Picks for the San Francisco International Film Festival

Susan Gerhard March 31, 2006

Two years ago, when critic B. Ruby Rich gave her State of the Cinema address to the San Francisco International Film Festival, she found mainstream screens dominated by American triumphalism, and international film festivals a refuge for democracy and diversity. We checked back with her on the state of cinema this week.

Though world events are appalling, Rich says, the cinema is looking up. “We’re just off the ‘Brokeback’ Oscars — even the spoiler was about racism. Hard-hitting documentaries are pouring off of angry FinalCutPro desktops, and George Clooney has shuffled the deck of movie politics in a wonderful way.”

What is she excited about in the festival?

“More than anything else, what I’m looking forward to is Tilda Swinton,” said Rich. “It’s the best line-up of guests I can remember in any year: Jeanne-Claude Carriere, Guy Maddin, Swinton, Werner Herzog, Ed Harris.”

Here’s Rich’s selection of what else in the festival we should look out for.

Look Both Ways (Sarah Watt) “This first feature by a woman animator who was talked into doing it by Jane Campion’s producer just won all these big awards at the Australian Oscars. The reason I liked it is that it’s really nervy. Women filmmakers are always so polite, or sentimental, or cute. She’s really gutsy in the way male filmmakers usually are. It’s about love and loss, eros and thanatos.”

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (Auraeus Solito) “Filipino films are often outrageous about sex, but this one is different. Maximo functions as a kind of ‘daughter’ in his all-male family. He has the sensibility of a romantic girl in a family of male thieves and thugs and murderers until something really extreme happens that forces him back into his biological gender role as a form of liberation.”

October 17, 1961 (Alain Tasma) “This docudrama is very traditional filmmaking, but for anyone who has seen Cache, it’s required viewing. It’s one of the films in which the information trumps every other consideration.”

A Flash of Green (Victor Nunez, 1984) “I just think ‘A Flash of Green’ is such an under-recognized film, and Victor Nunez, with the exception of ‘Ulee’s Gold,’ is such an under-recognized filmmaker. I think this is an important reminder that the American independent film movement started out as a movement for regionalism.”

Waiting (Rashid Masharawi) “I’m a huge fan of Rashid Masharawi; I think he’s one of the most important filmmakers to watch right now. He’s a Palestinian filmmaker who’s completely uncompromising in the way he makes his films. He makes a hybrid of fiction and documentary that brilliantly conveys the surrealism of being a Palestinian. He lived in refugee camps; he once told me he was the one of the first generation of Palestinians raised on UN rations.”

The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang) “Completely outrageous: In one fell swoop Tsai’s gone from minimalism to over-the-top excess. This does for porn films what his other films did for plumbing.”

The Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill) “It’s being described as a hoop dreams for girls, but I don’t think that’s fair to it. I think it has more heart — in a way, it’s more optimistic. It’s not just about basketball and the individual experience of poverty. It’s much more about the intense pressure of gender socialization and the amazing display of what happens when you begin to undo it.”

Tickets go on sale to the public April 4.