54th San Francisco International Film Festival showcases what’s unusual 

This year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, unspooling April 21 through May 5, upholds a 53-year-long tradition of “being different.”

Not much of Hollywood or commercial entertainment is evident in the torrent of 188 films from 48 countries, with a few exceptions.

The stars of the opening-night film, Mike Mills’ “Beginners,” are members of film aristocracy: Ewan McGregor plays a graphic artist, struggling with life and romance, supported by Christopher Plummer as his father, a man emerging from a long, bad marriage, and coming out at age 75. [7 p.m. April 21, Castro Theatre]

The centerpiece presentation, Azazel Jacobs’ “Terri,” is an edgy new work from the director of “Momma’s Man.” The film is about an overweight, small-town 15-year-old boy struggling to adjust to his difficult life. [7:30 p.m., April 30, Sundance Kabuki Cinemas]

International cinema with an American twist gets the spotlight on closing night with “On Tour” by Mathieu Amalric, the French actor best known for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Amalric also appears in the bizarre comedy-drama as a failed TV producer trying to make a comeback by touring the French countryside with a company of brassy American burlesque performers. [7 p.m. May 5, Castro Theatre]

Some 60 narrative international feature length films, 30 documentaries and 96 shorts make up the roster.

World premieres include Oscar Godoy’s “Ulysses,” about the life of a Peruvian immigrant in Chile [4 p.m. April 26 and 6:45 p.m. May 2, Kabuki]; Emily Lou’s “The Selling,” dealing with the human side of the ongoing housing market crash [11:30 a.m. April 29 and 4:15 p.m. May 4, Kabuki]; and Vanessa Roth’s “American Teacher,” about the plight of teachers during the recession [6:30 May 3 and 3:45 p.m. May 5, Kabuki]

Honorees at special festival events will be: Frank Pierson (Kanbar Award), Matthew Barney (Persistence of Vision Award), and Serge Bromberg (Mel Novikoff Award). In addition to screenings, the festival includes special programs including conversations with directors and film experts, and opening and closing night festivities.

Large as the festival is, it is only the top of a much larger pyramid. Its parent organization, the San Francisco Film Society, presents 300 days of exhibitions each year. SFFS’s education program introduces international cinema and media literacy to more than 15,000 teachers and students, and presents 120 classes and workshops annually.


54th San Francisco International Film Festival

Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, New People, S.F. Museum of Modern Art

When: April 21 to May 5

$8 to $13 most screenings, more for special events

Contact: (925) 866-9559, www.sffs.org/tickets

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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