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San Francisco Film Festival opening night

47th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 15-29)

April 15th is tax day. But all the stress of income tax preparations and
payments evaporated when the rousing theme song from San Francisco,
the 1936 movie starring Jeannette MacDonald and Clark Gable, blasted from
the pipes of the Castro Theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ. Everyone in the
1400-seat movie palace clapped along. As Wu-Tang Clan producer and Kill
composer RZA proclaimed about the 1922 historic landmark: “This
theatre here is crazy--off the hook.”

Welcome to opening night of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Executive Director Roxanne Messina Captor noted that the 175 films from 52
countries “open a window onto this world of change.” Over the next two
weeks, the global programming will “speak out against established mores,
exploring underground movements in politics, culture and the arts.”

Starting off on a much lighter note, indie icon Jim Jarmusch introduced
Coffee and Cigarettes, his “strange little film” making its U.S.
Premiere. He referred to the 11 black-and-white vignettes--all having
caffeine and nicotine in common--as “a labor of amusement.” Who wouldn’t be
smiling over this stellar cast? Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Steve
Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Cate Blanchett, the White Stripes, Roberto Benigni,
RZA, GZA, Isaach de Bankolé, Alex Descas and Taylor Mead share bad habits
and droll conversation in this crowd-pleaser. Tom Waits surprised the
audience by joining Jarmusch and RZA on stage for Q&A after the screening.

The curtains will close on April 29 with Peter Howitt’s Laws of
, a romantic comedy starring Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan.

Tributes are slated for two champions of the underdogs. Milos Forman does
not have to fly over the cuckoo’s nest to receive the award for Lifetime
Achievement in Directing. He will appear onstage for an informal
conversation, followed by a screening of the rock musical Hair. Long
before Chris Cooper entered the winner’s circle in Seabiscuit and
Adaptation, he brought his quiet strength, dignity and humanity to
John Sayles’ films. A screening of Matewan will follow his personal

Other honorees include Bay Area documentarian-cinematographer-producer Jon
Else, who will receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award for
making films about issues that matter. Twenty-four years after its original
broadcast, Else’s Academy Award-nominated The Day After Trinity
will project the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic
bomb, on the big screen. The legendary Cyd Charisse will discuss her career
before the showing of one of MGM’s last great musicals, Silk
. The Mel Novikoff Award will be given to Paolo Cherchi Usai
for enhancing the public’s awareness and enjoyment of film through his role
as senior curator of the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House,
director of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, associate
film professor at the University of Rochester and co-founder of the
Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

World Premieres include Lexi Leban and Lidia Szajko’s Girl Trouble,
Gavin Dougan’s Brass Tacks and Hideyuki Kobayashi’s
Marronnier. Yang Li-chou and Michelle Chu’s Shin Su Yi Tung Kou
Yi Tung/Someone Else’s Shinjuku East
and Jack Janssen’s We hielden
zoveel van mekaar/We Loved Each Other So Much
bow internationally.
North American Premieres include Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Doppelganger and the unique collaboration between a Palestinian
filmmaker and an Israeli filmmaker, Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan’s
Route 181, fragments d’un voyage en Palestine-Israel/Route 181—Fragments
of a Journey in Palestine-Israel

The many features shot through a Latin lens include Vicente Amorim’s O
caminho das nuvens/The Middle of the World
, Hector Babenco’s
Carandiru, Eduardo Coutinho’s Edifício master/Master, A Building
in Copacabana
, Carlos Diegues’ Deus è brasileiro/God Is
and Jose Furtado’s O homem que copiava/The Man Who
. Documentaries range from Heddy Honigmann’s Dame la Mano
to Alex Rivera’s The Sixth Section. Fernando Pérez’s Suite
, a “must see” visual symphony, promises to be one of the
festival’s highlights. Messina Captor voiced her disappointment that Pérez
cannot attend due to U.S. government sanctions.

Perhaps Director of Programming Linda Blackaby best sums up the festival’s
philosophy in the program guide: “Despite the adversity of these troubled
times, we know that art inspires, art leads, art can help change the way we
see ourselves and the world. And the love of cinema perseveres.”

Susan Tavernetti
Tavernetti is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist

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