Richard Gere, Guillermo del Toro, and the rest of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival

This year’s San Francisco International Film Festival officially launched at a San Francisco press conference Tuesday morning. It opens Thursday, April 23 with Alex Gibney’s tech documentary, Steve Jobs: the Man In the Machine. Two Thursdays later, on May 7, it will close with Experimenter, a history-based drama about psychologist Stanley Milgram, who did some horrifying experiments in his day.

Oddly enough, the Centerpiece film on May 2 sounds like it would make a better closing nighter. It’s called The End of the Tour.

Including those three, the festival will run 102 feature films–including 35 documentaries–and 79 shorts. There will also be talks, master classes, live music, and Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno Live (don’t get your hopes up–or your organs; it’s about animals).

And, of course, there will be the various awards:

  • The Irving M. Levin Directing Award (or as I prefer to call it, the award formerly named for Akira Kurosawa) goes to Guillermo Del Toro. They’ll screen his 2001 film, The Devil’s Backbone.
  • The Mel Novikoff Award, which honors those who help keep love of cinema alive, goes to Lenny Borger. I hadn’t heard of him either. He translates French dialog into English subtitles, and he finds and restores lost and mostly forgotten films. These include Monte-Cristo, the 1929 silent adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel that the festival will screen.
  • The Peter J. Owens Award for life achievement in acting goes to Richard Gere. The festival will screen Time Out of Mind.
  • As I write this, the Festival hasn’t picked a winner for the Kanbar Award, which is now an award for story-telling, not screenwriting. What’s the difference? It can now include the writer/producers who oversee long-form television stories.
  • This year, special effects wizard and sometimes director Douglas Trumbull will give the State of the Cinema address.

Among the music events, I’m most interested in Kronos Quartet Beyond Zero: 1914-1918. The famed (and local) quartet will accompany a new film by Bill Morrison, put together from World War 1 newsreel footage. Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov wrote the score.

But not everything is a special presentation. Here are some regular movies that look promising:

  • Mr. Holmes: Believe it or not, someone has found another approach to Sherlock Holmes. This time around, Sir Ian McKellen plans an aging, retired detective.
  • Best of Enemies: Televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. from 1968.
  • The Postman’s White Nights: Set in rural, northern Russia, this leisurely story looks at small town life at the edge of the world.
  • Of Men and War: A documentary about veterans and the psychological wounds of combat.
  • 54: the Director’s Cut: The restored, original cut of Mark Christopher’s story of the famous club.

As I write this, I haven’t seen a single film on the menu–even the revivals. But I hope to preview some beforehand, and see more of them at the festival itself. I’ll keep you informed.