Saturday, April 25, 2009

SFIFF52: LA MISSIÓN—Opening Night Introductory Remarks

Acknowledging the many sponsors, consulates, organizations and individuals that make the San Francisco International Film Festival possible, Executive Director Graham Leggat proudly beamed that this year's opening night held special meaning for him because his older daughter Vhary—recently relocated to San Francisco from New York—was attending the festival for the first time.

"The festival," Leggat reminded, "shows 150 films from 55 countries and its stock and trade is international film. But this year we have seen an amazing vibrancy and vitality of local films in the festival. For the last 51 years, the San Francisco Film Society has been something of a high-end florist. It's taken the best films from all over the world—the flowering of world cinema—and put it in the vase of the San Francisco International Film Festival; but, last August the Film Society underwent a radical organizational transformation with an agreement with our friends from the Film Arts Foundation, which for 32 years ably and inspirationally served filmmakers in the Bay Area and around the country. The Film Society took over the stewardship of many programs the Film Arts Foundation had run—that includes fiscal sponsorship, grants and residencies, membership services, classes and workshops and so on—and for the last nine months the Film Society has … become less of a florist and more of a nursery. Part of that increased responsibility has meant getting closer to taking more responsibility for and caring more about all the wonderful filmmakers in the Bay Area. This year at the festival, we're very proud and honored to be able to carry on the Film Arts tradition and I know I speak for all our stakeholders—and especially the staff—when I say that we have never in 52 years had as much enjoyment on a day-to-day basis as we have doing more for people in the City.

"This year there are more than 30 films from Bay Area filmmakers in the festival and that includes features and shorts and it numbers among those 30-some films four Bay Area documentaries in competition, five narrative and documentary films in our Cinema by the Bay section, which includes probably what's going to be the definitive documentary on living legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It also includes the superb first feature I highly recommend all of you see beginning its first screening tomorrow night: Don't Let Me Drown by UC graduate Cruz Angeles and screenwriter Maria Topete. We're giving our Persistence of Vision Award this year to Lourdes Portillo. New Marin transplant Robert Redford—a local boy—will receive the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting. Master filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola will be here on this stage a week from tomorrow to receive our Founders Directing Award. He will be in conversation with a few of his friends; people you might have heard of: George Lucas, Carroll Ballard, Walter Murch, Matthew Robbins and—we think—a guest appearance by a star from his upcoming film Tetro and we will show a brand-new print of the 1969 film Rain People on its 40th anniversary….

"But among all these films, dare I say none is dearer to our hearts than the film you are about to see tonight. [
La Missión is] a moving, powerful portrait of one man's struggle to overcome his inner demons. It's a film with a heart as big as the neighborhood in which it's set." Leggat then invited onto the stage La Mission's executive producer Alpita Patel and "local heroes, los hermanos" Peter and Benjamin Bratt.

On behalf of the others, Peter Bratt expressed how humbled they were to be present and thanked Leggat and the Film Society for the experience, adding: "It's truly an honor for us local boys—born and raised here just over the hill—….,"only to have Benjamin intervene, "Yo. We ain't boys anymore." Once the laughter subsided, Peter continued: "It's truly an honor to have our little local film play in an international film festival of this caliber. Before we get started, we really want to acknowledge all the filmmakers, all the artists, who helped us bring this story to life." He asked for a round of applause for all those individuals in the house.

Before rolling the film, the Bratts invited one of the elders from the Mission community—Concha Salcedo—to invoke a prayer of blessing. "When we were growing up," Peter explained, "whether it be at the Indian Center for a potluck or a march down Mission Street to the Civic Center for farmworkers' rights, whenever we gathered as a group we usually have one of our elders ask for a blessing from the spirit world. We want to bring some of that spirit from the neighborhood and bring it here tonight and share it with you. I cannot tell you how many lives and families Concha has touched with her selfless work for decades in the community—you could say in the trenches—and she was one of the first people we went to when we wanted to make the film. San Francisco, we love you and thank you very much for coming out tonight."

The Castro Theatre then filled with the scent of burning copal as Concha Salcedo, accompanied by concheros in full Aztec regalia—feathered penachos/copilli, maaxtlas, faldas and taparabos, and rattling anklets—conscripted the space of the theatre and evoked spiritual blessing for La Missión's West Coast premiere.

Of related interest: Susan Gerhard's write-up for
SF360 and red carpet photos of opening night from WireImage. Photo of Peter and Benjamin Bratt on the SFIFF52 red carpet courtesy of Getty Images.

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