San Francisco Film Festival and the Canadian Who's Come to Claim It


It wasn’t a joke when the press asked the San Francisco Film Society’s new Executive Director how long he plans to stay with us. Warmly, Noah Cowan, responded, “I look forward to many, many, years here.” Cowan comes to us after our last Executive Director, Indie Film mogul Ted Hope, left the Film Society after hardly a year on the job. Prior to that the position saw some strange upheaval, making the post feel temporary in a way that made the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), the Film Society’s major event of the year, appear somewhat threatened by instabilities. Cowan’s only been the active Film Society Executive Director for about a month but he’s everso graceful with the press. “At this point I’m most interested in experiencing it,” he said of the Film Society. “The cultural life of the Bay Area is really integrated…understanding that is key and isn’t the kind of learning that happens overnight.”

Cowan wasn’t the only subject of interest at the Festival’s press conference; typically the annual event is held to alert press to SFIFF’s offerings, which are broad and sophisticated as usual. The Centerpiece film is Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto. Based on a short story by James Franco (who’s appearance in the peninsula shot film raised a tiny twitter storm) the titular location was of key interest to the representative of the United Nations International Film Festival (UNIFF), a recent but respected annual festival operating out of, you guessed it, Palo Alto. The UNIFF representative asked Cowan if he plans to collaborate with other festivals in the area. This would mark a diplomatic venture inside the non-profit sector that aids the survival for fests smaller than UNIFF, but requires longer involvement in the community than the month Cowan’s been on the job. Cowan answered with an open invitation, “we should put our heads together and see what we can come up with.” Gail Silva, consultant and founder of the Film Arts Foundation, addressed the question of collaboration more generally, saying the Bay Area has “a multitude of film festivals.” Cowan’s optimistic reply was “I think there’s strength in that, if we find ways to collaborate.”

Head Programmer Rachel Rosen referred to the festival’s history (this is the 57th year for the fest) when she compared Founder’s Directing Award Winner Richard Linklater to Satyajit Ray and Spike Lee. All three filmmakers screened their first features at the festival and then went on to get the Director’s Award. The Evening with Linklater (May 2) will include the screening of his opus Boyhood, which will see theatres in May via IFC Films. The Mel Novikoff Award, named for the esteemed Exhibitor/Curator, is going to legendary critic David Thompson, a prolific writer who’s “Biographical Dictionary of Film” sees new renditions at alarming speeds. Sunday May 4th, the afternoon event with Thompson will feature a screening of Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve. The Persistence of Vision award goes to filmmaker and conceptual artist Isaac Julien and Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) gets the Kanbar Screenwriting Award. As usual, the galas that bookend the festival promise to lure some worthy guests and fussy hors de oeuvres. SFIFF57 opens with The Two Faces of January (April 24) and closes with actor Chris Messina’s directorial debut Alex of Venice (May 8). Yet amidst the screenings, the guest list (tentative as it may be) promises people like Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (supporting feature The Skeleton Twins) and Patricia Clarkson (supporting The Last Season). If that’s not enough to intrigue you, see the list of films playing the fest we already know have distributors. Watch them at the fest weeks to months before they reach the rest of the country in theatres.

Chinese Puzzle
If You Don't, I Will
The Last Season
Last Weekend
Night Moves
Our Sunhi
The Overnighters
Palo Alto
The Sacrament
The Trip to Italy
We Are The Best!
Young & Beautiful
Yves Saint Laurent

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