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The 58th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7, 2015)



By my count, this year's San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7, 2015) features 58 narrative features, one for every year in the fest's history. That's on top of 34 documentary features, 6 shorts programs, and a panoply of awards presentations/tributes, live performance events, lectures, master classes, and other special programs. In its variety and size, it's hard to top the SFIFF, even in a Bay Area overstuffed with film festivals.

This year's fest kicks off Thursday, April 23 with an Opening Night screening and Q&A for Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine—at the Castro Theatre—followed by a party at Madame Tussauds. The fest will wrap two weeks later, on May 7, with a Q&A Castro screening of Experimenter, accompanied by director Michael Almereyda and star Peter Sarsgaard. In between, there'll be plenty of starry nights, including May 2's Centerpiece selection The End of the Tour (see capsule review below), accompanied by Jason Segel and director James Ponsoldt, an Irving M. Levin Directing Award presentation to Guillermo del Toro (4/25 at the Castro, with screening of The Devil's Backbone), a Peter J. Owens Award handed out to actor Richard Gere (4/26 at the Castro, with screening of new film Time Out of Mind), and a Kanbar Award for screenwriter (and director) Paul Schrader (4/28 at the Kabuki, with screening of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters). Plus all of the awards winners and assorted glitteratti will officially collect their prizes at the gala Film Society Awards Night 4/27 at The Armory Community Center.

This year's State of the Cinema address comes courtesy of director and special effects legend Douglas Trumbull (5/3 at the Kabuki), and hip acts like performance artist/filmmaker Miranda July (4/28 and 4/29 at Brava Theater Center), electro pop act Cibo Matto (5/5 at the Castro), and Kronos Quartet (5/6 at the Kabuki) will perform live. Dig a bit deeper and you'll find awards tributes to documentarian Kim Longinotto (5/2 at the Kabuki, with screening of Dreamcatcher) and scholar and "film sleuth" Lenny Borger (5/3 at the Kabuki, with screening of Monte-Cristo), as well as Master Classes with Gibney and, from Pixar, director James Ford Murphy and sculptor Greg Dykstra.

And then there are the films: so many options to sift through and to discover, from rare opportunities to see undistributed foreign films to the latest things in indie horror. You'll see some capsule reviews rolling out here, as well as interviews with some of the talent about their films. In the meantime, to review a complete festival schedule, go to


54: The Director's Cut (4/24 at the Castro):  Mark Christopher's 1998 drama about the precipitous peak and dizzying fall of Studio 54 returns in a director's cut that restores the film's guts and cuts back on its sexual squeamishness. Though this version runs only six minutes longer, the Weinstein-hacked Miramax cut of 1998 axed more than thirty minutes, replacing it with as much in reshoots; as such, this director's cut is a substantially different film, one bolder in its depiction of the bisexuality (Ryan Philippe's social-climbing Jersey boy), bi-curiosity (Breckin Meyer's busboy), and homosexuality (Mike Meyers as club owner Steve Rubell) of its characters (not to mention Salma Hayek as a good-time coat-check gal). What always played as an impressive recreation of a moment now has stronger drama and greater integrity. Highly recommended.

The Diplomat (4/30 and 5/3 at the Sundance Kabuki): This HBO Documentary Film finds director David Holbrooke memorializing his father Richard Holbrooke, the legendary American diplomat whose roles--in a truly remarkable fifty-year career--included UN Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State. The conceit of son posthumously discovering son will strike some as a trite and unnecessary distraction, but they don't negate the elder man's story, told in a wealth of archival footage and in the voices of his colleagues (and lovers), including presidents he served and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. A stew of the wonky (defined by Holbrooke's savvy, shoe leather, and unsparing assessments) and the personal (defined by his alienating career ambition), The Diplomat proves a reasonably hearty political doc. Recommended.

El Cordero (5/1 and 5/7 at the Sundance Kabuki, 5/3 at the PFA): Review coming soon. Recommended.

The End of the Tour (5/2 at the Sundance Kabuki): Review coming soon. Highly recommended.

A Hard Day (5/3 and 5/7 at the Sundance Kabuki): Review coming soon. Recommended.

Saint Laurent (4/26 at the Castro): One of the towering fashion icons of the twentieth century, Yves Saint Laurent defined style through haute couture and prêt-à-porter. Bertrand Bonello's dramatic consideration of the man (played by Gaspard Ulliel and, later, Helmut Berger) looks at how he created the run(a)way monster that devoured him by way of work-hard-play-hard stresses that included cruising, drug use and, peskiest of all, love). Bonello's arty, psychologically penetrating approach works as time-machine transport, seductive entrée into a hedonistic world of aesthetic artifice and physical pleasure, and empathy-evoking expressionism (no small feat when dealing with a man breathing such rarified air as YSL), though it also indulges in redundancies before the film's 150 minutes are up. Recommended.

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