Filmbalaya’s Guide to SFIFF56 2013

SFIFF56_lens_creative_logo-1The fifty-sixth incarnation of the San Francisco Film Festival is hot on the tracks for (at the time of this writing) another week and a half, and Filmbalaya is here to tell you what you should see and what you shouldn’t necessarily spend your time on! Our healthy and entirely objective star system filters out the fat from the meat like a tennis racket panning gold… A very, very finely woven tennis racket that is. You can’t always afford a perfect panning system.

Anyway, you get the idea. This will be a living document, much like (hypothetically) the Constitution and Keith Richards.


The Act of Killing – “Rarely is cruelty – true cruelty – examined in such a fantastical, absurd, scary, disturbing, funny and real way.” – Adam

Chaika – “If you are to see Chaika, you are to see some of the most beautiful and bleak imagery, made complete by a masterful respect of light, flowing or still camera work based on the necessities of the scenes, as well as the occasionally sparse/stoic and occasionally powerful acting. A tour de force.” – Tom

Leviathan – “Like having just finished swishing about the uncharted twists and turns of the grandest of theme park’s water slides, this engagingly hypnotic out-to-sea surveillance ride had me screaming, “again! again!” – Adam

Something In The Air – “Cinematically, the film is a masterpiece. The mise-en-scène is cared for in every shot, and the use of the crane is novel. And rather than quick cuts taking us from place to place in the film, the director, Oliver Assayas, seems to prefer to use a shoulder-rig to take us through the houses, solidifying our psychological places in the world… A must-see.” – Tom


The Artist And The Model – “Even though I don’t speak French I was still able to enjoy this film.” – Adam

Dom – “A dark, occasionally witty but in the end casually tragic (a la a Rusky Coen Brother) film, it is certainly worth watching.” – Tom

Earnest & Celestine – “Yet another refreshing alternative to the bombardment of the CGI DreamWorks/Pixar monopolizing hold on us American lovers of animated cinema.” – Adam

Eight Deadly Shots – “…I am glad to have been able to see it. It’s a thoughtful, most humanistic portrayal of a man driven to the edge by society’s great weight.” – Tom

Juvenile Offender – “Overall it is a great, sympathetic and realistic portrayal of the down and out in a particularly uncaring and unsympathetic world. Constant hand-held camera in the cinema-verité tradition, location settings.” – Tom

The Last Step – “Absolutely worth seeing, considering, digesting, enjoying, and ruminating upon.” – Tom

Marketá Lazarova – “I think it goes without saying that as far as I know I have never lived in the 13th Century, but if I had I bet this is what it would have looked like. If only all three-hour films were this visually and audibly stimulating.” – Adam

The Patience Stone – “Rahimi’s film could be seen as a slow burning dramatic cousin to the horror movie, which only makes sense when considering the commonality in subject matter found at the heart of this story and the heart of many horror films as well; gaining freedom from what binds us.” – Adam

Prince Avalanche – “Indeed, David Gordon Green is back to his old ways, only this time out he’s a lot funnier… returning to form and making the style of film that made me fall in love with his art in the first place.” – Adam

Sofia’s Last Ambulance – “Never once does the director manipulate any edits in order to either glamorize or denigrate these paramedics. Themes of humor, bleakness, hope, pessimism, and acceptance are rarely portrayed this well.” – Adam

Stories We Tell – “Polley’s plot twisting brave and candid truth-is-way-more-interesting-than-fiction story is the stuff most other so-called tell all documentaries wish they had the balls to present.” – Adam


Chimeras – “Aside from these two both being visionary artists, they both share a common struggle in coming to terms of where China currently sits, where it is heading, and the influence of globalization…” – Adam

The East – “Beautifully shot [and well acted]… if a bit unnecessarily frantic in editing, as seems to be the contemporary American wont, it’s a good thriller and worth a viewing.” – Tom

Fatal Assistance – “One could call this film a success based solely on its achievement of raising awareness towards Haiti’s inability to rebuild itself. However, actual facts is one thing, how they’re presented is another.” – Adam

Fill The Void – “Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Community is the setting for this nuanced story of a young 18-year old being pressured into marrying the widower of her recently deceased sister.” – Adam

Il Futuro – “If you’re going to make a film based on an overdone story you better make it unique, and Alicia Scherson has done just that.” – Nick

God Loves Uganda – “And the winner for this year’s non-fiction film most likely to rile up the largely leftist Bay Area filmgoers goes to Roger Ross Williams‘ look at Christian extremists, evangelists and members of IHOP” – Adam

Google And The World Brain – “Not aware of Google’s massively ambitious global book scanning project and how its success could shape the world for the better, or more importantly, the worse? Ben Lewis‘ documentary will change that.” – Adam

In The Fog – “The cinematography is beautiful, with monochromatic shades dancing around intricate, long shots. The acting is quite good, and the Mise-en-scène is perfect. However, unfortunately the plot sneaks into the mix.” – Tom

Just the Wind – “Want to feel the very essence of a foreboding sensation for 90 minutes? Here ya go.” – Adam

Key of Life – “Amusing.” – Tom

The Kill Team – “Cinematically interesting, this is not, but from a factual standpoint, those who followed this story in the news and are curious as to why and how this happened, you will get your answers.” – Adam

Nights With Theodore – “It’s not everyday that a film strikes such a connection with me, and while it might not be one of my top films come the end of the year it will be a film that I’m forever glad I saw.” – Nick

Our Homeland – “In director/writer Yong-hi Yang‘s first fictional account of this very personal story she does a great job of exploring just how polarizing ideologies can actually be.” – Adam

Penance – “…to Kurosawa’s credit I must admit, the rapid pacing, all around well acting, and timely placed score of the entire production made even the lesser chapters feel as if they just flew by.” – Adam

A River Changes Course – “Intended or not, this powerful documentary’s message is a global one, not just cause for alarm to the struggling class of Cambodia.” – Adam

The Strange Little Cat – “It’s a perplexing work, and is certainly interesting; more than many other films, I’d be interested in hearing other people’s interpretations of it.” – Tom

Youth – “…the film has some moments of extreme honesty about sexuality and dealing with death which juxtapose against the sentimentality of the score.” – Tom


The Pirogue – “Every cliché thing you can think of to put in a movie about survival was not just inserted into this film, but played out in such a sloppy manner that it all became laughable, which I’m certain, judging from the serious statistics thrown up on the screen at the film’s end, was not the desired reaction of those involved in making this film.” – Adam

Salma – “Simply revisiting Salma’s old village, her family, and showing old photographs did as little for me as the film’s esthetics (visually and audibly). In the end, I left this movie with an unsatisfied hunger for something a little more substantial than its offerings of surface-grazing oppressive female issues and the poetry of Salma.” – Adam

The Search for Emak Bakia – “…I would only recommend this to fans of Man Ray and his style of art.” – Adam

What Maisie Knew – “Suspending disbelief here would be akin to thinking OJ Simpson was innocent.” – Adam


Cold War – “Oh my God, what the fuck did I just sit through!?” – Adam

Computer Chess – “As soon as the gimmick of having an entire feature be filmed with 1980′s technology on Sony portable video tapes wore off so to did my patience of seeing this one through to the end.” – Adam

Night Across The Street – “What were they thinking?” – Tom

Twenty Feet From Stardom – “And for those who don’t want to be beaten over the head with infomercial-like redundant inspirational messages, I suggest you do as a certain audience member at my screening did; leave as soon as the film mentions the 1990s (about 20 minutes towards the end) – assuming you make it that far.” – Adam

For the complete guide, here is a PDF –


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Categories: Festivals, San Francisco International Film Festival

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