Film Feature: SFFILM 2018 Festival Spotlights #1

by Carrie Kahn on April 2, 2018

61st annual San Francisco International Film Festival opens this Wednesday, April 4th

The 61st annual San Francisco International Film Festival begins this Wednesday, April 4th, and will run almost two weeks, until Thursday, April 17th. This year’s Festival features 186 films from over 40 countries, and will include eight world premieres, five North American premieres, and six U.S. premieres. Of special note is that over a third of this year’s selected films are directed by women. Tickets and more information about films and programs can be found here.

To help you plan your Fest schedule, we’ll start you off here with five Festival film spotlights (three narrative features and two documentaries). And be sure to bookmark Spinning Platters and check back frequently, as we’ll have more coverage throughout the Festival.

1.) Half the Picture
(USA 2018, 94 min. Global Visions)

Director Ava DuVernay is interviewed in the documentary Half the Picture.

In the wake of the #TimesUp movement, director Amy Adrion’s alternately infuriating and inspiring documentary about the glaring gender disparity in film directing is timely, relevant, and always absorbing. Adrion ticks off a series of dispiriting statistics: the number of female directors has stayed the same since 1998; minority women make up 19.8% of the population, but only .006% of film directors; of 442 Best Director Oscar nominees, only five have been women, and only one has won. In a related, equally depressing statistic (as least as far as this reviewer is concerned), 73% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes are male, and only 27% are female. Hollywood has always been a male dominated industry, especially behind the camera, and the stories shared by the directors interviewed here run the gamut from disrespect, harassment, condescension, lack of support, to, more problematically, lack of opportunities, financing, and salary equality. Film and TV directors Miranda July, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Penelope Spheeris, Kasi Lemmons, Kimberly Pierce, Jill Soloway, Ava duVernay, Lynn Shelton, and, famously, Brenda Chapman, who was unceremoniously fired from Pixar’s Brave, among others, all speak eloquently about why they think the industry’s glass ceiling has been so difficult to break. Their conversations include honest and reflective musings on everything from motherhood, lack of confidence, and, of course, rampant sexism. Sundance programmer Caroline Libresco, ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman, and USC professor Stacy Smith also weigh in on the causes and effects of an entrenched systemic problem, and the best ways to combat ongoing and pervasive discrimination. While often disheartening, the film nevertheless serves as a wake-up call for film producers, programmers, critics, and fans alike. “We are a mighty tribe, women filmmakers,” DuVernay says. With a pending discrimination settlement filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission currently under negotiation, we can hope that the tribe just may get the opportunities and respect that they’ve so long been denied.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Saturday, April 7th, 12:45pm, SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater
– Monday, April 9th, 5:45pm, Children’s Creativity Museum Theater
– Monday, April 16th, 1:30pm, Victoria Theater

2.) I Hate Kids
(USA 2017, 90 min. Global Visions)

Nick (Tom Everett Scott, l.) embarks on a quest with newly found son Mason (Julian Feder).

San Francisco producer Todd Traina makes his feature film writing debut here (he co-wrote the script with screenwriter Frank Dietz), and the screenplay feels like a first effort. Actor/director John Asher brings to screen the absolutely implausible tale of Nick (Tom Everett Scott), a self-absorbed author whose best-selling book I Hate Kids espouses the virtues of being childfree, who – surprise! – finds out he has a 13-year-old son. In a sort of reverse Mamma Mia, Nick and young Mason (Julian Feder) make their way through Nick’s little black book and the greater LA area confronting potential Mommy candidates (Mason’s mom put him up for adoption, without telling Nick). The Amazing Fabular (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Tituss Burgess, hamming it up), the radio psychic who brought them together (don’t ask), comes along for the ride, and hilarity ostensibly ensues. TV actress Julie Ann Emery (Better Call Saul), as a possible mother contender, is the best thing in the movie, and acts circles around the rest of the cast. Too many coincidences, ludicrous and clichéd dialog, and a corny and a predictable ending make this a film with little to offer anyone except the most ardent Tituss Burgess fans.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Thursday, April 5th, 6:30pm, Castro Theater

3.) Boundaries
(Canada/USA 2018, 105 min. Marquee Presentations)

Laura (Vera Farmiga) agrees to drive her father Jack (Christopher Plummer) on an ill-advised road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles.

A father/daughter road trip is the setting for writer/director Shana Feste’s (2014’s Endless Love) new feature. Vera Farmiga’s emotionally wounded Laura (Vera Farmiga) drives her estranged, pot-dealing father Jack (Christopher Plummer) to live with her sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal) in Los Angeles after he’s kicked out of his Seattle senior living center for misdeeds. Despite the film’s title, the picture unfortunately pushes no new boundaries; it’s pretty run of the mill stuff, as it plays out the unavailable father/disappointed daughter trope. Adding to The Little Miss Sunshine been-there-done that vibe are a host of quirky characters, including Laura’s teenage son Henry (Lewis MacDougall, A Monster Calls), recently expelled from school for drawing unflattering nude portraits, and now along for the ride to help Grandpa with his drug deals, unbeknownst to Mom. Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda show up as old friends of Jack’s, and Bobby Cannavale and Kristen Schaal have nice supporting turns as Laura’s Sausalito-residing ex-husband and sister JoJo. Cannavale and Farmiga get an exceptionally well-acted tête-à-tête that almost makes up for the banality of the rest of the film, and Schaal shows a lot of dramatic depth as the clear-eyed sister who harbors no illusions about her father. Some Hopper-esque visuals and breathtaking coastal cinematography are also lovely to look at, but these few strengths can’t mask the hackneyed story and heavy-handed directorial choices.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Sunday, April 15, 2:00pm, Victoria Theater

4.) Winter Brothers (Vinterbrodre)
(Denmark/Iceland 2017, 94 min. In English and Danish with English subtitles. Golden Gate Award Competitions)

Limestone miner Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) faces difficulties at work and home.

A cacophony of industrial noise opens Icelandic writer/director Hlynur Pálmason’s bleak feature debut about two brothers who toil at a grim limestone mine and factory in the remote Danish countryside. The noise of the mine work is almost overbearing, but fits well with Pálmason’s dreary and oppressive story. The film won both Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the Danish equivalent of the Oscars, and earned a Best Actor nomination for its lead, Elliott Crosset Hove, who plays the troubled miner Emil. When Emil’s homemade liquor (made with stolen chemicals from the factory) fatally sickens a fellow worker, Emil’s world quickly deteriorates, as his job, his relationship with his brother (Simon Sears), and his crush on a neighbor (Victoria Carmen Sonne) all turn nightmarish. Dark and moody, the film is not always easy (a naked fight between the brothers is one of the more surreal things I’ve seen on screen recently), but with its unique sound design, and stark, wintry landscapes, it’s a unique and effective portrayal of a descent into madness and despair. One note worth mentioning: the English subtitles are printed in white, which seems a poor choice, as they are often printed against a white, snowy, backdrop; though not completely illegible, they definitely require a little extra focus.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Thursday, April 5th, 4:00pm, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) Theater
– Saturday, April 7th, 6:00pm, Children’s Creativity Museum theater
– Thursday, April 12th, 9:00pm, Victoria Theater

5.) Hal
(USA 2018, 90 min. Global Visions)

Director Hal Ashby is profiled in the documentary Hal.

Film editor Amy Scott makes her directorial debut with this thorough and engaging documentary about another film editor turned director, in a bit of poetic symmetry. With Hal, Scott details the life and career of renowned director Hal Ashby, who had a string of hits in the 1970s, including the cult classic Harold and Maude and the multiple Academy Award winning Vietnam picture Coming Home. Unable to continue his success into the ‘80s, Ashby died of pancreatic cancer in 1988 at the age of 59 (“They didn’t respect him, and it killed him,” actress Rosanna Arquette says at one point). But Ashby’s seven critically acclaimed films from the ‘70s have stood the test of time, and, with this documentary, Scott takes us into the mind and heart of a master film craftsman. Each of the seven films is given its due, as Scott shows plenty of clips, and allows the original actors and others to muse on their experiences working with Ashby. A fierce advocate of inclusion, equality, and “peace and love,” Ashby sought to present truth in a politically and culturally confusing era, even as he faced personal struggles. The actor Ben Foster reads many of Ashby’s original letters, and we hear Ashby himself via old recorded interviews. Other archival and current interviews with actors Jon Voight, Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jack Nicholson, and Bud Cort, as well as with fellow directors Alexander Payne, Judd Apatow, David O. Russell, and, most poignantly, with Ashby’s good friend and mentor director Norman Jewison, make this dishy yet thoughtful doc a must-see for film aficionados everywhere.

Screenings (tickets available here):
– Friday, April 6th, 6:00pm, Children’s Creativity Museum Theater
– Sunday, April 8th, 2:15pm, Victoria Theater


The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival runs from April 4th through April 17th.

You can watch the Festival trailer on the Festival’s website, here.



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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