REELIN’ ‘N’ ROCKIN’: San Francisco International Film Festival

Freda Film story 1

Now in its—drumroll, please—56th year, the annual cinema celebration finds itself newly invigorated. Above: a still from the Beatles-centric documentary Good Ol’ Freda.


 Among the 200 films from 50 countries, the annual San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) has grown a reputation around the world for its longstanding commitment to programming music pictures and live collaborations. This year’s event, now in its 56th year and running April 25 through May 9, is no exception with rock’n’roll and related sound well-represented on the calendar of filmic events and throughout the newly invigorated fest’s wild west spirit.

 This year’s central musical screening combines Waxworks, the 1924 German expressionist film by Paul Leni, with accompaniment by the grunts, squeals, and sophisticated touches of an experimental ensemble featuring Mike Patton, Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi and William Winant. The live music/silent film combo at the historic Castro Theatre was first pioneered by San Francisco’s own Clubfoot Orchestra, and has become a kind of highly anticipated, festival tradition: Past commissions have included works by Tom Verlaine, Yo La Tengo, Frank Black and Tune-Yards.




 The festival also has a track record of debuting groundbreaking concert documents, like Jonathan Demme’s artful Stop Making Sense and Jim Jarmusch’s rough and ready Neil Young movie, Year of the Horse.  This year there are two offerings demonstrating the evolution of the concert film: Peaches Does Herself is as an unorthodox as you would imagine a Peaches-directed, choreographed document of the electronic musician and her creative process would be. It is in essence, what Peaches does. (See images, above.)

Lian Lunson (Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man) more traditionally directs Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You, a tribute concert and remembrance of the singer Kate McGarrigle starring her children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, alongside Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Antony, and Kate’s sister Anna McGarrigle, among a cast of friends and family. Touching, weepy, filled with family photos and memories, it’s all about the singer and the song, though Rufus (lovingly) steals the show. (Images below.)



Rock’n’roll fans, especially Beatle people, need to know about Good Ol’ Freda,  a documentary directed by Ryan White: Concerning Freda Kelly, an exceptional and unsung figure in the rock history books, the Beatles secretary and fanclub organizer understood fans because she was one.

Good Ol’ Freda: SFIFF56 Clip from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.

 Freda Film story 2


And in the coming of age with political overtones and musical undertones department: Something in the Air is a French-language feature by esteemed director Olivier Assayas (Carlos).  A beautiful depiction of artists and revolutionaries in Paris, post-’68, music geeks will appreciate its rock’n’roll look and fine-tuned soundtrack featuring well-placed, under-appreciated psych-folk by Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, Nick Drake, and the Amazing Blondel (!).

 Twenty Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville) is a look at the life and work of background singers (Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, among others) whose names are known to record collectors and fans around the world, but largely taken for granted among the average listener.

 Finally, in the pure-kitsch department:  Wang Chung’s soundtrack to the totally ‘80s To Live and Die in LA rides again on the big screen as part of a celebration of director William Friedkin’s 50 years of filmmaking.

 The SFIFF, founded in 1957, is America’s longest-running film festival.  Interestingly, it is not a market-based event where films are bought and sold; rather, it is primarily devoted to the art of filmmaking and promoting world and independent cinema’s potential to impact social change and create cross-cultural understanding. With its inspiring mission and vision, the universal language of music has organically emerged as a thread that runs through the SFIFF’s annual programming. 

 [For details on films, show times through May 9, visit Visit author Denise Sullivan’s website at]

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