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Selections screening at the PFA as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival include (left to right) The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, directed by Rani Singh; All in This Tea, by local filmmakers Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht; and Flanders, directed by French provocateur Bruno Dumont.
 

Contemporary world cinema, right on Bancroft Way
PFA curator Susan Oxtoby shares her picks from the 2007 San Francisco International Film Festival

| 12 April 2007

For 50 years, the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) has lured cineastes into darkened theaters to see works that may never see commercial release in North America. For this year's series - running April 26 to May 10 -the Pacific Film Archive's senior film curator, Susan Oxtoby, has chosen 36 of the festival's 110 movies for screening at the PFA.

Oxtoby's selections come from Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, India, Israel, Africa, mainland China, and central Europe. A dozen are documentaries, many of which have Bay Area connections.

The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (U.S., 2006) celebrates the collector/musicologist/filmmaker who once lived in Berkeley. Released on LP in 1952, Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music collected blues and country classics that had originally appeared on obscure 78-rpm discs, featuring performances by the Carter Family, Blind Willie Johnson, and the Memphis Jug Band, among others. In 1997, musicians Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Emmylou Harris, Philip Glass, Lou Reed, and others performed their favorites from the Anthology in a series of concerts. Director Rani Singh's documentary combines concert footage, archival images, and interviews with experts, including local music journalist and culture critic Greil Marcus. Friday, April 27, 8:55 p.m.

In All in This Tea (U.S., 2006), local filmmakers Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht follow tea importer David Hoffman - who lives in Marin County when he's not on the go - as he travels through China in search of handcrafted premium teas. The journey takes him to large factory farms that use pesticides, as well as operations upon which they are encroaching - small farms that have grown organic tea for generations. The film offers insights into "a tradition that will soon change," says Oxtoby, "because of the economics of China under communism." Saturday, April 28, 1:30 p.m.

Another local film luminary, Jon Else, a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism, approaches J. Robert Oppenheimer - the subject of his 1981 documentary The Day After Trinity - from a completely different vantage point in Wonders Are Many (U.S., 2007). In a behind-the-scenes look at the San Francisco Opera's 2005 world premiere of Doctor Atomic, Else captures the collaborative process between the opera's composer, John Adams - who's based in Berkeley - and its director, Peter Sellars, as they bring a crucial moment of American history to the operatic stage. Monday, April 30, 9:10 p.m.

The renowned Walter Murch, who edited The English Patient and Apocalypse Now at Berkeley's Saul Zaentz Film Center, has spoken at the PFA on numerous occasions. The documentary Murch (England/ U.S., 2006), directed by David and Edie Ichioka, offers "a really informative sense," says Oxtoby, "of how he approached editing across his career" - spanning from George Lucas' first film, THX 1138, to Francis Ford Coppola's forthcoming release, Youth Without Youth. Saturday, May 5, 3:30 p.m.

Local filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson directed Strange Culture (U.S., 2006), which Oxtoby calls "an unconventional documentary" about conceptual artist Steve Kurtz, a University at Buffalo art professor, who awoke one morning in 2004 to discover that his wife, Hope, had died in her sleep. The couple had been collaborating on an art installation concerning the emergence of biotechnology. When paramedics arrived, they spotted Petri dishes in the house, and contacted the FBI. Agents in HazMat suits, fearing bioterrorism, impounded Kurtz's computer, books, cat, and even his wife's body; he currently awaits trial. An official selection at the 2007 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, Strange Culture - featuring Kurtz, Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote, and Josh Kornbluth - examines the consequences of a "war on terror" run amok. Tuesday, May 8, 7 p.m.

Also in the lineup is "At The Edge: New Experimental Cinema," a program of short avant-garde works curated by Irina Leimbacher and the PFA's Kathy Geritz. The two specialize in international film and "have put together a beautiful showcase," says Oxtoby; it's a good example, she adds, of "how the PFA helps the festival's curatorial team." Saturday, April 28, 8:30 p.m.

The festival offers another attraction for film fans - the opportunity to get an inside view from directors, actors, and other special guests. Kevin Brownlow, a silent-film historian and preservationist, will receive this year's Mel Novikoff Award, given to an individual whose works enhance filmgoers' knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. At a PFA-only program, "Kevin Brownlow: Introduction to Silents," he uses top-quality 35mm prints to survey film's early days - beginning with one-minute, one-shot films from the 1890s and continuing through mature works produced in the late 1920s. Sunday, April 29, 5:30 p.m.

Heddy Honigman, winner of this year's Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award, will also appear at the PFA for a screening of Forever (Netherlands, 2006). In this documentary, Honigman interviews visitors to Paris's largest cemetery, Père-Lachaise - final resting place of Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Yves Montand, and Jim Morrison - for a look at the pull of celebrity, even into the afterlife. Wednesday, May 2, 7 p.m.

Finally, Oxtoby points to several 2006 films she hopes viewers will catch. Bamako (Mali/France/ U.S., 2006) centers on a mock trial that pits the plaintiff, "African Society," against the World Bank. Monday, April 30, 7 p.m. Flanders (France, 2006) - a top award winner at Cannes, written and directed by Bruno Dumont - is a war film more concerned with human behavior than politics. Sunday, May 6, 6:15 p.m.