Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 8:29 pm 
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Chris Knipp Festival coverage on Filmleaf.

Opening night's Perhaps Love featured Takeshi Kaneshiro

All About Love (Daniel Yu 2005)
Betrayal, The (Philippe Faucon 2005)
Beyond the Call (Adrian Belic 2006)
Brothers of the Head (Keith Fulton, Lous Pepe 2005)
Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw (Koji Wakamatsu 2005)
Dignitiy of the Nobodies (Fernando E. Solanas 2005)
Factotum (Bent Hamer 2005)
Favela Rising (Jeff Zimbalist, Matt Mochary 2005)
Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau 2005)
Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck 2006)
Iberia (Carlos Saura 2005)
Illumination (Pascale Breton 2005)
Iraq in Fragments (John Longley 2005)
Life I Want, The (Giuseppe Piccioni 2004)
News from Afar (Ricardo Benet 2004)
Northeast (Juan Diego Solanas 2005)
One Long Winter Without Fire (Greg Zglinski 2004)
Perfect Couple, A (Nobuhiro Suwa 2005)
Petit Lieutenant, Le (Xavier Beauvois 2005)
Play (Alicia Scherson 2005)
Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel 2005)
Romance and Cigarettes (John Turturro 2005)
Sa-Kwa (Kang Yi-Kwan 2005)
See You in Space (Ég veled! József Pacskovszky 2005)
Shooting Under Fire (Sacha Mirzoeff, Bettina Borgfeld 2005)
Sun, The (Alexandr Sokurov 2004)
Taking Father Home (Ming Liang 2005)
Underground Game (Roberto Gervitz 2005)Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang 2005)


In reporting on the 49th annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) I’m responding to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s frequently repeated admonition that what we get in US movie theaters doesn't show the full range and quality of world filmmaking. But my comments will be colored by the fact that my personal goal remains that of seeing the best of new films regardless of where they come from or where I get to see them.

The SFIFF's ubiquitous flyer claims to offer “227 unique films.” Guess what: uniqueness is by definition a very rare quality, and you're not going to find that many new films anywhere that are either great or unique — though "unique" (if used very loosely) is a safer word because if a movie isn't great, maybe it's different. Quality is an issue to me. And that means choosing well. But the trouble is that with two weeks of public screenings and 227 films there's pressure and little time. How does one choose?

To give some picture of the festival's all-over quality, I began by not choosing. The SFIFF pre-festival press screenings appeared to be basically a random list of offerings and I've been attending as many of them as I could, plus viewing some available VHS tapes of festival selections before the public screenings began.

This initial sampling leads me to conclude that at best maybe only ten percent of the total offerings are really exciting—“unique” in a positive sense. But the NYFF, which focused on nothing but what the committee of the Film Society deemed to be the very best of the world's films for 2005, chose only twenty-five. So that ten percent can be very important.

Last year I realized there are festival lemons, truly disastrous movies that are passed from festival to festival with the same continually augmented hype until they either get shot down by outspoken and visible big city critics (if anyone is even paying attention) — or festival organizers move on to a new crop of the next year's lemons. Making my selections of what else to see during the intense two-week period of the festival public screenings my humblest hope is to avoid lemons — or failing that, to call attention to them. Such is the nature of a film festival with many offerings.

At the other extreme of course one hopes for real finds — the one out of ten that really mattered. Others are worthwhile or fun, but haven't caused a major rise in blood pressure — and too many have been disappointments or even fiascos. That's a kind of uniqueness I can do without. But of course those who put together a big film festival aren't looking for uniqueness. They're looking for a wide range, and trying to provide opportunities for new artists and new directions -- all of which is commendable.

With this large a selection there is also a diminishing chance that the most outstanding offerings will be new to festival-goers. Clearly some of the best selections have been seen elsewhere; and without having attended Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, or Tribeca, I already know that Le Petit Lieutenant is terrific from being at the Rendez-Vous and I know that Gabrielle, The Sun, and Regular Lovers are very fine films from seeing the NYFF's official selections last year. So far, prior to the public screenings, I can only observe that one way or another I've seen 18 of the selections and that I can heartily recommend one that was new to me. That was Alicia Scherson's Play, which represents the work of a brilliant new director, and discoveries like her are why one goes to festivals.

My SFIFF comments will appear on Filmleaf.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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