by Ryland Walker Knight
— "landscapes and mindscapes"
One of the funny things about the San Francisco International Film Festival, which starts tonight, is that a good portion of its offerings are festival circuit "holdovers" that started their trek to SF last year at the Cannes Festival. Well, funny only because this year I'll be playing catch-up here and then leapfrogging a lot of tour stops by hitting Cannes in May. Granted, this year's Croisette selections are not quite as appetizing as a lot of us had hoped; however, it's still the premiere fest and it still costs an arm and a leg to be a part of it. But more on that adventure later. Here, I'm concerned with laying out what my last few weeks in town look like from a cinephile standpoint.
There's certainly plenty to see at SFIFF54 (pronounced "s'fiffty-four" by some), and I do plan on attending daily, but I also don't want to get burnt out on a bunch of movies all at once. So, as often as I can, I'm going to just see one film a day. And then I'll throw up a quick take here that night or the next morning. Given that two of my most anticipated titles are 272-minute and 212-minute affairs, this one-a-day dictum should be easy enough on those two Saturdays: this weekend I'll settle in for Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon for the entire afternoon, starting right at noon, and the following week I plan to head over to the PFA for the 35mm screening of Fassbinder's World on a Wire. Yet there are a number of shorter films as well, such as Federico Veiroj's A Useful Life, which is only about an hour long and easy to pair with an evening of avant-garde shorts in a program called The Deep End, with newer work from people I respect and enjoy like, say, Ben Russell and Vincent Grenier to name two of the nine featured filmmakers.
I only caught two press screenings prior to the festival and I don't think I'll be looking at any screeners but I do have a copy of Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg that I've been meaning to watch ever since I saw/felt Dogtooth. The two films I have seen, I should say, are Patricio Guzman's Nostalgia for the Light and Werner Herzog's The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Both of these films will open in the Bay in the summer months so, logistics wise, there is no real rushing need for you to see them at the festival. However, both are very good pictures. The Guzman is a tad less poetic than I'd've hoped (in fact it's kind of hokey near the close) but the Herzog, though I could quibble with it, is just great. You might know by now that it's his first and last film in 3-D, but his use of the medium makes so much more sense than so many productions force fed at kids these days. Ostensibly a documentary, as they often are, the 3-D is less about realism than it is about phenomena and creating new realities for your eyes; that is, the experience you have seeing these rare paintings matters because you're given a sense of their physical depth and of their curves for light to play against. You see new movement of old visions. It's thrilling, moving even, and it should only be seen as big as possible.
The main highlight of the run, for me, is likely the evening with the Tindersticks at the Castro (more here), which will feature clips of Claire Denis movies accompanied by live performances of the scores of the films in the clip reel. Truth be told, it sounds like quite the nerd event (it could be a major let down), but I'm more than game to see those images and hear those sounds in that theatre. If all goes according to plan, I'll have something extra on this event.
Other items on the list include: Hong's Hahaha, Christoph Hochhäusler's The City Below, Kelly Reichart's Meek's Cutoff (which I hafta catch at SFIFF54, despite its wider release a week or so later, because I'll be gone for so long), Breillat's The Sleeping Beauty (which sounds even better than the superb Bluebeard), Lee Anne Schmitt's The Last Buffalo Hunt (in part because Haz liked her last film at SFFIFF52 and in part because James Laxton shot some of it), Michelangelo Frammartino's Le quattro volte, Lech Majewski’s The Mill and The Cross, J.P. Sniadecki & Véréna Paravel's Foreign Parts, Florent Tillon's Detroit Wild City, Otar Iosseliani's Chantrapas, Andrei Ujica's The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, Mike Cahill's Another Earth, Romain Goupil's Hands Up, Christopher Munch's Letters from the Big Man (one of Sean Uyehara's favorites), and Sergei Loznitsa's My Joy. There are yet others, of course, but those are the ones I'm targeting, the ones I'd feel less "ok" skipping, the ones I hope I can find something to say about in a timely manner.
In any case, I do hope to offer more than glib summaries. But I've got these last two weeks of dayjob work that I must focus on before the fun of the festivals takes over my life, fostering a whole new set of anxieties (am I writing enough? is it worthy of eyes? where's the coffee? why can't I stay awake? is there food in my beard? do I stink? how bad can my posture get?) to wade through. So, until then—let's say, Saturday—end that week with a bang! Any way you want to! Any way you can!
— I thought it'd be more fun to go down the street this way.