There are probably as many ways of approaching the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival — which will unspool (as Variety would have it) from April 24 to May 8 — as there are filmgoers to attend it. The hard-core cinephiles will try to see it all — good luck, with 177 films from 49 countries in 38 languages scheduled at theaters in the city and in Berkeley. More focused moviegoers can cherry-pick: The 208-page festival program guide has a useful country index (which even includes settings, for you armchair voyagers). Francophiles can head straight to the 25 films listed therein, including opening-night film The Last Mistress, directed by Catherine Breillat and starring the daring Asia Argento.
For starry-eyed film fans and auteurists who love to breathe the same air as their idols, there are numerous special evenings, with onstage interviews, clip shows, and screenings, devoted to directors and actors — and even writers and critics. On Wednesday, April 30, the Founder's Directing Award goes to Mike Leigh, with a screening of his Gilbert and Sullivan biopic Topsy-Turvy. The Village Voice's senior film critic, J. Hoberman, receives the Mel Novikoff Award and shows In the City of Sylvia on Sunday, April 27. Brilliant documentarian Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure, about the Abu Ghraib photo scandal, will screen when he receives the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award on Tuesday, April 29. And a celebration of the Midnight Awards, honoring actors Rose McGowan and Jason Lee, will start at 10:30 p.m. at the W Hotel on Saturday, April 26, and will no doubt continue until an hour appropriate for its name.
The light at the end of the Film Festival tunnel is its closing-night film on Thursday, May 8 with the West Coast premiere of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the latest film from famed documentarian Alex Gibney, who won an Academy Award this year for his documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. Unfortunately, Gonzo is already sold out, but you can still spring big bucks to attend charity after-parties ($225 for the VIP shindig, for instance) sponsored by Vanity Fair in its only American film festival sponsorship this year.
If the SFIFF51 awakens a lust for continuous moviewatching that only consistently adventurous programming will assuage, have no fear: The fun will continue. From June, in partnership with the Sundance Kabuki, the San Francisco Film Society will be programming one of the Kabuki's screens year-round, with weekly bookings of the same kinds of films, often underserved by local exhibitors, that you've seen at the festival. New films from around the world are promised, including documentaries and avant-garde movies, some with filmmaker appearances, with possible themed programming in the future. In short, it's good news for San Francisco filmgoers.
Best of the Fest
Our critics' recommendations from this year's films.
No flesh in the pan, Argento plays prominently in two featured movies at the Film Fest this year.
Q&A with Medicene for Melancholy Director Barry Jenkins
Local film director gives this town a dose of its own Medicine.
Glass, Jazz, and Black Francis
Music takes the stage at the Film Fest.