The Big Five-Oh

Spike Lee
Courtesy San Francisco International Film Festival

Since you’re type of person who reads, you probably already know that the San Francisco International Film Festival opens on Thursday, April 26 and runs two weeks and a day, closing Thursday, May 10. You also probably know that this year represents SFIFF’s 50th anniversary, and that SFIFF is the first North American film festival to reach this watermark. And you may have heard that the Festival is giving life-achievement awards to George Lucas, Robin Williams, Spike Lee, and screenwriter Peter Morgan. If you’re really on top of things, you might even know that Peter Morgan wrote The Queen and The Last King of Scotland (although I’d be very surprised if you’d heard of him a year ago).

And if you didn’t already know all that, you do now.

So I’ll tell you a few things about the festival that you probably don’t know.

There will be a number of presentations in three “Spotlight” categories. Cinema by the Bay will focus on local filmmakers, KinoTek will examine how technology is changing the art and business of movies–specifically at the low-cost end, and the Late Show will scare us with horror films from around the world.

Theater and opera director Peter Sellars will give this year’s State of the Cinema speech.

They’ve added a couple of new awards, this year. The Midnight Awards go to young actors making daring and interesting career choices. This year, Rosario Dawson and Sam Rockwell become the first honorees in a late-night ceremony on Saturday, April 28.

Kevin Brownlow
Courtesy San Francisco International Film Festival

The festival made an excellent choice in handing out its Mel Novikoff Award, intended for those “whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema.” It goes this year to Kevin Brownlow–a name well-loved by those who care about silent films. Brownlow has been preserving silent films and educating people about them for more years than silent films were being made. Brownlow will receive his award at the Castro on Saturday, April 28, 2:00, in a ceremony including a screening of Douglas Fairbanks’ The Iron Mask. Other Brownlow-oriented events include Brownlow’s documentary Cecil B. De Mille – American Epic later that night at the Kabuki, and an Introduction to Silents presented by the recipient himself (Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, April 29, 5:30).

Surprisingly, the Iron Mask presentation will have recorded, not live, music. But there’ll be plenty of other live music at the festival–not all of it for classics. Guy Maddin’s very recent Brand upon the Brain will screen with an 11-piece ensemble, foley artists providing live sound effects, and narration by Joan Chen. Jonathan Richman will perform his own score for the 1921 Swedish horror film The Phantom Carriage.

I’m setting aside an much time as I can spare for the festival, and will do my best to keep you informed on what you should see and what you missed.