Smaller in scale but not in scope

Marking its 51st anniversary this year, the San Francisco International Film Festival has gone back to its “standard” fare of dozens of offerings of all kinds of films from around the world.

While last year’s 50th celebration warranted a program that was slightly bigger, this year’s presentation nonetheless remains wide in scope. Its sponsor, the San Francisco Film Society, has gone through the same exhaustive preparation as it does each year.

Programming director Linda Blackaby describes the process as “kind of like ‘Star Trek.’ You go through various warp speeds.”

Film Society staffers work on the event year-round. But as the months, weeks and days count down to today’s opening, more and more people participate, from the artists and media professionals on panels selecting the featured films and honorees, to interns helping write the publications, to hundreds of volunteers staffing the theaters.

Even in an odd year, the festival remains immense. Blackaby’s advice on navigating the waters: Pick movies that don’t necessarily seem like something to which you’d typically be attracted.

“Try to explore and widen the idea of who you are and what you like,” she says.

She also recommends screenings being attended by filmmakers: “One of the best things is connecting with the person who made the work. It’s priceless,” she says.

On a personal note, Blackaby is looking forward to seeing directors Alex Rivera (“Sleep Dealer”); Guy Maddin (“My Winnipeg“); and Renee Tajima-Pena, (“Calavera Highway”) as well as Henry Marsh, the subject of “The English Surgeon.” Also: the subjects of “Flow: For the Love of Water,” about water harvesting in India, including, Blackaby has heard,one fellow who’s supposedly the “smartest man in India.”

While admitting that San Francisco’s festival doesn’t quite have the marketing stature that Cannes does, it is, Blackaby says, “an extremely well-respected, recognized festival of international significance.” Filmmakers enjoy being a part of it because San Francisco is a creative place and also because audiences are smart.

IF YOU GO

San Francisco International Film Festival

When: Today though May 8

Where: Most screenings at Sundance Cinemas Kabuki, 1881 Post St.; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; and Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St.

Tickets: $9 to $12.50 for regular programs; more for special events

Contact: (925) 866-9559 or www.sffs.org

Opening night: “The Last Mistress” tonight at 7 at the Castro

Closing night: “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” May 8 at 7 p.m. at the Castro

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