12 Reasons To Check Out SFFILM 66

Updated: Apr 13, 2023 11:04
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2023 SFFILM Festival

For those who don’t know, the San Francisco International Film Festival (or “SFFILM” for short) began back in 1957.  The 2023 edition of the festival is thus called “SFFILM 66.”  This year’s edition runs from April 13-23, 2023.

Help Celebrate North America’s Oldest Continuous Film Festival

Over its long history, the festival has been held in a variety of venues inside and outside of San Francisco.  Such places as the Masonic Auditorium, the Roxie Theater, the Castro Theater, and the Pacific Film Archive have previously hosted SFFILM programs.  This year sees a severely reduced use of the Castro Theater.  However, the CGV Cinemas on Van Ness Avenue have taken up the screen slack.  East Bay-based cinephiles will be happy to hear the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (hereafter “BAMPFA”) will once again host selected SFFILM 66 screenings.

Get An Early Look At Boots Riley’s Newest Project, I’m a Virgo

Loved Boots Riley’s feature film debut “Sorry To Bother You?”  After a long absence, The Coup frontman returns with his newest project, a television series.  SFFILM 66’s Closing Night Film, “I’m A Virgo,” takes place in modern-day Oakland.  The series’ central character is a Black teen named Cootie, who’s very curious about life in this East Bay city.  Cootie’s curiosity comes out of his being forced to hide out from the world for way too many years of his life.  Then again, Cootie is 13 feet tall.

Honor Director Stanley Nelson For Paying It Forward

Director Stanley Nelson (“Attica”) and Marcia Smith’s nonprofit Firelight Media will be receiving the SFFILM 66 Mel Novikoff Award.  When Firelight Media was started in 1998, its aim was to bring previously untold stories to wider audiences.  The organization now supports filmmakers of color in getting their stories told.  The SFFILM 66 documentary “Hummingbirds,” about an eventful summer for two rebellious teen lesbian Latinas in Laredo Texas, is one such Firelight Media project.  But for the Novikoff program, Nelson has brought “The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution”  a riveting recollection of the idealism and impatience that spurred young Blacks to join the Panthers,    

See Penny Lane Get Personal And Quirky With Her New Documentary

The freakier aspects of American culture have provided grist for documentarian Penny Lane.  Her previous films include “Nuts!” (a documentary about John R. Brinkley, a man who gained a huge following claiming he could cure male impotence by surgically implanting goat testicles) and “Hail Satan!” (a history of The Satanic Temple).  Lane’s newest work “Confessions Of A Good Samaritan” may seem mundane by comparison because the subject is kidney donation.  But Lane’s the kidney donor.  In between looking at the history of what’s known as a “Good Samaritan” donation, this documentary shows how the donation decision can be in itself a freaky act…or not.  

Help Give Judy Blume Censors The Metaphorical Finger 

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.

Over the decades since it was first released, censors have been trying to ban writer Judy Blume’s classic YA novel “Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret” for its open and frank discussion of the menstrual cycle.  Which is stupid as the novel’s lead character, 11-year-old Margaret Simon, would naturally have questions about the changes to her body brought on by puberty.  (She also has questions about her religious identity since her dad is Jewish and her mom is Christian, but those questions haven’t aroused censors’ ire as much.)  Now Blume’s novel has gotten a cinematic adaptation with a cast that includes Kathy Bates as Margaret’s warm and funny grandmother Sylvia.  The film’s existence and popular support for this adaptation is one way of telling the censors “You lose.”  The good news for broke-ass readers is that SFFILM 66’s screening of the Blume adaptation will be a free community screening.  The tricky part will be scoring a ticket or two now that the sole festival screening is At Rush.  For right now, the only suggestion is check the festival page at the link above every day at Noon to see if more tickets for the screening get released.  (This advice also applies to other SFFILM 66 At Rush screenings that readers may be interested in.)

Get Your Preconceptions About Life As A Single Mother Shaken Up By A Bay Area-made Film 

Do you have any specific experience about what it’s like living as a single mother?   Filmmaker Savannah Leaf’s here to show you with her SFFILM Rainin grant recipient film “Earth Mama.”  This semi-autobiographical drama follows Oakland working single mom Gia as she navigates the city’s foster care system.  Who can she rely on when it’s evident she’s going to have another child?  The answers she learns will offer a far deeper answer than the usual media oversimplification of this maternal experience.

Let An Estonian Film Show You Why Safe Spaces Rule

Many Americans have been hypnotized by American right-wing mockery to treat safe spaces as ripe for ridicule.  But Anna Hints’ Sundance award-winning documentary “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” shows firsthand why such spaces are a boon to its users.  The film’s set at a handmade sweat lodge for women located in southern Estonia.  Here, amidst the heat and the limited physical space, the women who use this lodge have a place where they can bare their innermost thoughts and feelings to nonjudgmental friends.  When these women leave the lodge, they’ve regained the strength they need to meet the challenges of the new day.

Claim Bragging Rights On Being Among The First To See A24’s Probable Next Big Hit

A24 has scored Big with “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”  SFFILM 66’s Centerpiece Film selection offers the chance for Bay Area viewers to get in on the ground floor for the distributor’s possible next big hit.  That film is playwright Celine Song’s semi-autobiographical debut “Past Lives.”  Nora (Greta Lee, “Russian Doll”) and Hae Sung were best friends in childhood.  Before that relationship could turn into something more, Nora and her family emigrated to Canada.  Twelve years later, the two childhood friends reconnect via social media and talk about getting together in person.  But it will be another 12 years before that in-person reunion actually happens, thanks to Hae Song’s week-long trip to New York City.  What sort of relationship can these two old friends have after the passage of so many years and some personal changes in their lives?  When Song’s film premiered at Sundance, it was the second favorite film of critics covering the festival.  Hopefully, you’ll agree with them.

A still from Past Lives by Celine Song, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jon Pack

Catch Local Treasure W. Kamau Bell’s Newest Film 

East Bay filmmaker W. Kamau Bell has made a wonderful career by taking discussions of racism in America out of the right-wing’s boogeyman zone.  His newest documentary,  “1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed” looks at the joys and challenges of children growing up mixed race.  Bell’s film plays in SFFILM 66’s Mid-length Films section, the spot for films with running times between 31 and 59 minutes.  Incidentally, the other selections in this section also sound intriguing.  “The Kidnapping Of The Bride” won a Short Film Jury Award at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.  It’s the tale of an impending marriage between an Argentine woman and a German man endangered by a culture clash of rituals (i.e. the Teutonic ritual giving the film its title).  “What These Walls Won’t Hold” recounts the struggle back in the early days of the pandemic of San Quentin prisoners and their loved ones on the outside trying to get the word out about prison authorities falling down badly on efforts to treat the outbreak of COVID. 

See Ordinary Ukrainians Trying To Get Through The Day While Russian Shells Fall Nearby

Mantas Kvedaravicius and Hanna Bilbrova’s remarkable documentary “Mariupolis 2” started filming mere weeks after Russia’s initial incursion into Ukraine.  This film’s set in and around the titular city’s Christian Baptist Evangelical Church.  There’s no narration or commentary about the images shown in the film.  Instead, the viewer’s immersed in seeing people trying to live life as best they can while Mariupolis is under siege.  There’s a woman cooking soup in the church backyard.  Occasional fires can be seen on screen and the sound of falling artillery shells can be heard.  Kvedaravicius was captured and killed by Russian soldiers about a month into the filming, so it fell to Bilbrova to complete this cinematic document.

Watch Sir Ben Kingsley Have Fun Chewing Up Scenery

Where can you see Sir Ben Kingsley play a character who talks about contributing to world peace by building a penis sculpture long enough to circle the world…and culminating with the sculpture peeing on the United Nations building?  Where else but in Mary Harron’s new film “Daliland?”  The knighted actor plays talented surrealist artist and notorious egomaniac Salvador Dali.  Harron’s film takes viewers inside Dali’s 1970s lifestyle of parties brimming with beautiful people and illicit pharmaceuticals.  The guide to this immersion in Dali’s colorful world is an art school dropout named James, who now works for a gallery selling Dali’s artwork.  But while politely fending off Dali’s lustful wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa), James bemusedly witnesses some bizarre things.  Incidentally, Harron herself is the subject of a SFFILM 66 tribute.

Finally, Get Entertained And Smarter About Film’s Nuances With Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins in Rome. Photograph: Courtesy: Venice Film festival

The BAMPFA has long served as SFFILM’s premiere East Bay festival showcase.  This year, it plays host to one of SFFILM 66’s must-see events: the awarding of the festival’s Persistence Of Vision Award to Mark Cousins.  This year’s POV recipient brings to his popularizing of cinema analysis a love for what he calls “the aliveness of cinema.”  For the POV event, “The March On Rome” blends historical recounting with film analysis in examining a Naples to Rome march by the Black Shirts that eventually sold the Italian public on the idea of making Benito Mussolini Italy’s fascist leader.  For those who want more of Cousins talking about film, come back to the BAMPFA for “My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock.”   Taking the form of a lecture by the late Master of Suspense (voice: Alistair McGowan, words: Cousins), insights are shared about this director’s long body of work in the mystery and suspense genre. 

(For those seeking further information about the films mentioned above, screening times, or ticket purchasing information, go here.)

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.