January 2, 2005 - 1:56 PM PST
The San Francisco International Film Festival 2004, as we covered it at GreenCine Daily.
Jonathan Marlow: Preview
Time once again for the elder statesperson of cinematic events, the San Francisco International Film Festival, to dominate the city for the next few weeks. Now in its 47th year, the oldest festival in America prepares to astonish audiences with 175 films from fifty-two countries. A few highlights:
After a series of missteps in recent years (three, to be exact, devoted to US directors and a particularly dodgy choice the year-before-last), the Film Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing goes to the great Czech (and less-great Hollywood) director Milos Forman. If you haven't seen Loves of a Blonde or The Fireman's Ball, you're missing two of the most magnificent films in Eastern European cinema. Naturally, with the success of Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, Forman is justifiably recognized as one of the great ones (and only the second Czech filmmaker to win the award). His forty-plus year career will be feted Friday, April 23, with a screening of his failed-to-age-well musical Hair.
The wonderful Chris Cooper makes an appearance two days earlier for a screening of Matewan and a brief on-stage interview, in recognition of his "brilliance, independence and integrity" as recipient of the Peter J. Owens award. If the name fails to register, think of the homophobic neighbor in American Beauty or the gap-toothed orchid thief in Adaptation. The selection of a Sayles film to celebrate Cooper's work is a wise choice, given that his first major exposure (and significant display of his acting abilities) was in Lone Star. He will soon appear in the writer/director's latest, Silver City.
This Friday, the Lubitsch classic Ninotchka gets a facelift when its remake, Silk Stockings, is screened and the remarkable actress and dancer Cyd Charisse will be present to introduce. While Stockings is no Band Wagon, it still never fails to bring a smile when Fred Astaire attempts to "tame the shrew."
A personal idol, film historian/preservationist Paolo Cherchi Usai will introduce a program of silent shorts from the George Eastman House collection when he is awarded the Mel Novikoff prize (April 26 at the Pacific Film Archive). As co-founder of the Giornate del Cinema Muto (known here as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival), senior curator of the motion picture department at Eastman House, associate professor of film at the University of Rochester and the director of the Selznick School of Film Preservation (with several books on the topic to his credit), he has done more for early cinema than nearly anyone else on the planet (with the exception perhaps of David Robinson, recipient of the Novikoff award in 1996, or Kevin Brownlow, now overdue for similar recognition). Short of venturing to Italy in October, this is your best bet to get a taste of the Pordenone program.
Initiated with an award to filmmaker/surrealist Jan Svankmajer a few years ago, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision award goes to documentary great Jon Else this year, accompanied by a screening of his landmark The Day After Trinity (the day prior to Paolo's award but at the Kabuki). As DP on non-fiction works as diverse as Crumb and Tupac: Resurrection, his eye has guided plenty of notable stories, perhaps most magnificently on the Eyes on the Prize series. It is his work as a director, though, that remains largely unrepresented on disc. Fortunately, Docurama just announced the release of his fantastic Sing Faster.
Is it merely coincidental that programmer Roger Garcia has selected two new films from Hong Kong, one feature from South Korea and a classic Hong Kong/South Korean epic (from 1969) for the Extreme Cinema program? Roger clearly knows what he's doing. The most extreme films of the past few years are definitely coming from that neighborhood. Unusual for a late night series, all four are worth catching.
Following the fiasco with Sunrise last year, it's safe to see silents at SFIFF again. Keaton's The General will receive most of the attention but the must-see of the April 20 double bill is Charles Vanel's Dans la Nuit. Both will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra (who, in an earlier incarnation, were responsible for one of my favorite movie moments - their unforgettable score, and performance of same, to the little-seen Lonesome).
Capsule reviews for some of the 77 narrative features, 28 documentaries and 70 shorts will surface in the days to come. The opening film needs a few words now.
Jim Jarmusch will appear at the Castro on Thursday in support of his latest, the omnibus Coffee and Cigarettes. An odd choice for an opener, C&C features plenty of the titular substances and a bevy of stars (in order of appearance, Roberto Benigni, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and others) to discuss... nothing, really. Essentially, this is a series of shorts strung together with the actors theoretically portraying themselves. Or rather, distinctly odd versions of themselves. Presented entirely in black and white (although, even with the contributions of Frederick Elmes and Robby Müller, not as lushly as you might expect), the episodes feature few motivated actions (people arrive and, just as arbitrarily, disappear a few minutes later with the thinnest of rationales). Indeed, the repetitive format largely tires itself out (and the audience as well) until, seven segments from the start, Cate Blanchett appears with Cousins, in which she cleverly plays both "movie star" Cate and her "black sheep" cousin, Shelly. The few that follow (the Alfred Molina/Steve Coogan counterpoint Cousins? and the Bill Murray oddity Delirium, in which some of the earlier loose threads are reintroduced) maintain a certain level of interest, leaving the whole picture better off than it started. A relatively lightweight affair, not unlike the unreleased tracks from a "Greatest Hits" compilation - not too bad but not as good as Jarmusch's other material.
What else should you see? Regular readers of the Daily should remember a handful mentioned in other festival recaps. Memories of Murder, The Story of the Weeping Camel and Save the Green Planet have all come highly recommended. I am particularly fond of That Day, Doppelgänger, The Five Obstructions, Super Size Me, DIG!, Last Life in the Universe, The Saddest Music in the World and Reconstruction. Similarly, there are a handful that I missed elsewhere that I will not miss again - Control Room, Triple Agent, Goodbye, Dragon Inn and a number of the films mentioned above (a few of which I might see for a second time). If you need me, I'll be at the movies.
Craig Phillips: Everyday People
Not as perfect as his Our Song, but almost as emotionally engaging, Jim McKay's Everyday People is an occasionally affected but ultimately rewarding drama set in a Brooklyn restaurant, a neighborhood institution threatened with extinction by impending development. The story takes place over the course of 24 emotional hours, following the lives of people affected by the restaurant's fate. The opening act is a bit clunky, more didactic and over-earnest than McKay's past work. Perhaps a victim of the film's origins - it was developed through a workshop process and inspired by a collection of real life American race-related stories - the first section merely serves to set up the character logistics; if you can forgive the occasionally preachy dialogue and afterschool special-ish feel, Everyday People will soon work its magic on you. This is Barbara Ehrenreich's America, a nation of people struggling to stay above the poverty line, the America you rarely see in film or television.
Like fellow indie auteur John Sayles, McKay has a gift for weaving in multiple character storylines with a sincere political agenda and a naturalistic style that makes one forgiving of its flaws. He gets the most out of his cast of relative unknowns, with especially memorable performances from Billöah Greene, charismatic and moving as a young man leaving for Howard University, and Bridget Barkan, achingly real as Joleen, the cashier and single mom who keeps alive the McKay tradition of offering portraits of young women with amazing depth and humanity. Less successful (although he, too, grew on me) are Jordan Gelber, about as exciting as potato salad in a key role as Ira, the owner who plans to sell the restaurant to upscale developers, and Stephen Axelrod as Sol, the ex-con dishwasher who's seen it all - he's probably "real" but I still found him grating. But in an ensemble piece like this, it's how well all the parts ultimately fit together that matters and here the actors' compassion for their characters comes through. Wrapped around a fine, urban-folksy score by Marc Anthony Thompson (who appears in the film himself), it all harkens back to early 70s-era Altman.
Shot by Russell Lee Fine (McKay's Girls Town and numerous other indie features) with a startlingly clear, composed eye, the film's loveliest scene may be its quietest, in which the young poetess (Sydnee Stewart) sits on a subway train observing the people around her; it's an almost transcendental moment. Everyday People is a warm, rich mosaic of a film that will just make you want to give it a big hug at the end.
Then, in June, Craig interviewed Jim McKay.
Preview and Everyday People.More short reviews.
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