The last few days of the San Francisco International Film Festival usually have a calmer quality, perhaps even more so this year, in the wake of a second weekend “Super Saturday” that bounced from big events such as talks with Jean-Claude Carriere and Tilda Swinton to the wild ’round-midnight screening of the cave-expedition-gone-horribly-wrong nightmare The Descent. (Scariest movie I’ve seen in years, and the characterizations, such as Natalie Mendoza’s Juno, are evocative.)
Yet early on Monday the SFIFF intensity level was high, as The Bridge screened to a packed house at the Kabuki. While I haven’t sorted out the intense emotions and serious ethical issues triggered by Eric Steel’s controversial movie – aspects of the post-screening discussion and some of his decisions as a filmmaker really troubled me, for a start – I can say that there is no film quite like it. Jenni Olson’s The Joy of Life has other roots in relation to the subject, but a recent song on Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, much of the revived interest in the art and life of Golden Gate suicide Weldon Kees, and now Steel’s documentary all attest to the lingering potency of Tad Friend’s late 2003 New Yorker piece “Jumpers.”
Those with unmatched pain thresholds could have followed up an early Monday Bridge viewing with the second Descent screening. I saw A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or The Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) and was struck by the film’s daring and often exquisite shifts in tone, as well as a very particular approach to late 19th century Filipino history. An early diegetic sound scene brings across the experience of insomnia like no movie I’ve seen, before young director Raya Martin makes a sudden jump into a wholly different (or is it?) realm of black-and-white silent pictorial storytelling. I’m hoping to interview Martin here later this week.
Other SFIFF quick hits or misses…“I hated it!” was one local filmmaker’s immediate response to Deerhoof’s live score for Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic. But a few days later, a different SF moviemaker testified their eternal love for the band when that program was mentioned. I fell between those two responses, sometimes enjoying the band’s approach but just as often wondering if the sound was trapped in mannerism rather than the alchemical realm Smith deserves. As for Werner Herzog in interview the night previous, truer words about Anna Nicole and the “mainstream” have never been spoken.