Sat. Mar 28th, 2020

At the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Present is Female

From left; Zhao Shuzhen, Awkwafina and director Lulu Wang on the set of The Farewell

The San Francisco International Film Festival, the longest running film festival in the Americas, is about to embark on its 62nd year and with it brings one of its strongest lineups of female-directed and female-led films ever.

72 women directors in all (including co-directors) make up 44% of the festival’s films including narrative features, documentaries, shorts and episodic programs. They cover a dozen countries and languages, forging fiercely feminist and female-centric stories ranging from family dramedies, coming of age teen stories, wild sci-fi fantasies, the evils of authoritarianism and the movement of a freshman class of Congress attempting to reclaim democracy in the United States.

Murray Bartlett (left) and Laura Linney in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City

Three of the fest’s four main tributes are women: Academy Award nominee Laura Linney (who will be there with a screening of her Oscar-nominated film The Savages), Academy Award nominee Laura Dern (whose new film Trial by Fire will be screened) and legendary French director Claire Denis, who will be there to present her newest film, and her first English-language film, High Life (which just opened in LA and NY last weekend).

The Opening Night, Centerpiece and Closing Night films are all female-led – a first for the festival. The sequel to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of City starring Laura Linney and Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck) will open the festival as part of its episodic series; Lulu Wang’s Sundance hit The Farewell, starring Awkwafina, is the Centerpiece film, and Official Secrets, starting Keira Knightley, will close the 62nd edition of the SFFILM Festival.

Kaitlyn Dever (left) and Beanie Feldstein (right) in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart

A truly expansive slate of female-directed and female-led narrative features also includes the World Premiere of When I’m a Moth from co-director Magdalena Zyzak, a wild and highly fictionalized take on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life during the summer of 1969, Jennifer Kent follows up her massive cult hit The Babadook with The Nightingale, a revenge tale set in 19th-century Tasmania, the World Premiere of Colewell, starring Karen Allen of Indiana Jones fame, as a woman who must fight for her job at a post office on the brink of closing and actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart, starring Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) and Kaitlyn Dever (TV’s Justified), detailing the last day of school for two girls who got straight A’s but never partied, until today. It’s one of the best films of the year and not to be missed. Also check out the US premiere of Aniara (dir: Pella Kagerman), Hala (dir: Minhal Bang), Jawline (Liza Mandelup), The Little Comrade (Moonika Siimets), The Chambermaid (Lila Aviles) and female-led films like Red Joan (starring Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson), First Night Nerves (starring Sammi Cheng and Gigi Leung) and Wild Rose starring Jessie Buckley.

POV recipient Madeline Anderson

The Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award this year will be presented to the groundbreaking filmmaker Madeline Anderson (Integration Part 1, I Am Somebody). Anderson is credited with being the first American-born black woman to produce and direct a television documentary film, the first to direct and produce a syndicated television series and the first African-American woman to join the film editors union, among her many firsts.

Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska)

This year’s slate of documentaries run the gamut of politically charged stories like Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s The Great American Lie (a SFFILM World Premiere), that deconstructs the myth of the ‘American Dream, to Ask Dr. Ruth, a wonderfully charming bio-doc of the world’s most renowned sex therapist, the diminutive sprite Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the playful and humorous Hail, Satan! from Penny Lane, which examines the sometimes serious and sometimes funny business of a group called The Satanic Temple, the triple award-winning Sundance hit Honeyland from co-director Tamara Kotevska, which details the life of a woman with her ailing mother in the mountains of Macedonia, making a living cultivating honey using ancient beekeeping traditions. Another big Sundance winner, One Child Nation, from directors Nanfu Wang and Jailing Zhang, examines the ramifications of China’s one-child policy and Knock Down the House from Rachel Lears, which follows the path of four women of disparate backgrounds running grassroots political campaigns against established male incumbents, and featuring one of the biggest winners and brightest stars of the 2018 midterm election, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th district.

Other docs to look out for include: We are Radical Monarchs (dir: Linda Goldstein Knowlton), Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements (dir: Irene Taylor Brodsky), Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (dir: Janice Engel), Nothing Fancy: Diane Kennedy (Elizabeth Carroll), Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Well Groomed (Rebecca Stern), What We Left Unfinished (Mariam Ghani), Always in Season (Jacqueline Olive) and the World Premiere of We Believe in Dinosaurs (dir: Monica Long Ross).

The 62nd San Francisco International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday, April 10th and runs through Tuesday, April 23rd. Tickets are available at

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