Go under the radar at 59th SF International Film Festival

One of the pleasures of the San Francisco International Film Festival — now in its 59th year, presented by the San Francisco Film Society — is the chance to discover low-profile gems. Here are a few under-the-radar highlights, including some from SFIFF director of programming Rachel Rosen.


The Apostate: Rosen recommends the film, a droll seriocomeday by Uruguay’s Federico Veiroj, who cowrote it with his lead actor. Frustrated on the academic, sexual and familial fronts, an immature Madrid 30-something tries to force the Catholic Church to surrender its hold on his life by striking his name from the baptismal record. [8:45 p.m. April 22 at BAMPFA; 8:30 p.m. April 26 at Victoria; 3:30 p.m. April 27 at Alamo]

As I Open My Eyes
: Rosen also recommends the drama directed by Leyla Bouzid and set in Tunisia in the summer before the launch of Arab Spring. Both a political statement and a story of risky female independence in an oppressively ruled country, the story centers on an 18-year-old woman who has been singing provocative material in an underground band. Her mother fears for her. [9 p.m. April 26 and 6 p.m. May 2 at Roxie]

Granny’s Dancing on the Table: Set in the Swedish woods, Hanna Skold’s distinctive, disquieting drama (which employs animation) involves abuse, emotional imprisonment, and the therapeutic power of the imagination. A 13-year-old’s harsh experiences are paralleled with a story about the history of the girl’s dysfunctional family. [9 p.m. April 27 at Roxie; 4:15 p.m. April 30 at Alamo]

Under the Shadow: Among the fest’s Dark Wave offerings, London-based filmmaker Babak Anvari’s debut feature is a ghost story, political allegory and horror film set in a Tehran apartment building toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war. A woman must discontinue her medical studies because of her political activism. Meanwhile, a missile attack inflicts something sinister on the tenants. [11:30 p.m. April 29 and 10 p.m. May 1 at Alamo]


Audrie & Daisy: The sexual assault of high-school students is the subject of the film by San Francisco-based Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen which looks at two cases that show the tragic consequences of combining sex, alcohol and social media and examines how perpetrators are rarely punished for such crimes. [6 p.m. April 28 at Victoria; 2:30 p.m. May 1 at Alamo]

The Joneses: Highly recommended by Rosen, Moby Longinotto’s documentary invites audiences into the Mississippi trailer-park home of a family filled with simmering resentments and shelved dreams. Presiding over it all is Jehri, the 73-year-old transgender matriarch, whose journey has resulted in triumph over hardship and transphobia. [3:30 p.m. April 28 at Roxie; 8:45 p.m. April 30 at Alamo; 8:40 p.m. May 1 at BAMPFA]

Nuts!: Director Penny Lane, whose “Our Nixon” was a sadly funny excavation of home-movie weirdness and Watergate haze, combines archival material, commentary and animation in a portrait of John R. Brinkley — a Nazi-sympathizing direct-mail magnate who claimed to be a doctor and advocated goat-testicle implants as a cure for impotence. His empire seemed unsinkable until a medical journal began asking questions. [8:45 p.m. April 29 at Alamo, 6:15 p.m. April 30 at BAMPFA]

Presenting Princess Shaw: Samantha Montgomery, a New Orleans caregiver, writes songs and posts YouTube videos of herself performing them. Mash-up artist Kutman in Israel hears it, and uses it a video that goes, and the results are captured by Israeli director Ido Haar in the uplifting film. [6 p.m. May 4 at Victoria; 5:30 p.m. May 5 at Alamo]


Hunt for the Wilderpeople
: Taika Waititi, who made the Kiwi vampire roommate comedy “What We Do in the Shadows,” offers a dramedy about a troubled teen who flees into the wilderness, prompting his foster father, who’s had misgivings about parenting, to chase him. Adventures ensue in the charmer based on a Barry Crump novel. [6:30 p.m. April 22 at Victoria; 3:30 p.m. April 24 at Alamo]

Little Men: Director Ira Sachs (“Love Is Strange”) makes small films that feel big; this Brooklyn-set story of class, friendship and gentrification is about two teen boys — unlikely pals from different backgrounds — whose bond is threatened when their parents battle over a lease. [9 p.m. April 29 at Victoria; 1 p.m. May 3 at Alamo]

Our Kind of Traitor
: Rosen recommends the fun, old-fashioned spy-thriller in which a mild-mannered poetry professor becomes mired in the defection of a Russian money launderer; the British drama directed by Susanna White is based on a John Le Carre novel.[5 p.m. May 1 at Victoria; 12:30 p.m. May 3 at Alamo]


Cast a Dark Shadow: The 1955 British thriller, directed by Lewis Gilbert (who made three James Bond films and the original “Alfie”) stars Dirk Bogarde as a sociopath who kills his wife after he learns she plans to change her will. Disappointed with what he inherits, he then marries a wealthy widow, who sabotages his next murderous plan. [5 p.m. April 23 at Castro, noon April 24 at BAMPFA]

Vampyr with live music: Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror film (and first sound picture) is shot in three languages but told largely with silent-film-style intertitles. The drama features a village inn, a visiting student, a strange doctor, an old crone, a cursed young woman and shadows and fog. Alternative-rock act Mercury Rev and Sion Raymonde of Cocteau Twins play live accompaniment [8 p.m. May 2 at Castro]

The Watermelon Woman: The first feature film known to be directed by a black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 drama stars Dunye as an emerging filmmaker who discovers she has much in common with a 1930s-era black actress {known as “The Watermelon Woman”) who’s the subject of her movie. Dunye, who uses grainy faux-film clips and docu-style interviews that tap into black and LGBT history, appears at the screening. [2 p.m. May 1 at Castro]


59th San Francisco International Film Festival
Where: Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, 2550 Mission St., S.F; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.; Gray Area, 2665 Mission St., S.F.; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., S.F.; Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., S.F.; S.F.; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley
When: April 21 through May 5
Tickets: $15 most films, more for special events
Contact: www.sffs.org

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