55th San Francisco International Film Festival

USA, April 19 - May 3 2012

The jury

Dennis West (US), Claire Valade (Canada), Andrés Nazarala (Chile)

Awarded films

The 55th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) took place in that spectacularly set U. S. coastal city April 19-May 3, 2012. Festival publicity touted the longevity of this annual event and trumpeted it as the oldest film festival in the United States. The San Francisco Film Society is the “presenter” — to use festival marketing parlance — of this cultural event, which seems to be well known throughout the metropolitan area.

This year’s edition of the festival showcased 174 films from forty-five countries; both fiction and non-fiction features were presented as were shorts. More than two hundred critics, filmmakers, and industry guests from around the world were invited to attend the event. SFIFF is an eclectic, mid-sized festival which seeks to present recent films for local audiences that would otherwise — at least in the case of many foreign titles — have little chance of seeing them on the big screen.

The 55th edition of SFIFF categorized the films that were screened along the following lines: New Directors (first- and second-time filmmakers appearing on the international scene), Documentaries, World Cinema (recent fiction features from the U. S. and many other countries), Shorts, The Late Show (“Thrills and chills from around the world”), and Cinema by the Bay. The latter selection celebrates the work of established and emerging filmmakers based in what is known locally as the Bay Area — San Francisco and the nearby communities of Oakland, Berkeley, etc. Several of the selections were competitive. For instance, the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize was awarded to the best work in competition in the New Directors section.

In addition to screenings, the festival sponsored many other types of events in order to enhance and support film culture. The popular Schools at the Festival Program was designed to inspire the next generation of filmmakers. In this program, visiting filmmakers drop by junior high and high school classrooms in order to comment on their own work and to field questions from the students themselves. The College Days program was a three-day series of films shown to university students; in follow-up discussions, students and filmmakers explored selected works. A series of master classes provided an opportunity for festival goers to hear from specially qualified international guests concerning topics such as “Tati, Chaplin, and the Democratization of Comedy”. In a series of “salons”, in-depth discussions were designed to relate specific films to designated themes deemed socially significant. For instance, one salon entitled “Causes and Impacts: The Threat of GMOS” [sic] used specific films screened at the festival as a springboard to examine the effects of pesticides in food.

Several awards and tributes were presented. For instance, the famous American documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award; and the Founder’s Directing Award went to the British cineaste Kenneth Branagh. (Dennis West)

San Francisco International Film Festival: www.festival.sffs.org