Variety, substance at 53rd SF Film Festival 

If only Columbus, Ohio, didn't get ahead of it in 1953, the San Francisco International Film Festival could be the oldest festival in North America. Even so, getting ready for its 53rd season, the mature SFIFF offers variety, substance and only a modicum of Hollywood glitter.

Details about this year’s festival, which runs April 22 through May 6, were announced today, including the program of 177 films from 46 countries and 250 filmmakers. Among the visitors are Robert Duvall, who will receive the Peter J. Owens Award on April 30 and critic Roger Ebert, up for the Novikoff Award on May 1.

The opening film at the Castro Theatre is "Amélie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's “Micmacs” (“Misfits”), an adventure about a plot against arms manufacturers.

The “Centerpiece” presentation is Josh Radnor's directorial debut, "happythankyoumoreplease," on May 1, in the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. The film is about twentysomethings who shirk “the sex, drugs and rock and roll allure of Manhattan's hipster stomping grounds for an old-fashioned dose of youthful optimism and social responsibility."

The closing film on May 6 in the Castro is "Joan Rivers – A Piece of Work," Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's "surprising look" at the comedienne.

A few other films of promise:

  • Austrian filmmaker Jessical Hausner's “Lourdes,” about a multiple sclerosis patient (Sylvie Testud) in a wheelchair visiting the French shrine on an ambiguous journey. The nonbeliever’s pilgrimage is chronicled in what one critic has called “a miraculously engaging film – an agnostic tale imbued with religious spirit (or vice versa).” [4 p.m. May 2, Kabuki; 8:30 p.m., May 6, Clay]

  • Jan Kounen's “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” begins with the famous riot during Stravinsky’s 1913 premiere of "The Rite of Spring"; it builds into an intense, “sumptuously detailed drama evoking a pivotal era of upheaval in Western culture by focusing on two of its most famous protagonists." [12:30 p.m. April 25, 9:15 p.m. April 26, Kabuki]

  • A revival of Satyajit Ray's masterwork “The Music Room” (1958), about a turn-of-the-century Indian aristocrat whose wealth dwindes while he spends money on lavish concerts in his opulent music room. The director's first work "Pather Panchali" had its U.S. premiere at the first festival in 1957, and he has remained a favorite here ever since. [2:30 p.m. May 1, Castro; 6:15 p.m. May 2, Pacific Film Archive]

  • "Pianomania” is about Stefan Knüpfer, the Steinway & Sons master piano tuner who doubles as physician and voice coach. Participating artists include Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Alfred Brendel, Lang Lang and many more. [4 p.m., April 25, PFA; 6 p.m. April 29 and 1:15 p.m. May 2, Kabuki]

Last year, in spite of the height of the economic recession, attendance at the festival increased against the previous year, for a total of 82,000.


 
IF YOU GO
53rd San Francisco International Film Festival


Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, Clay Theatre, other venues
When: April 22 through May 6
Tickets: $10 to $12.50; higher for special events
Contact: (925) 866-9559, www.sffs.org

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