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The 45th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 18 — May 2, 2002)

As in recent years, the "home" of the festival is the AMC Kabuki 8, though other venues include the glorious Castro Theatre and, stretching into other corners of the Bay Area, the invaluable Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and Landmark's Park Theatre in Menlo Park.

With the 45th fest looming, naysayers whispered about the festival's new executive director Roxanne Messina Captor (who replaces the almost iconic artistic director of many years Peter Scarlett), but Captor is already getting good marks for her leadership of a new programming staff. As is common with high-stakes studio product, the festival suffered the fickleness of a studio (in this case, DreamWorks) which offered a premiere film (Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending), then promptly pulled it, leaving the festival the world premiere of DreamWorks' new animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Days later, DreamWorks was telling the world that Allen would, for the first time ever, attend Cannes with his new film. Bad luck for us. Our luck changed, though, and Hollywood Ending is officially the closing night film again. I'm sure the animated horse is great, but I'd rather see Woody Allen return to form and ride off into a sunset.

The SFIFF promises fun and surprises. Known guests at this point include Kurosawa honoree Warren Beatty (that's right, lifetime achievement for directing four features, but one won him the Oscar, so shut up) and Owens honoree Kevin Spacey (which lacks a bit of luster since San Jose's Cinequest brought him to the Bay Area in 1998). The Film Society Awards Night is Thursday, April 25 at the Argent Hotel, but both stars will speak at retrospective screenings, respectively, of Reds on Friday, April 26 and Swimming With Sharks on Wednesday, April 24 at the Kabuki (Beatty's Bulworth will also screen that night). Though Francis Ford Coppola isn't officially known to be attending, son Roman and wife Eleanor are both appearing with their respective films CQ and On the Set of CQ (4/27 and 4/28 at the Kabuki), so place your bets now. Hollywood star-watchers may also be interested in Mira Sorvino, who's scheduled to appear with the new film, The Triumph of Love. It's the "Zoom! After Hours" film selection paired with a "sassy" party at "three-level dance heaven" Cloud 9 Motel (the festival's words, mind you). Philosophy hounds unimpressed by Mira Sorvino (she's an Oscar winner, fer gosh sake!) should take note that French philosopher Jacques Derrida will appear with Derrida, a new documentary.

Film lovers not into celebrity spotting can content themselves with documentaries like Journeys with George (4/21 at the Kabuki), which is getting plenty of ink for its irreverent portrait of President Dubya on the road, the skatepunk doc narrated by Sean Penn Dogtown and Z-Boys (4/27 and twice on 5/1 at the Kabuki) and Martin Scorsese's long-awaited labor of love about Italian cinema My Voyage to Italy (4/20 at the Castro, 4/21 at the PFA). The vast feature selection includes Japanimation (Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away), more cyberpunk starring Tilda Swinton (Teknolust), and even a teen movie from Uruguay (25 Watts). I haven't been able to preview many films this year, but below you'll find what I've seen so far, and as the festival unfolds, I'll provide coverage of whatever I catch. Enjoy!

For a review of Bulworth, click here. Bulworth screens at 9:45pm on Wednesday, April 24 at the AMC Kabuki as a part of the Warren Beatty retrospective.

Go for Broke plays a bit like a Chinese The Full Monty, Dogme style (no scoring, no sets, no special lighting, and so on). Tackling China's legacy of unemployment, director Wang Guangli assembled a cast of non-actors to play characters whose experiences closely paralleled their own. In the film, the character of Zhang Baozhong, laid off by a ship-building company, ringleads a new effort to build a construction company, seducing four friends to join him in what appears to be a fool's errand. The ups and downs which follow leave considerable doubt in the end that the five friends are headed for good times, but Wang keeps the tone cautiously optimistic, and the cast is spirited, credible, and loveable in character. The local detail provides the rest of the interest here, as a window into life among struggling Chinese families and flop-sweat office workers hoping to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Though the story strains credibility a bit in certain plot machinations, the realist style balances the elements to make Go for Broke a pleasant and heartfelt ride. Go for Broke screens at 9:30pm on Sunday, April 21 at the PFA; Thursday, April 25 at 6:30pm at the AMC Kabuki; and Sunday, April 28 at 1:15pm at the Park.

Rivers and Tides is an extraordinary documentary about landscape sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. German director Thomas Riedelsheimer followed Goldsworthy for over a year as he used leaves, stones, twigs, wool, ice, snow, earth, and natural dyes to create astonishing and usually ephemeral works of art which survive, of course, on film. Riedelsheimer carries the audience through the film with patient observance of the art itself, the creation of it, and the laid-bare self-examination of Goldsworthy himself. Goldsworthy describes how his art allows him to feel "as if [he's] touched the heart of the place" where he uses the elements around him as his clay to follow his distinct muse of "obsessive forms," which include conical shapes and snake-like trails flowing through rivers or etched into countrysides. The relationship between the director and his subject here seems to bring out both the mischievousness and sobriety of the art, which represents Goldsworthy's intense search for knowledge of his life and world; he wants to understand the nature of nature, let the world speak to him through its wind and tide and settling. Goldsworthy comes off at times like a Sisyphean performance artists, as his work repeatedly falls apart mid-creation, but these setbacks are oddly paralleled by the inevitable moments when his work drifts away down a river or disappears into the air. Fred Frith supplies a lovely score, helping the movie evoke the indelible art-in-nature film Koyaanisqatsi. In fleeting moments that observe Goldsworthy at home with his family, or even in his studio and archives, Riedelsheimer slyly captures how Goldsworthy is incomplete when not on the job. It's a fascinating and beautiful film. Rivers and Tides screens Sunday, April 28 at 1:30pm and Thursday, May 2 at 7:30pm at the AMC Kabuki. (For a full review of Rivers and Tides, click here.)

Tribute, directed by Rich Fox and Kris Curry (and executive produced by Stephen Soderbergh), is a sprightly look at tribute bands, which comprise a surprisingly hearty subculture at the lower echelon of the music biz. Fox and Curry follow Bloodstone, a tribute to Judas Priest; Escape, a tribute to Journey; Sheer Heart Attack, a tribute to Queen; Larger Than Life, a tribute to KISS; and The Missing Links, a tribute to the Monkees. This is the sort of documentary that, seemingly, cannot help but mock its subject merely by presenting it. It is possible at times to take these bands seriously (or at least as seriously as they take themselves), with their screaming and devoted fans, but the sometimes low-rent presentations in honkytonk dive bars often inspire chuckles. While the film recalls Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, particularly This is Spinal Tap, Fox and Curry capture achingly pathetic moments even Guest would be hard-pressed to invent. Most of these surround a Queen superfan who seems to worship the tribute band as much if not more than the real thing and the shenanigans of the various incarnations of the Monkees tribute band, whose tense breakups are undoubtedly a more polished tribute than their stage shows. The lows are mitigated by one shocking, almost mythical high: the revelation that a tribute band lead singer stepped up to front the band he was aping (unfortunately, Fox and Curry don't score an interview). Fox edited the film with the help of Soderbergh's Oscar winning editor on Traffic, Stephen Mirrione, and the film's hour-and-a-half pass breezily. The laughs are plentiful (including a twist involving a German production of CATS), but at Tribute's heart, the filmmaker's recognize the importance these bands have to their members and audiences, rescuing them from drudgery. Tribute screens Saturday, April 27 at 4:15pm at the AMC Kabuki and Tuesday, April 30 at 9:45 pm at the Kabuki.

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