Laura Dern, Claire Denis, Claude Jarman, and John C. Reilly at the SFFILM Festival

The San Francisco International Film Festival, now also named SFFILM, opens Wednesday, April 10 with Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. No, it’s not a remake; it’s a sequel to the PBS series of the 1980s, based on Maupin’s serialized novels. And yes, it has Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, and other veterans of the show playing older and wiser versions of their characters. The event will screen the first episode of this Netflix series, and a preview of coming attractions.

It will close Tuesday, April 23 with something called Mothers’ Instinct, which is kind of strange because the “official” Closing Night Film, Official Secrets, screens two days earlier. But Official Secrets looks fascinating. Based on a true story, Keira Knightley stars as a whistleblower in the runup to the Iraq War. Her moral act gets her charged for treason.

Official Secret

Overall there will be 163 films, 90 of them feature-length. The films come from 52 countries and are in 36 languages. 72 were directed (or co-directed) by women. 300 filmmakers and industry guests are expected to attend.

A handful of those guests will receive tributes for past and recent work. Laura Dern will be honored with a talk and a screening of her latest film, Trial by Fire. Claire Denis will do the same, screening her new film, High Life. John C. Reilly doesn’t have a new film to show us, but for his tribute, the Festival will show 2018’s The Sisters Brothers. Of course Laura Linney will be on hand for Tales of the City, but she has her own tribute, which will include a screening of 2007’s The Savages.

And then there are the awards. Former child actor Claude Jarman, Jr. receives the George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award, with a screening of the 1949 race drama Intruder in the Dust. The Persistence of Vision Award goes to civil-rights era documentarian Madeline Anderson. Along with the discussion, the event will screen two of her short films, Integration 1 and I Am Somebody.

The Savages

The Mel Novikoff Award is supposed to go to a person or institution that “has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema.” In the past, this meant someone who has helped others find a love of classic cinema. But this year, it’s going to BBC Arena, a British series of documentaries that may help people understand the world around them; but I doubt they’ll make them love classic cinema. The feature to be screened: Wisconsin Death Trip.

Yes, the festival is showing a considerable amount of content intended for television. This isn’t new. The screened the pilot for Twin Peaks back in the ’90s.

Boots Riley became an important filmmaker last year thanks to SFFILM. This year, he gives the State of Cinema Address. That should be interesting.

And speaking of things that should be interesting, here are some films I haven’t yet seen but intrigue me. Almost all are documentaries.

Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America: Tom Shepard’s documentary about LGBTQ refugees hoping to find a safe haven in America.

Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America

Echo in the Canyon: A documentary about music in Laurel Canyon in the ’60s. Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) apparently gets center stage. Those performing or interviewed include Fiona Apple, Beck, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, and Tom Petty. The screening will be followed by a live performance.

Midnight Family: In Mexico City, a family survives by running their own, private, ambulance service.

The Sound of Silence: Finally, a narrative instead of a doc, and yet another movie named from a Paul Simon song. Peter Sarsgaard plays a man who tunes your New York apartment so that the ambient noise can make you happy.

I don’t know yet which of these movies are worth seeing. I’ll be sending you previews of upcoming films over the next few weeks.

Midnight Family

One thought on “Laura Dern, Claire Denis, Claude Jarman, and John C. Reilly at the SFFILM Festival

  1. It’s true that quite a few (the vast majority, perhaps) of the prior Mel Novikoff Award recipients are best known for increasing “classic” cinema appreciation, as you put it. But quite a few recipients aren’t known _just_ for that: Roger Ebert, Jim Hoberman, San Francisco Cinematheque, etc.

    At any rate, BBC Arena has produced and/or shown documentaries about Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Kenneth Anger, John Cassavetes, Hedy Lamarr, Clint Eastwood, Nicholas Roeg, Peter Sellers, Dirk Bogarde, Ingmar Bergman, and more individuals that many would consider important to “classic” cinema.

    I haven’t seen Wisconsin Death Trip but I’ve wanted to for years.

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