The San Francisco International Film Festival, the longest-running film festival in the Americas, opens tonight with Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. “In 58 years, Alex Gibney‘s portrait of the Apple founder is the first documentary to open the festival,” notes David D’Arcy at Indiewire. “‘In San Francisco and the Bay Area, we live and breathe science and technology every day. No figure looms larger than Steve Jobs in setting the course for not just the tech sector here, but the whole innovation culture of the region,’ said Noah Cowan, now in his second year as SFIFF director. ‘Alex Gibney’s film not only looks at Jobs himself, but looks at him in light of the inspirational quality that all of these new innovative technologies have brought to the world, and some of the difficulties as well.'”
This “unsparing portrait of Steve Jobs will prove extremely displeasing to devotees,” wrote Alex Needham for the Guardian when the doc premiered at SXSW, “but it’s a riveting and important corrective to the myths Jobs helped to propagate, and which in the four years since his death have proved as seductive as his machines—and a lot more durable.” Indeed, as Jason Bailey‘s written at Flavorwire, “Jobs’s greatest achievement, as a storyteller and as a businessman, may have been the notion that technology is a form of art. And that’s one explanation for the aftermath of his death. He was mourned like an artist.”
For Variety‘s Justin Chang, Gibney’s doc is “a coolly absorbing, deeply unflattering portrait of the late Silicon Valley entrepreneur that expands, not altogether convincingly, into a meditation on our collective over-reliance on our favorite handheld gadgets.” More from John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter) and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies).
SFIFF 2015 closes on May 7 with Michael Almereyda‘s Experimenter, “a conceptually exciting, intellectually searching portrait of the social psychologist Stanley Milgram,” according to Manohla Dargis in her dispatch to the New York Times from Sundance. For more, see James Kang‘s entry at Critics Round Up, where Experimenter has a CRU rating of 90/100.
- The Peter J. Owens Award will go to Richard Gere, who’ll talk about his career before a screening of Oren Moverman‘s Time Out of Mind.
- The Irving M. Levin Directing Award goes to Guillermo del Toro, who’ll “participate in an in-depth conversation about his career, show clips from previous work, screen one of his best-loved films The Devil’s Backbone and share a sneak peek of upcoming projects.”
- The Kanbar Award goes to Paul Schrader, who’ll be on hand for a talk and screening of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.
- The Mel Novikoff Award goes to “translator, scholar and film sleuth Lenny Borger. Join us for a conversation about the hunt for ‘lost’ films and the unsung art of subtitling with Borger and Variety’s Scott Foundas followed by a screening of the rediscovered 1929 silent masterpiece Monte-Cristo.”
- The Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award goes to Kim Longinotto. Again, there’ll be a conversation and a screening: Dreamcatcher. CRU rating: 91/100.
- Douglas Trumbull will deliver this year’s State of Cinema Address. “Currently, Trumbull is rethinking the immersive cinematic experience to include virtual media and surround-screen projection.”
I don’t know of anyone who anticipates this festival more than Michael Hawley. He’s previewed a slew of special events, including a live performance by Cibo Matto, which will feature new scores for Yoko Ono’s Fly (1970) and for “the 1970 film adaptation of Oskar Schlemmer’s famously trippy Bauhaus-era Triadic Ballet (which you can preview here), and other promised treats.” San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet “will perform Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov’s titular anti-war composition, which incorporates everything from air-raid sirens to chanting monks. The program’s visual element is supplied by filmmaker Bill Morrison, best known for his experimental collage film Decasia.” Michael’s also posted entries on films from France, Asia and the Americas.
For KQED, Michael Fox previews five documentaries, among them, A German Youth, “the latest excavation and manipulation of archival footage by the French formalist Jean-Gabriel Périot. This precisely edited work revisits the rebellious fury late-’60s college students directed at the German power structure (still in the hands of the generation that backed Hitler) and the Vietnam war. The documentary draws on the radical films of Holger Meins and the articulate television appearances of columnist and eventual Red Army Faction member Ulrike Meinhof.”
“SFIFF offers a handful of films that might or might not awaken your civic conscience, as they trace the slow, steady decline of a once-vibrant democracy,” writes Erin Blackwell, previewing Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s Best of Enemies and more. And David Lamble‘s introduces the Bay Area Reporter‘s collection of capsules.
Here in Keyframe, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks previews the “Sounds of Cinema” Spotlight. More picks and previews: Ryan Lattanzio (Thompson on Hollywood), Randy Myers (Mercury News), Carmen Tse (SFist) and Peter Wong (Beyond Chron).
Updates, 4/27: Brian Darr on Albert Maysles‘s Iris: “Manhattan’s fearlessly original, supremely quoteable, style maven-about-town Iris Apfel and centenarian husband Carl prove ideal subjects for Maysles’ perhaps most poptacular documentary, the last released before his March passing. I doubt it’s merely the theme of exuberance in the face of mortality that makes it seem like he’s filming a mirror; the fly even comes off the wall for a few warmly unguarded moments. Wear your craziest outfit to this one.”
Also: “With A Pattern for Survival, [Kelly] Sears has created her first (that I’ve seen) truly indelible movement study, putting an ingenious twist on her usual techniques of animating frozen moments from the flat and lifeless pages of periodicals, or of extracting frames from non-fiction films and reconfiguring them for her own narrative purposes.”
Then there’s Ed & Pauline, Christian Bruno and Natalija Vekic’s 19-minute documentary on Cinema Guild founder Ed Landberg and Pacifica Radio reviewer Pauline Kael: “Though this film’s generous archival footage, engaging interview clips, and understated re-enactments might make it a fine brief introduction to the history of arthouse culture for a casual moviegoer, for a cinephile it’s also tremendous fun to hear choice snippets of Kael’s discussions of certain landmark films such as Letter From an Unknown Woman, Passion of Joan of Arc and Night of the Hunter as scans of old Cinema Guild calendars are flipped through. Keen eyes will pick out the recurring auteur names (Chaplin, Renoir, Bergman, Flaherty, McLaren…) and feel a greater sense of the primordial cinema scene from which came the eventual champion of filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah and Brian De Palma.”
Among the films Max Goldberg writes up in his preview of this year’s edition for SFAQ are Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan (reviews), Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher (reviews), Sean Baker’s Tangerine (reviews)—and Barbara Loden’s Wanda: “An existential getaway movie focused on an unremarkable yet utterly tenacious woman (played by Loden herself) cut loose in a cruel world, Wanda’s subversion of genre conventions gives the lie to comparatively facile road movies like Easy Rider (1969)…. I leave the last word to Marguerite Duras, who pointedly begins her interview with Loden’s ex-husband Elia Kazan with the following declaration: ‘I mean to use all my energy to make certain that this movie reaches the French public… I think that there is a miracle in Wanda. Usually there is a distance between the visual representation and the text, as well as the subject and the action. Here this distance is completely nullified; there is an instant and permanent continuity between Barbara Loden and Wanda.'”
Updates, 5/2: “Miranda July showcased a new performance artwork twice in San Francisco this week,” reports Glen Hefland for the Guardian. “But you didn’t hear that from me. The show, titled New Society, is sheathed in stipulations, a gentle request to avoid spoilers…. So what can be said about the show without spilling the beans? A lot, it turns out…. The streets feel different when you exit the theater.”
The latest from Brian Darr: Vanessa Renwick’s “latest short piece, a 6-minute work called layover, is a stunningly beautiful cine-poem.” And: “If [Lisandro] Alonso‘s masterpiece Los Muertos was the shadowy underbelly to [Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s] Blissfully Yours, Jauja takes him into mystical realms akin to Uncle Boonmee, by way of Sjöström‘s elemental landscape dramas.” And Diao Yinan‘s Black Coal, Thin Ice is “a grim film, but a highly compelling one, set in eye-opening industrial urban landscapes and punctuated by impactful moments contrasting with the rest of the methodical, clinical tone.”
Meredith Brody‘s been sending dispatches from SFIFF in to Thompson on Hollywood. In the first, she suggests that Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellen “will please both the Holmes aficionados and those new to the seemingly inexhaustible study of Holmesiana.”
In the second, she has notes on the opening night and a master class with Alex Gibney, the director’s cut of Mark Christopher’s “film maudit” 54, 17 years after its debut,” Barbara Loden’s Wanda and Guy Maddin‘s The Forbidden Room: “Afterwards Maddin and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Anita Monga and Peter Moore and I went out on the mean windy deserted Post street in search of a drink. A couple of false starts led us up the stairs of a smoky Korean barbecue place (from the in-table grills, I hasten to point out, not cigarettes). We discussed Maddin’s recent shoots in Jordan and Cuba, as well as his upcoming teaching stint at Harvard, while Korean girls danced and sang (inaudibly) on a big screen behind him—which seemed appropriate.”
In the third, she writes up highlights of the evening with Guillermo del Toro: “I saw my first corpse, like a good Mexican, at age four: a guy without a head at the side of the road.”
Jody Shapiro and Isabella Rossellini‘s Green Porno Live “tracks and distills Rossellini’s clever short films and her tour of live performances gives a lot of pleasure,” writes David D’Arcy at Artinfo. “And… where better to have the SFIFF annual gala than in the Armory in San Francisco that houses the porn conglomerate kink.com.”
Update, 5/10: The festival’s wrapped and now it’s time to catch up with the awards:
- Laura Bispuri’s Sworn Virgin has won the Golden Gate New Directors Prize.
- Documentary Feature: Bill and Turner Ross‘s Western. Special jury recognition: Laurent Bécue-Renard’s Of Men and War.
- Bay Area Documentary: Leah Wolchok’s Very Semi-Serious. Special jury recognition: Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari’s T-Rex.
And at Thompson on Hollywood, Ryan Lattanzio‘s got the full list.
Update, 5/13: Michael Hawley has begun to wrap it up, looking back first at “10 Highlights from Week One.”
Update, 5/27: Mark James reports on this year’s edition for Film International.