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San Francisco International Film Festival 55: 'Abramovic,' 'Neighboring Sounds,' and Kenneth Branagh

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood May 2, 2012 at 4:19PM

Kind of a light Festival day: viewed a DVD that I loved, saw a new movie onscreen that was a first feature and reminded me why we go to film festivals, went to a cocktail party that didn’t feel like one, and attended Kenneth Branagh’s tribute for the Founder’s Directing Award. First up, the DVD: “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.”

I stop at the pre-screening reception before the 7:30 Branagh tribute at the Castro, at a restaurant on Market previously named after its address, 2223, but since February of this year, under new owners, known as Jake’s on Market. It’s a nice airy space (especially with its tables removed for the party), with a long bar visible alongside the main room. When I get there the bar is full and there’s a cluster of people right around the entrance, in the midst of which I can espy K. Branagh, but most of the room is empty. I don’t see anyone I know, there’s no food in evidence, and from long experience I know imbibing alcohol just before a movie is not the best idea, so I’m adrift. Menus specially printed for the party are placed here and there, and they look very promising (rock shrimp and crab ceviche, two kinds of crab cakes, buffalo chicken, bacon-wrapped meat loaf, mozzarella and tomato skewers, assorted pizzas), plus I haven’t eaten all day, so I figure I’ll stick around.

I exchange film festival banalities with a few other guests. Food emerges from the kitchen at a glacial pace, and on less-than-full plates, an old catering trick. I manage to snag a tiny crab cake (and am unable to tell whether it’s the East Coast Maryland blue crab version or the West Coast Dungeness variety), a skewer with a cherry tomato, basil leaf, and tiny ball of mozzarella, and a hard ball of something that alarmingly and almost disastrously squirts hot melted cheese when I bite into it – that must be the Buffalo chicken.

I feel like a creepy and ungracious party crasher, plus I remember that one of SF’s best BLTs (and only $5.50!) is available right across from the Castro at Rossi’s Deli, so I’m out the door.

The Irish-born, British-raised Branagh, hot off the unexpected success of “Thor,” is interviewed by a nervous and overprepared Jonathan Moscone, Artistic Director of the California Shakespeare Theater. Branagh is predictably charming, modest, and amusing, though there are no surprising revelations, as there were at the less-attended but more candid Judy Davis tribute.

The conversation is heavy on Shakespeare, so one wonders exactly why the 1991 neo-noir curiosity “Dead Again” was chosen. It’s a rare chance to see it projected on the big screen, and actually a film print, at that. It's fun to glimpse 20-year-old LA locations (including the Shakespeare bridge in Los Feliz, as well as the tower apartment building also used in Altman’s “the Long Goodbye”) and period fashions – not just the 40s ones, as now the late-80s clothes and hairstyles.

There’s still half-an-hour of film to go when there’s a disturbance to my left: one VIP guest in my row has decided, abruptly, that he’s had enough, and is pulling what’s left of his party -- two departed after the interview and before the movie -- away, despite my neighbor’s feeble remonstrance that she’d like to see the end. “I hope it’s on DVD,” I say to her.  I am reminded that sometimes it’s safer to stay at home.


This article is related to: San Francisco International Film Festival, Festivals, Festivals, Kenneth Branagh, Marina Abramović The Artist is Present

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.