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FILM FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD #8: San Francisco International Film Festival

by Brian "Y2" Mckay

In a city that hosts dozens of festivals a year, catering to filmmakers and audience demographics that are as diverse as the city itself, the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) is probably the most prominent. Now entering its 47th year, the SFIFF provides two solid weeks of programming, showcasing several small foreign films from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as several domestic titles. It's the kind of place where you can see a drama about a family of Iranian goat herders at 12 noon, and then come back for a helping of some whacked-out horror movie like CABIN FEVER at 12 midnight.

The SFIFF isn't exactly a big celebrity stopover, nor is it the most ideal place for the hungry indie director to get noticed by producers with fat studio checkbooks in their back pockets who are looking for the next BLAIR WITCH PROJECT sleeper hit of the year. It's the kind of festival that caters to cinephiles whose tastes lean towards the more exotic and eclectic. Oh sure, you may spot one or two celebs, but don't expect it to be the paparazzi free-for-all orgy of celebrity sightings and parties you're likely to find at The Festival that Redford Built (and should probably move - Park city is expensive, crowded, and colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra full of ice cubes.)

What you will find at the SFIFF is a plethora of small but usually worthwhile films that you're highly unlikely to find anywhere else but at the most obscure week-long arthouse run, or that one video store clear across town that specializes in foreign and cult flicks. It's a place to immerse yourself in the kind of filmmaking that you're not likely to see the other 46 weeks of the year that you're being inundated by Hollywood product.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: THE DETAILS

Where: San Francisco (duh).
When: April 15-29
How Much: Individual screenings average about $10 a piece. You can also buy an annual membership to the San Francisco Film Society for around $400, which will give you access to most screenings and venues. Additional venue package passes are also available. Some screenings, such as opening or closing night, or celebrity tributes, may cost more ($15-20).
Number of films screened: anywhere between 150-200, including full-length features, shorts compilations, and documentaries.

What you'll see: the majority of films will be foreign drama, comedy, or documentary, with a smattering of experimental films and domestic independent films. There are midnight movies on the weekends, usually of the horror/cult variety, as well as Q&A sessions with the filmmakers following several of the screenings.

Celebrity Spotting: slim to none, perhaps with the exception of the opening and closing night parties, or one of the 'an evening with' programs (last year featured Dustin Hoffman and Robert Altman).

Accommodation: Considering that this is one of the most expensive cities on the planet (or at least on the West Coast), you can expect that they won't be cheap. Of course, if you want to stay in other parts of the Bay Area outside of San Francisco proper, the rates should go down some - as long as you don't mind dealing with bridge traffic and tolls or the rush-hour jam-packed 101 freeway commute. If you have a friend in the bay area, now's a good time to cash in that couch voucher.

Transportation and Parking: Each of the venues is accessible by bus, and the Castro theater is near the MUNI train line. Busses and trains usually stop running after midnight, so be prepared with some cab fare. An average cab ride within the city is 8-10 bucks, but expect it to skyrocket anywhere outside of that. Neither venue is readily accessible via the BART system.

Now, a word about parking in San Francisco - IT SUCKS. Street parking is hard to come by, and parking garages and lots can be expensive (although some are cheaper than others). Needless to say, you should get there plenty early, especially if you haven't bought tickets yet. There are two parking garages next to the Kabuki theater, but one of them closes early - so if you're going to a late show and expect to be out after 11:00 p.m., make sure you park in the one that's open late. Parking on the Castro is a bit tougher - there are a few small pay lots nearby, but it's mostly on the street. Be ready to walk several blocks, if necessary.

Parties: The only parties I heard about were opening and closing night, which usually cost around $35 bucks to get into, assuming you can actually buy a ticket. They usually feature live music and a pretty good spread of food, as well as a full bar.

Getting Laid\Places to hang out (to try and get laid): Who goes to a film festival to get laid? Your best bet is if you happen to be gay, since the festival's primary venue, the Castro Theater, is right in the middle of San Francisco's most prominent and lively gay neighborhood. Otherwise, The Kabuki theater in Little Osaka (a.k.a. Japan Town) is surrounded by a variety of Japanese-themed bars and restaurants, as well as coffee houses and clubs. The Boom Boom Room, an excellent Jazz club, is right across the street, as is The Fillmore, one of San Francisco's premiere music venues. So, I guess your chances of getting laid are about as good as any other night, but no better.

Best/Worst Venues: The two primary venues are the Castro Theater, a beautifully restored movie palace that was built circa 1920's, and the Kabuki Theater, a Japanese-themed multiplex. Both venues are quite nice, although the Castro definitely has the most ambiance with its murals, chandeliers, and intricate scrollwork. There may be one or two additional small venues as well, but the bulk of films you'll see are at the Castro and Kabuki.

Press Facilities/access: The good folks at the SFIFF are actually quite accommodating. As long as you have the necessary letter of recommendation, they will help you get set up with a press pass (even if, ahem, you turn in your application past the deadline). A press pass usually comes with six free screeners, but they will hook you up with more when you run out. There is also a press lounge at the Kabuki where you can get screener passes, use internet access, and sometimes get free snacks. You can also check out videotape screeners of several of the films at the festival (one at a time, and they have to be returned the next day - although they will sometimes work with you if you need an extra day or two).

The Hollywood Bitchslap Final grade for the San Francisco International Film Festival: We're going to give it an A-. Despite the parking hassles and expensive nature of the locale, the Venues are large and comfortable, the movie selection is generally quite good, and the staff are very professional. The emphasis is primarily placed on the films and filmmakers, rather than parties and paparazzi - which is how it should be.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=860
originally posted: 11/26/03 06:51:17
last updated: 09/24/05 07:14:21
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