The San Francisco Film Society has released the lineup of their 56th annual International Film Festival, and with 200+ films on order, it's sure to be a cultural binge with the inevitable FOMO hangover. Truth be told, it's impossible to soak up all the goodness that the SFIFF packs into its April 25th to May 9th run.
The festival will feature newsworthy main event headliners (Steven Soderberg, Richard Linklater) as well as a host of thoughtful international films, but it's also a showcase of indie American films and documentaries you might not get a chance to see elsewhere. Our favorite SFIFF moments of recent memory have included Don Hertzfeldt's work, the Hunter S. Thomson doc Gonzo and the affecting war documentary Restrepo.
Check out the full festival lineup to find the international films that speak to you (and buy your tickets now! No, seriously, RUSH is hell). In the meantime, here are our 10 picks for films that hit a little closer to home (descriptions are courtesy of the SFIFF catalog.)
1. Big Sur
Five years after On the Road transformed the literary landscape and made Kerouac the reluctant face of the Beat Generation, he returns to San Francisco to reunite with old friends like Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards), Michael McClure (Balthazar Getty) and Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas) and to attempt to get sober in an isolated Big Sur cabin ... Polish’s seventh collaboration with cinematographer M. David Mullen yields spectacular results both in the paradise on earth that is Big Sur and in San Francisco where locations include Tenderloin tenements, City Lights Bookstore and Tosca in only the third screen adaptation of one of Kerouac's books and one that proves that the writer's dense, language-driven novels can, indeed, be gloriously cinematic.
PJ Raval’s powerful documentary Before You Know It dares to tackle a subject rare in cinema—the relatively unseen world of aging gay men. There is Dennis, a lonely, still-closeted 76-year-old cross-dresser from Niceville, Florida, estranged from his family and drawn to a gay retirement facility in Oregon. There is Robert, 73, extroverted longtime owner of Robert’s LaFitte, Texas’s oldest gay bar and longest -running drag show where all visitors, regardless of sexual orientation, are welcome and feel at home. And there is Ty, the sensitive, 60-something outreach manager of a gay senior advocacy center in Harlem, New York, who works to provide a safe place for elderly people to talk about their needs amid the backdrop of the New York Senate’s groundbreaking vote on same-sex marriage.
You came here for a rock show; a big, gigantic cock show. And that’s just what you’re going to get, plus what we’ll call “added value.” This performance documentary/opera directed by and featuring internationally renowned pop anti-star Peaches is a spectacle of choreography, music and sexual exuberance. It would be disingenuous to say that Peaches merely confronts the supposed rules governing music, sexuality, age and femininity. In truth, she obliterates these edifices and more.
Prelinger is a master at presenting participatory screenings, as evidenced by his raucously fun, sold-out adventures presented over the years at the Castro Theatre ... For this screening, Prelinger presents found home movie footage from a variety of sources that depict a road trip from New York to California, investigating the uniquely American penchant for movement and nomadism sometimes experienced as a fundamental entitlement: the right to freedom of motion.
5. The East
A corporate spy infiltrates a group of anarchists—and finds herself drawn to their charismatic leader—in this thought-provoking espionage thriller from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, the duo behind 2011’s indie hit Sound of My Voice ... Boasting a talented cast that also includes Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson and Julia Ormond, this ideological thriller is a thinking-person’s Bourne Identity, as pointed in its questions as it is slick in its thrills.
This mix of award-winning and eye-popping animated shorts feature a range of styles and subjects. From the hand drawn obsessiveness of The Deep End to the traditional cel animation of Eyes on the Stars to the moving and ingenious uses of stop motion in Lumerence and Social Satan, this program will delight and inspire you.
In this adaptation of the 2011 Icelandic movie Either Way, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play highway workers, complete opposites, whose job it is to paint centerlines on a rural Texas road circa summer 1988. Excepting the occasional visitor, such as elderly trucker Lance LeGault, it is a season spent in near isolation during which the two disparate souls build an unlikely friendship.
Dominating the field of women’s tennis for over a decade, the indomitable Williams sisters, with the help of their visionary parents, broke new ground for female and African American athletes. Venus and Serena takes an unfiltered look into the remarkable lives of the greatest sister-act professional tennis has ever seen ... Now in the waning years of their athletic prowess, the film presents Venus and Serena facing new challenges with their characteristic sense of humor and resilience.
On a brief hiatus from production on last year’s superhero blockbuster The Avengers, Joss Whedon (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse) gathered some of his closest friends and collaborators from his decade-and-a-half run on network television at his spacious Santa Monica home for 12 days to shoot a retro-cool black and white, modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy of manners.
10. Google and the World Brain
Using H.G. Wells’ prophetic declarations of a “complete planetary memory for all mankind,” or a “World Brain” as his springboard, Lewis gathers library administrators, Google engineers and futurists to offer a big picture examination of the Google Book Scanning Project. Lewis travels the globe from the shiny Googleplex in Mountain View to the 11th-century Monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain, to capture the vast undertaking that is Google Books and to contemplate the future of libraries, technology, money and intellectual property.