"What Maisie Knew"
Millennium "What Maisie Knew"

Programmers Rachel Rosen, Sean Uyehara, Rod Armstrong, and Director of the Golden Gate Awards Audrey Chang previewed the multi-pronged program: live events, world cinema, conversations, prizes. Two unintentional threads that emerged in the programming: first, the local angle -- both settings, such as Michael Polish's "Big Sur," with scenes set in City Lights bookstore and Tosca, and filmmakers: Jacob Kornbluth's "Inequality for All," the Centerpiece film of the festival, featuring Berkeley professor Robert Reich; and Rick Prelinger presenting an interactive found-footage movie, "No More Road Trips?" And then, "welcoming back old friends" -- that is, showing movies by directors who've been shown at SFIFF before, including Linklater.  Another minor theme: "the enduring popularity of gangster cinema," (stop the presses!) as seen in films from Russia ("Dom: A Russian Family"), Korea ("Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time"), and Japan ("Outrage Beyond").

I'm most excited about two special programs: Steven Soderbergh is giving the State of Cinema address, especially interesting in light of his recent announcement that he's retiring from directing movies (followed almost immediately by another announcement that he's planning a 12-hour miniseries adaptation of John Bath's "The Sot-Weed Factor -- plus ca change).  And the presentation of the Mel Novikoff award to beloved polymath cinephile Peter von Bagh, co-director of the Midnight Sun Film Festival and co-director of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, exciting not only because SFIFF will screen von Bagh's 2008 "Helsinki Forever," but because it means that his health has recovered from the illness that prevented him from attending the 2012 Bologna festival.

Of the movies I've seen, I can wholeheartedly recommend the winner of this year's Persistence of Vision award, for a body of work "outside the realm of narrative filmmaking," Jem Cohen's "Museum Hours" (which is indeed a narrative); Bernardo Bertolucci's quixotically overlooked "Me and You,"; and Sarah Polley's extraordinary more-than-a-documentary about her family, "Stories We Tell." 

And I look forward, of course, to the discoveries I'll make among the movies I haven't seen.  Most anticipated, in addition to several mentioned above: "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay"; "Eight Deadly Shots," from Finland, and 316 minutes long; the Czech "Marketa Lazarova," favorite film of eccentric film lover and recently deceased festival benefactor George Gund, to whom the festival is dedicated; "Populaire," a French film, set in the late 50s, that looks like pure kitsch pleasure; "The Search for Emak Bakia," a documentary about the 20s Man Ray film; three restored films from local hero Les Blank; "Twenty Feet from Stardom," a documentary about backup singers; and Justine Malle's autobiographical film, "Youth, " about her relationship with her father Louis.

But tonight I'm staying in.