These days, it seems like there’s an annual film festival in every town, village, and glen. Some of the fests are designed to have a major impact on the movie business, with Hollywood insiders flocking about in search of products for distribution and critics trying to get a jump on the best new films. Some of the fests are simply means or occasions for civic boosters to preen with pride and generate local revenue. But few of these gatherings have the distinction, breadth, and longevity of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
The SFIFF will launch its 58th program in various venues later this month, and as ever, the two-week event is designed as a banquet for true fans of world cinema, rather than a marketplace for studio suitors in search of the next box-office hit. Expect the usual eclectic and tasteful selection of foreign and independent movies and documentaries, as well as a few high-profile goodies that are sure to create major buzz and critical acclaim upon theatrical release. Consider that last year’s festival featured 263 screenings of 158 films from 51 countries, and hosted a roster of over 210 filmmakers and industry guests from over 21 countries. In addition to the movies themselves, there will be a few of the highly anticipated special events on the schedule that are unique to the SFIFF.
Kicking off the programming and the celebration will be a gala on Thursday night, April 23. The centerpiece will be a Castro Theater screening of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, the latest from fearless, prodigious documentary director Alex Gibney, whose previous subjects have included James Brown, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Fela Kuti, Lance Armstrong, Julian Assange, and Eliot Spitzer. A party will follow at Madame Tussauds with live music, dancing, food, and drink.
There will be public components of the annual San Francisco Film Society Awards in conjunction with the SFIFF. This year, esteemed director Guillermo del Toro will receive the Irving M. Levin Directing Award and headlines An Evening with Guillermo del Toro on Saturday, April 25, 8 p.m. at the Castro. An onstage interview of del Toro will be accompanied by a selection of clips from his career, a sneak peek at his upcoming projects, and will be followed by a screening of his dream-like 2001 blend of chiller and political allegory, The Devil’s Backbone.
Then Richard Gere is to be honored as the recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting. On Sunday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m., Gere gets the live-interview/clip-retrospective treatment at the Castro. An Evening with Richard Gere will be topped off by a screening of Oren Moverman’s new feature Time Out of Mind — a dramatic investigation of alienation and destitution starring Gere as a lost soul in search of food and shelter in a harsh urban environment.
Another highlight should be the Film Society’s Golden Gate Awards, which have been presented at the festival since its inaugural year in 1957. This year’s competition — comprised of films from 20 countries — will award nearly $40,000 in total prizes in various narrative and documentary categories.
In its ongoing acknowledgement of multimedia’s impact and influence on cinema, the SFIFF has scheduled a number of shows in its Live & Onstage series, including the West Coast premiere of New Society — an interactive performance-art piece by iconoclastic indie filmmaker and actress Miranda July. The San Francisco Film Society and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have teamed up to co-present New Society for two nights, on Tuesday, April 28 and Wednesday April 29, 8 p.m. at the Brava Theater Center.
On the music front, art-rock duo Cibo Matto will hit the Castro on Tuesday, May 5 at 8 p.m., with their blend of hip-hop and electro-pop, as heard most recently on their 2014 album Hotel Valentine. They have developed new musical soundtracks to some surreal and abstract shorts (including the rare 1970 movie version of eminent Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet), which will be played in this one-time-only program. And San Francisco’s renowned avant-garde string ensemble Kronos Quartet will team with experimental filmmaker and multiple Golden Gate Award-winner Bill Morrison on Wednesday, May 6, 6:30 p.m. at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas for Beyond Zero 1914–1918. This unique visual exploration of World War I combines rare 35-millimeter footage with a score by Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov.
Finally, the festival will close things out on Thursday, May 7 with a 7 p.m. Castro showing of Experimenter — director Michael Almereyda’s bio-pic about the life of scientist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) and his explorations into human behavior — followed by one final party.
San Francisco International Film Festival: Daily, April 23–May 7, various venues. For tickets, complete program information, and schedule updates, visit festival.sffs.org.