on February 17, 2007 - 4:19 PM PST
|Film festivals today are dime a dozen. In fact, there are well over a thousand in the world. San Francisco, however, has not one but two of the really significant festivals, and this year is of special importance for both of them, and for their participants and audiences.
The San Francisco International Film Festival (www.sffs.org), the nation's oldest, will mark the half-century mark in April. And, next month, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (http://tinyurl.com/2pxy57) will unspool its 25th annual edition.
During an 11-day period, March 15-25, the Asian American festival will offer 128 films from 20 countries - but don't look for them at the festival's old home. Under its new name, the Sundance Kabuki 8 Theaters in Japantown will not be available in March - although assuring the SF International Film Festival for its run, April 26 - May 10.
And so the Asian American's 25th season will move to the AMC 1000 Van Ness, also using the Castro and Opera Plaza theaters. Other festival venues include Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, and San Jose's Cameras 12 Cinemas.
The figures are impressive, especially to those who still remember the festival's humble beginnings, and how off the American mainstream "Asian cinema" was in those days. It seems like there was a mere dozen of us around for the screening of Wayne Wang's "Chen Is Missing" back then; 29,000 attended last year's festival.
For the silver anniversary: 15 world premieres (including eight feature films), and 14 American premieres. In addition to more than 30 Chinese, Chinese-American, Hong Kong and Taiwan programs, there will be 28 Korean and Korean-American films, 20 Japanese and Japanese American works, 17 from South Asia, and 20 from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia. Also offered are music programs and live music performances; a documentary competition, revivals and special screenings.
And yet, as Festival Director Chi-hui Yang and Assistant Director Taro Goto rightly emphasized at the program-announcement press conference in Dolby Laboratories, the festival's significance far exceeds its screenings. Going back a quarter century, each Asian American festival brought together directors, actors, scholars, and audiences, further kindling interest, creating partnerships, and resulting in new works, often to be shown at subsequent festivals.
Opening night, in the Castro, offers Justin Lin's "Finishing the Game," a full-length comedy-adventure expansion of the 12 minutes of film left behind by Bruce Lee when he died in 1973.
Closing night, in the Palace of Fine Arts, offers New York-based Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng's first feature, "Dark Matter." With Liu Ye (the remarkable twice-incestuous prince in "Curse of the Golden Flower") and Meryl Streep in leading roles, the film deals with the efforts of a brilliant young Chinese science student in the U.S. to find the secrets of the universe-binding dark matter and of a new life far away from home.
A special treat for Bollywood enthusiasts: Aishwarya Rai, "world's most beautiful woman," stars in last year's remake of the 1981 classic, "Umrau Jaan." Rai is a brave woman: this story of the extremely troubled life of a courtesan ends "as her looks fade, the aging Umrao gains wisdom." Other than Meryl Streep (notably in the festival's "Dark Matter"), which Hollywood star would allow her large-screen display of fading looks?