The 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.
The Festival really snuck up on me this year. It used to start at the end of April and end in early May. The dates this year are April 4-17. I got off to a slow start and missed the members Preview Night at The Castro.
This would be my fourteenth San Francisco International Film Festival. We got to The Castro in plenty of time for the Opening Night hoopla. It was great to see many familiar Film Festival faces. Terry Hagerty entertained the early arrivals on The Castro Theater organ.
The Opening Night film was A Kid Named Jake. Director: Silas Howard. Claire Danes is Alex. Her husband is Jim Parsons of The Bigger Bang Theory sitcom fame. Their son Jake is about five. Jake loves to play dress up and prefers toys with a princess theme. He’s a bit obsessed with Cinderella and My Little Mermaid. What will happen to him if he attends a public school in New York? He’s already being teased by preschool classmates.
A friend in education (Octavia Spencer) suggests they mention Jakes’ special interests when applying to private schools. She says it will help him get into a private school. They’re hesitant to take advantage of their son’s special interests.
Have to hand it to Jim Parsons. It didn’t take long to forget he’s Sheldon from The Bigger Bang Theory. A light PC comedy. Entertaining. Perfect choice for Opening Night in San Francisco.
The Opening Party was at the San Francisco Design Center Galleria. This was the site of my first Opening Party. It was all a new world to me back then.
I have fond memories of that night. The entertainment was a Burlesque show. The return of Burlesque was a bit of a fad at the time. There was plenty of free food and drink. A beautiful woman walked up to me in the smoking area, “You don’t belong here.” She meant it as a compliment. She didn’t like the film crowd and told me her life story. She was a little smashed. Later I saw her on stage singing a very suggestive vamp song. It was quite a start for me at the Film Festival.
The Galleria is an odd combination of old warehouse and modern party venue. Most of the building is old red brick like nearby San Francisco warehouses. A large balcony wraps around a courtyard. Sponsors offered great food and drink. Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers entertained us from the large stage on the ground floor. Her veteran band plays vintage Blues, Jazz and Swing songs. They’re songs from the past with some bite.
I’m working the Schools At the Festival (SAF) program again this year. My first shift was at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (SFMOMA) The Festival has had events there in the past, but it will be using SFMOMA more this year.
One of the volunteers commented, “This is our family for two weeks.” She admits that, “It’s corny, but it’s true!” There’s still a lot of camaraderie!
Grammar school students came to see Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Director Benjamin Ritter came for the Q&A and drew some pictures using an overhead projector. Ritter is asked how he got started: “When I was young, I wanted to be Batman. Then I realized I would have to be rich to do that.”
The kids are great. There’s no filter. They say what’s on their mind. A question to a kid during the Q&A: “What does a director do?” After a brief pause: “He fires people!”
The next day is the first big SAF screening at The Castro. 1100 grammar school kids for Wonder starring Julia Roberts. Owen Wilson. Jacob Tremblay. A perfect film for the kids to see. They’re loud on the way in and out, but once the film starts they’re transfixed.
I try to see films after my shift. The schedules make what I see a matter of chance. This has worked for me. I’ve seen some great stuff over the years. The Festival is more spread out, but there are three venues close to each other downtown: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (SFMOMA.) The Creativity Center. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room. If there’s any hub or center to the Festival, this is it. The Festival Lounge is nearby. These are all around The Moscone Center. About half of the convention center is under construction. It’s interesting to see the place being transformed. My big fear is that I’ll show up for a shift somewhere and learn that it’s somewhere else.
The Creativity Center is next to the Children’s Museum. They’re both behind the Looft Merry Go Round near Fourth and Howard. It’s an odd part of San Francisco that many locals aren’t even aware of. The area is not visible from the street. There’s a children’s playground, an ice rink and a bowling alley back there!
I see My Life With James Dean there. Director: Dominique Choisy. The film doesn’t have much to do with James Dean. A young film maker brings his experimental film to a festival in a French resort town in Normandy. It’s a film festival within the Film Festival. The projectionist falls in love with his film and its director.
His experimental film doesn’t cause much buzz. “How many tonight?” “Two.” Later someone buys most of the tickets to create a sellout. There’s a nod to old slapstick comedy with a pedestrian chase scene. The characters can’t resist following and snooping on each other.
Saturday. 4/7. I have to return to the real world for an auction. Then it’s all Film Festival for two weeks. I go to the Creativity Center for The Winter Brothers. Iceland. Directed by Hlynur Palmason. Programmer Rod Armstrong says that after a short absence there are more films from Iceland this year. He’s not sure if this was because of a spike in production or just a coincidence. He tells us about Carcasse and suggests we see other films that are: “for the adventurous... I know you’re out there.”
We get to see life in “an industrial compound.” About a third of the film is shot inside some kind of mine. The beginning of the film is only lit by the light beams from the workers helmets. It looks like an experimental art film for about twenty minutes. I’m not sure what they’re mining. Both below and above ground white dust coats everything. It doesn’t look healthy.
Two brothers have been making and selling moonshine to their fellow employees. One of the brothers is eccentric. It looks like life in the compound is causing him to crack up. A chronic colleague quickly drinks a whole bottle of their concoction. You’re not supposed to do that! He gets ill and eventually dies. The other miners blame the brothers, especially the eccentric one.
We’re treated to scenes of monotonous work. There doesn’t seem to be many recreational activities available to the workers. There is one woman in the entire film.
Film Festival audiences still amaze me. The film had beautiful moments and it was a look at another world, but sometimes it was hard to watch. The audience is silent. Very few leave the theater even to take a bathroom break.
Sunday 4/8. It’s a day off. I’ll go with Joan to the Dolby Sound Laboratory to see Gauguin. The Festival had some screenings there last year, but I couldn’t get tickets. I was stunned when I was able to get these tickets online.
The Dolby really is a laboratory. There is no eating or drinking in the theater. Screenings with public access are rare. It’s on Market Street near Ninth. This is an area that has shown a little improvement, but the neighborhood still has its problems. Security at The Dolby was tight. They were certainly watching who came through the doors.
“Here for the Film Festival?” We were guided into a larger lobby. We’re kept in a cordoned off waiting area. There’s no wandering. The building is new and it’s very, very steel and glass.
We were allowed into the theater in small groups. There is a set of double doors before the theater. The two doors form an airlock. No outside sound will leak in! The theater holds 230. I usually wind up seeing films in older theaters in San Francisco, but I do get to the Kabuki occasionally and recently saw Star Wars at The Metreon. The Metreon is still impressive, but The Dolby Sound Laboratory was another level.
There was a short announcement welcoming us and explaining the motion activated doors. We were treated to a short trailer that demonstrated the theater’s screen and sound. It was mind boggling. Gaguin is a great film to see here. Most of it was shot in Tahiti, “There’s no CGI.” Shooting on location is becoming a rarity.
Gauguin tries to get a group of his fellow artists to leave Paris and go to Tahiti. There would be no distractions there. “You don’t need money in Tahiti!” His fellow artists aren’t as eager to leave Paris, even for an island paradise.
His wife and five children come to live with him in his small, Bohemian room. “Mama, it stinks!” His wife informs him that they’re not going with him on his life adventure.
He arrives in Tahiti alone. Things seem to be going well at first. His agent does sell some paintings and the money goes a lot farther in Tahiti. After a while his paintings stop selling in Paris. It turns out you do need money in Tahiti. He looks like some kind of nut for leaving Paris. He works loading boats to survive.
The film is “semi-fictionalized.” Maybe it adds some kind of drama to the story, but wasn’t his life crazy enough? Gauguin had some hard times in Tahiti, but he was better off there than the film shows.
Gaguin passes out. He’s had a heart attack. When he gets himself out of the hospital he packs a mule and heads out into the jungle. The doctor tries to stop him, but Gauguin must see the Taratora water falls.
He falls in with a local tribe. They’re friendly and invite this strange, hairy beast into their home. They feed him. Suddenly they ask, “Are you looking for a wife?” Destiny has brought him around the world to meet the young and beautiful Tehura. It all makes sense now. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why Tehura agrees to marry this odd man from a strange land. She does have a choice. He’s not looking that great at this point.
We get to see Gaguin paint on the big screen. Tehura poses for paintings that will become iconic masterpieces. There are close ups of the canvas and his palette. Color is flying all over the screen.
The sound is, of course, unbelievable. In one scene they’re huddled in a hut while it’s raining. Gaugin paints. They talk. The storm is getting heavier. We can hear the rain pattering on the thatched roof. There’s thunder in the background. It gets louder. The storm is getting closer. The sound of the thunder does seem to be coming from a real storm that is outside the theater.
A great cinematic experience. Hope I can get into this venue again!
Monday. 4/9. Schools At the Festival screening at SFMOMA. I don’t get to watch much of the films during school screenings, but I did get to see some scenes from Chef Flynn. Director Cameron Yates. Flynn grew up in the East Bay and got media attention as a precocious thirteen year old chef. He appears on Larry King and other talk shows.
Chef Flynn is at the Q&A. He’s trying to open his own restaurant in New York. He’s nineteen now. He has flown out from New York and will make a return trip in twenty-four hours!
After my shift I stay at the SFMOMA to see Claire’s Camera. Director: Hong Sangsoo. Three Koreans who work in the film industry are in Cannes for the film festival. It’s another film festival within the Film Festival. A young woman (Kim Minhee) is being fired for “being dishonest.” It may have more to do with her boss’s affair with The Director, So Wansoo. (Jung Jin-Young) The producer suspects that the young woman has already made it with the director. The young woman decides to stay in Cannes for a while.
The director likes to drink. A lot! There is simple direct dialogue on life and love. The table gets covered in empty bottles and glasses. The Director tries to end the relationship with the producer/boss.
Claire (Isabel Huppert) carries her camera constantly and takes pictures. It’s some kind of Polaroid, so she can offer people copies of the photos on the spot. “Would you like a photo?” She meets the younger Korean woman and they hit it off. It’s a nice comedy with great shots of Cannes, but I was still thinking about Gaguin.
Wednesday. Creativity Center. An SAF screening. The first film is Un Traducto. Director Rodrigo Barriuso talks to the students.
The second film is RBG, a documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Things were quiet so I saw most of it. It’s a CNN production and will be broadcast on CNN. Ginsberg was one of the first to fight for women’s equality in the work place. She is one feisty woman. Ginsberg was very driven. Her husband had to badger her to come home for food and rest.
Director Julie Cohen talked about how hard it was to get Ginsberg to agree to let them shoot a documentary on her. They were allowed to film the courtroom, but there can be no filming of the Supreme Court in session. Cohen said Ginsberg has a unique sense of humor. She has an odd little laugh. There are scenes of her with an improbable friend in conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scaduto. Clinton talks about appointing her. A great look at an amazing woman.
Thursday 4/12. Two SAF screenings at The Castro. The second program is Shorts made by student filmmakers. The kids are excited to have a day off to go to the movies! When they leave after the screening they’re usually ready to blow off some steam. It was louder than some of the Rock shows I’ve worked at The Masonic!
After my shift I walk to The Roxie to see Ravens. Sweden. Director: Jens Assur. Life on the farm in the remote northern parts of Sweden. Opens with great, but bleak, winter scenes. A small, colorful songbird is caught in a net. Snow and ice swirl around the motionless bird. We see the rest of the farm covered in snow.
It’s a small family. Father, wife, two sons. The father is killing himself trying to run the farm. He’s literally shoveling shit. The older son is a teenager. He’s a birder. A bird watcher. He’s losing interest in living on the farm. Could bird watching get him off the farm? Mother tries to be loyal, but she’s frustrated.
There’s a way out. A corporation wants to buy the farm and modernize it, but the Father stubbornly refuses. He wants to preserve the family farm and way of life.
Father shows the older son a scrapbook of old family photos. “And here’s your grandfather right before he drowned himself.” The wife tries to please her husband, but he can’t respond. Eventually she turns to a neighbor for some attention.
While the wife and kids are away on a short vacation, Father has a psychotic break. He shoots some ravens, but then he shoots most of the cattle. He’s taken away somewhere for a rest. He does return and things seem to return to normal.
Director Jens Assur is here for the Q&A. He says the film was set in 1978 for a reason. There was a move to take over and modernize farms then. He admits the ending is ambiguous. It’s up to us to decide the ending. What have we learned here? “Don’t live on a Swedish farm.”
On Saturday I work “College Days” at the Creativity Center. They see The Sower which looks and sounds very interesting. It’s France in the 1700s. All the males in a French town are arrested for sedition. What will the women do? Maybe The Sower can help. I only got to see a few scenes and hope to see the rest of this one. The second film is Hale County This Morning, This Evening. Former SF Film Festival programmer Sean Uyehara comes back for a Q& A with the director, RaMell Ross.
I get to see Carcasse at the nearby Yerba Buena Screening Room. It’s a small room. Capacity 89. For the hard core Festival patron a film like this is what the festival is all about.
First we see a short from the Netherlands, The Art of Flying. Director: Jan Van Ijken. Seven minutes. It’s black and white. No dialogue. A large flock of starlings fly in patterns. The patterns are known as murmurations. Scientists are puzzled by how and why birds do this. Sometimes it looks like the whole flock is acting as one organism. Like the flock has one central brain. There is an art to it.
Carcasse. Director Gustav Geir Bollason. Iceland. Black and white.
A bleak frozen landscape. There are humans, but they are so bundled up in furs that they look like post Apocalyptic cave dwellers. We can’t see their faces at first. It looks like they’re struggling to survive. Abandoned items are put to new uses. They use discards from a military base in novel ways. A rusting discarded airplane has become a barn. Goats and other animals huddle inside the abandoned plane for shelter.
What looks like the shells of Volkswagens are converted into carts. The carts are drawn by goats. It looks like it would be easier to walk. The natives sometimes look frantic. They race around abandoned buildings and radio towers. Maybe they just want to get out of the cold. The quickly edited scenes in black and white reminded me of old newsreels of the first polar explorers. We see a husband and wife hand roll some kind of mystery meat into what looks like tobacco leaves. It certainly doesn’t look appetizing.
There’s not much dialogue. Strange concoctions are made and injected into dead animals. If there’s any plot this might be it. The program asks: “Is this the first science-fiction documentary?”
It is a challenge to watch. It takes a different mind set. The film was intriguing. Mysterious. What are they doing? I knew it was only an hour long. The director was there for the Q&A and I was hoping there would be some answers.
Director Gustav Geir Bollason is very soft spoken. He did have some answers. Carcasse was filmed on the site of a former U.S. military base in Iceland. The director created the cart contraptions, but he said that locals did improvise and use materials left behind at the base.
The director was friendly, but he talked too quietly and wouldn’t speak into the mike, even after being asked to a couple of times. Some of his answers were lost. It added to the puzzle. I think this was the world premiere for his film.
Would I have watched this if it wasn’t a Festival film? If I was at home watching TV? It did have its own unique hook and aroused curiosity. Only one person left the theater during the film, but I heard a couple of Film Festival veterans comment: “This will never be released in the U.S.”
The Festival is still amazing. I see only a small slice of it. I make myself as available as possible, but sometimes real life interferes. There were events I missed: The Kronos Quartet. The Robin William documentary at The Castro, which looked like a real San Francisco event. Joan Jett at the Castro. I’ve learned the live music events are always worth it. Even the most hard core Festival attendees miss something they want to see.