SF Film Fest is back — here are 18 films you should not miss


After having to scrap the event in 2020 and then going virtual i 2021, the San Francisco International Film Festival returns to an in-person experience for its 65th anniversary of celebrating the finest of indie global filmmaking.

And what a return. SFFILM 2022 is serving up a head-spinning slate of 130 films from 56 countries, all of which will be splashed up on big screens at the Castro, Vogue, Roxie and Victoria theaters in San Francisco and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The fest runs April 21 to May 1.

Many filmmakers and cast members will turn out, including director/star Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson from “Cha Cha Real Smooth” (April 30), while one of the biggest nights is a tribute to the phenomenal Michelle Yeoh, who’s earning justified raves for her performance in the wild and brilliant “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh will take the Castro stage with Yeoh at 6 p.m. April 29. Also, Ang Lee’s acclaimed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which stars Yeoh, will screen 7 p.m. April 25 at the Castro Theatre.

A tribute to the hilarious and versatile Jenny Slate, who voices an endearing mollusk in “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” is set for 7:30 p.m. April 22 at the Castro and will include a screening of the anticipated film.

There are a lot of great films to choose from. Here’s a rundown of eight films definitely worth your time. Most single screenings cost $16-$18; signature events and parties cost more. Tickets, the full schedule and more information is at sffilm.org.

Here’s a rundown of 18 films definitely worth your time.

“Stay Awake”: When films bring up the opioid epidemic, they don’t often focus on the caregivers, those exasperated relatives, lovers and friends who cling to shards of hope that things will turn around. In director/screenwriter Jamie Sisley’s heartfelt feature the attention lands on teenage brothers Derek (Fin Argus) and Ethan (Wyatt Oleff) rather than their addicted mom Michelle (Chrissy Metz), who leans on her kids to pick her up after her fall. Subject matter like that sounds like it would make you miserable, but Sisley finds broken pieces of humanity, love and humor in the story line, even when the family dysfunction is at a breaking point. “Stay Awake” is delicately and truthfully told, an observant slice of broken-down American life that is sensitively told and acted. Details: 7:30 p.m. April 21; Castro.

“892”: As he did in Steve McQueen’s “Red, White & Blue,” John Boyega proves he’s a force to reckon with when given a challenging role. Based on a true story, “892” is a ticking time bomb of a film that nervously follows ex-Marine Brian Brown-Easley’s second-by-second meltdown as he takes bank employees hostage when his much-needed disability check fails to arrive. Boyega is electrifying, burrowing into the complexity of a shattered man who’s been ground up by an inhumane bureaucratic system. Director Abi Damaris Corbin keeps the tension taut in this claustrophobic setting, and it’s no wonder that the Sundance Film Festival singled out the impressive cast, which also includes the late Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Connie Britton and Jeffrey Donovan. It’s a Centerpiece selection. Details: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; the Castro.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth”: Actor/filmmaker/screenwriter Cooper Raiff steers clear of a sophomore slump with a radiant follow-up to 2020’s “Sh@$house.” And once again, he excels at massaging the kinks out of the overworked rom-com format. Raiff plays nice-guy Andrew, a 22-year-old college grad searching for his career rudder while kicking it back at his Long Island hometown. He lands a gig to pepping up the crowds at bar mitzvahs and he encounters Domino (Dakota Johnson), there with her autistic daughter. Raiff diverges from the rote, creating complications and backstories that never feel artificial. As Andrew’s loving manic-depressive mother, Lesley Mann is first-rate. Ditto Raul Castillo as Domino’s hard-working boyfriend. Details: 7 p.m. April 30; the Castro; closing night screening.

In addition to those Big Nights, we recommend these films as well.

Andrew (Cooper Raiff) and Domino (Dakota Johnson) strike up a close relationship in “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” directed and written by Raiff. (Apple TV+) 

“Black Mothers Love & Resist”: Débora Souza Silva and her crew follow two remarkable Black mothers — Oakland’s Wanda Johnson, whose son Oscar Grant was killed by a BART police officer in 2009, and Angela Williams, whose son Ulysses had a run-in with police in Troy, Alabama, that turned ugly — as they go on a mission to change a broken system. Their tireless commitment to advocate that measures be taken to prevent future tragedies from happening comes through passionately in Silva’s powerful documentary. Details: 8:30 p.m. April 29; Roxie.

“American Justice on Trial”: In Andrew Abrahams and Herb Ferrette’s illuminating 40-minute documentary, the 1968 murder trial of Black Panthers co-founder Huey Newton goes under the microscope — from the news coverage to the legal strategies used to the jury deliberations. It gets a world premiere here. Details: 6 p.m. April 22; Roxie.

“La Guerra Civil”: Actor/producer Eva Longoria Bastón steps into the director’s ring and delivers a knockout, an absorbing documentary about a culturally divisive boxing match between Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez and Mexican American Oscar De La Hoya. It’s one of the most exciting sports-related documentaries you’ll likely see in 2022. Details: Noon April 23, Victoria; 7:45 p.m. April 24; BAMPFA.

“Nothing Compares”: What led Irish singer/songwriter Sinead O’Connor to tear up a picture of the Pope on TV, an act that rocked the world even without social media? Kathryn Ferguson’s documentary provides insight and makes a convincing argument that O’Connor — who weathered a terrible childhood — was an artist ahead of her time: a vocal feminist and objector to sins of the Church and society in general. Details: 8:45 p.m. April 29; the Victoria.

“I Didn’t See You There”: Former Oakland resident Reid Davenport chronicles what daily life is like for someone who navigates in a wheelchair. His unforgettable personal documentary won him a Sundance directing award. Attend a screening and you will see why. Details: 6 p.m. April 29, Victoria; 3 p.m. April 30, BAMPFA.

“Fire of Love”: Berkeley documentarian Sara Dosa crafts an exhilarating experience that celebrates the art of filmmaking and the achievements of its central subjects – the late intrepid volcanologist couple Katia and Maurice Krafft. It demands to be seen, heard and felt on the biggest screen imaginable. Details: 1 p.m. April 23; the Castro; 5 p.m. April 24; BAMPFA.

“Navalny”: In a documentary that is as relevant as the headlines of tomorrow, Daniel Roher gives us a clear impression of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as he and others try to chase down who poisoned the vocal, imprisoned challenger to Vladimir Putin. Details: 4:30 p.m. April 23; Castro.

“Mud Water”: The Bay Area’s My-Linh Le mixes mysticism and dance to create unique magic courtesy of a tightly knit group of dancers spotted often on BART. In this entrancing 31-minute experimental film, one dancer finds himself at a crossroads — either stay with the group or venture on his own. Don’t miss this world premiere, part of the mid-length section. Details: 5:45 p.m. April 29; the Roxie.

“Both Sides of the Blade”: Unconventional risk-taker Claire Denis comes up with one of her best films yet, a sly, disquieting triangulated romance that fires up old grudges and desires and metaphorically mirrors tangled political relationships in the Middle East. How does she pull that one off? You’ll just have to see this spellbinder and its splendid performances from Juliette Binoche, Vincent London and Gregoire Colin. Details: 8 p.m. April 23; the Castro.

“Happening”: Certainly one of the most painfully relevant dramas in the lineup is Audrey Diwan’s powerhouse, an exactingly detailed look at a ‘60s college student in France attempting to get an abortion. Based on a memoir, it seems real and immediate in every scene. Lead Anamaria Vartolomei’s performance will be seared into your memory. Details: 7 p.m. April 22; BAMPFA; 6 p.m. April 23; Victoria.

“Hatching”: Hanna Bergholm’s diabolical horror film is as surreal and bizarre as the most off-the-wall David Lynch production. A daughter rebels against her uptight influencer mom by bringing home a big bird egg that then hatches a whole lot of weird trouble. It’s just as inventive as it is odd, and regard that as a highest compliment. Details: 8:45 p.m. April 27; Roxie.

“Klondike”: Director/screenwriter/editor Maryna Er Gorbach’s 2014 drama set in Ukraine keeps getting ever more timely after its world premiere at Sundance. It exposes the absurdity of war through the travails of parents-to-be who live near the Russian border and have body parts strewn in their backyard. With her wide-angle shots and unforgettable, often violent images, Gorbach shows all the forces conspiring against the couple. It’s based on a true story, too. Details: 8:30 p.m. April 22; Victoria; 7 p.m. May 1; BAMPFA.

“Utama”: In this quiet and profound lament on the ravages of climate change, the lives of an elderly Bolivian rancher couple change forever as they stand back to watch their Quechuan roots and existence shrivel away from drought. Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s sad vision is equal parts stunning and devastating. Details: 3 p.m. April 24; the Victoria; 6 p.m. April 28; BAMPFA.

“Palm Trees and Power Lines”: Unsettling performances from newcomer Lily McInerny and Jonathan Tucker fuel Jamie Dack’s disturbing feature. Wisely utilizing wide-angle shots for its most intense moments, this is cautionary material for us all as a charismatic predator (Tucker) manipulates a vulnerable teen girl (McInerny). It’s tough and exceptionally well made. Details: 5:30 p.m. April 27; Victoria.

“Marte Um (Mars One)”: Rather than sound a despairing note about life under far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, director/screenwriter Gabriel Martins turns to the resiliency of a Black Brazilian family that’s just trying to make do. Martins’ feature is made buoyant by its memorable characters — a daughter falling for a rich young woman, a son interested in science more than soccer and two parents coping with their own internal struggles. “Marte Um” is a delightful, joyous celebration of the unbreakable bonds that help us get through the most challenging of times — be they political or personal. Details: 8:45 p.m. April 22; Roxie; 7:45 p.m. April 23; BAMPFA.

Contact Randy Myers at soitsfrandy@gmail.com.


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