Sunday at the San Francisco International Film Festival

I caught two movies Sunday at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

B Cameraperson

I caught this one at the Victoria Theatre.

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has been shooting documentaries for decades. The films she’s lensed include Citizenfour and Farenheit 911. Now she’s gathered much of what she shot, including home movies, into a montage of her career and–to a lesser extent–of her private life. The film’s best when it puts human faces into the far-too-many horrible atrocities of recent history, and when they remind us that a human being is behind the camera–there’s a great moment when Johnson sneezes and the camera shakes. Often fascinating and moving, but sometimes repetitive and dull.

Johnson wasn’t available to attend the screening, but her long-time sound recorder, Wellington Bowler, and the film’s editor, Nels Bangerter, came onstage for Q&A with the audience.

Some highlights:

  • Before the screening, sound recordist Wellington came up to introduce the film. Someone in the audience had to yell “Speak into the mic!” He smiled, moved the microphone closer to lips, and confessed “I should know that.”
  • Bangerter on their working relationship: Wellington and Kristen have worked together for 20 years. When this film came to me it was several films. She had a pile of hard drives she’d collected with materials that she shot.
  • On shooting documentaries in places you don’t know well: We learned so much from drivers. The drivers gave us the narrative of what happened up to the very first day.
  • Kristen was interested in people knowing that she’s shooting.
  • If she sees a baby, she shoots the baby.

Cameraperson will screen again Tuesday, May 3, 8:30, at the New Mission. The picture is on the Festival’s Hold Review list, which means it has a good chance of getting a theatrical release.

D- Suite Armoricaine

I caught this one at the New Mission‘s big Theater 1.

What’s worse than a slow, aimless character study with characters who are not worth studying? One that runs more than two and a half hours.

Suite Armoricaine follows a schoolyear in the life of two people. At first, they seem reasonably interesting. Françoise, an art historian, returns to her Brittany roots and starts teaching at the University of Rennes. She’s separating herself emotionally from the boyfriend she left behind in Paris. She’s also reconnecting with friends from her wilder youth.

Ion, a new student, seems a far more interesting character. He’s been raised by foster parents, and seems to be hiding something in his past. Then his homeless mother, whom he thought was dead, moves into his dorm room and brings her friends with her, turning his room into an impossible mess.

Does he call the campus police? Does he move into his girlfriend’s dorm? No. (He has a wonderful, blind girlfriend. Their relationship is the best thing in the movie.) He gives up the room and becomes homeless himself, living basically in the library. That’s when I lost most of my interest in Ion.

For the last 45 minutes or so, I kept hoping for a fadeout. When it finally happened, I was vastly relieved.

I did not stay for the Q&A with writer/director Pascale Breton.

This is the last screening of Suite Armoricaine at the festival. It will probably not get released in this country. Consider that a blessing.