Alex Gibney, Steve Jobs, and opening night for the San Francisco International Film Festival

The San Francisco International Film Festival opened last night with a mercifully short introduction, an excellent film, and a short but interesting Q&A.

But the night started off on the wrong foot. When we entered the Castro, we found that almost all of the seats were "Reserved." Only the front three and back five rows were available to people without proper status..

This didn’t bother me too much; the third row is fine for me. But the man sitting next to me was justifiably angry. He had paid $1400 for a CineVisa pass, he came early to get a good seat, and he was shunted to a row that was too close for him.

Film festival opening nights are notorious for getting off to a late start, but this one was reasonably prompt. The show was scheduled to start at 7:00, and at 7:10, the organist broke into "San Francisco." (Night shows at the Castro usually begin with an organ concert, always ending with "San Francisco.") That was followed by this year’s trailer, which was okay, except that I know I’ll be sick of it soon.

Then came the talks–all mercifully short. First up, Executive Director Noah Cowan, then  Director of Programming Rachel Rosen. And then the director of the night’s film, Alex Gibney.

The movie started at 7:24. Not bad.

The film, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, will get a theatrical release in September, so I’m not allowed to write a lot about it now. So I’ll just write this:

A Director Alex Gibney starts this multifaceted documentary with a difficult question: Why did so many people who never met Steve Jobs mourn so deeply his death? Jobs was brilliant, mercurial, and charismatic. He made technology friendly for the average person, and significantly changed the world. But he was also a jerk that cheated friends, let his daughter grow up on welfare while he became incredibly wealthy, and parked his sports car in handicap spaces.  Gibney offers us an excellent, no-holds-barred, yet empathetic biography of a man utterly lacking in empathy.

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The movie was followed by a short Q&A with Gibney, with Rosen asking the first few questions, then moderating questions from the audience. A few highlights:

  • On choosing the subjects for this and other films: "I don’t know. This was something that was just rattling around in my head. I didn’t know where this journey was going to take me."
  • Apple’s response to a request to cooperate with the filmmakers: "They said they didn’t have the resources to help me with this film."
  • On some of his choices for film subjects: "I’m interested in power. Maybe I’m attuned to powerful people who abuse their power."
  • On Bill Gates: "Jobs had a very interesting relationship with Bill. Someone should make a movie about that."
  • Job’s "great talent was his ability to introduce us and create a relationship between us and computers."
  • On his skill as an interviewer: "I’m more like Columbo than Sherlock Holmes. You have to have empathy for the person you’re interviewing, and let them tell the story as they want it."
  • On the large number of films he’s put out recently: "I’m making up for lost time. I’ve made some films that were successful [which results in easier funding]. Also, if you surround yourself with really talented people it’s amazing how efficient you become."

There was a party after the show, but I didn’t attend. I needed my sleep.

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