The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) held the opening press conference for the 49th Annual San Francisco Film Festival yesterday morning at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in Union Square. About 300 press corps members, part of the local and international press corps attended the event. Due to the film festival’s Hong Kong entries, there was even a news crew from World Channel International, the local Chinese language station.

Graham Leggat, the SFFS’s new executive director, spoke articulately with a slight Irish accent. Although he has been on the job for only the last five months, he exhibited very intimate knowledge about the festival and its entries. Unlike Roxanne Messina Captor, who was not very articulate, often would fumble film titles, and didn’t seem to be as as intimate with the festival’s programming. The primary message to his speech was simple: putting together a film festival is a social endeavor.

Leggat stated that the film festival has gone out of their way to create a citizen press corps by recruiting Bay Area bloggers, like myself, to attend the film festival as press. This is my second year covering the festival, even though I have been writing about the festival in the form of film reviews for the last four years. So far my experience with the festival this year yields a sense that the festival is a lot more organized, surely due in part to Leggat’s new leadership.

Leggat also stated that this year it is the goal to make the festival a citywide event by having a public art installation at City Hall, multiple venues, co-presenting organizations, and continued community outreach in the form of the Schools at the Festival program. Leggat said that 18-year-old filmmakers are the future of film. I completely agree. I have found several great short films on YouTube created by kids that are of amazingly good quality. The future is now.

The festival will feature 97 feature films and 130 shorts from 41 countries this year. It opens on April 20th with Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s Honk Kong musical “Perhaps Love” and closes on May 4th with Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Notable films include “Romance & Cigarettes,” directed and written by John Turturroand starring Susan Sarandon and James Gandolfini. The film promises an amazing Gandolfini rendition of Tom Jones. One of the most anticipated film is Eric Steel’s documentary “The Bridge,” which caused a stir in San Francisco during filming, makes its West Coast premiere here. The film, as you may recall, captures almost 20 people comitting suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The festival always has many great documentaries, and this year is no exception. High profile documentaries include Sam Dunn and Scott McFadden’s “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” Stanley Nelson’s “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple,” James Longley’s “Iraq in Fragments,” and Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob’s “Al Franken: God Spoke.” Also, Justine Jacob and Alex da Silva’s “Runners High“, about East Oakland youth training for the Los Angeles marathon, receives its world premiere at the festival.

Another film I am really looking forward to is Bunie Burns’s “Cock Byte: Masters of Machinima.” The makers of Red vs. Blue: Blood Gulch Chronicles, Rooster Teeth Productions, have created a greatest hits collection and will show on the big screen. The film will feature the finest moments of Red vs. Blue, and rarely seen one-offs and outtakes. It will be interesting to see how these Halo shorts will translate to the big screen. Additionally, several members of Rooster Teeth Productions will be on hand after the screening to answer a little Q&A.

In addition to the films I have mentioned, there are many other notable features and shorts from Asia and Latin America that look very interesting. I don’t think I’ll be able to see more than 12 films this year, but I am going to try and squeeze in as many as possible. I will be posting my festival schedule later in the week for all to see. See you all at the festival!

If you are not already a member of the SFFS, you should join now! SFFS members can order online or by phone (925-866-9559) Mon-Fri, 9:00am – 4:00pm. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Kabuki 8 Theaters at 1881 Post St. or at the Virgin Megastore at 2 Stockton St. The general public buy tickets starting April 4th.

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