SFFILM Festival Spotlights #5

by Carrie Kahn on April 16, 2017

Five More Spotlights as SFFILM Enters Final Week

The 60th San Francisco International Film Festival wraps up this week, but there’s still time to catch a few screenings before closing day on Thursday; you can browse the schedule and buy tickets here. Stay tuned to Spinning Platters for our final spotlight posts to help finish up the Fest: we’ve got five more here (and you can read Chad’s previous posts here, here, here, and here).

1.) Maudie and Ethan Hawke Tribute
(Canada/Ireland 2016, 115 min. Awards and Tributes)

Everett (Ethan Hawke) and Maud (Sally Hawkins) on their wedding day.

In a true coup for cinephiles, SFFilm presented a tribute to actor Ethan Hawke at the YBCA Theater on April 8th. Following a delightful clip reel of Hawke’s career highlights, Michael Almereyda, Hawke’s director in 2000’s Hamlet, interviewed the actor. Hawke came across as smart, charming, modest, and immensely likable. In a conversation that ranged from Hawke’s start in high school plays to his embodiment of Gen X angst in 1994’s Reality Bites (“It’s a strange feeling to touch the zeitgeist,” he told us), Hawke gamely opened up on topics both professional and personal. His distaste for violence in films drew a round of applause. “It’s very hard to have a career in professional movies and not kill people,” he said, mentioning that Roger Ebert once toasted him for not killing anyone on screen until Hamlet. Movies that deal with connecting with other people are what he’s most drawn to, he told us, which helps explain his continuing collaboration with Richard Linklater, who memorably cast Hawke in the critically acclaimed Before Sunrise trilogy and Boyhood.

Following the on stage conversation, the audience was treated to an early screening of Hawke’s new summer release Maudie. A biopic about Maud Lewis, a Nova Scotia folk artist relatively unknown outside of Canada, the picture, helmed by a female director and female writer (Aisling Walsh and Sherry White, respectively), stars Sally Hawkins in the title role and Hawke as her illiterate, taciturn, but ultimately loving fish peddler husband Everett. The film tells the story of Maud’s personal struggles, her unlikely courtship and marriage to Everett, and her eventual professional and personal success. Though set in a small Nova Scotia town, the picture was beautifully shot in Newfoundland, and at the Q&A after the film, Hawke mentioned that Walsh’s overall vision was to make a cinematic incarnation of a Maud Lewis painting. Walsh definitely succeeds here, as the film, which breathtakingly captures the changing northern seasons (props to cinematographer Guy Godfree), tells a complicated, lovely story in simple brushstrokes that evoke Maud’s delicate, colorful floral images. Hawkins and Hawke are exceptionally well paired, and both give heartbreaking, powerful performances.

No more SFFILM screenings, but will open in the Bay Area on June 23rd.

2.) The House of Tomorrow
(USA 2017, 100 min. Golden Gate Award Competitions)

Sheltered Sebastian (Asa Butterfield, l.) learns punk rock chord basics from new friend Jared (Alex Wolff).

Making his feature film debut, director Peter Livolsi here adapts Peter Bognanni’s 2010 young adult novel of the same name into a fresh, engaging coming-of-age picture that’s bound to become a classic of the genre. Home schooled and raised off the grid in a geodesic dome by his Buckminster Fuller-obsessed grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), the sheltered and socially awkward Sebastian (Asa Butterfield) is awakened to the power of punk rock when he meets Jared (Alex Wolff), a rebellious teen touring the dome with his Lutheran youth group. The set up is ripe for comic interludes, but Livolsi keeps the farce in check as he brings sensitivity and gentle humor to the boys’ story. Jared’s heart condition and Sebastian’s unusual upbringing make them both outsiders, and their developing friendship is the heart of the movie. Both Butterfield and Wolff, especially, bring a depth of wisdom to their roles on par with any adult actor, and, in one of the actual adult roles, Nick Offerman shines as Jared’s protective and compassionate father. Slightly reminiscent of last year’s Captain Fantastic, Livolsi’s picture will appeal to those interested in the issues presented in that film, as well as those who have a soft spot for well-told coming-of-age pictures, which aren’t always easy to get right. Livolsi, though, can easily place his film in the canon that includes the stellar The Edge of Seventeen and The Way, Way Back.

No more SFFILM screenings; currently playing the film festival circuit.

3.) Marjorie Prime
(USA 2016, 99 min. Marquee Presentations)

Walter Prime (Jon Hamm) converses with his wife Marjorie (Lois Smith).

Based on a play by Jordan Harris (which was a 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama), Michael Almereyda’s new picture retains its theatrical feel, which can take a bit of getting used to. Those who prefer fast-paced, action heavy movies may not be the prime (pun intended) audience here, but those who enjoy character-driven, uniquely told human interest stories shouldn’t miss this one. Jon Hamm stars as Walter Prime, a computer hologram of Walter (imagine if Data on Star Trek were purely an invention of the holodeck, and you’ll have some idea of how the Primes work), late husband to the elderly Marjorie (a terrific Lois Smith). A spare but meaningful meditation on youth, aging, and memory, Almereyda’s picture will leave the viewer mulling over the very nature of grief, love, and death. Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, as Marjorie’s daughter and son-in-law, are nicely paired, and Robbins has several quiet, emotionally true moments that resonant deeply, and serve to remind us just what a master acting craftsman he is.

No more SFFILM screenings; currently playing the film festival circuit.

4.) Landline
(USA 2017, 96 min. Opening Night)

Mom Pat (Edie Falco, center) and daughters Dana (Jenny Slate, r.) and Ali (Abby Quinn) have a bonding moment in the bathroom.

Ah, 1995. Twenty-two years ago cell phones weren’t yet ubiquitous, and human connection required more than just a quick text. That’s the world director Gillian Robespierre and writer Elisabeth Holm return to in this picture, their second collaboration with actress Jenny Slate since 2014’s Obvious Child. Here Slate plays Dana, engaged to her appealing boyfriend Ben (Jay Duplass), but rapidly freaking out about the prospect of a lifetime commitment. Younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is just trying to get through high school when she discovers her father (the always great John Turturro) is having an affair. A sharp and funny look at family and relationships of all kinds, Robespierre creates strong, complex female characters in Dana and Ali, whose struggles and mistakes ring honest and true. Slate and Quinn, who, in a credit to the casting director, actually look alike, bring us one of the most authentic, nuanced portrayals of sisters perhaps ever seen on the big screen. And Turturro and Edie Falco, who plays the sisters’ mother, deserve almost more screen time here, as their storyline, which both echoes and supplements the sisters’, is delivered by two of the industry’s consummate performers. Raw and heartfelt, Landline is a candid and poignant look at familial bonds.

No more SFFILM screenings, but will open widely on July 21st.

5.) Maliglutit (Searchers)
(Canada 2016, 94 min; in Inuktitut with English subtitles. Global Visions.)

Kupak (Joey Sarpinak) searches for his kidnapped family.

Shot on location in and around Igloolik in Nunavut in the Arctic Circle and co-directed by Nunavut directors Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq, Maliglutit is a retelling of the classic 1956 John Wayne western Searchers. Instead of the dusty plains of the American southwest, however, here we are transported to the haunting, snow covered landscapes of the Arctic Circle, circa 1913. When Kupak’s (Joey Sarpinak) wife and daughter are brutally kidnapped, he sets out to find them in a dangerous trek through unforgivable, bitterly cold conditions, via both foot and dog sled. So exquisitely, viscerally beautiful is this film that you’ll want to pull on your warmest down jacket as you watch it. Filled with Inuit traditions and stories, the picture allows us a vivid, insider look at a culture and place unknown to most Lower 48 urban dwellers. An utterly unique cinematic experience, Maliglutit deserves a wide audience.

(click here for tickets)

  • Tuesday, April 18th, 1:00 pm, Victoria Theatre


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

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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