54th San Francisco International Film Festival 21 April - 5 May 2011


Scoop du jour is the daily chronicle of the Festival. Select a daily edition to read penetrating coverage about who's in town and what's going down at SFIFF54. Scoop du Jour is supported by Esurance.

Crime After Crime director Yoav Potash, recipient of this year's award for Investigative Documentary Feature, celebrated last night with documentary subject Joshua Safran at the Golden Gate Awards. Photo by Pat Mazzera

Who's in Town
Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened. It's true that SFIFF54 concludes today after a fantastic two-week run, but we intend on going out in an unforgettable blaze of glory. Take advantage of some great films and revel in your last chance to rub elbows with their gifted creators (until next year, at least). FIPRESCI Prize recipient The Salesman will screen at 2:00 with director Sébastien Pilote in attendance, followed closely by Festival favorite American Teacher and director Vanessa Roth. Finishing out a great last day at the Kabuki are producers Tommy Oliver (Kinyarwanda) and Martin Marquet (The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye). At New People, the Get with the Program shorts series screens to a visit from directors Arjun Rihan and Jonn Herschend, followed by director Christopher Munch and his film Letters from the Big Man.

Golden Gate Awards Announced
The SFIFF54 presented its 2011 Golden Gate Awards to filmmakers Wednesday night at Temple Nightclub–Prana Restaurant. Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway's Better This World won both Best Documentary Feature and Best Bay Area Documentary awards. Yoav Potash's Crime After Crime received the Investigative Documentary prize. Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan won the New Directors award. Visit sf360.org for a complete list of winners.

Sasquatch in the Mist
There can be no doubt now the creature exists, thanks to countless alert cable documentaries with fringe scientists, nearsighted cryptozoologists and the riveting eyewitness accounts of true believers. But what happens next between us and Sasquatch? Christopher Munch opens us to some possibilities in his contemplative, beautiful and intriguingly dramatic Letters from the Big Man. In Munch's portrayal, the Sasquatch is a being far more advanced than us humans—deeply aware, able to manipulate and use infrasound, appearing and disappearing at will, and possessing a gift for silent communication despite having fingers way too gigantic to text. The director's sincere and respectful vision counters the Bigfoot mania of the past. "I had seen the Sasquatchploitation films of the '70s," Munch said after the screening, "but now there is an interest in a heartfelt interaction." Karen Black is ready for the Big Man's message and makes an appearance as a fierce environmentalist fighting the forestry service's destructive plans for the Sasquatch's back yard. But the film's focus is the gradual opening of a part-time forest service employee and artist, adeptly played by Lily Rabe, to the reality and deeper meaning of the Sasquatch's presence in the dark and remote Klamath forests. When we are truly ready, the Big Man will appear. Your last chance to see this very special film is tonight at New People (7:30) —GK

The Price of Selling
According to a recent "worst jobs" survey conducted in Canada, respondents unanimously named the titles of politicians and car salesmen. For Sébastien Pilote, director of the potent drama The Salesman, this survey provided the inspiration for an elaborate character study that frames his cinematic debut. "Car salesmen are traditionally portrayed as caricatures," the filmmaker told the audience during Sunday's postscreening Q&A, "and I wanted to create a sympathetic character, or someone whom we would have trouble judging." Set amid the snow-bound bleakness of northern Quebec, Pilote's poignant film centers on a 67-year-old widowed car salesman—expertly played by veteran actor Gilbert Sicotte—for whom selling cars and doting on his daughter and grandson represent a raison d'être. For Pilote, maintaining the monochromatic quality of the setting was essential in highlighting the protagonist's absurd devotion to salesmanship in a depressed local economy. "We expected a big winter that year," said Pilote, "and for some reason, that one year, there was more snow in Montreal in the south than in northern Quebec. We actually had to bring extra snow to the set." The Salesman screens for the last time Thursday at 2:00 at the Kabuki. —GS

Teach Your Children Well
It was perfect and poetic that the world premiere of American Teacher took place on National Teacher Appreciation Day. Received by a supportive audience that included teachers, film crew members and Tim Tuten from the US Department of Education, the film laid bare this country's education crisis. As teachers are increasingly overworked, underpaid and unappreciated, schools are facing the growing challenge of recruiting high-quality candidates and retaining those who make a difference. The handful of characters featured in the film humanized this issue and debunked (sometimes heart-wrenchingly) the myth that what they do is easy. In the Q&A, director/producer Vanessa Roth called the documentary "a very collaborative process." True to that spirit, the session featured ten guests including Bay Area author Dave Eggers, who is one of the producers, and Jonathan Dearman, a popular teacher who left San Francisco's Leadership High School and changed his occupation in order to support his family. When asked what he thought of the film, Dearman joked in reference to his many close-ups, "I don't want to see this in HD." One of Dearman's former students remarked, "If I had known all of this was going on, I would have been a little better behaved." A question arose about teachers who stay in their jobs until retirement. Eggers replied, "American Teacher II!" "Hopefully this film can inspire more discussion
. . . and the sequel Dave will make," Roth added. Stay tuned, and don't miss the final screening of American Teacher today at the Kabuki at 3:45 pm. —MM

Giving It Up for Teachers!
Also on National Teacher Appreciation Day, the Schools at the Festival program marked its 20th anniversary with a celebratory program of clips from past SATF films, live stories, tributes to educators and youth filmmakers and a reception. The late Bob Donn, a retired schoolteacher and Festival volunteer, started the SATF program in 1991 as an experiment. He believed that maybe, just maybe, students just might appreciate—and learn from—Festival films as much as adult audiences had been doing for decades. Over the past 20 years, it has evolved into the Youth Education program that serves more than 10,000 teachers and students each year. Donn's daughter, Nicole Donn, was at the celebration to present the first Robert S. Donn Excellence in Teaching Through Film Award. This year's recipient, Galileo High School teacher Denise LeBiqvant, has been bringing students to the Festival since 1992. Nicole Donn echoed the overall sentiment at the celebration, "We are overjoyed by what the program has grown to be." —KH

>Best Bets
Tickets are available for the following screenings. Kabuki: The Tiniest Place (5:45), Kinyarwanda (6:00), Incendies (8:00) and The Place in Between (8:45). New People: Get with the Program (5:00) and Letters from the Big Man (7:30). Be sure to join us for an incredible Closing Night program at the Castro Theatre, which will include a screening of Mathieu Amalric's burlesque stunner On Tour. An exclusive afterparty follows at the Factory.

Today's Scoop contributors are Kathryn Hassanein, Gustavus Kundahl, Monique Montibon, Damon O'Donnell and Galina Stoletneya. For additional Fest coverage, visit sf360.org.