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Widen your focus at San Francisco International Film Fest

48th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21-May 5) Widen your focus. That’s the tagline of the 48th San Francisco International Film Festival, whose curtains opened at the Castro Theatre on Thursday night, April 21. North America’s oldest film festival is “dedicated to forging a relationship between cultures and countries,” stated Roxanne Messina Captor, San Francisco Film Society Executive Director and recent recipient of France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for helping to promote French films in the United States.
Costa-Gavras’s Le Couperet/The Ax was the first of 185 films from 49 countries to unspool. The legendary director of Z, État de siege/State of Siege and Missing introduced his comedy-with-a-social conscience as “an amoral tale in which I try to draw from French and European society.” Michèle Ray-Gavras, his producer and wife, added, “The film is about our modern time—about the economic war.” Cleverly commenting on the toll corporate downsizing and restructuring takes on individuals and families, the black comedy features a laid-off worker (José García) who begins killing off his competition—literally—for the job that he needs and wants.
In a movie-like moment, a person who got “the ax” last year—and from the very theater management hosting opening night—received one of the evening’s biggest rounds of applause. Messina Captor announced that Anita Monga, “appreciated worldwide for her astute programming and film knowledge,” would receive the Mel Novikoff Award for increasing the public’s awareness and enjoyment of film. Monga lost her job at the Castro Theatre after 17 years of creative programming. The award conveys the San Francisco film community’s strong support and appreciation for Monga and her impact on local and national film exhibition.
Major festival honorees include masterful filmmakers and risk takers. Taylor Hackford, who has rock ’n’ rolled his career from The Idolmaker through Ray, will receive the Lifetime Achievement in Directing award from actor Benjamin Bratt. Joan Allen exhibits tremendous range in her acting, whether caught in the emotional chill of The Ice Storm or warming to a soft blush in Pleasantville. Allen will be presented the Peter J. Owens Award for work exemplifying brilliance, independence and integrity before the screening of Sally Potter’s Yes, in which she plays a scientist embarking on a passionate personal journey. Saluted with the inaugural Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby) will present a master class and screen his new feature, Crash.
Expect an animated State of Cinema address from Brad Bird, the screenwriter and Academy Award-winning director of Pixar’s The Incredibles. Golden Gate Persistence of Vision recipient Adam Curtis (BBC series The Power of the Self) will participate in an on-stage conversation before the screening of his controversial 3-part series questioning the war on terror, The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear. Following Todd Solondz’s new film, Palindromes, the director will join writer-director Noah Hawley (The Alibi, The Yes Man) in a conversation about writing scripts and getting them produced.
The work of seasoned directors such as Ingmar Bergman (Saraband), Clair Denis (L’Intrus/The Intruder), Im Kwon-Taek (Haryu insaeng/Low Life), François Ozon (5x2), Fernando E. Solanas (Memoria del saque/A Social Genocide), Bertrand Tavernier (Holy Lola) and Agnès Varda (Cinévardaphoto) share the big screen with new waves of talent competing for the $10,000 SKYY Prize. First-time features include Maren Ade’s Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen /The Forest for the Trees from Germany, Danielle Arbid’s Maarek hob/In the Battlefields from Lebanon, Mohamed Asli’s Al Malaika la tuhaliq fi al-dar albayda/In Casablanca, Angels Don’t Fly from Morocco, Martín De Salvo and Vera Fogwill’s Las Mantenidas sin sueños/Kept and Dreamless from Argentina, Fernando Eimbcke’s Temporada de patos/Duck Season from Mexico, Francesco Fei’s Waves from Italy, Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know from the U.S., Alison Murray’s Mouth to Mouth from England, Marek Najbrt’s Mistri /Champions from the Czech Republic, Marina Razbezhkina’s Vremya zhatvy/Harvest Time from Russia and Pete Travis’s Omagh from Ireland. “Discovery is what this festival is all about,” insisted Director of Programming Linda Blackaby at the festival’s kick-off press conference.
Besides the strong focus on France, Asia and Latin America, the two-week festival will shine a spotlight on Malaysia’s exciting new independent film movement.
The curtains will close on May 5 with Craig Lucas’s The Dying Gaul, a Hollywood noir starring Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott and Peter Sarsgaard.
Susan Tavernetti
Tavernetti is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist

Pictured:
Joan Allen honored for acting
Taylor Hackford to receive Lifetime Achievement in Directing
Paul Haggis saluted for screenwriting

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