Film Features

2018 SFFILM Festival Midway Roundup


This article previously appeared on Crossfader

We have the honor of covering some of the selections from the 2018 SFFILM Festival! SFFILM champions the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Read what we have to say about what we’ve seen so far. We encourage our readers in the Bay Area to catch the remaining screenings

Note: Any capsule reviews are to comply with the festival’s review embargo policy on certain films not yet in wide release

SFFILM Festival Angels


Director: Vivian Qu

Genre: Drama

The cinematic landscape of China is vast, diverse, and incredibly human. Arguably no other country has produced as many auteurs who are so committed to the frailty of human existence, finding poetry in the smallest beats of the everyday. ANGELS WEAR WHITE is a welcome inclusion to this pantheon, and though it may not rank with the catalogue of Jia Zhangke and company, it can confidently consider itself one of China’s bravest film’s in recent memory: a female-directed drama about misogyny, exploitation, corruption, and bureaucracy. Following the case of two schoolgirls that are raped in a seaside hotel, ANGELS WEAR WHITE is less concerned with the detective work that brings its key assailant to justice, but rather the lengths to which everyone annexed to this crime is willing to go to profit off of hearsay and evidence. It’s a brutal and courageous depiction of modern injustice, and though it never reaches any transcendental moments of cinematic poetry the likes of MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART, Qu can proudly consider herself a vital puzzle piece in a growing movement of diverse Asian cinematic voices. [Sergio Zaciu]

SFFILM Festival Big Bad Fox


Directors: Benjamin Renner, Patrick Imbert

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES is one of the most darling films I’ve seen in a long time. Not only does it teach children valuable life lessons, I can honestly say as a 21-year-old, I was just as amused as the intended audience. With an atmospheric and approachable 2D animation style, this charming film could warm even the coldest hearts during a snowstorm in the middle of winter. [Emma Wine]

SFFILM Festival Carcasse


Directors: Gústav Geir Bollason and Clémentine Roy

Genre: Documentary

Quietly, CARCASSE opens on a flock of sheep huddled together in a barren landscape. There is a pool of stagnant-looking water, but no grass for grazing. Next, a dog edges into the screen, herding them. Then, a man. Here, we receive the first hint as to the nature of this world: Shepherding is among the oldest of professions, going back some 5000 years in human history. The world has been reset. The dog harries the sheep across the plain, past the rusted-out hull of an aircraft—a remnant of the world before. Wonderfully shot in black and white and capturing the stark beauty of Iceland, Gústav Geir Bollason and Clémentine Roy present their film in a series of seemingly unrelated images, illustrating the world as it is now: a place constructed from scattered refuse. A man builds a hut wall out of old tires. Another loads a sheep onto a raft made from the hull of a VW Bug. Offal is traded as some form of currency. There are no words, only bare necessity. In many ways, CARCASSE feels like a precursor to THE ROAD. It offers a glimpse of a possible future, at a time when animals still exist and man still carries some semblance of purpose, of humanity. The austere location, coupled with the lack of dialogue and unexplained, often nonsensical actions of its inhabitants, make CARCASSE seem like a version of our world far removed from reality, that is, until you remember that this is how the world was for hundreds of years. Thousands, even. And that this is how much of the world still is. What has been will be again. [Joseph Simpson]

SFFILM Festival Gary Winogrand


Director: Sasha Waters Freyer

Genre: Documentary

Director Sasha Waters Freyer takes the audience on a solid but standard approach to the documentary format, highlighting the flawed humanity of legendary American photographer, Garry Winogrand. Throughout, Winogrand’s fearlessness and extreme productivity highlight some of the worst and best aspects of mid-20th century America. But due to the film’s linear nature, overuse of still images, and interviews, the film poorly reflects Winogrand’s rejection of convention. Nonetheless, Winogrand remains an enthralling subject, justifying a watch. [Sam Wall]

SFFILM Festival I Am Not a Witch


Director: Rungano Nyoni

Genre: Drama

I AM NOT A WITCH’s portrayal of a group of women who are believed to be witches broke my heart and made me question my faith in humanity. The combination of close-ups on the little girl’s face and her virtual silence speaks to the trauma she experiences throughout the film. Coupled with the high saturation of extremely dull colors, I AM NOT A WITCH is unbelievably powerful and crushing at the same time. [Emma Wine]

SFFILM Festival Those Who Are Fine


Director: Cyril Schäublin

Genre: Drama

From the start, THOSE WHO ARE FINE radiates irony from its title, since it becomes readily apparent that its characters are not. Instead, many are apathetic in their daily lives, peering at their phones and failing to communicate. The pacing of the film is slow. An elderly lady waits in line and withdraws money from the bank, a squad of police officers perform cursory bag checks for bombs as if they are on park safety duty, talking amongst themselves. Other characters sit in sparsely but carefully composed frames, often filled with concrete and metal. The world is modern and sterile, almost as if the environment is actively sucking the humanity from its inhabitants. Despite the constant theme of detachment, Alice (Sarah Stauffer) unites all of the characters through her interactions with them. She works at a call center convincing elderly people to send her money. At first, we assume she is able to do so because of the disconnect provided by her headset. But towards the end of the film, Alice faces her hapless victims and appears to enjoy it. Here the film hints at something deeper: perhaps it is not the technology that separates us from one another, but rather something in humanity itself. After all, most of us quietly agree to be someone else in a virtual world that exists somewhere else. Although the film inhabits this surreal alternate reality, it does so just slightly, and with enough truth to entice us to look up for a second and think. [Sam Wall]

SFFILM Festival Tigre


Directors: Silvia Schnicer, Ulises Porra Guardiola

Genre: Drama

In TIGRE, a challenging, feverishly sexual multi-generational triptych (boy, that’s a mouthful), directing spouses Silvina Schnicer and Ulises Porra try their hand at capturing varying stages of female angst—from a young girl being the object of desire for apish young boys, to adolescent lust, to a mother surrendering her property to her greedy son. It’s a heavy load to take in, a film that could have taken the easy way out and been told as episodic anthology, opting instead for a fragmented ensemble piece that utilizes its prismatic structure as a means of drawing parallels between the trivialities of its coming-of-age story and the enormity of its broader domestic drama—arguably blurring the lines of pettiness and tragedy. It’s deeply ambitious, but also gets a little lost in its scope, stumbling in the introduction of its characters and their relationships with one another. What’s more, it often uses its gorgeous scenery as a crutch instead of a successful thematic device, and though that doesn’t prevent it from braving some new waters, it leaves one wondering what opportunities it missed by biting off more than it could chew. It’s a stunning debut, one that is sure to pave the way for future outings from the directing duo; let’s just hope they carve out their world a little more transparently in the future. [Sergio Zaciu]

SFFILM Festival Wrestle


Directors: Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer

Genre: Sports, Drama

Wrestling is an art form, and artists must suffer for the art. WRESTLE is an intimate look at the lives of four J.O. Johnson High School students as they grapple with their own personal problems while devoting themselves to one of the most mentally and physically demanding—and under-appreciated—sports there is: wrestling. Following Jailen, Jamario, Jaquan, and Teague, we witness firsthand not only the stresses of the teenage years, high school, and their grueling meets, but of poverty, broken homes, the reality of racial profiling and discrimination, and the tremendous weight of family expectations as they pour their very literal blood, sweat, and tears into their sport. For these boys, their very futures are on the line when they are in the ring. Their ability to qualify for State Championships will determine whether or not they get scholarships, which will determine whether or not they will be able to finally break the cycle of poverty their families have lived in for generations. Director Suzannah Herbert and co-director Lauren Belfer’s harrowing portrait of strength and perseverance, WRESTLE reminds us that strength is not simply a physical matter of muscles and conditioning, but of mental and emotional fortitude. Strength, as their harsh yet endlessly passionate coach, Chris, states, is ultimately about having “faith that you guys can perform beyond what you’re expected to.” [Joseph Simpson]

Thomas Seraydarian
Thomas founded Merry-Go-Round Magazine and acted as Editor-in-Chief until 2020. Now he yells about fish for a living and does Merry-Go-Round's taxes.

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