Plays Sunday, May 4, at 4 p.m.
Six o'Clock News
* Veteran Ross McElwee watchers are really interested in only one thing, so I'll get it out of the way right up front -- yes, Charlene's back! McElwee (Sherman's March) is now married and has a son; his new documentary is an enthralling inquiry into the horror he witnesses on the nightly news and the mixed feelings he has bringing a son into this crazy mess of a world. But, as usual, that's just the beginning, and you've gotta see it to believe all the stuff he packs into this glorious film. Absolutely essential viewing. (Booth)
Plays Tuesday, May 6, at 9:30 p.m.
Storm the Skies
A domineering communist mother dupes her son into becoming a killing machine for the cause -- no, this isn't The Manchurian Candidate, though it's just as riveting. This 1996 documentary by Javier Rioyo and J.L. Lopez-Linares is an evocative record of the complex historical forces and family dynamics that led the mysterious Ramon Mercader, a Stalinist mama's boy, to drive an ice pick into the head of Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. (Morris)
Plays Thursday, May 1, at 4 p.m., Sunday, May 4, at 11 p.m., and Wednesday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m.
A Summer in La Goulette
* A terrifically satisfying coming-of-age story from film critic-turned-director Ferid Boughedir (Halfaouine: Child of the Terraces) with much more on its mind than lustful innocence. Set in a Tunisian seaside resort on the eve of the Six-Day War, when Christians, Muslims, and Jews could still live together amicably, La Goulette is sunny and compassionate, but hardly a nostalgic paean to a long-lost, perfect world. For one thing, a jaundiced view of the male patriarchy informs every scene. And despite all the backslapping and surface bonding, the film's sober conclusion is that, when the chips are really down, religious and cultural differences will reassert themselves. The screening will include the presentation of the Mel Novikoff Award to former S.F. Chronicle movie critic Judy Stone. (Fox)
Plays Thursday, May 1, at 9:15 p.m., and Friday, May 2, at 1 p.m. (Also at the Lark Sunday, May 4, at 4:30 p.m.)
* This Diane-Arbus-photo-with-sound sends up that peculiarly American ode to 1950s conformity and pod mentality, Levittown. Writer/director John O'Hagan lets archival footage and interviews with present-day denizens and escapees like Bill Griffith (of Zippy fame) paint an amusingly weird picture of the first suburb. Along the way we meet a couple obsessed with wood, an alcoholic parakeet, a haunted tract house, and more deviant thrills from the early days, wife-swapping parties, "cross-marriage," and drunken binges among them. Scariest moment: an old man's tearful prayer that "all the original Levittowners will be together in heaven." (Morris)
Plays Monday, May 5, at 9:30 p.m., and Wednesday, May 7, at 4:30 p.m. (Also at the Lark Sunday, May 4, at 2 p.m.)
* The Beatles help Pepperland withstand the Blue Meanies while their animators concoct a psychedelic history of art in which Magritte and Dali coexist with Peter Max. Today it's hard to know what's more refreshing: the ticklish combination of bravura collage effects and literate yet off-the-cuff comedy (like Terry Gilliam's cartoon interludes for Monty Python), or the zing that great pop music can bring to a full-length animated feature. Selected by filmmaker John Lasseter (Toy Story) for the fest's "Indelible Images" series. (Sragow)
Plays Wednesday, May 7, at 7 p.m.
* Films screened by the festival or made available for viewing on tape were reviewed by our staff; commentary by Tod Booth, Michael Fox, Gary Morris, Gregg Rickman, Michael Sragow, Renata Stachura, and Heather Wisner.
* Call the fest at 441-7373 to check for updates and changes.
All screenings are at the Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore), unless otherwise noted. There are also screenings at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley; and the Lark, 549 Magnolia (at Dougherty) in Larkspur.
* Tickets are $8 ($6 for Film Institute members, seniors, and students) unless otherwise noted. Weekday screenings until 5 p.m. are $4-5. Tickets are available at the door to each film, but it's smart to buy in advance, at the main box office in the Japan Center next-door to the Kabuki or downtown at the Macy's furniture store, 835 Market (at Powell) in the old Emporium building.
* You can charge by phone at 441-7373 noon to 7 p.m. daily.
* The festival has a schedule and more on the Web, at www.sfiff.org.
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