The opening night of the 36th S.F. Intl. Film Festival had a little of the things that distinguish the city itself — some politics, a slight air of chaos and a definite multicultural joie de vivre.

Politics landed with a semi-thud in the form of Mayor Frank Jordan, whose administration has lately been setting new standards for local discontent. Mild applause and much hissing greeted his short speech Thursday in the largest AMC Kabuki 8 theater.

Jordan proclaimed SFIFF’s April 29-May 13 duration as official International Film Festival Days, and said, “You’ll see every type of movie, so you’ll get away from the cares of the world.”

“That’s good, since he’s closing down all the libraries,” murmured one ticket-buying wag.

Fest director Peter Scarlet dedicated the night to “the many heroic citizens of Sarajevo” and to the ideal of disparate cultures co-existing in peace.

Chaos prevailed as a record number of first-nighters jostled toward donated food and drink at the pre-show reception in the Kabuki complex’s narrow confines.

Fortunately, multiethnic good humor prevailed, among both audiences and the four (up from last year’s three) opening-night selections.

WB’s Capraesque “Dave” went over well, the liberal crowd warming especially to its Bush-whacking satire. (Director Ivan Reitman appeared afterward to rather disingenuously state that Kevin Kline’s President Mitchell hadn’t been modeled on guess-who.)

In smaller theaters, the Chinese “Story of Qiu Ju” and American indie world preem “My Life’s in Turnaround” also played to capacity. Only the Yugoslav seriocomedy “Tito and Me” failed to sell out.

Celebrity count was fairly low at this year’s start-up fete, limited to various product-bearing directors — including Canada’s Atom Egoyan (“Calendar”) and Jean-Claude Lauzon (“Leolo”), China’s Li Shaohong (“Bloody Morning,””Family Portrait”), New Zealand’s Allson Maclean (“Crush”), and “Turnabout’s” co-creator/stars Eric Shaeffer and Donal Lardner Ward — along with their guest bit players Martha Plimpton and Casey Siemaszko.

Among those confirmed for later appearances are Werner Herzog (with two new featurettes), Chris Marker (“The Last Bolshevik”), Mario and Melvin Van Peebles (“Posse”) and Kenneth Branagh, whose “Much Ado About Nothing” is the official closer.

Fest director Scarlet’s opening list of thank-yous paused to note “renewed faith” in cinema on the basis of feedback from advance press screenings. Local journalists’ murmurings seemed more qualified. But area print sources have drummed up particular excitement around the retro of mostly telepics by the late , gritty British realist Alan Clarke.

Public support has gone in different directions, creating early sellouts for showings of “Calendar,” Italo “Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician,” Swede “House of Angels,” Romanian “The Conjugal Bed,” U.S. “Road Scholar,” German “The Blue Hour” and Guinea-Portuguese co-prod “The Blue Eyes of Yonta.”

Fest’s gamble on highly regarded but generally little-known Ousmane Sembene as its 1993 Akira Kurosawa Award lifetime achiever appears to be paying off. The Senegalese “father of African cinema” is sold out for his May 1 presentation/interview, and tix to his retro’s features are selling well.

Late-announced sked adds include “Into the West” from “Enchanted April” helmer Mike Newell; and a program of hot-off-the-wires footage from Bosnian director Ademiv Kehovic, whose successful passage through Serbian borders had just been confirmed.

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