SFIFF53: Dispatch #6, Weekend Picks

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Coverage of the San Francisco International Film Festival by Rumpus Film editor Jeremy Hatch.

There’s some great, possibly-overlooked-by-you stuff coming up in the festival today through Sunday, and these picks will give you the details on: a documentary by Tim Hetherington about a platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley; Kore-Eda’s new, touching film about an inflatable sex doll that comes to life; a doc about an Argentinian DIY filmmaker; Roger Ebert honored in person; the highly anticipated first film from San Francisco’s Joshua Grannell, better known as drag diva Peaches Christ; a documentary about a guy who recovers from a trauma by building and photographing a miniature WWII town; and a one-time screening of a new epic film that, according to Sean Uyehara, is 2/3rds political chess game, 1/3 kung fu action classic. Schedule details and more description after the jump.

[Tix for Saturday and Sunday shows can be purchased in advance here. Consult the same link for availability of today’s shows.]

Friday April 30th (today)

3:45pm Restrepo. (Kabuki) I haven’t seen this one yet — in fact, I’m going to this first screening — but it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and I have confidence enough in the advance word from trusted sources, and from what I’ve read, to recommend it sight unseen. For this doc, journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) got embedded with a platoon in Afghanistan’s remote, rugged Korengal Valley — said to be the most dangerous area in Afghanistan. The platoon attempts to build and defend a 15-man outpost, which they named “Restrepo” after a medic who had been killed in action. From the press release: “Hetherington and Junger avoid all outside commentary and political context in order to present us war as it is actually lived by soldiers, through their own eyes and in their own words — the backbreaking labor, the deadly firefights, the boredom, the camaraderie. Presented as a 94-minute deployment, Restrepo is documentary filmmaking at its most bracingly visceral.” When it came up at the press conference several weeks ago, programmer Sean Uyehara said that watching it will result in “an intense shift in your idea of war.” Other screenings are 4:15 on Sunday at PFA, and 9:30 on Tuesday at the Kabuki.

9:15pm Air Doll. (Kabuki) Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with a surprisingly touching film about an inflatable sex doll that comes to life and tries to find a place for herself in the world, which turns out to be a delightful way to explore issues of loneliness, love, sex, and what it means to be human. If you know Kore-eda’s work, it won’t surprise you to learn that Air Doll is very slow-paced but not boring, full of sequences that unfold in their own time, and packed with quiet, humorous touches throughout. It’s a little sentimental in the end, but not in a bad way — you might even cry! I’m seriously considering watching this one a second time. Apart from tonight, there’s one other screening at the Kabuki, 6:00 on Sunday.

Saturday May 1st

12:30pm The Peddler. (PFA) The Spanish title is El Ambulante, and I think a better translation would have been The Itinerant Auteur. It’s a really fascinating portrait of Daniel Burmeister, a man who drives from village to village in Argentina making films using the locals as actors, with nothing more than an old VHS camcorder, a memorized script, and some persuasive words. Once the film is shot and edited (using a VHS dubbing station!) he holds a series of screenings in the local church, where everybody comes out to see their friends and neighbors on the big screen. And then he moves on to the next town to do the same thing all over again. In this way, he has made over 50 “village” films, and has eked out a marginal but enjoyable living. This is one of those docs that’s just pure fun from beginning to end. Other screenings: 12:30 Saturday and 6:30 Tuesday at the Kabuki.

5:30pm An Evening With Roger Ebert: Julia. (Castro) I know I’ve already recommended this, but seriously: Philip Kaufman, Errol Morris, Jason Reitman, and Terry Zwigoff honoring Roger Ebert with the Film Society’s award for distinguished film criticism. And there are few recipients as deserving as he is, and probably none more influential.

10:45pm All About Evil. (Castro) For years, every summer Peaches Christ would hold the “Midnight Mass” at the Bridge Theatre on Geary in San Francisco, eight nights over eight weeks of a B horror movie favorite preceded by an elaborate pre-show revue. (Just think “drag revue” plus “B horror” and you’ll get the idea.) In real life, Peaches is known as Joshua Grannell, and he’s made a 2 1/2 hour long tribute to the slasher films that he loves. This is the premiere public screening, which will feature a Midnight-Mass-style pre-show. I haven’t seen it — movie gore makes me a little queasy, actually, so this genre is just not for me — but those who have seen it say it is really great. Not surprisingly, this one’s at Rush status already, so line up early if you want to get in.

Sunday May 2nd

6:45pm Marwencol. (Kabuki) Even though it’s being shown in a somewhat unfinished state, this documentary is really amazing, with so many layers to think about, and it has a moving story that is so well-told. It’s about a guy who recovers from a trauma by building and photographing a miniature WWII town — and then finds his photography recognized as art. Also 4:15 on Tuesday at the Kabuki.

6:45pm Bodyguards and Assassins. (Castro) Haven’t seen it, but again I hear it’s really worthwhile, and I’m going. To quote the program: “Centering around an assassination attempt on Chinese revolutionary hero Sun Yat-sen in 1906 Hong Kong, this star-studded epic is a rousing, electrifying mix of history, revolution, and martial arts. The first half of the movie is an intricate political thriller, and the second half is just plain thrilling.”


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →