10 Must-See SFIFF 58 Films, Week Two

The San Francisco International Film Festival (referenced hereon as SFIFF) hasn’t run out of intriguing offerings in its second half. Films such as The Wolfpack and Tangerine may have screenings which have already gone to Rush. But as this list of ten film programs demonstrates, SFIFF still has must-see films where you don’t have to stand outside and freeze before you have a chance at a ticket.

Deep Web

Actor and open Internet activist Alex Winter’s new documentary investigates the intersection of online technologies and anonymous communications and commerce. Structured around the history of online black market website Silk Road, Winter’s film considers the clash between free speech and government regulation in the Internet age. The battleground for this conflict is the Deep Web, a place where cutting-edge technology masks both participants’ activities and their identities.


A country’s transition to democratic rule gets an intimate treatment from Danish documentarian Camilla Nielsson. Her camera follows the representatives of two opposing parties as they negotiate the drafting of their country’s new constitution. The only problems are: the country in question in Zimbabwe; negotiator Paul Mangwana is the sort of man always used to getting his way; and the final constitution must meet the approval of Mangwana’s boss, the still-in-power autocratic President Robert Mugabe.


SFIFF Persistence Of Vision Award winner Kim Longinotto’s new documentary offers a remarkable portrait of Chicago sex-work activist Brenda Myers-Powell. A former sex worker herself, Myers-Powell provides counseling and advice to women who ask for her help on avoiding the dangers of the street and respecting themselves. Longinotto’s film neither glamorizes nor condemns sex work, but is instead a witness to the American socio-cultural forces that have pushed women’s lives into this direction.

How To Smell A Rose: A Visit With Ricky Leacock In Normandy

Long-time Bay Area film fans hold a special place in their heart for the late Les Blank, the filmmaker who introduced audiences to the joys of garlic and Creole music. Blank’s documentary, posthumously completed by partner Gina Albrecht, recounts a 2000 visit that Blank and Albrecht made to the home of documentarian Richard Leacock and his wife Valerie Lalonde. The two filmmakers and very good friends talk about making films that capture “the feeling of being there.”

The Kindergarten Teacher

Nadav Lapid’s critically acclaimed follow-up to the SFIFF award-winner Policeman concerns poetry and boundary-breaking obsession. Aspiring poet Nira’s day job is that of kindergarten teacher. One day she discovers that one of her charges, 5-year-old Yoav, has an amazing talent for creating emotionally mature poetry. The teacher soon becomes far too interested in both Yoav’s life and talent.

Of Men And War

Laurent Becue-Renard’s documentary takes viewers to Yountville, California’s Pathway Home. There, a group of soldiers are followed over five years as they undergo therapies ranging from trauma therapy to contemplative walks. The aim is to help these soldiers deal with the PTSD and other mental traumas acquired during their Iraq and Afghanistan tours of duty that have prevented them from reintegrating into civilian life. However, the process of moving forward and healing has as many small successes as it does failures.

Welcome, Space Brothers: The Films Of The Unarius Academy Of Science With Jodi Wille

SFIFF 58’s strangest film program would have to be this program of films from The Unarius Brotherhood. Led by the septuagenarian Archangel Uriel, the group spread their “interdimensional science of life” gospel to the masses through incredibly inventive psychodramas made for television. This program will not only trace the history of the Brotherhood, but will also offer samples of their mind-blowing videos and the Brotherhood’s cinematic epic The Arrival.

A scene from WELCOME, SPACE BROTHERS: THE FILMS OF THE UNARIUS ACADEMY OF SCIENCE WITH JODI WILE, playing at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 - May 7 2015.

A scene from WELCOME, SPACE BROTHERS: THE FILMS OF THE UNARIUS ACADEMY OF SCIENCE WITH JODI WILE, playing at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 – May 7 2015.


This amazing Sundance Special Jury Prize-winner is a portrait of two towns and two particular men who live in them. The Rio Grande is the only border between the Texas town of Eagle Pass and the Mexican town of Piedra Negras. Cattleman Martin Wall freely shuttles cattle across the border to ply his trade. Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster is a man beloved in both towns. The friendship between the two towns as well as the lives of Wall and Foster get negatively impacted by nearby drug cartel violence and changes in federal policy towards US-Mexico relations.

Winter Sleep

The films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan can be an acquired taste. But this dramatic epic of an egotistical actor’s downfall took both Cannes’ Palme d’Or and the FIPRESCI prize, so it falls into the “worth a look” category. Actor Aydin now serves his small Anatolian village as both manager of his family’s landholdings and self-appointed moral authority. When the imam’s nephew throws a rock at Aydin’s truck, it sets off a chain of events that wind up undermining Aydin’s exaggerated self-regard.

The World Of Kanako

Ex-police detective and estranged patriarch Akikazu Fujishima hopes to regain his standing as man of the house by finding his missing daughter Kanako. But Fujishima soon discovers his daughter was definitely not the paragon of perfection he imagined. As he goes everywhere and does everything to find his missing daughter, things get spectacularly violent and messy. Needless to say, if you’re squeamish about cinematic sleaze and violence, this film might not be for you. For those of sterner stuff, enjoy.

At this writing, a couple of recommended films from last week (Goodnight Mommy and The Iron Ministry) still have tickets available for their final screenings. But whatever SFIFF film you do see, it’s safe to say that the odds favor your finding something more aesthetically substantive than Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

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

Still from “Welcome Space Brothers: The Films Of The Unarius Academy Of Science With Jodi Wille” 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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