A Sassy, Irreverent Film Festival 

A new executive director brings a fresh perspective to the 56th edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

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While we're in Wonkville, let's not forget Steven Soderbergh's State of the Cinema report, Saturday, April 27, at the Kabuki (1 p.m.). It might be fun hearing what the future holds for the world of film from an auteur who has already announced that he's quitting the scene at the top of his game. Is this Soderbergh's "farewell address" after years of provocative movies — including a methodical updating of popular genres à la Side Effects, Magic Mike, Haywire, and Contagion? Or is it one last candid chance to peer into the thoughts of one of this country's very few ground-breaking creators? Anyone who could carry Full Frontal, Ocean's Eleven, and The Girlfriend Experience in his filmography would be worth spending an afternoon with, at face value. Also recommended for wonks and worriers: the May 4 screening of Jacob Kornbluth's Inequality for All, a documentary expansion of Robert Reich's writings on the dangers of America's widening rich-poor gap (6:30 p.m., Kabuki). Kornbluth and Reich are expected to attend.

One of the purest examples of the documentary art, and also an exalted variation on that perennial festival staple, the Village Picture, is A River Changes Course, an earthy Cambodian film by cinematographer-turned-director Kalyanee Mam. Without narration, the camera visits different locales in that country's varied landscape — northern jungles, the Tonle Sap inland sea, a village near Phnom Penh, a Muslim fishing community — and takes notes on the lives and prospects of the inhabitants. A drought has hurt crops, so poor country folk are taking factory jobs ($61/month). Meanwhile, the wild animals are disappearing, forests are being cleared for their timber, and people in the country are getting sick. "We're no longer afraid of animals and ghosts," complains a farmer, "we're afraid of people." A River Changes Course is at the PFA on April 29.


Also recommended: Youth, a blithe, observational character study of a headstrong university student named Juliette (Esther Garrel from 17 Girls), directed in classic mid-20th-century French style by Justine Malle, daughter of the late master Louis Malle, showing May 1, 3, and 4 at the Kabuki. Jem Cohen's Museum Hours, in which a meek museum guard (Bobby Sommer) and a Canadian visitor (Mary Margaret O'Hara) become friends in contemporary Vienna amid numerous digressions (including a lecture on Pieter Bruegel the Elder), plays the Kabuki, April 28. Sergei Loznitsa's grim, taciturn WWII drama In the Fog slogs through the forest with anti-Nazi partisans in Belarus, April 26 at the PFA. Then there's Good Ol' Freda, the happy documentary portrait of Freda Kelly, a quiet Liverpool teenager who became president of The Beatles' fan club and number-one keeper of the flame. She knows Ringo Starr well enough to call him Richie. It's directed by Ryan White. At the PFA, May 5.

Finally, Night Across the Street (La noche de enfrente) is a must-see for devotees of the late Portuguese director Raúl Ruiz, an anti-realistic, dream-friendly account of the interior life of a Chilean author (Sergio Hernández) whose memory floats from his school days and long-ago encounters with Long John Silver to nightmares about members of Chile's military junta. It's the great Ruiz' last film, based on stories by Hernán del Solar, and it screens May 4 at the PFA. For the latest info and schedules, visit SFFS.org

Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Sean Baker teamed with DJ Devereux on the film Starlet. In fact, Baker did the film by himself; Devereux is working on his own film of the same name. This version has been corrected.

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