Thursday, May 8, 2008

2008 San Francisco International Film Festival

The 51st SFIFF closed tonight. I wasn't planning on watching too many films at this festival. It's the most popular festival in the City so the crowds can get large and I don't like large crowds. I ended up watching 10 films courtesy of Jason Wiener. In the insular world of SF Film Lovers, Jason is a man among boys. Jason watched 431 feature programs in 2007. As a point of comparison, I watched 175 during the same period. Jason's prodigious time commitment to local film festivals is to be awed...or a sign of OCD.

Perusing Jason's blog last month (looking for SFIFF previews), I read that he was giving away a 10 film Cinevoucher to SFIFF. As an aside, the reason he was giving away the voucher was because he bought a $750 festival pass. I answered a few trivia questions from last year's Indiefest and received the voucher for my dedication to his website. Thank you Jason Wiener!

The 10 films I watched were:

Lady Jane; French with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde; (1945)
The Warlords with Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro; Mandarin with subtitles; (2007) - Official Website
Black Belt; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Website
Mongol; Mongolian with subtitles; (2007) - Official Website
Walt & El Grupo; (2008) - Official Website
Go Go Tales with Willem Dafoe, Matthew Modine, & Asia Argento; directed by Abel Ferrara; (2007) - Official Website
Stranded: I've Come From A Plane That Crashed on the Mountains; Spanish with subtitles; (2007)
Dust; German with subtitles; (2007)
Big Man Japan; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Website

A few tidbits.

Leave Her to Heaven was a restored film. Although made in 1945, it was filmed in Technicolor. It's film noir but it sure does look strange to see a film noir from that era in color...but what marvelous color.

The Warlords won several HK Film Awards this year. If you wonder what a guy named Takeshi Kaneshiro would be doing in a Mandarin film, it's because he is a Taiwan native (half Chinese/half Japanese). Many people don't know that Taiwan was officially a Japanese territory from 1895 to 1945. Kaneshiro wasn't born until 1973 but I suspect his family's presence on the island was a remnant from Japanese rule. Kaneshiro made an entertaining film a few years ago with Andy Lau and Ziyi Zhang called House of the Flying Daggers.

Mongol had a Mongolian cast with the exception of Genghis Khan (portrayed by a Japanese actor). There must be a Genghis Khan fad in Japan now. Last November's SF Asian Film Festival's opening night film was Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea. It was mentioned that that film was the first of a trilogy. The two films covered a lot of the same ground but Mongol was a much better made film.

Go Go Tales was set in New York but filmed in Rome, Italy. Bob Hoskins and Burt Young co-starred. I watched Go Go Tales at the Kabuki Theater on April 29. The film let out around midnight and I took the 38 Geary bus to BART. I got off the bus at O'Farrell and Powell. There was a line of people up Powell and snaking around the block. I thought a new club opened up. As I walked past the crowd, I saw they were waiting to get into a videogame store. The next day, I read they released Grand Theft Auto IV that day. I think those people were waiting for the clock to strike midnight so the store could start selling GTA4.

Stranded: I've Come From A Plane That Crashed on the Mountains was a documentary. The story was semi-fictionalized in the film Alive (1993) with Ethan Hawke. The documentary was quite entertaining but the extended title (Stranded: I've Come From A Plane That Crashed on the Mountains) is very appropriate. Before the film, the director droned on and on and on about the film. He said something to the effect the film lingered at points on purpose because those guys spent 72 days in the Andes so we could spend a few minutes exploring their ordeal. I thought the film's runtime was fine. After the film, I promised Jason (who was in the audience) a beer in appreciation of the Cinevoucher. Jason wanted to watch the director's Q&A. My worst suspicions were confirmed as director Gonzalo Arijon is the type of person who never uses one word when thirty will do. I am somewhat laconic in my own conversation and taste in films so a guy like Arijon drives me nuts. He reminded of the dysfunctional guy from Frownland at this year's Indiefest. Despite that, I heartily recommend the film - there was some great moments especially regarding cannibalism and how they quickly they drew a parallel between it & transmogrification.

Dust was a documentary about...dust. The film sounds boring (and actually it was) but not because of the subject matter but because of the editing. Extended shot of people of dusting gets old fast. I'd kill to have the voice of the German narrator though. It was masculine, it was melodic, and it had gravitas. I have no doubt the narrator make a good living as a voice-over artist with that voice.

Finally, Walt & El Grupo was a great documentary about Walt Disney and his 1941 Goodwill tour of South America. If you have ever seen some Disney films set in South America such as El Gaucho Goofy and Saludos Amigos with Brazilian parrot Jose Carioca, you have seen the result of Disney's South American tour. The tour served several purposes - a South American Goodwill Tour for the US Government, Disney artists collecting audio and visual memories to create future Disney films, and giving Walt Disney a respite from a devastating strike that shut down his studio.

A week before the festival, I saw Hollywood Chinese - a documentary about Chinese American contributions to Hollywood films. While watching the ancient looking Luise Rainer (The Good Earth - 1937), I realized I had seen this film before. Specifically, I saw it at the 2007 SF Asian American Film Festival. It was great to see Nancy Kwan singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" again.