Allen's 'Ending' picked as film fest closer

SAN FRANCISCO — Previously announced, then withdrawn, now confirmed at last, Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending” will be screened as official closer to upcoming San Francisco Intl. Film Festival.

It’s an apt choice for a 45th program that is — as many anticipated from new executive director Roxanne Messina Captor — a little heavier on Hollywood flash than previously, but still reflects fest’s traditional global focus. Event runs April 18-May 2 at various S.F. locations.

World-preeming here before its out-of-competition slot at Cannes, “Hollywood Ending” replaces another DreamWorks title, animated feature “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” which had been announced as closer while the San Francisco fest was negotiating with the studio and Cannes over the Allen pic. (“Spirit” has now been dropped from San Francisco’s slate.)

“Hollywood Ending” stars the writer-helmer as a onetime superstar film director literally blinded by anxiety when he gets his first A-list assignment in years. Debra Messing, Tea Leoni, George Hamilton, Treat Williams and Tiffani Thiessen also figure in the cast; no word yet on who may be attending the May 2 bow.

Other highlights during the two-week event include award ceremonies and in-person tributes honoring Warren Beatty (April 25), Kevin Spacey (April 25), 1960s Latin American Cinema Novo movement progenitor Fernando Birri (April 28) and veteran film preservationist David Francis (May 1). Opening night selection on the 18th will be “Clockwatchers” helmer Jill Sprecher’s “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,” an ensemble seriocomedy starring Matthew McConaughey, Clea Duvall, Alan Arkin and John Turturro; helmer will attend. Sidebars include a first time midnight-movie series and tribute to Pier Paolo Pasolini, the late Italian multihyphenate who would have been 80 this year.

Local culture and international fest aficionados had been awaiting with bated breath the SFIFF sked, its first since longtime artistic director Peter Scarlet left for Paris to head the Cinematheque Francaise. Hired by fest’s board of directors, the hitherto L.A.-based Captor is a former dancer, TV executive, producer and onetime feature director (1999’s “Her Married Lover”) with no prior festival administrative or programming experience.

Feathers were further ruffled when virtually all the S.F. org’s veteran programmers left one by one, eventually replaced by new hires from elsewhere on the U.S. fest circuit. (Among departed staff, Rachel Rosen — locally favored to succeed Scarlet — now heads the Los Angeles Film Festival, while Brian Gordon took the same post at the Nashville Independent Film Festival.) Perhaps in reaction to those bad vibes, an unusually tight lid was kept on the fest’s 2002 program until the opening news conference approached.

Current sked is not wildly different from those of the recent past, apart from a shift from Scarlet’s usual Francophilic slant toward more Latin American and Asian titles, plus somewhat greater dependence on features already well traveled on the fest circuit. World premieres are down to two (beyond “Hollywood Ending,” only Iranian helmer Nasser Saffarian’s “The Mirror of the Soul”), but then preems have been steadily decreasing in the SFIFF mix for several years.

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