Photo by Omar P.L. Moore/  Copyright 2008.  The Popcorn Reel.
San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat stands before a large photograph on the screen at The Castro Theater during his opening address officially kicking off the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival last night.  The art design on the photo above was created by Factor Design, which also designed the cover of the Festival's program guide.  (Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/ 

Five Plus One = 51: For San Francisco, Film Festival International Has Lift Off

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

April 25, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO, California -- Opening Night of The San Francisco International Film Festival (April 24 through May 8, 2008)

Here at the Castro Theater last night the organist played the city's famed theme song, and the packed house on opening night responded enthusiastically ahead of the prelude to the opening night film kicking off the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival. 

Graham Leggat, the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, welcomed filmgoers and had some good news about the Film Society's enhancement of year-round programming: not only would Friday, June 13, 2008 be an "auspicious" debut of a permanent, year-round Film Society movie screen within the Sundance Kabuki Cinema theater complex on Fillmore Street, but (in a surprise announcement) a separate San Francisco Film Society Center was being built and expected to be complete in early 2011.  "I can assure you -- though I can't give too many details -- that we are well underway with that process," said Mr. Leggat.  "We are negotiating with various stakeholders, and I would bet that we would be able to tell you within a couple of months exactly what our plans are," the executive director continued as he mentioned that the proposed Film Society Center would likely house three movie screens.

Film Society Board President Melanie Blum lauded Mr. Leggat's leadership, signaling a new and significant direction in which the Film Society was headed.  Mr. Leggat arrived to the position of executive director of the Film Society in October 2005 from New York City, where he held a similar position at the Film Society at Lincoln Center.  "I want to thank our members and sponsors, who've stuck with us through good times and the not-so good times," said Ms. Blum of the non-profit Film Society.  "I know I speak for the entire board and staff when I say the last three years have been a very fun experience for all of us."

Speaking of experience, Catherine Breillat, the French filmmaker who over the course of a venerable career has chronicled several lively, provocative and much-discussed portraits of female sexuality and power on the big screen, was introduced here before the showing of her latest film "The Last Mistress", a costume period drama set in the late 18th century and into the early 19th century amidst entanglements of aristocracy and adultery in France.  Speaking via an interpreter, Ms. Breillat, something of a pariah in France (which she would say was due to her refusal as a woman to toe the line of compliancy in film and society,) said: "I just want to say that it is a tremendous honor and privilege to be here in San Francisco . . . It's true that when I made this film I wondered whether it was legitimate for me, knowing the films that I've made, the subjects that I deal with, to present costume drama and yet tried to be a subject that I've worked on for a long time."  The film presents a "last hurrah" account of the free-spirited and vivacious French aristocracy just before the advent of the bourgeoisie, and stars Asia Argento.

At the opening night after-party at the City View level atop the Penthouse Level at The Metreon on Fourth and Mission, there was plenty to sample -- food (some of it from local eaterie Joey & Eddie's), dessert, mini-chocolate cup cakes (the minis from Paragon Restaurant) drink, wines, vodka, with music from the Seattle-origin, Los Angeles-based Omar Torrez Band, who played well into the early hours of Friday morning.  Masha Tsiklauri, the manager of the band, was pleased with its growth and direction.  The Band has been in existence for seven years.  Effusive and enthusiastic, Ms. Sun (whose first name is pronounced Mah-sha) stated that the Omar Torrez Band continues to move onward and upward.  (The band's new CD is entitled "The Beat Outside", and includes a cover version of Jimi Hendrix's classic tune "Little Wing", which the Band performed before an estimated crowd of more than 600, a crowd which included a few jollier, more inebriated souls.)

Filmmakers could also be found amidst the throngs at the after party, including Emmy-winning film director Anne Aghlon.  Originally from France, Ms. Aghlon, who resides in New York City, has the high-definition feature film documentary "Ice People" (about four geologists who trek to Antarctica and spend an entire summer in constant daylight and below freezing temperatures,) at this year's Festival.  She was hopeful but had no idea what to expect from filmgoers ahead of the film's presentation, which will get its world premiere here on Saturday at the Sundance Kabuki at 6:45 p.m.  With Ms. Aghlon was fellow filmmaker Emily Hubley, who was still going at the midnight hour after just two hours of sleep and arriving here directly from New Jersey where she is based, to attend the opening night festivities and to show her film "The Toe Tactic", a mix of animation and human footage that evokes themes of time, memory and yearning, among others.  "The Toe Tactic", which Ms. Hubley wrote, directed and created the intricate animation for, was a labor of love.  She said she felt a bizarre estrangement from the film now that it had been completed, after working on it for at least four years (she appeared reticent to give an exact number of years.)  Ms. Hubley's film has its West Coast premiere here, also at the Kabuki Cinema, on Saturday at 3:45 p.m.

So, night one in the books.  The first full day of programming starts today.

Photo gallery

Omar Torrez Band website

"Ice People" website

"The Toe Tactic" website

Previous report: Tonight's the night

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