Music, Sex, and Novelists: Saturday at the San Francisco International Film Festival

Here’s what I saw Saturday:

B+ Beats of the Antonov
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This documentary about the current Sudanese civil war starts with a plane dropping bombs on civilians—from the civilian’s point of view. Then, when the bombing is over, laughter breaks out on the soundtrack. In this situation, you need to find something to be happy about. They’re happy that no one was hurt.

Believe it or not, this is largely a movie about music–how it helps bring people together and increases morale. But it’s also a film about the need for multiculturalism. According to filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, the Arabs ruling the country want to force their language and their culture on everyone else–even on other Muslims. (Kuka makes it clear that not all Arabs feel that way, but the ones in power do.)

The film is didactic, and completely accepts the rebel’s idealism. But mostly it shows the resilience of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.

After the film, first-time director Kuka came onstage for Q&A. Some highlights:

  • "Music is the reason I made the film. It inspired me, and it’s better to make a film when you’re inspired."
  • "On the religion of the people in the film: Muslims are the majority. Then Christians, then other, although there are fewer other. You find the other rituals seeping into Islam and Christianity."
  • "In Nuba [the part of the Sudan where the film was shot], you’ll find Christians and Muslims in the same family. There’s total tolerance. It’s not acceptance, it’s tolerance. They don’t see a reason for thinking that way [opposing other religions]. That’s beautiful."
  • "On where the rebels’ weapons come from: "Its amazingly easy to fund an army in Africa…they’re getting help from people who love to fund African wars."

Unfortunately, I had to leave before the Q&A was over.

You have one more chance to see Beats of the Antonov at the festival. It’s screening Monday evening, 6:30, at the Pacific Film Archive.

B Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey
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First things first: The sex scenes are the best scenes in this relationship drama, set mostly on a freighter in the high seas. Alice (Ariane Labed), leaves her passionate lover behind as she often has to do. She’s a sailor, and the only woman in the Fidelio’s crew. She has some harassment troubles, but mainly she enjoys the attention. I think the movie is supposed to be about the difficulty of staying loyal to your lover when your job takes you away for long periods of time. But Alice doesn’t try that hard to be loyal.

There was no Q&A after the film.

I saw the final festival screening of Fidelio. However, it’s on the festival’s list of films likely to receive a theatrical release (which is why I wrote such a short review), so you might be able to see it eventually.

A The End of the Tour
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Every year, the festival designates one movie as its Centerpiece. It’s usually an upcoming Indiewood feature, often with recognizable stars. It screens the second Saturday night of the festival. Then there’s a party at some club.

This year, the Centerpiece was The End of the Tour. Because the film will get a theatrical release, I can only give you a one-paragraph review. Here it is:

Based on a true story about the meeting of two brilliant minds, this film provides something rare in movies–intellectual discussion. In 1996, journalist and budding novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent several days interviewing suddenly respected novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). They bond, sort of, but Lipsky wants access to Wallace’s private thoughts, and Wallace is reluctant to open up. Segel turns Wallace into a fascinating character–deeply troubled and, despite his fame, deeply insecure. Excellent film.

After the film, Segel, director James Ponsoldt, screenwriter Donald Margulies, and two other filmmakers whose names I didn’t get came onstage for Q&A. Some highlights:

  • Ponsoldt: "I had read Infinite Jest (Wallace’s breakout novel) in college. Everyone was trying to read it. It was four or five months of a really intense relationship. Even at my wedding, I had some of his writing read."
  • On creating a narrative film based on actual events: "If the audience had to know [the true story], then we failed. It’s a relationship story and a platonic love story…I don’t like biopics."
  • "I had a strong desire to not make it just be two smart guys talking to each other."
  • Segel on preparing for the part: "I tried to focus on the parts of me that are the same as him."

After the show, I went to the Centerpiece party at Monarch, a club on 6th St. and Mission. Despite some excellent lentil soup, I didn’t stay long. I needed my sleep.

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