By Don Simpson | April 20, 2011
Founded in 1957, the San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in the United States. Featuring nearly 200 films and live events with more than 200 filmmakers and industry guests in attendance and nearly two dozen awards presented for cinematic excellence, SFIFF is one of the most important events in the Bay Area’s cultural calendar and an important stop on the international festival circuit. More than 75,000 filmgoers attended SFIFF in 2010, and the 54th annual festival — which runs April 21st thru May 5th — will certainly attract impressive attendance numbers as well.
Smells Like Screen Spirit loves San Francisco almost as much as we love cinema, so we are proud to have this opportunity to provide our readers with our thoughts on a heaping spoonful of the great films screening at SFIFF 2011…
With a unique merging of fact and fiction, The Arbor is able to reconstruct the pain and struggle within Dunbar’s work as well as reveal the dour consequences her life choices had on her family. Barnard’s stylistic choice of having her actors confide in the camera (therefore the audience) is a purposeful cinematic devise to add more hyper to the hyper-reality by bringing more self-consciousness into the mix.
Attenberg is certainly not as fantastically absurd as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, which Tsangari produced, but the two Greek films do share a certain cinematic kinship in farcically discussing the effects of overly restrictive parenting, specifically related to the social and sexual repression of the offspring. One might say that Attenberg is like the mellow chaser used to calm the crazy rush after experiencing the sheer frenzy of Dogtooth, but it is certainly no less meaningful and pervasive.
Better This World represents how conservative America’s post-9/11 War on Terror went terribly awry, ripping away the civil liberties of American citizens and instantly squashing any form of political dissent. The line between protesters and terrorists was blurred, as was the definition of terrorism. (I am using the past tense, but I would argue that this is still true in the present tense as well.) The question remains: Should the FBI be permitted to punish “radicals” (“protesters”? “terrorists”?) who were recruited and trained by FBI informants?
Olsson’s Mixtape views the Black Power movement via the kino eye of Swedish filmmakers — outsiders philosophizing about the state de la démocratie en Amérique. One would assume that these white as driven snow foreign journalists probably had a difficult time immersing themselves into the black as midnight as a moonless night sub-culture, but the resulting footage reveals a deeply entrenched kinship and trust between the filmmakers and their subjects. The outsider perspective lends a very unique advantage to the footage; though we can all but prove the journalists’ allegiance to the Black Power movement, the footage is still significantly less culturally biased than film shot by a member of the Black Power movement.
Bagnall (who co-wrote Buffalo ‘66 with Vincent Gallo) takes a fairly extreme risk allowing Gerwig to portray Rose’s turmoil and anguish with intense sincerity during some scenes while playing the same emotions for comedic affect in other scenes. Bagnall also reveals a real (or reel) knack for never allowing The Dish and the Spoon to veer too far into the realm of overly precious tweeness. Recalling Blue Valentine, an all-so-cute song and dance scene is one of the lighthearted highlights of an otherwise emotionally emancipating film. The Dish and the Spoon is incredibly sincere and brutally honest in its portrayal of the highs and lows of relationships — especially in its representation of the rage and sadness that are closely associated with romance.
Following up on her near brilliant directorial debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, writer-director Miranda July takes The Future to some new and fascinating places. The Future, unlike Me and You and Everyone We Know, dives deep into a world that mixes magical realism (the talking cat, Jason’s ability to stop time, etc.) with surrealism. She may have felt somewhat confined to cinematic conventions in Me and You and Everyone We Know; but with The Future, July expresses a uniquely personal freedom of expression. As psychologically cerebral as The Future seems, it is the work of unadulterated eye candy as well, with its luscious color palate, keen fashion eye, and wondrously theatrical scenes of performance art.
Nawal’s life as a Christian living in the Middle East is marred by tragedy: she witnesses the murder of her unborn child’s father at the hands of her own family; she gives birth to the child, whom she then has to abandon immediately; she is the lone survivor after a bus of Muslim women is shot up and burned by Christian nationalists (who flaunt images of the Virgin Mary on their machine guns – oh, the irony); she assassinates her homeland’s Christian nationalist leader; she endures endless rapings, by the same prison guard, while incarcerated in prison.
Marathon Boy began in 2005 as a curiosity study focusing on Singh’s relationship with Das; but after five years of filming, the story develops into something significantly larger. Atwal finds herself in the middle of a controversy that escalates exponentially each and every frame. This Dickensian tale translates directly to the fanatical exploitation of young children in Western cultures. Be it music, athletics, modeling or acting, children’s parents plop their kids into seriously (and stressfully) competitive situations at what often seems like far too early of an age. It is one thing when the children choose that way of life, but another when adults force it upon them. (It also begs the questions: At what age do human beings become rational enough to be able to make that kind of decision? And until that rationality is developed, what decisions should guardians be allowed to make for the children they are responsible for?) Soon the kids are generating more income than their parents, yet where their income is going often becomes questionable. Of course, if there is one thing to take away from Marathon Boy, the debate is not quite as black and white as it would seem…
Filmmakers tend to forget that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium, and they rely on the crutch of dialogue rather than images to convey messages; but in this purely visual experience, Reichardt chooses not to explain anything. There are no concrete facts, everything that we are to take away from this film is purely left up to our interpretation of the images. The conclusion is a prefect example of just how far Reichardt will go in order to avoid conveying any absolutes. Nothing is resolved as Reichardt cleverly (though probably frustratingly for many viewers) leaves all of the film’s fundamental questions dangling in the arid Oregonian air.
Morris is documentarian, but first and foremost he is an entertainer. No matter how serious his subject, Morris has proved time and time again that he possesses an obvious knack for comedic timing and punctuation — as with the flashes of words like “Spread-eagle!” and “Barking mad!” on screen in order to further accentuate his interviewee’s verbal flourishes. His other strong suit is his utilization of humorous archival material, which often features quirky film clips from the 1950s and 60s. In Tabloid, Morris utilizes clips from The God Makers (1982), an animated film that takes a highly critical view of the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
13 Assassins is an unexpectedly mature and profound film for the incredibly prolific Miike, and truth be told, I never thought I would compare Akira Kurosawa with Takashi Miike. They have both traditionally been polar opposites for me: Kurosawa the formal master and Miike the guilty pleasure. Suddenly, with 13 Assassins, the two worlds have collided. 13 Assassins is dramatically more violent than anything Kurosawa ever created; but otherwise, 13 Assassins could very well be a remake of Seven Samurai.
The Troll Hunter has the shocking audacity to take its entire premise seriously, and that is precisely why it succeeds. Unlike most found footage films, Øvredal has the wherewithal to stay true to the film’s first person perspective, never once falling back on establishing shots or relying upon footage that could have never been photographed by the protagonists. The found footage is obviously edited — whittled down from the purported 283 hours of source material — thus allowing for the pacing to be streamlined. It is also readily apparent that Øvredal concentrated on the quality of the special effects, making The Troll Hunter a surprisingly well-produced addition to the found footage genre.