Monday, April 23, 2007
In 1957, when the Berlin International Film Festival was in its sixth year and the Festival de Cannes had recently turned 12, there was still no established annual film festival in the U.S. “Back in the ’50s, San Francisco needed to keep its place in the arts world with an international film festival. There wasn’t one in North or South America,” San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) founder Irving M. “Bud” Levin recalled in 1995.
Following Levin’s lead, the San Francisco Film Society has presented the SFIFF since 1957 and becomes the first North American festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary when the event unreels April 26-May 10 at various Bay Area venues. Now a sprawling 15-day celebration of global cinema, the inaugural fest was a relatively modest affair, screening an international title every night over two weeks to stylishly attired audiences at Union Street’s Metro Theater.
The first SFIFF included Michelangelo Antonioni’s Il Grido, Akira Kurosawa’s Macbeth adaptation Throne of Blood, Satyajit Ray’s first Apu-trilogy installment Pather Panchali and Luchino Visconti’s Senso, as well as Uncle Vanya – the only American film in the lineup.
“The history of achievements of the festival is a very, very long one,” says Graham Leggat, who joined the San Francisco Film Society as executive director in October 2005. “To begin with, the fact that in 1957, when America was scared of aliens of all descriptions, both invaders from outer space and the Red menace, we were showing 15 films from 12 different countries. You can’t imagine nowadays exactly how revolutionary that was.”
Fifty years later, the 2007 SFIFF offers titles from 54 countries, bookended by two award-winning European films. Emanuele Crialese’s New York-set Sicilian-immigrant saga Golden Door (Nuovomondo) opens the run and two weeks later the festival closes with director Olivier Dahan scheduled to attend the West Coast premiere of La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf biopic that recently kicked off the Berlin festival.
The SFIFF has a variety of special awards and events on tap for the 50th, in addition to annual filmmaker and actor tributes scheduled for the May 3 Film Society Awards Night gala, when legendary Bay Area writer, director and producer George Lucas receives the one-time Irving M. Levin Award in recognition of his commitment to cinema arts. That same evening, Robin Williams will be honored with the Peter J. Owens acting award and acclaimed writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) will be the recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting. The Directing Award will go to iconoclastic filmmaker Spike Lee, whose post-Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke [pictured above] shows in a special program, more than 20 years after She’s Gotta Have It first played the SFIFF.
Among the fest’s golden anniversary events, Leggat will co-host “Five-0: Stories and Images From 50 Years of the SF International,” an onstage oral-history retrospective profiling the SFIFF’s five-decades, with special guests, photo montages and film clips.
The strong showing of veteran directors spread across festival programs and scheduled to attend the event is a manifestation of the long-term artistic relationships that festival organizers have built over the decades. “The history of ferreting out and showcasing cinema from countries whose national cinemas had hardly been heard of that [former SFIFF director] Peter Scarlet did in his tenure here is nothing short of superb,” says Leggat. “Whether it was [Abbas] Kiarostami or whether it was the Koreans, we’ve always had a nose for great film.”
That talent for selecting intriguing new filmmakers is also reflected in the competitive SKYY prize narrative program, which features a $10,000 cash award and showcases the work of 11 first-time directors, including John Barker’s South African road trip picture Bunny Chow and Sundance 2007 competition entry How Is Your Fish Today? from Xiaolu Guo.
The San Francisco premiere of Guy Maddin’s color/B&W silent Brand Upon the Brain! — a “faux-autobiographical” multimedia melodrama supported by a 13-piece musical ensemble and Foley crew — highlights a selection of music and film events. Similarly ambitious, cult favorite singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman brings his unique interpretive skills to bear on an original live score for the new 35mm print of Victor Sjöström’s 1921 silent surrealistic fantasy The Phantom Carriage.
Contemplating the innovations that he and his staff have introduced in the 18 months that he’s been overseeing the San Francisco Film Society, Leggat reflects that “The things that we’ve added are an emphasis on digital media and basically the social contacts that should surround any good festival,” including such year-round activities as the SF360.org Bay Area film industry news website (co-published with indieWIRE) and a monthly SF360 TV show on Comcast. “Our job all along for 50-odd years has been exploration and discovery, so we’re continually pressing forward,” notes Leggat.
New digital initiatives this year include SFIFF’s GreenWorld Contest, an online competition for short films on the theme of global sustainability, which offers a $1,000 cash prize and festival exhibition, co-sponsored by Yahoo! Video and Jumpcut. Yahoo! Video will also stream festival content on a dedicated online channel throughout the event and beyond.
“The festival has been visionary right from the start and it’s only managed to maintain its position of prominence and to exist at all because it’s continued to adapt,” Leggat observes. “It’s no small feat to be the first festival in the Americas to reach the 50-year milestone.”
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Friday, April 13, 2007
Here is a first look at John Sayles' newest film Honeydripper; due out by Emerging Pictures in 2008.
The film stars Danny Glover as the owner of a failing juke joint in 1950s Alabama who hires a young electric guitarist in hopes to keep from closing down.
Labels: Web Exclusives
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Andrea Arnold’s beautifully crafted first feature, Red Road, the follow-up to her Oscar-winning short film, Wasp, was shot on digital video and exploits a fresh, bold palette in telling the story of Jackie (Kate Dickie), an alienated Glasgow policewoman whose job is to watch Glasgow’s banks on surveillance monitors. One day, she notices a man behaving unusually and, becoming fixated on him, crosses a line. Stepping out from behind her monitors, she follows him towards the dangerous housing project called Red Road….
Why is she so obsessed with this figure, a man she first glimpses as a shadow, almost a ghost, on her vast wall of surveillance monitors? The very contemporary paranoia and potential for violence, sexual and otherwise, that simmers throughout Arnold’s taut, tense and starkly beautiful film is nightmarish yet haunting. The film is the first of three from The Advance Party, an enterprise produced and developed by Glasgow’s Sigma Films and Zentropa, the Danish production company long associated with Lars von Trier. Each participating writer-director was supplied with an outline for a film set to star the same nine actors playing the same characters — a sort of repertory company format.
“The scripts can take their starting point in one or more characters or they may be subjected to an external drama,” filmmaker Lone Scherfig and Zentropa director Anders Thomas Jensen wrote in their instructions to the different directors. “The films take place in Scotland but apart from that the writers are free to place them anywhere according to geography, social setting or ethnic background. Their backstories can be expanded, family relations can be created between them, they can be given habits good or bad, and secondary characters can be added if it is proper for the individual film. The interpersonal relationships of the characters differ from film to film and they may be weighted differently as major or minor characters. The development of the characters in each story or genre does not affect the other scripts. All of the characters must appear in all of the films. The various parts will be cast with the same actors in the same parts in all of the films.” Rules, yes, but Red Road is so much more than a stunt. The 46-year-old writer-director’s debut won the Cannes 2006 Jury Prize; Filmmaker spoke to Arnold and Dickie the Sundance Film Festival.
ARNOLD: We didn’t interpret very much, did we? It was simpler than that.
DICKIE: It was more instinctive. I felt as soon as I read the script, I thought, God, I know this woman. She’s so familiar to me and I don’t know why. From an actor’s point of view, I just felt [the words] spoke for themselves.
Labels: Web Exclusives