Live from Fog City

Dennis Harvey May 9, 2007

Major attractions at this year’s SF International Film Festival have often not been measurable in frames-per-second — from Ken McMullen’s improvisational clip-mix “Arrows of Time” to Jonathan Richman’s accompaniment of silent classic “The Phantom Carriage” and Robin Williams’ manic hour of riffing during his Friday night Q&A with Armistead Maupin. While the SF International Film Festival has always had celebrity guests and, in recent years, a tradition of incorporating musical performances, the 50th edition featured a particular concentration of unique one-offs.

Monday evening’s Guy Maddin event — a bona fide silent film accompanied live by orchestra, foley artists, Joan Chen as interlocutor, and more — might well have been this year’s favorite amongst those diehard festival types who enjoy filmic art at its most esoteric. And though dust had barely settled on the latest edition of the Tribeca Fest, Tuesday found its festival director Peter Scarlet, formerly SFIFF’s, fying in to attend “Five-O: Stories and Images from 50 Years of the SF International,” a nostalgic lovefest hosted by the Festival’s next generation, current SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat plus Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte of the monthly Porchlight Storytelling Series at Café du Nord.

If cultural influence carried literal weight, however, the Castro stage might have collapsed the previous Sunday evening, April 29, as an historic photo-op lineup gathered before the premiere of documentary “Fog City Mavericks.” The rollcall encompassed George Lucas, producer Saul Zaentz, Chris Columbus, John Lasseter, Robin Williams, Walter Murch, Brad Bird, John Korty, Rob Nilsson, Peter Coyote and … well, I couldn’t write down all the names fast enough. It was a whole lotta history in one place.

The general awe factor was high both before the film and after, when Lucas, Columbus, Lasseter, Zaentz and Leva (who’s L.A.-based) reconvened on-stage for some questions from SFIFF Executive Director Graham Leggat and unabashedly worshipful audience members. Colombus, who made “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Nine Months” and “Rent” here, was charmingly humble about being included in the movie’s artistically lofty company, which encompasses the Coppolas, Philip Kaufman and more. Pixar’s Lasseter trumpeted the benefits of operating at a safe geographic distance from L.A. suits, and earned further points by citing Preston Sturges’ 1942 “Sullivan’s Travels” as an inspiration. (Don’t ask questions, just rent it, now.) Lucas half-joked that when high-profile Bay Area filmmakers have a box-office success, “It’s a Hollywood film,” but when they don’t, bigwigs down south dismiss it as “a San Francisco film.”

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