Laura Thielen, program director of the San Francisco Intl. Film Festival, seemed to be gently lowering expectations this week when she said, “More than ever, this festival is not about familiar names.”

And yes, the event’s launch April 28 will offer manna for those eagerly anticipating product from such offbeat places as Syria, Tajikistan and Haiti.

But the truth is, the festival keeps edging up among fest ranks, with some familiar names climbing aboard.

Gerard Depardieu is skedded to accept this year’s Piper-Heidsieck award on the 30th.

Spike Lee, whose feature debut “She’s Gotta Have It” preemed at the ’86 San Francisco festival, will bow his Alfre Woodard topliner “Crooklyn” on closing night, May 12.

There also will be appearances by helmers Alain Resnais, Margarethe von Trotta (“The Long Silence”), Chantal Ackerman (“From the East”), Jonathan Demme (producer for “One Foot on the Banana Peel”), Pedro Almodovar (“Kika”); actors Laura San Giacomo and Bibi Andersen; and author Tom Robbins (“Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”).

This year’s final credit crawl will log over 210 films from some 50 countries , screening at S.F.’s homebase AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres and other sites in Palo Alto, Berkeley and San Jose.

Thirty-five features make their U.S. or North American debut, including director Roger Michell’s TV miniseries for the BBC, “The Buddha of Suburbia” (April 30).

World premieres besides “Crooklyn” include John Sayles’ family pic “The Secret of Roan Inish,” French bio “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant,” Aussie drag comedy “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” Hungarian “The Little Mole,” local filmmaker Jon Moritsugu’s anarchy-teen “Mod Fuck Explosion,” and the Croat comedy “Croatian Cathedrals.”

Miscellaneous notables already set for stateside release include Sony Pictures Entertainment’s “Mi Vida Loca” and “Slingshot,” Tara’s doc “The Fire This Time,” Fine Line’s Mia Farrow starrer “Widow’s Peak,” October’s Mexican vampire fantasy “Cronos,” plus Samuel Goldwyn’s “What Happened Was,””Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould” and “Suture.”

The 1994 roster is fairly amorphous in thematic bent, though it underlines trends toward female directors (52 titles) and gay helmers/themes (13).

Official opening trio April 28 at the Kabuki are Resnais’ “Smoking,” Gus Van Sant’s recut adaptation of “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and S.F. director Alan Jacobs’ first feature, “Nina Takes a Lover” (with San Giacomo).

As the festival’s corporate sponsor list grows (the Gap, Red Sky Films and Crocker Galleria are newcomers), so does its number of honorariums.

Depardieu will accept his champagne-company statuette and bring new Jean-Luc Godard vehicle “Helas pour Moi.”

The Akira Kurosawa Lifetime Achievement nod goes on May 10 to Portugal’s still-active 85-year-old director Manoel de Oliveira, amid a 10-film retro.

The Satyajit Ray Award for a promising young filmmaker goes May 3 to Russian Artur Aristakisian, whose first feature, “Palms,” captures lives of Moldavian homeless. (Late Indian master Ray’s final screenplay, “The Broken Journey,” as directed by son Sandip, will make its international bow here May 8.)

Another Russian will accept the Mel Novikoff Award. Film preservationist, scholar and Sergei Eisenstein archivist Naum Kleiman also brings 1944 Soviet propaganda flick “Once at Night” to auds outside the former U.S.S.R. for the first time.

Bay Area video artist Lynn Hershman and Paris-based U.S. expatriate Robert Kramer (“Ice,””Route One/USA”) will be showcased in career retrospectives.

Additional spotlights include a daylong Castro Theatre “Music & Multimedia ‘ 94″ event featuring new CD-ROMs for the Who’s “Tommy” (seen from original Woodstock to Broadway incarnations) and “Babylon” (chronicling John Lennon’s career via private homevideos and art).

Seminars are skedded on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (May 1) and global Generation X views (May 8).

The San Francisco fest’s “Opera in Film” series of rare features at the Castro May 20-24 will bow with Anglo team Powell/Pressburger’s little-seen follow-up to “The Red Shoes,” the 1955 Strauss frolic “Oh … Rosalinda!”

Fest’s only juried prizes are the Golden Gate Awards, established in 1957 to honor international shorts, docus, non-theatrical films, video and TV.

Some 175 local judges viewed around 1,100 (from 53 countries) submissions in advance, with the following winners skedded for screening:

Short narrative, 31-60 minutes: “The Boots” (Iran)

Biographical documentary: “Illusions” (Lithuania)

Television miniseries: “Heimat II: Chronicle of a Generation (Episode One)” (Germany)

U.S. sociology documentary: “Hoop Dreams” (U.S.)

Intl. sociology documentary: “In the Land of the Deaf” (France)

Children of the world documentary: “Portrait of Boy With Dog” (Russia/USA)

Short documentary: “Tomboychik” (U.S.)

New visions video: “Rhyme ‘Em to Death” (U.S.)

New visions film: “Kuch Nai” (U.S.)

Short narrative, 16-30 minutes: “Avenue X” (U.S.)

Short documentary, 1-15 minutes: “Excursion to the Bridge of Friendship” (Australia)

Animation: “The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb” (England)

Bay Area short: “Las Apassionadas”

Artwork documentary: “The Tenth Dancer” (Australia)

Bay Area documentary: “Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy”

Television drama: “Circus” (Hungary)

Environmental documentary: “Wild” (Australia)

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