David-and-Goliath story: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacsopens the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, which runs April 22 May 6.

San Francisco International Film Festival's 53rd Edition

Susan Gerhard March 30, 2010

The San Francisco Film Society announced today the films and events in the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival from the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis Hotel. San Francisco Film Society Director of Programming Rachel Rosen and programmers Rod Armstrong, Audrey Chang and Sean Uyehara shared thoughts on the 177 films from 46 countries represented in this edition.

The Festival opens with Micmacs, a new film by the inventive Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amelie and The City of Lost Children), described as a deceptively buoyant David-and-Goliath story. It closes with Joan Rivers A Piece of Work, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg s portrait of the legendary comedian, emcee and red-carpet regular. Both Jeunet and Rivers are set to appear in-person with their respective Opening and Closing Night films. As its Centerpiece screening, the Festival offers Josh Radnor s directorial debut, happythankyoumoreplease, with writer-director lead actor Radnor expected to attend, followed by the Centerpiece party at 9 p.m. at Manor West.

The Festival’s other Big Nights feature an eclectic collection of film icons, from Walter Salles, who receives the Founder s Directing Award and screens work-in-progress In Search of On the Road (a documentary about Salles's effort to make a documentary about Jack Kerouac, On the Road and the Beat Generation) to frequent Ang Lee collaborator and producer James Schamus, who receives the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, which will be presented at Film Society Awards Night by the one and only John Waters. (Schamus’s on-stage tribute features a screening of Ride with the Devil and interview by B. Ruby Rich.) Robert Duvall receives the Peter J. Owens Award and screens his most recent film, Get Low. All three are honored Thursday, April 29, at Film Society Awards Night benefit for the SFFS Youth Education program.

Eminent film critic Roger Ebert receives the Mel Novikoff Award alongside a screening of Erick Zonca’s Julia, starring Tilda Swinton. Colleagues and friends Philip Kaufman, Errol Morris, Jason Reitman and Terry Zwigoff will be onstage to celebrate Ebert’s career. The Persistence of Vision Award goes this year to its youngest recipient, Fremont-born, UC Santa Barbara trained Don Hertzfeldt, whose hand-made contributions to animation make him uniquely qualified for the honor.

The Live and Onstage lineup ranges from T Bone Burnett speaking about his work as composer, music supervisor and producer alongside the Coen Brothers and many others to Bay Area film legend Walter Murch delivering the State of Cinema Address (Sunday, April 25) on the cultural origins of cinema. Sam Green brings his Utopia in Four Movements –a documentary slide show with live narration and live music by the Quavers–back from an audience-wowing Sundance premiere to its San Francisco spawning ground. It’s difficult to categorize "A Drunken Evening with Derek Waters and Wholphin," though it’s an evening said to offer "mild debauchery" as well as several viral video-style shorts from the Drunk History series and a conversation between Waters and Wholphin editor Brent Hoff. Porchlight again appears on the SFIFF roster with a special edition focusing on "True Stories from the Frontiers of International Filmmaking," and Stephin Merritt brings his original score for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to the Castro (Tuesday, May 4).

While Rosen told the assembled that the primary mission of the programmers is to bring the best, most diverse selection of world cinema to San Francisco, including work by masters like Fatih Akin, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Jacques Rivette and Johnnie To, she explained that themes do emerge. "I was able to indulge my interest in nuns, old men and farm animals," she joked, but added in all seriousness that, stylistically, she saw "a return to basics and beauty" in the films screening SFIFF53. The four programmers on stage offered hints of what they considered key finds of the Festival, including Mexican film Alamar, a what-might-have-been film from France, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, verité war film Restrepo, the animated feature My Dog Tulip, Academy Award nominated short Logorama and Jay Rosenblatt’s The Darkness of Day.

Bay Area films feature prominently in a number of areas of the Festival, perhaps most importantly in The Late Show selections with the world premiere of Joshua Grannell’s San Francisco made All About Evil and the Butcher Brothers’ Sundance-premiered The Violent Kind playing alongside work from Switzerland and Australia.

Cinema by the Bay offers four films with Bay Area connections: Palo Alto based Christina Yao’s Empire of Silver, a lavish Hong Kong style film about a family of Shanxi bankers during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty; Leland Orser’s narrative feature Morning; Amy Glazer’s narrative feature Seducing Charlie Barker (USA 2009); and John J. Healey’s The Practice of the Wild, a portrait of Beat poet Gary Snyder and fellow poet (and novelist) Jim Harrison.

SFFS’s year-round partnership with Goldman Environmental Prize brings the crisis of bees to the forefront with a presentation of Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn's Colony, about the sudden disappearance of honeybees all over the world.

Cash prizes to filmmakers will be celebrated Wednesday, May 5, at Temple Nightclub Prana Restaurant, where announcements will be made of Golden Gate Awards in various categories, winners of the SFFS/Film Arts Foundation Documentary Grant and the Spring 2010 SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant (documentary prizes total nearly $100,000) and the winner of the New Directors Prize ($15,000).

Features in the New Directors category include Northless, in which border-crossing and visual poetry meet via a quiet young man’s repeated attempts to make it to the U.S. from Mexico, as well as the antic-ly titled Chilean film You Think You're the Prettiest, but You Are the Sluttiest and the Georgian Susa, which has a 12-year-old delivering orders from an illegal vodka dispensary as he waits for his father’s return.

Films in Documentary competition include the aforementioned Colony; The Invention of Dr. Nakamats, about an 80-year-old who holds 3,400 patents, including one for the floppy disk and another for bouncing jogging shoes; the much heralded Last Train Home, which follows a family of migrant factory workers on a grueling holiday journey back to their rural Chinese village; Marwencol, about a miniature World War II Belgian town created by Mark Hogancamp while recovering from injuries he suffered after a vicious attack; and a film that’s already been chosen as the award-winner in the Bay Area Documentary category, Presumed Guilty, about a wrongful conviction and the unsettling criminal court process in Mexico.

From the archives, SFIFF53 brings out (with the help of The Film Foundation and American Express) a new print of Satyajit Ray's The Music Room (1958) and (with the help of The Film Foundation and Gucci) a new print of Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954, SFIFF 1957)–both to be screened at the Castro Theatre and the Pacific Film Archive.

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