During the next two weeks, 177 films will screen from more than 50 countries. It’s the largest film event in Northern California, and more than 10 percent of all movie tickets sold in San Francisco this year will be to a movie in this festival (kind of mind-blowing when you think about it – wow, SF really likes independent films!) Aw yeah, Nug readers – the SF International Film Festival is on. It’s the oldest film festival of its kind in the United States, and considered to be one of the Top-10 film festivals in the world. Sure, it’s a venerated, lauded institution and this is their main event, with a ton of notable world premieres, North American premieres and West Coast premieres scheduled — like the scheduled world premiere of Andy Garcia’s documentary on Cachao.  Andy Garcia not only directs and acts as a lead in the documentary, but he is rumored to appear at the opening of the film.

But why we love it: because even in a post-Netflix world, occasionally movies are a once-in-a-lifetime event. In 2003, we watched a screening of Oliver Stone’s movie about Fidel Castro, “Comandante.” It was scheduled to air on HBO three months after the film festival – big whoop. It was presumed that if you missed it at the film festival, it seemed certain that you would be able to watch it a few months. But what happened next sealed the movie’s fate: just a few weeks after the screening, Castro went on a rampage and executed a few people without proper trials. The international climate changed and for some reason, Stone was forbidden to screen the movie ever, anywhere, ever again. Stone, the only American film director ever granted permission by Castro to make a documentary about him, with exclusive months-long access to the reclusive revolutionary – all to be shelved like the McGruder film, and will need something like Freedom-of-Information-Act request to ever see the light of day. Who knew that one of Nugget’s early posts to this blog would be one of the few things ever to be written about it?

Here are some tips to attending the film festival:

1. Buy your tickets ASAP
Tickets sell out. About 10 percent of all movies watched in San Francisco during the year are watched during the two-week festival. It can be Ferry Building on a Saturday morning packed; with “Rush tickets” lines (people trying to buy last-minute tickets) cued up along Post St. from Fillmore to Webster (a block long). Avoid the hassle and buy your tickets here:

2. Try to attend the first screening of a movie if possible
That’s your best chance to meet the director, producer, and/or principal actor(s) in the film. In previous years, we’ve been –this close- to Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, Morgan Spurlock (his West Coast debut of Supersize Me), and dozens international film celeberati. (Woo Hoo, if you care about that sort of thing.)

3. Schedule your movies at least three hours apart if possible
Following the first screening of a film, there is usually a robust discussion after the film with either a film director, producer, or actor that discuss the plot, how the actor prepared for the role, the cinematographer’s techniques, to how they raised money for their projects, and more. It’s film school come to life. And you’ll be really bummed if you have to bail to make it to the next movie.

4.Try to see at least five movies; ten is better
Why? Otherwise you don’t feel the “international” aspect of the International Film Festival. It’s only at the end of the week when you realized, “Hmm… I just learned about tea farmers in Mongolia, watched reenactment of a muay-Thai fighter fight in the most ferocious fight in all of Thailand in order to win enough prize money to have a sex-change operation(!), and was enchanted by a Australian stunt-double whose dream it was to meet Quentin Tarantino and star in one of his action films… How odd that I just experienced all of these different cultures in such a compressed time period. And yet, how rad!”

5. It’s OK to arrive hungry – the Kabuki has great food
The Sundance restaurant is closed for the next two weeks, but if you haven’t been to the newly renovated Kabuki, go for a movie and stay for a drink. The lounges are super comfy, and a wine list and cocktail menu that even an ultra-lounge snob would love. Just don’t ask the servers what “mustard fruits” are that were part of the duck confit appetizer (oh yeah, the restaurant and two lounges are that nice.) Nice invention, Kabuki chefs! (After the server searched two floors for a manager to ask that question, it turns out their idea of a ‘mustard fruit’ was mustard seeds mashed together with some white wine. I think that’s called Grey Poupon in my fridge, but I digress. Two big ups for the creativity, and creative menu over all – so unexpected for a movie theater! But I guess it’s all part of the “Sundance Experience,” who now owns the theater.

Of course, the cocktails are nice, but it’s really all about the movies. Once you try attending the film festival, and Kevin Spacey sees you raise your hand and let you ask him a question about why he funded a documentary about a old piano player who travels around from nursery home to nursery home to entertain friends during all of their last days that made the audience both cry and laugh, you will be hooked. And fight us for our seats next year.

So don’t miss out. But tickets to the Film Festival now at http://fest08.sffs.org/

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