Your Film Fest Cheat Sheet

What if most everything you knew, you learned from the movies? That’s not entirely the case for Rachel Rosen. She does admit, however, that when she knows, for example, that the Muslim tradition is to bury their dead within 24 hours, it might have been picked up from a screening.

As director of programming for the San Francisco Film Society, Rosen watches hundreds of movies yearly, picking up arcane as well as pertinent facts. Given her intimacy with the 58th-annual San Francisco International Film Festival, running from April 23 through May 7, we asked her for a few recommendations.

What type of movies can one expect at the festival?

We like to show different kinds of films, to illustrate the broad state of cinema for any given year, and to reflect the interests of the San Francisco community. We don’t demand of ourselves that we show x number of films from x countries. We want to be able to respond to what’s out there and what the trends are. It’s more of a “Best Of” compilation, which is what makes it unique.

KronosKronos Quarter. Photo by Jay Blakesberg, courtesy of the San Francisco Film Festival.

What are some of the trends you are seeing?

One strong theme is technology. That encompasses processes, like the master class “Designing Interactive Narratives,” and a conversation with Nonny de la Peña, who is using technology to create immersive journalism. But it is also a hot topic.

Designing_Interactive_Narratives_02A scene from one of the interactive pieces shown in the master class “Designing Interactive Narratives.” Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Opening night’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine deals with the questions of why we are so emotionally attached to someone who sold us technology, and so attached to that technology. Experimenter covers the obedience experiments of social psychologist Stanley Milgram, and how far we will go to collect personal data. The documentary Deep Web uses Silk Road and the government’s case against it to explore the gray area of the Internet.

Experimenter_03Jim Gaffigan in a scene from Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter. Photo by Jason Robinette, courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Another big trend is music. Cibo Matto will perform original music to a selection of shorts. Kronos Quartet wrote music and then commissioned a film by Bill Morrison for the music. Morrison pieced together never-before-seen archival footage from World War I, Beyond Zero. When contemporary artists play alongside these movies, it brings new resonances. The contemporary score can bring a new way of experiencing the film.

Cibo_Matto_New_Scene_01Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

There are many movies that are screening. How should a first-timer approach?

With so many choices, it can be hard to find an entry point. Also, those movies not backed by million-dollar marketing budgets may be unfamiliar. Sometimes that leads the average moviegoer to think that a festival is not for them. Trying anything for the first time can be challenging, but the film society is a friendly community environment.

And even if you haven’t heard of a film, that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Plus, seeing a movie at the festival comes with extra value. There’s often a filmmaker present, or a special guest. You can get a lot out of this. Some people are scared the movie is going to make them feel dumb. “What do I have to know about Iran before I go?” You don’t have to know anything.

Kronos_Quartet_Beyond_Zero_02Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

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