This Year’s San Francisco International Film Festival

This has been a tough year for the San Francisco Film Society, the organization that produces the San Francisco International Film Festival. In August, Executive Director Graham Leggat died of cancer. Then his successor, Bingham Ray, suddenly died in January.

But that’s not stopping the Society from putting on a festival this year, and making it a celebration rather than a dirge. The 55th annual San Francisco International Film Festival will run April 19 through May 3 at the Kabuki, the Castro, the Pacific Film Archive, and the Film Society’s own New People Cinema. Most screenings will be at the Kabuki.

Opening night will be a tribute to Leggat–who really did do a superb job running the Society. The night kicks off with a screening at the Castro of Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen, set in Versailles during the French Revolution. Having just been overwhelmed by Napoleon, this somehow seems appropriate. After the movie, partying will start at the Terra Gallery.

Ray never had the chance to be as important to the Society as Leggat, so his honor isn’t as big a deal. But it almost certainly involves a better movie. In his memory, the Festival will screen The Third Man at the Castro on the 28th.

This year, the Festival gives its Founder’s Directing Award goes to Kenneth Branagh, while the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting goes to David Webb Peoples (Bladerunner, Unforgiven). Documentarian Barbara Kopple deservedly receives the Persistence of Vision Award.

A few other notable events and trends:

  • The Centerpiece movie will be Your Sister’s Sister, written and directed by Lynn Shelton and starring Emily Blunt.
  • Director of Programming  Rachel Rosen insists that the Festival doesn’t intentionally create "spotlights"–series of films on a similar theme. But sometimes they just happen. This year, they have "Filming between the lines," films from literature. The three films spotlighted are Bonsái, Oslo, and Patience (After Sebald).
  • They have another spotlight that they appear not to have noticed: Film versions of Peter Townsend rock operas. To honor Ken Russell’s career, they’re screening Tommy in a late-night event hosted by Peaches Christ. But they’re also showing Quadrophenia.
  • In the Festival’s tradition of linking locally-respected musicians with silent films, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs will play for four Buster Keaton Shorts. You’ll find my thoughts on this event here.
  • And while we’re talking about music, the festival will close with the documentary Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey.