Each year, the San Francisco International Film Festival presents a daunting array of wonderfully written and beautifully directed films. Although it was difficult to dwindle down almost 150 films into a viewing list that is a touch more manageable, here are my top 10 picks showing at this year's SFIFF. If my opinions aren't quite what you fancy, check out highlights from a few iconic directors and public figures like John Waters, Alice Waters, and five local celebrities. The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival runs from April 25-May 9 at various venues in SF and at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley’s mother Diane died when she was only 11, leaving her with many unanswered questions, including the identity of her biological father. This documentary dives deep into who her mother was and the quest for the man who lent his genes but disappeared into the background of Diane Polley’s life.
Freda Kelly was the secretary and right-hand man (er, woman) for The Beatles throughout their entire career. She was the ultimate fangirl, who landed her dream job, helping the gents travel from gig to gig, managing their schedule and responding to their fan mail. If there was something she could do for a fan she would do everything in her power to make it happen, because she knew where they were coming from.
Noah Baumbach has a way of crafting characters filled with nuance and wit and placing them into the most relatable of worlds. That is exactly what he has done with Frances Ha, his new film starring Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner about two friends, one a modern dancer and the other a book editor.
The evangelical Christian movement and the religious and political system in Uganda are the focus of this moving documentary from Roger Ross Williams. The causes of homophobia in Uganda are explored through interviews with Lou Engle, founder of the prayer program TheCall, and Scott Lively, anti-LGBT activist and author of The Pink Swastika.
Both visually and aurally intense, Leviathan follows the lives of the many fishermen who set sail from the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Shot with a number of portable video cameras handled by both director and fishermen alike, the result is a beautiful representation of what life at sea is truly like.
In a world where it's your job to hide everyone else's secrets, what do you do with your own? That is the question that Kaspar Astrup Schröder explores in Rent a Family Inc., a documentary about Ryuichi Ichinokawa, a proprietor of an unusual business that rents out actors to portray different roles in people's lives, such as a cousin visiting from out of town or a boyfriend at a family dinner. So what's to become of the man who is hiding the lives of the public?
In The East, anarchist vigilantes that target fictitious big businesses are infiltrated by a corporate spy. Director Zal Batmanglij has taken the beliefs of the group Anonymous and melded that with the Bourne Identity to create a psychological thriller that may actually apply to our American lives today.
And to end things on a considerably lighter note:
An adorably animated film about a little orphaned mouse who befriends a much-feared "Big Bad Bear" and their adventures together. Based on the tales and beautiful watercolor illustrations of the late Belgian artist Gabrielle Vincent, Ernest & Celestine tells the story of how two friends can work together to overcome anything.