SFFILM Festival Spotlights #3

by Chad Liffmann on April 7, 2017

(Films #21-#30 of Chad’s goal of seeing 60 films to commemorate SF Film Festival’s 60th anniversary! #60for60th)

The 60th SFFILM Festival is in full swing! Be sure to get your tickets now — visit http://www.sffilm.org/festival for tickets and info. Also, be sure to check back here frequently, or follow along at our Facebook page and on Twitter (or follow film critics Carrie Kahn- @CKCinephile / Chad Liffmann- @chadcarsten). And now, time for 10 more spotlights:

Bending the Arc
(USA 2017, 102 min; in English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Kinyarwanda with English subtitles)

A scene from BENDING THE ARC, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

This incredible documentary follows the origination and long-lasting impact of a few medical students (Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Jim Yong Kim) who cared so deeply for universal health care that they were willing to take the emotional, financial, and life-threatening plunge into war torn and disease stricken countries to defend and advance it. Bending the Arc can be both infuriating and inspiring as it brings to light some of the most wonderful humanitarian efforts that challenge the systemic greed and social inequality that has greatly influenced the health of the world for far too long.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 14th, 5:00 pm, Castro Theatre

Mister Universo
(Austria/Italy 2016, 90 min; Italian with English subtitles)

A scene from Tizza Covi’s and Rainer Frimmel’s MISTER UNIVERSE, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

Mister Universo is a delightful docudrama with a “coming-of-age” lightheartedness to it. We follow Tairo, a lion tamer, who searches for the legendary strongman (Arthur Robin) who gave him a now stolen lucky charm. The film employs a nostalgic cinéma vérité style, where we feel sympathetic to the crude reality behind a dwindling profession (though relief that animals are less and less being used today as circus performers), yet there’s also an underlying appreciation for the old-fashioned world of traveling circus arts. There’s a lot of heart and wonder here, complete with a charmingly symbolic conclusion that wraps up this simple story nicely.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 14th, 6:30 pm, BAMPFA
  • Sunday, April 16th, 6:00 pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Tuesday, April 18th, 4:00 pm, Roxie Theater

(Romania 2016, 173 min; Romanian with English subtitles)

A scene from SIERANEVADA, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Sieranevada is like a very long Woody Allen movie, except: 1) in Romanian; and 2) not quite as funny. Yet it weaves together an intricate web of familial relationships in remarkably realistic fashion. The film doesn’t duck away from prolonged conversations about politics, 9/11, conspiracy theories, and cultural traditions, but also pays equal attention to the trivial disagreements that lay the groundwork for deeper-seated tensions at bay, which come out later. Director Cristi Puiu blends the drama comfortably with moments of dark humor, and, whether or not the family in focus reminds you of your own, you inevitably get sucked in like you’re a participant in their evening.

(click here for tickets)

  • Tuesday, April 11th, 6:30 pm, BAMPFA
  • Sunday, April 16th, 8:00 pm, SFMOMA

Marie Curie, The Courage of Knowledge
(Germany/France/Poland 2016, 95 min; French with English subtitles)

A scene from MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE, screening at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge is a stylized biopic of the Nobel Prize winning scientist. It dives deep into the personal and romantic struggles that Curie faced in a male-dominated field. While the attempts to construct a pro-feminist portrait while focusing on Curie’s romantic rendezvous can seem counter-intuitive, the film nevertheless composes each scene with ambitious cinematography to add an experimental feel to a story about a woman who steeped her life in experimentation.

(click here for tickets)

  • Saturday, April 9th, 3:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Wednesday, April 12th, 9:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room

The Student
(Russia 2016, 118 min; Russian with English subtitles)

A scene from Kirill Serebrennik’s THE STUDENT, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, on April 5 – 19, 2017.

The Student is akin to a modern day spin on The Crucible. It’s a slow burn of a story, as a high school student, Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov), armed with a bible in hand and a possessed sense of religious righteousness, launches his school and the relationships between the adults attempting to control him (his mother, teacher, principal, etc.) into chaos. Though the reasons for Venya’s quick transformation into a religious zealot are left slightly ambiguous, the quickness by which he sparks the unaddressed tensions of opposing educators is fascinating and troublesome in light of the most recent presidential campaign season and a global history of violent religious differences. The Student shows that no matter the trigger, sometimes the lines between science, logic, and faith can be blurred and scarily ignored.

(click here for tickets)

  • Sunday, April 16th, 5:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Tuesday, April 18th, 9:00 pm, Victoria Theatre

Tania Libre
(Persistence of Vision Award)
(USA 2017, 73 min; English and Spanish with English subtitles)

A scene from TANIA LIBRE, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19th, 2017.

The art and activism of Cuban artist Tania Bruguera is not very well-known beyond those who have focused their attention on the recent history of Cuban censorship, yet her work is pointedly universal. This documentary shares the intimate therapy session between Bruguera and post-traumatic stress disorder psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg. It’s fascinating to unravel the parallels between Bruguera the person and her art, and between her art and her activism. With attention currently being paid to lifting embargoes and promoting US-Cuba relations, Tania Libre is an important cinematic session to sit through and learn from.

(click here for tickets)

  • Tuesday, April 11th, 7:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room

The Transfiguration
(USA 2016, 97 min; in English)

Eric Ruffin from Michael Oshea’s THE TRANSFIGURATION, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, on April 5 – 19, 2017.

I wasn’t sure what I was in for, yet, from the opening shot to the closing shot, I was transfixed by The Transfiguration. It’s not really a vampire movie, but it also is, in a way. The Transfiguration is a haunting urban tale with a heavy dose of social commentary to discuss after the end credits. Strong performances from a handful of young actors and the script’s penchant for substance over style make this pseudo-horror film a worthwhile character study for genre fans and cinephiles alike.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 7th, 11:00 pm, Roxie Theater
  • Sunday, April 9th, 8:15 pm, BAMPFA
  • Monday, April 17th, 5:30 pm, Alamo Drafthouse

The Human Surge
(Argentina/Brazil/Portugal 2016, 97 min; Spanish/Portuguese/Cebuano with English subtitles)

A scene from Eduardo William’s film THE HUMAN SURGE playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

Not exactly mind-bending, but rather inventive and featuring a unique three-part narrative, The Human Surge follows the connections between young characters in Argentina, Mozambique, and the Philippines. In a moment of surprising camerawork and creative expression, we pan beneath the ant-infested surface where a character was peeing and flow beneath the earth into the area of our next characters of focus. This cinematic obscurity seems to have a point, though. The modern-day knowledge that everyone is connected through the earth and the internet is played to maximum effect through explicit sex acts and long takes in impoverished neighborhoods — both depicted with casual indifference. What director Eduardo Williams is suggesting by this purposeful tone is up for interpretation, but makes for a decidedly fun conversation.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 14th, 6:00 pm, Roxie Theatre
  • Saturday, April 15th, 8:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room

The Cinema Travellers
(India 2016, 96 min; in Hindi/Marathi with English subtitles)

A scene from THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

The fact that there are still traveling movie caravans in India makes me very happy, and sad. The Cinema Travellers is a documentary that appreciates and honors these entrepreneurial mobile film lovers for their effort and expertise, and mourns the loss of the celluloid era and the theater experience in its most purest form. Filmmakers Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham join the traveling company Akshay Touring Talkies as they set up their cinema tents in multiple towns, constantly fix their old failing projectors, and try to turn a profit from their mesmerized crowds. The Cinema Travellers is beautiful and moving, and its intimacy makes it feel as artfully specialized as the technicians who have devoted their lives to working with these “ancient” projectors.

(click here for tickets)

  • Sunday, April 9th, 6:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Monday, April 10th, 4:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Saturday, April 15th, 2:45 pm, SFMOMA

The Wedding Ring
(Niger/Burkina Faso/France 2016, 96 min; Songhoy/Zarma/Hausa/Fulaani with English subtitles)

A scene from Rahmatou Keïta’s THE WEDDING RING, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

The Wedding Ring may feel a tad scattered and the acting slightly stunted, but the feat of a African woman-directed film about empowered Muslim women is an accomplishment that can’t be brushed aside. The film tackles an array of themes, including breaking traditions, societal expectations, gender dynamics, sexual desire, womanhood, and cultural norms. Hats off to Nigerien filmmaker Rahmatou Keïta for challenging expectations through her filmmaking accomplishment alone, and still producing a vibrantly colored, complex narrative.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 13th, 6:30 pm, BAMPFA
  • Saturday, April 15th, 2:30 pm, Roxie Theater
  • Wednesday, April 19th, 1:00 pm, Victoria Theatre


The 60th San Francisco International Film Festival runs from April 5th through April 19th.

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