One of the nice things about film festivals is the sense of community they sponsor -- the realization that there is a truly international community of cinema, where a shared past can be discovered and today's venerable filmmakers are honored.
This spirit of past and present is certainly on hand at this year's S.F. International Film Festival. Cinema's history is traced back to its roots in the program "Treasures From a Chest," which screens a series of rare French films from the turn of the last century that were recently discovered in a wardrobe. Since those early movies were made, any number of imaginative masterpieces have come our way, among the most legendary of which is Fritz Lang's futuristic fable of 1926, Metropolis, which we have seen only in hacked-up editions. A new restoration with many hitherto missing scenes will screen with musical accompaniment, based upon the original score, by the dynamic Dennis James. And speaking of weird science, the incredible documentaries of sea life by French cinéaste Jean Painlevé receive a showing accompanied by a new score by the indie group Yo La Tengo in the program "The Sounds of Science."
Among the festival's other pleasures are the selections made for the "Indelible Images" series, in which modern filmmakers -- and, for the first time this year, artists outside of cinema -- chose older movies to highlight. Lotfi Mansouri, director of the S.F. Opera, picked Francois Truffaut's ode to the creative process, Day for Night, a parable of artistic struggle rewarded. Another local artist with ties both inside and outside film -- Michael Lehmann, director of Heathers and episodes of The West Wing, among others -- chose the controversial and unforgettable Simon of the Desert by Luis Buñuel. As Lehmann describes it, Simon is "short in length, long on ideas, and every bit as fun today as it must have been in 1965." Honored for his contributions to American experimental and queer cinema, Kenneth Anger -- who receives the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award on Sunday and whose parti-colored "Magick Lantern Cycle" will also screen -- selected Robert Siodmak's camp classic Cobra Woman (1944).
Three films of four directed by French New Wave auteur Jacques Rozier will show during the festival, with the 70-year-old Rozier on hand to introduce them. Festival revivals serve to point out the holes in film history, of which Rozier's work is one. If he were better known, Rozier might be spoken of in the same breath as his contemporaries Truffaut and Jacques Demy, whose work Rozier's debut feature Adieu Philippine (1960) suggests in its lyricism and delicacy.
One lesser-known but highly deserving honoree at the festival is the Iranian actor Behrouz Vossoughi, recipient of this year's tribute to what the SFIFF calls "The Unvanquished" -- film figures whose careers have suffered for political reasons. Vossoughi was a major star in Iran in the decade before the Revolution of 1979; he played a noble swordsman in the adventure film Dash Akol (1971) and an unlucky workingman in the social protest film Tangsir (1975). Since the Revolution, Vossoughi has lived in exile, continuing his career in small film and TV parts. Yet he is fondly remembered by today's great Iranian filmmakers. Last year, receiving his Akira Kurosawa Award, film master Abbas Kiarostami called Vossoughi up onstage and handed him the award. The festival justifies its existence simply by playing the work of such artists as Vossoughi and Rozier, known to few but due for admiration by many.
"Treasures From a Chest": Sunday, April 22, noon, Castro; Monday, April 23, 7 p.m., PFA
Metropolis: Friday, April 20, 7 p.m., Castro
"The Sounds of Science": Tuesday, April 24, 7 p.m., Castro
Day for Night: Sunday, April 22, 9 p.m., Castro
Simon of the Desert: Sunday, April 22, 2:30 p.m., Castro
"Magick Lantern Cycle": Sunday, April 22, 5 p.m., Castro
Cobra Woman: Monday, April 23, 7 p.m., Castro
Adieu Philippine: Friday, April 20, 4 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 22, 7 p.m., PFA; Tuesday, April 24, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Dash Akol: Saturday, April 21, 9 p.m., Palace of Fine Arts
Tangsir: Sunday, April 29, 12:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 30, 9:30 p.m., Landmark's Park