grin ear to ear. I was delighted that a horror piece was being included into the festival! He noticed how delighted I was—I was in the first row afterall—and later, at the members preview, he made me laugh when he said that The Descent made him pee his pants. Such a thing for an executive director of an international film festival to say! But, in his candor he revealed the puer, a quality I very much admire in grown men and a youthfulness I very much admire in an executive director of an international film festival. Even as I was first in line for my screening, he was there again to see the film for the third time. His praise was well-founded. Possibly one of the scariest films I have ever seen, featuring the unexpected and welcome appearance of Nora Jane-Noone from The Magdalene Sisters, The Descent had me apologizing to the young women beside me for screaming like a girl. I loved it and will definitely see it again upon distribution!

Besides those, I really feel a need to make at least passing mention of the following Latino fare: Brazilian director Beto Brant's Crime Delicado / Delicate Crime and fellow Brazilian director Roberto Gervitz's Jogo Subterrâneo / Underground Game both proved to be movies that, disappointingly, couldn't bear the weight of their own ideas.

Alternating between color and black and white film stock for no good rhyme or reason, Delicate Crime offendingly pandered to prurience, offering a one-legged woman who two men—a theater critic and a painter—use for their own purposes. It dissatisfied with vague meditations on "consent" though I could identify with the critic's anguished efforts to find the right words for his critiques.

Underground Game, adapted from a Julio Cortazar's short story "Manuscript Found in a Pocket", "is about a nightclub piano player who spends his days constructing specific routes on the Sao Paulo subway, hoping to meet a woman who follows the same route. However, the most interesting parts of his life happen when he deviates from his carefully planned journeys." "Interesting" is one of those dismissive adjectives that equates to something short of a slap in the face. Both the protagonist and his love interest are both unattractive and unsympathetic and Cortazar's brilliance—his mastery of observation, and narrative—failed by this vehicle.

Hungarian director József Pacskovsky's Eg Veled / See You in Space struck me as an overly-ambitious, messy and contrived assemblage project that couldn't hold together even if you had superglue. The only thing I really liked about the movie was the line: "In Sanskrit war means fighting for one more cow."

There's more to be said, of course, but for now I'll let this suffice and move on to my next focus: the San Francisco Independent Film Festival's 5th Documentary Film Festival!


Brian Darr said...

Great post, Michael! With 49 (an appropriate number) full film programs you saw a good deal more than I did, but I'm surprised about some of the ones you missed- looks like you never caught Gubra or the Drawing Lines shorts program after all, for example. Are you going to say anything about Iron Island or the Kiarostami short that playe dwith it? I was sorry to have missed that program and many others, inlcuding One Winter Without Fire which was one of those I kept hearing great things about. And you've previously piqued my interest in several others, most notably House of Sand and Who Killed the Electric Car?; I'm glad they're being released commercially at some point.

Michael Guillen said...

Hey Brian, thanks for the note. I should mention that meeting you at the press screenings was one of the definite perks of the festival!

I was genuinely conflicted about some of the ones I missed, "Gubra" among them, definitely "Three Times", "The Perfect Couple" and "Drawing Lines." But it was always one thing or the other, last-minute interviews, necessary write-ups, sheer physical exhaustion. You probably know the drill better than me. I'm learning to pace myself over the years but still don't have it down pat.

I very much enjoyed "Iron Island" and it certainly warrants a write-up. I'll add it to the list. Kiarostami's son was present for his father's short, along with an entourage of nearly eleven folks, who claimed the central row of PFA and then walked out after the short, leaving those seats empty for the screening of "Iron Island." I considered that extremely rude.

HarryTuttle said...

I would ask how you can do repeat viewing within a festival schedule, but scoring 50 films (which I never did) is more than one man should be asked to manage in one run. Hat's off!

I found out on short notice about a special retrospective for the European Union day, and remembered I had seen you wrote a post about Adam's Apples. So I want to thank you for the recommendation, I had to make a quick pick and it was helpful. I really enjoyed it.

I'll be coming back here for your thoughts on the films you haven't reviewed yet, some I saw, some I'm anticipating, some I don't know yet that I might like. From the top of my head : Drawing Restraint 9, Factotum, Gabrielle, Iraq in Fragments, Le Petit Lieutenant, Northeast, Regular Lovers, Romance & Cigarettes, The Sun, The Wayward Cloud, The Wild Blue Yonder, Who Killed the Electric Car?...

Now I need to read this longwinded State of Cinema address by Tilda Swinton.

steve said...

You saw a lot of films I wish I had been able to see.

I also have seen many I haven't had time to blog about yet (as well as some I'll hold til they are in theaters).

It is pretty easy to see a film more than once if you go to a press screening and then see it during the festival (I did that with rivers & tides among others).

Kiarostami's entourage probably had aleady seen Iron Island. He also introduced it at the Kabuki.

Anonymous said...


You've seen as many films at this festival as I've seen all year so far!!! Crazy!

I agree w/ you about UNDERGROUND GAME. I went because I'm not that conversant in Brazilian film and because I like mass transit. Definitely a lackluster film. Of the films I saw, it was my least favorite, SA-KWA being my favorite.

And, sadly, this year nothing interests me at the Doc Fest, but I look forward to reading what I'll regret missing from your posts.

Michael Guillen said...

Harry! Thanks for stopping by to comment. I was just thinking about you this morning as I was fantasizing on returning to Paris this October or October the following year (more likely, if at all) and thinking, "Hey! I could meet Harry Tuttle!"

As for seeing things twice, it was more accidental than intentional, except for "Play", which I intentionally saw a second time on Doug Cummings' advice, and I'm glad I did!! I saw so much more! The others I'd seen at press screenings and was then offered press passes to. Did you write about "Adam's Apples" at Screenville? I'll have to go take a look....

Speaking of Adam, you're absolutely right, Mr. Hartznell, I am "crazy" for seeing so many films at one time and, moreso, for wanting to write about each and every one. I'm finally grasping that's tantamount to masochism! Ah, but what a way to go, eh? Like yourself, I wasn't overly wowed by DocFest and that's why I elected to go the screener route. Should have my first reviews up later today.

HarryTuttle said...

not yet, but I'll try to write it while it's fresh in my mind.

Repeat viewing isn't bad of itself, it's just that it usually means missing something else, which is frustrating. ;)