I terribly miss volunteering for film festivals. I hope against hope that next late-April and early-May my schedule will allow me to do so once again. There’s nothing like the camaraderie and surprises that come with spending hours in a theater with other volunteers, temporary workers, nomadic staff, film loving attendees, attendees who happen upon the festival, filmmakers and special guests. I loved (and was a bit jealous) following along with my dear pal Amber who made the prestigious move from volunteer to house manager in 2016, and basically lived at the festival. Next year will be my 7th San Francisco International Film Festival and if you don’t see me taking your ticket one of those nights, find me and smack me.
I may not have volunteered this year, but I did once again purchase a 10-pack so I would make it films. Two of those I missed at my own volition (I skipped Under The Shadow to party at the new SFMOMA and Trivisa because I ran into a group of dear friends while getting out of the Lyft at the Alamo Drafthouse). The last, Cameraperson, I begrudgingly missed when I got stuck late in a volunteer meeting. Thanks to missing my last scheduled film, the next day I spontaneously bought a last-minute shorts program ticket when another volunteer meeting wrapped early.
Eight screenings ain’t too shabby and one up from my 2015 festival showing. So what did make it to see?
My plane back from SE Asia landed about 9 hours before I Herzog’s take on Silicon Valley. Full of the typical cast oddballs and dreamers, albiet ones who are influencing our daily technological choices, this was hard to watch after just three days prior, being somewhere where there was not reliable water access. It’s difficult to listen to old white dudes wax poetic on settling Mars when we’ve already fucked Earth over (the one badass female scientist profiled in the film did point out this very fact).
I love going to whatever iteration of “Dark Wave” or Midnight Movies that film festivals include in their line up. They always make me miss the weird shit I used to see at the UWM Cinema in my 20s. I was going to go see this one jetlagged and alone, but ran into a gaggle of friends at the theater, so go to crack up to Scott Pilgrim meets Battle Royale with a group and then laugh about/reference it for the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to Part II.
I appreciate that a city’s film festival generally includes a local filmmaking component and when I can I do try to support at least one screening of area cinema. But this film, along with last year’s Quitters, to me signify why the eyeroll emoji was invented. I just don’t find privileged Northern Californians reflecting on the weird worlds they live in. It’s frankly quite boring. In the Q&A there was discussion of how this was supposed to be “different” because the main character was a person of color, but sorry, it was still clearly written by two white dudes over 50.
I love a beautiful, dark film, but this one was extra unsettling and claustrophobic for me Despite its setting in a massive forest, the limited characters (both human and stop animation) and confined spaces they occupied began to feel very heavy as the film unfolded. I appreciated it immensely from a cinematic perspective (as I do artwork that makes the audience experience multi-level emotion), but it’s not one I’d rush out to see again. That said, I recommend it to you hearty international cinema lovers out there who can handle a good dash of despair.
Every year I have to have at least one festival experience that transports me to “film nerd heaven.” I realized that despite seeing plenty of clips, I’d never actually watched the Coen Brother’s first feature film, so this was an absolute treat to enjoy it in such a geeky context. The interview with the Janus/Criterion dudes was really interesting to hear about their process and adaptations with changing technology. I found the conversation about their approach to design particularly fascinating – people are buying the design along with the film. Finally, I was especially excited to learn about Filmstruck, the new streaming service from Criterion and TCM.
Getting toward the end of my ticket stack, I was a little worried that I hadn’t had a “wow” film yet. I think I picked this one because the timing worked well for me, but As I Open My Eyes was easily my favorite film of the fest, hands-down. A Tunisian film, it was certainly more of a traditional feature with universal themes, but did them all very well. The structure, acting and intense plot twist took what could’ve been your traditional “teen girl rebels against parents” movie into an excellent and upsetting film that I absolutely recommend.
There may have been a time in my 20s, during those cold Wisconsin winters, where my broke eastside gang sat on a dumpy couch on Humboldt Street, with various cheap substances, watching Todd Solondz movies and laughing our asses off. It’s wonderful to know that I could spend a sober evening in my mid-30s in The Mission and laugh my ass off at Solondz’s new venture. Definitely not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of sick, trashy humor (and are excited about the Welcome to the Dollhouse universe continuing), put this on your list.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever paid money to see a shorts program during SFIFF and that’s a real shame! Future fest planning will definitely integrate taking a closer look. These were globally-themed and experimental, so provided a very different perspective and approach to filmmaking than I’m used to. My Aleppo was probably the most traditional and intense film in the bunch. Sept-Oct 2015, Cizre packed a powerful punch, but I’ll be honest, the structure/editing grated on me. Untitled (sorry, that’s an impossible link) was super short, but a really solid message. I would’ve preferred the program had chosen that to end with instead of the sprawling False Start (Faux Depart), although I suppose there’s some poetry in that title ending my SFIFF 2016.
A final note on the location change for SFIFF. I loved it. Wandering around the Mission and Castro to get to films felt so much more special and urban than just bumping around the Kabuki, mingling with “normal” movie goers. Having so many bars and restaurants to pick from for a pre-or-post film discussion was a welcome change from wandering around the weird Japantown mall. When the fest was in Lower Pac Heights I’d pop in and out for the movies, but this year I spent way more time in the neighborhood. The Alamo Drafthouse is truly a shining addition to San Francisco and their support of “little guy” theaters like the Victoria Theatre (first time going!) and The Roxie is absolutely heartwarming. And of course getting back-and-forth to The-one-and-only Castro Theatre was 1000x easier too!