Reel World

Let's Do It Again
Arriving smack between the vulgar farce of Oscar Night and the first grenades of Action Summer, the San Francisco International Film Festival is -- at the very least -- a respite from idiocy. More importantly, the SFIFF is an agreeable venue for international cinema at a time when foreign-language films barely register on U.S. screens. From the Opening Night intellectual frivolity of Brian Gilbert's Wilde (April 23 at the Castro, with star Stephen Fry on hand) through the Closing Night poignancy of Chinese Box, Wayne Wang's cross-cultural Hong Kong tale shot during last year's hand-over (May 7, also at the Castro), this is a festival of quirky tastes and millennial murkiness.

The dearth of household names also marks this as a year of discovery, notwithstanding new films from SFIFF faves Eliseo Subiela (Little Miracles) and Manoel de Oliviera (Voyage to the Beginning of the World) and French legends Eric Rohmer (A Summer's Tale) and Michel Piccoli (making his directorial debut with So There). Take chances and play hunches, from Somersault in a Coffin (poetic neo-realism from Turkey) to Gummo (a bizarre teen alienation fable by Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine), from Ademir Kenovic's Bosnian masterpiece Perfect Circle to Lynn Hershman's enchantingly provocative Conceiving Ada (with the radiant Tilda Swinton). One handicapper's Early Bird Special: Ron Havilio's extraordinary Fragments: Jerusalem, which elegantly interweaves the filmmaker's family history with the sun-dappled Holy City's prayer-filled and bloodstained saga.

Our star-humping daily papers will no doubt pant like crazy over "local" boys Nicolas Cage (honored with the Peter J. Owens acting award and a screening of Birdy) and Sean Penn (introducing his choice for the "Indelible Images" series, Elim Klimov's war-torn Come and See). But the Bay Area is better represented by the riveting documentaries Paulina! (Vicky Funari and Jennifer Taylor's tale of one Mexican woman's extraordinary persistence) and Sacrifice (Ellen Bruno's wrenching portrait of Burmese girls tricked into working in Thai brothels). A genuine treat is an evening of Warren Sonbert's movingly buoyant films, honoring the internationally acclaimed and much missed S.F. experimental filmmaker and the Estate Project for Artists With AIDS. A second program of avant-garde visions, with the irresistible title of "Pandora's Screens," is co-presented by the Pacific Film Archive and the Cinematheque.

The SFIFF resurrects blacklisted writer/director John Berry with a trio of charged works, including He Ran All the Way featuring the late, great John Garfield in his last role. And the colossal Castro will boast a rare screening of the Rolling Stones in Cocksucker Blues (with the elusive Robert Frank in person) and Storefront Hitchcock (with Robyn Hitchcock on guitar and the eccentric, eclectic, and elusive Jonathan Demme on camera). Meanwhile, the SFIFF's Golden Gate Awards elbow into the spotlight with a top-flight roster of nonfiction work, including the acclaimed prison expose The Farm and Moment of Impact, a personal saga of the aftermath of a car accident. Hard-core cinephiles, however, will zero in on the 15 films vying for the Skyy Prize; these are all first features without U.S. distribution and therefore may never surface in the Bay Area again. In addition to the Castro, the SFIFF will take up residence at the AMC Kabuki April 23 to May 7, with ancillary screenings at Berkeley's PFA and other Bay Area locales; the program hits the streets today and tickets go on sale April 5. Call 441-7373 for more info.

By Michael Fox
foxonfilm@aol.com

 
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