Looking Ahead: 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival


I’m taking a break from CAAMFest reviews to make sure you are all aware that the 58th annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) is coming up soon! Opening Night is on Thursday, April 23rd, and the festival runs until Thursday, May 3rd.

Not only is SFIFF the biggest and most well-attended film festival in the Bay Area, it is also the longest running festival in North America. That’s right, it was here before Sundance, Telluride, and Toronto International Film Festivals. Moreover, the festival’s programmers take the “international” in their title seriously: SFIFF has the best selection of international films at any festival I’ve yet attended. It was through SFIFF that I discovered one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the Iranian director and screenwriter Asghar Farhadi, who later went on to win a Best Foreign Language Oscar for his family drama A Separation. It was also at SFIFF that I watched some of the most memorable and enjoyable movies I’ve ever seen–a bizarre flick from France/Taiwan with a darkly surreal flavor, a poignantly bittersweet tale of childhood in Indonesia, and many other rare gems. At last year’s festival I was able to screen and review the Syrian documentary Return to Homs, the French documentary School of Babel, and the Greek narrative Standing Aside, Watching. In an industry dominated by American movies, it’s gratifying to see the influence flow in the other direction sometimes. This year’s festival promises equal breadth with films from Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Vietnam, Albania, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Peru, and so many other countries it would be tiresome to list them all.

But SFIFF is also true to the “SF” part of its name: several of the festival’s offerings are by local filmmakers or about local subjects. Highlights include a documentary tracing the origins of the Black Panther Movement to a small group of Oakland youths (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution); a film documenting the trial of black market website Silk Road’s purported founder and owner, San Francisco-based Ross Ulbricht (Deep Web); the 2014 IDFA award winner for Best Feature Documentary showcasing a unique Yountville PTSD treatment center (Of Men and War); a whimsical family drama about a San Francisco teen in search of a new family (Quitters); and a documentary featuring Bay Area poet Donté Clark’s efforts to reach out to Richmond teenagers through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Romeo Is Bleeding).

With well over a hundred programs available to watch this year, choosing how to spend your festival time and money might seem an overwhelming task. But don’t worry–I’m going to do my best to sift through what’s available and let you know which films you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Stay tuned!