10 Must-See SFIFF 58 Films, Week One

What can you still watch at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival (hereafter SFIFF)? The Festival may have opened this past Thursday. Yet if you’re interested in catching the National Lampoon documentary or seeing Ian Mc Kellan’s turn as an elderly Sherlock Holmes, you have to make plans to bundle up for the Rush line. Fortunately, there are other worthwhile films to catch at SFIFF, especially if you’re willing to step out of your cultural bubble. Here are ten suggestions for interesting movies from SFIFF 58 Week One that have not yet gone to Rush.

Black Coal, Thin Ice

In Diao Yinan’s Berlin Golden Bear winner, frosty police detective Deng’s life unravels during a particularly grisly serial killer case. Five years later, the disgraced Deng finds himself involved in another serial killer case. Key to the case is an enigmatic woman whose connection remains unclear.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films

Mark Hartley tells the amazing story of the Cannon Films Group. When Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus bought the studio in the early 1980s, they decided to take it down Roger Corman Way. Their fast, cheap, and “trendy” productions exploited such subjects as Indiana Jones and breakdancing. The results of Golan and Globus’ efforts were both cult oddities such as The Apple and critically praised dramas such as Runaway Train.

Goodnight, Mommy

A mother needs absolute calm in her isolated rural home as she recovers from plastic surgery. Her rambunctious twin boys revel in being one with Nature. When the mother gets irritable and even near-abusive, the boys suspect Something Is Wrong. What happens next turns into an extended psychological twisting of the knife that will disturb you.

Hill Of Freedom

Acclaimed Korean director Hong Sang-soo uses an intriguing narrative device in this tale of a woman, her ex-lover, and an abortive attempt at reconnection. The device used to tell this tale is a stack of undated letters sent by the ex-lover. As the woman tries sorting out the chronology of events, she becomes a cinematic unreliable narrator.


Artist and Neil Gaiman collaborator Dave Mc Kean’s new film concerns two couples sharing a weekend together. However, jealousy and darker emotions lurk underneath the couples’ surface. But those emotions come out not through dialogue but through animation, unique images, and nightmarish drawings. If you’re familiar with Mc Kean’s artwork, you’ll know what to expect.

Dave McKean's LUNA will play at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 - May 7 2015.

Dave McKean’s LUNA will play at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 – May 7 2015.


Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary captures history in the making. It’s a portrait of the Ukrainian protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square told without the benefit of individual heroism or guided commentary. Yet its images capture en masse the mass heroism of those who took part in the protests.

Red Amnesia

Retired widow Deng starts receiving anonymous calls tied to a series of strange events. Is Deng’s mind fraying? Or are these anomalies connected to both her past and China’s Cultural Revolution? The disturbing answer lies in the clash between personal guilt and historical amnesia.


Andrew Bujalski directs this comedy which mixes gym workouts and romantic dysfunction. Gym owner Trevor (Guy Pearce) has the holistic lifestyle and the ambition to expand his business. What he doesn’t have is the heart of dedicated trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders). Enter rich overweight new client Danny (Kevin Corrigan), who wants Kat’s assistance. The resulting emotional collisions force this trio to confront their own personal weaknesses.

The Taking Of Tiger Mountain

Veteran Hong Kong action director Tsui Hark turns one of the most popular Chinese adventure tales ever into a thrilling tale of men fighting overwhelming odds. A small troop of PLA soldiers must find a way to bring down a 1000-man heavily armed bandit gang that’s been terrorizing the local populace. Their only hope lies in a dangerous undercover mission. You don’t have to be a partisan to cheer on the ingenuity of the ingenuity of the PLA characters, especially given that Tsui slyly suggests not taking events at face value.

The Wonders

Alice Rohrwacher’s Cannes Grand Prix award-winner concerns a family of beekeepers living in the Italian countryside. Hot-headed patriarch Wolfgang is wearing down his family’s appetite for endless work. Eldest daughter Gelsomina starts feeling she’s missing out on her teenage years. Add to the mix a sullen juvenile offender and a glitzy TV host (Monica Bellucci), and the stage is set for a breakdown in Wolfgang and Gelsomina’s relationship.

If you still have time for a live event, check out An Evening With Nonny de la Pena: Immersive Journalism. De La Pena talks about her melding virtual reality worlds with documentary journalism. Whatever you choose to see, take advantage of the SFIFF offerings to step out of your aesthetic comfort zone.

For further information about the SFIFF films mentioned above, go to www.sffs.org/sfiff58.

Luna poster image courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

About the Author

I’m a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film…but don’t tell anyone.

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