SAN FRANCISCO — Some big guns are heading into town for the San Francisco International Film Festival’s 52nd edition, though they won’t have far to travel. Both Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford primarily live up north in wine country, the former since 1978 and the latter much more recently.
Still, it’s taken some time to secure them as fest honorees, despite one having been (alongside George Lucas) the Big Kahuna of Bay Area filmmaking for decades, and the other’s Sundance (formerly AMC) Kabuki Cinemas now being SFIFF’s principal venue.
Both will be feted, along with Kanbar Award (for screenwriting) recipient James Toback, at the annual big-ticket Film Society Awards Night gala April 30. Latter’s May 3 solo spotlight program (in conversation with locally based crit David Thomson) will also feature screening of his docu portrait “Tyson.”
Redford, accepting this year’s Peter J. Owens nod for acting “brilliance, independence and integrity,” will face the music onstage at the Castro Theatre April 29 before the restored-print world premiere of his career-making 1968 smash “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” opposite late pal Paul Newman.
Joining such past Founder’s Directing Award winners as Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog, Coppola will preside over a May 1 forum at the same venue with “friends and collaborators” whose identity will surely occupy many a guessing game over the next month.
Other awardees this year include documentarian Lourdes Portillo, preservationist/distributor Bruce Goldstein, and as recipients of the rising-star Midnight Awards (in its second year), Elijah Wood and Evan Rachel Wood.
Official opener April 23 is Sundance-preemed “La Mission,” a very S.F.-centric drama from resident relations Benjamin and Peter Bratt, who’ll be in attendance. Likewise lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt and helmer Marc Webb of midfest Centerpiece presentation “500 Days of Summer” on May 2, as well as personnel from Argentine director Alexis Dos Santos’ closing-night English language debut “Unmade Beds” May 7.
Other one-off events of note are L.A.-based alt-Cambodian-pop band Dengue Fever performing an original score to 1925 stop-motion dinosaur classic “The Lost World”; Travis Wilkerson’s (“An Injury of One”) live multimedia political rant “Proving Ground;” a State of the Cinema Address by photo essayist Mary Ellen Mark, who’s been on-set stills photographer for dozens of famed features over four decades; plus newly restored prints of Sergio Leone’s restored 1968 “Once Upon a Time in the West” and John Cassavetes’ 1974 “A Woman Under the Influence” (with Oscar-nom’d Gena Rowlands as guest). A late add with time/location as yet TBA is Bobcat Goldthwait’s black comedy starring Robin Williams as “World’s Greatest Dad.”
World preems include “The Boys,” about the Sherman Brothers who composed classic tunes for “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and more. There’s also “Ferlinghetti” (with the 90-year-old S.F. poet in attendance), “New Muslim Cool” and bilingual-education themed “Speaking in Tongues,” all docus.
Official sections, some competitive, encompass New Directors, Documentaries, Shorts Programs, The Late Show (midnight movies), and Cinema by the Bay. World Cinema brings new work by established talents like Claire Denis, Atom Egoyan, John Boorman, Catherine Breillat, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Olivier Assayas.
Tuesday’s kickoff press conference found SFFS exec director Graham Leggat asked how the economy has impacted his institution.
He said “The festival’s in great shape, the organization in fantastic shape. The only place we’ve seen a decline is corporate sponsorship, and we budgeted for that.”
Indeed, under his dynamic leadership of the last few years the Film Society has introduced and/or expanded many year-round programs, from curating an arthouse screen at the Kabuki to integrating staff and services from the late Film Arts Foundation. Related latter outreach now encompasses some $3 million in funding and 11,000 sq. feet in production facilities available primarily to local filmmakers.